ABSTRACT This article seeks to determine if
Buddhism can best be understood as
primarily a functionalist tradition. In pursuing this, some analogies arise
with various Western strands--particularly James' 'pragmatism', Dewey's
'instrumentalism', Braithwaite's 'empiricism', Wittgenstein's 'language games',
and process thinkers like Hartshorne and Jacobson. Within the Buddhist setting,
the traditional Theravada framework of sila (ethics/precepts), samadhi
(meditation) and panna (wisdom) are examined, together with Theravada rituals.
Despite some 'correspondence' approaches with regard to truth claim statements,
e.g. vipassana 'insight' and Abhidharma analysis, a more profound functionalism
seems present. This is even more clear with the Mahayana. Apart from the basic
and explicit Mahayana underpinning of upaya, the Madhyamika, Tantras and Ch'an
(Zen) schools are clearly functionalist. Moreover, despite initially seeming
more 'absolutist' in their positions, other strands like the Pure Land and
Nichiren faith traditions, and Dharmakfrti's Vijnanavada epistemology can also be
tied into this functionalist setting.
Buddhism suffers from a danger, the danger of philosophy!
Such a statement seems at first sight ridiculous. After all, one only has to
look at the Abhidharma strand in the Theravada to see rigorous analysis; or
within the Mahayana at the Madhyamika to encounter dialectics, or Dharmakirti
to see epistemological positions and 'proofs'. However, the thesis of this
study is to suggest that if one sees Buddhism as 'just' a system of
metaphysical abstraction and logic, then one has missed the boat, or to use a traditional
Buddhist metaphor the raft! What is proposed is to look at Buddhism's
manifestation of a profoundly functional, i.e. instrumental, disposition.
However, some complex methodological issues are raised.
Instrumentalism and functionalism are Western philosophical terms, replete with
Western philosophical associations; indeed, philosophy itself is a Western
term. Can such Western frameworks be properly and meaningfully used with reference
to Buddhism, which has its own particular Asian cultural nuances, developments,
assumptions and wider associations? Cross-cultural comparison of ideas and
beliefs can be prone to misleading simplicity through ignoring such differing
internal frames of reference and associations. However, in today's 'global
village', questions of comparative philosophy and belief systems are inevitably
emerging. Buddhism has anyway already expanded out from India and adapted across a whole range of Asian
cultures, most notably in entering China. Moreover, within its early
expansion, Buddhism had also come up against and had to explain itself within
Hellenic norms in northwestern India,
Bactria and Alexandria in the 3rd
century BCE.  A Buddhist adaptation in the West should then be possible, and
with it the possibility of assessing it in the light of Western terms and
values, as well as vice versa. Moreover Western Buddhists are now arising, able
to use both Western philosophical and Buddhist terms meaningfully and authentically
within their own respective parameters.  Indeed by attempting a Western
assessment of Buddhism, 'core basic Buddhist themes should thereby be
In such a setting of caution yet speculation, the use of
the term 'profound' is deliberate, as deep 'spiritual' transformative concerns
do seem to underpin this marked Buddhist disposition.  To argue that Buddhism
is profoundly functionalist or instrumental in character, is admittedly a
philosophical-sounding evaluation but it takes Buddhism away from two extremes;
one, the extreme of rarefied abstract metaphysical speculation; second, the
extreme of rigid credalism and dogmatics. In short, echoing a popular Buddhist
term, rather a 'Middle Path'.
Before proceeding, the terms 'instrumentalism' and
'functionalism' need some clarification. This is not quite related to the
argument conducted by Hoffman over how far Buddhism is, or is not, a form of
empiricism.  Southwold does use the term instrumentalism in his study of Sri
Lankan Buddhism, but perhaps in an overly theoretical sociological way.  A clearer
sense of the term 'instrumentalism' comes with the US philosopher and educationalist
John Dewey (1859-1952), who developed the pragmatism of William James. For
Dewey, ideas and concepts are instruments functioning in experienced situations
and determining future consequences. Ideas are plans of actions or instruments
that arise in response to a problem, and serve their purposes by solving the
problem. Propositions are thus to be regarded as a means in a 'process' of
enquiry; it is not so much that they should be judged as true or false but
rather they should be assessed in terms of being effective or ineffective.
Ideas and practice work together as instruments: ideas relate experiences, and
are in turn tested by experience.  Here then, we shall use the term as
indicating that the 'issue' under study (Buddhism) is understood by its
adherents to have the (primary) function (hence the term functionalism) of being
an instrument for bringing about certain other esteemed changes, of an
Another term to clarify is 'Buddhism'. Is it a supposed
central core (a basic shared Buddhism), is it a supposed earlier form
(Theravada), is it a supposed more developed higher form (Mahayana), is it a
supposed more truthful form (e.g. particular sectarian claims), or does
functionalism provide a way through these seemingly rival truth claims?
Theravada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism will be considered in turn, with
particular reference to instrumentalist nuances, through using 'internal'
Buddhist testimony and appropriate outside comparisons.
Here, four basic lines of reference will be followed,
namely: Theravada Buddhism's own traditional three-fold enumeration of itself
as involving (1) ethics (sila), (2) meditation (samadhi) and (3) wisdom
(panna), together with a further section on (4) Theravada rituals and
At first sight a paradoxical situation emerges with regard
to ethics. Buddhism has long had a traditional listing of ethical norms, the
precepts (silas), within which were the five general precepts (pancha-silas)—to
abstain from killing, stealing, sensuous misconduct, lying and clouding intoxicants.
In addition there are five further precepts bearing on the conduct of monks and
nuns, e.g. not eating after midday, avoiding dance and other frivolous
entertainment, abstaining from perfumes, refraining from sleeping in high
comfortable beds and not handling money. A normative ideal seems able to be
immediately established for Buddhism. However, a paradox arises, as we also
encounter comments by scholars like Harvey
that 'having no real "oughts", Buddhist ethics...' 
Instrumentalism perhaps provides a key for resolving this seeming paradox,
shown in looking at general approaches, together with some traditional and
topical ethical issues.
Two important points can immediately be made. One is that
sila (virtue) is the first of the three characterisations of the Buddhist path (sila-samadhi-panna);
with its specific manifestations (right actions, etc.) being part of the wider
eightfold Path, directly identified as the 'means' (Fourth Noble Truth) towards
gaining the 'end'-enlightenment or Nirvana (Third Noble Truth). This suggests a
role for ethics that is not so much static 'oughts', but rather is a dynamic
procession. Second, is the Anguttara Nikaya assertion "good conduct leads
gradually up to the summit [for] one state just causes another state to swell,
one state just causes the fulfilment of another state, for the sake of going
from the not beyond to the beyond", with sila fostering freedom from
remorse, inner states of gladness, joy, meditative calm (samatha), insight
(vipassana) and liberation.  Such a causal relationship explains why
Sangharakshita judges that "sila is prescribed for the worldling, not as
an end in itself but as the means of weakening the unwholesome states of mind
from which wrong speech and wrong bodily action proceeds".  Behind all
this is a further significant consideration, for, to quote Harvey, "in
Buddhism, moral virtue is the foundation of the spiritual path, though a fixed attachment
to ethical precepts and vows is seen as a hindering 'fetter'" 
Sensitivity on dangers of attachment is particularly central across Buddhism.
Specific ethical issues seem coloured by concern with
effectiveness, practicality and instrumentality. This is why Premasiri cautions
that "in making moral choices in such dilemmatic situations, one cannot
abide by any hard and fast rules. One needs to take into account the total
situation, motives and other moral factors, and then make one's choice with a
full sense of responsibility." Nevertheless Buddhism has very clear
cut traditional stances. For example the First Precept injunction against killing has generally resulted in an aversion
to abortion and abhorrence towards (often female) infanticide. Yet there is a
subtle and important caution over rigid totalistic mechanistic application of
surface precepts. Saddhatissa puts this particularly well, with respect to the
seemingly straightforward issue of alcoholic drink, the focus of the Fifth
The matter of drinking is only briefly alluded to in the
Buddhist texts, the causes being of far greater import... The Precepts were never
ends in themselves, confined to the mundane life but were the essential
preliminaries, as also the permanent accompaniments, to attaining to the
Highest State... the Lalitavistara describes the Buddha as 'the great remover
of darts (galya)'. The 'darts' consisted in the following: lust (raga), hatred
(dosa), delusion (moha), pride (mana), false views (ditthi), grief (soka) and
indecision (kathamakatha). They are the equivalent of the Fetters binding one
to the rounds of rebirth.
Here the key would seem to be that it is not so much drink
in itself that is flawed, but rather that in practice it can often be the
instrument or channel through which underlying lust, hatred, delusion, pride
and grief emerge. Drink then actually becomes a secondary issue underneath the primary
issues of those flawed consequences. It is not so much that Buddhism rejects
alcohol itself, but rather it is even more (or ultimately) concerned with
chopping off possible underlying negative roots and consequences. In the
precept against 'clouding intoxicants' it would seem that it is the
(instrumentalist) adjective/quality of 'clouding' that is the ultimate problem
rather than the noun/object of 'drink' in itself. This sort of perspective
would seem to also operate for the other (more?) basic precepts against
killing, stealing, sensuous misconduct and lying.
Wider surrounding traditional ethical issues also
illustrate similar instrumentalist concerns. In larger social terms, a
significant early Buddhist stance was to reject the caste system (in its
hereditary rigid sense), which had a practical result of potentially opening up
Enlightenment to all. Here there may be philosophical analogies with a utilitarian
Benthamite outlook of 'the greatest good for the greatest number'. Giving
(dana) has traditionally been for Buddhism a primary ethical activity. While
this can be tied into being a tangible support by the laity towards the
monastic sangha, we could note the practical training result of lowering
egotistic attachment, though doing it for narrow karmic benefit could cloud
In a traditional yet also modern vein, how does Buddhism
see the family?
Again one encounters a surface situation, underpinned with
more fundamental potential 'purposes'. For Premasiri "the family is
considered a unit within which the layman can have his basic spiritual
training, by converting his self-centred urge for pleasure seeking into a
responsible and dutiful care for their children. Parents in their self
sacrificing care for their children, sublimate the sexual urge in the more
wholesome relationships of parental love".  We might say that this is
idealism or monk's theory rather than how families actually operate in Buddhist
communities. Perhaps, but nevertheless from a 'normative' point of view
Premasiri's choice of the term 'training' seems highly functionalist, i.e. the
family as an instrument bringing about more significant central changes in the individual.
Analogous situations seem apparent in the more specific areas of marriage
forms, sexuality and family planning, where Rita Gross has presented historical
variations of outward form coupled with a consistency over inner
instrumentalist criteria. 
Another ethical area is work. One immediate and
traditional sign of Buddhism's practical engagement in this issue is that Right
Livelihood forms one of the links in the Noble Eightfold Path, i.e. it is part
of training, part of that route towards transformation. From it arose the normative
Buddhist stance against livelihood in weapons, animals, flesh, intoxicants and
poisons. Here some attention has been paid to the elaboration of Buddhist
economics in recent years. Alexandrin pointed out that "Buddhist economics
can be defined as that type of economics which stem from or keeps continuing
the experience of enlightenment or that which provides a ground which sustains
or contributes to enlightenment." Thus he makes the subtle but
important instrumentalist point that "economics was meant to be both
ethical and useful". . This echoes the point to be made later on about
the Buddhist dharma being both truthful and useful, but with the useful aspect
perhaps being crucial. Schumacher's short study Buddhist Economics brings out
more precise manifestations of this:
The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to
be at least three-fold: to give a man the chance to utilise and develop his faculties;
to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a
common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming
Here the crucial feature picked up by Schumacher is that
work enables faculties to be utilised and developed, that it enables one to
'overcome ego-centredness', thereby undercutting trsna-driven egotistic
clinging greed. Schumacher's own use of the word 'function' highlights this instrumentalist
Buddhist approach towards ethics. Functionalist nuances can be discerned in
Buddhist stances towards the important modem environmental challenge. Buddhism
declared itself a Middle Path (e.g. between materialism and asceticism, world
attachment and world rejection) of practice and attitudes, based on
non-grasping. Abuse of the environment in fact reflects and further generates
negative attitudes of greed, grasping and ignorance, consequently further
hindering spiritual advancement. Conversely, appropriate environmental action
could be an effective instrument to manifest and deepen spiritual development
and combat negative attitudes.
Another traditional, yet topical and revealing matter
arises with violence. This can be pursued with Premasiri's perception that
"Buddhism's opposition to violence stems from the analysis that violence
is psychologically rooted in dosa (hatred)... a dispositional trait that is
conditioned by malicious behaviour and, in turn, determines the way human
beings behave. It is the fundamental cause of a whole cycle of violence from
which individuals and society find it impossible to escape. Therefore no matter
what the intended merits of a projected social order... if it is established by
violence, it will have to be perpetuated by violence, for dosa can only beget
dosa. Social change through non-violence is the only realistic path to a stable
social order... The propensity to violence is addictive and causally forges a
chain of reciprocal links."  Here, Premasiri sees 'realism' as a key
consideration, i.e. violence becoming an instrument for further violence. Since
dosa, its psychological root, is one of the three basic defilements (klesas)
blocking human development and full realisation, the ethical stance taken is
crucially governed by wider deep instrumental concerns.
In this whole area of ethical action, Premasiri fittingly
sums up the role played by these real underlying psychological forces in what he
considers 'the consequentialist ethic of Buddhism' which 'attempts to give
directions to people who are disillusioned with the false promises of greed
(lobha), hatred (dosa), and ignorance (moha), and to enable them, by the use of
untapped resources to make discoveries of lasting happiness in their own moral
experience.'  There is an overall sense of ethics 'enabling' one to tap
into resources, development and experience--very much an instrumentalist ethic,
ethics as a means for changing the individual. As shall be seen in the
conclusion, this has some analogies with Braithwaite's emphasis on the 'use' to
which ethics are put; nevertheless a Kantian critique would state that an
instrumentalist ethic is a contradiction in terms, as what is good is good in
itself, rather than in terms of consequences.
Morality is strong in a normative sense, but is also seen
for very pragmatic practical reasons as needing to be grounded with other
dimensions of Buddhism, notably meditation (samadhi). Thus a subtle point emerges,
namely that ethics does not just exist with other elements of the Eightfold Path,
and does not just lead to other elements; but that it is also intertwined with
other features, in a self-corrective interdependent transformative mode. Modem
Theravada figures like Saddhatissa consequently have interesting, intertwining
and ultimately practical considerations on this. In responding to the
Dhammapada's opening words "Mind precedes all things; all things have mind
foremost, are mind-made", for him, "here we have the key to Buddhist
ethics, and in fact to the whole teaching, for Buddhism is essentially a 'mind
culture'. Any improvement or retrograde step must occur initially in the mind
of the person concerned whether it proceeds to external manifestations
immediately or at a later date, so that the importance of being aware of [i.e.
mindfulness] and of controlling, one's thoughts is continually
stressed." Premasiri similarly considers that for Buddhism, 'the
highest end is the total elimination of lobha (lust, greed), dosa (hatred), and
moha (delusion). When the Buddha is requested to state what in his opinion is
moral evil, he mentions these 3 psychological dispositions. Any mental trait
that hinders clarity of the mind and mental composure, and which becomes an
impediment to Nibbana [Nirvana], is considered evil.' Again we have an
instrumental perspective. Ethics is important in itself and for others, but
ultimately for importance seems, because of serving, or functioning, a means to
deeper and more profound liberating ends.
A Buddhist 'mean' (or Middle Path) emerges. Ethics or
meditation on their own could slip into one sided extremism and so, crucially,
ultimate ineffectiveness. Saddhatissa considers "the placing of the
Moralities [silas] as the first section of the Buddha's teaching is not
incidental but is essential if the student is to proceed with the 'mind
culture' which is the core of Buddhism. The Buddhist scriptures give frequent
warnings regarding the extreme danger of attempting to experience states of
mental concentration without thorough grounding in the practice of the
Moralities. Any teachings... which do not insist on practice of the moralities before
embarking on exercises in mental concentration are fraught with disaster and
are to be utterly condemned. At the same time, if the Moralities are to be kept
to increasing degrees, then cultivation of samadhi and panna [prajna] are
essential."  Such practical talk on roles and dangers leads to the
By its nature meditation is a clearly instrumentalist
general religious phenomenon, dealing with deeper experiential dimensions.
Buddhism perhaps shows both a subtle and heightened instrumentalist awareness
towards the 'role' of meditation. After all, the very centre of Buddhism is the
claim that Sakyamuni achieved enlightenment, thereby becoming a Buddha,
following his meditation under the bodhi tree, when various jhana levels were achieved
with insight subsequently (i.e. consequently) arising. This is maintained in Buddhism
through "the basic function of the meditation... . [as] a device for
achieving samadhi".  In a more subtle sense there is, as just seen,
the practical consideration that meditation without ethical grounding could be
Further signs of a controlled instrumentalist Buddhist
sensitivity towards meditation lies in the large number of samatha 'calm'
techniques. Buddhaghosa goes into great detail on this, pinpointing 40 distinct
meditation loci in the classical Theravada text, the Visuddhi Magga, where there
is explicit talk of the 'benefits' of samatha meditation.  The foci are the
10 kasinas ('devices') based on various colours, elements, space and light; the
10 asubha ('repulsive things') like bodily decomposition, etc, the 10 sati
('recollections') on themes like the Buddha, dharma, sangha, morality, death,
respiration, peace of Nirvana. The four brahma-vihara ('sublime abodes') focus
on loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy or equanimity; while the four
ayatana ('formless states') point to infinite space, infinite consciousness,
nothingness, neither perception nor non-perception. Two foci could be on
loathsomeness of food or analysis of the body. Such meditation exercises have a
very practical functional organisation, being aimed at particular types of
people, to bring out particular appropriate corrective effects, as follows in
Table 1.  This framework is also related to suitability for achieving
various different jhana meditation levels. A further traditional practical consideration
is indicated through the guiding mentor role of the kalyanamitta 'good friend',
crucial in directing the trainee towards the appropriate meditation exercise,
fostering its proper instrumental potential for transformation, i.e. Nirvana, Enlightenment.
The other avenue for Theravada meditation was vipassana
('insight'), which might seem to indicate direct and absolute Truths being
perceivable, analysis of truth in its own terms, and not just in terms of its effectiveness.
But it can be argued that vipassana still reveals an instrumentalist
orientation, for from insight came various consequences, i.e. cutting the cycle
of rebirth, cutting away of trsna, clinging desire, and the attainment of
Nirvana. Moreover it was not so much insight into static truth, but rather
insight into 'processes', in particular anicca ('impermanence, change') and
paticcasamuppada ('conditioned arising').
Within Buddhism's traditional description of itself, panna
('wisdom') was a third strand, which raises the complex yet important issue of
the role of truth in Buddhism. Buddhism has put forth particular formulations
of truths, e.g. the three universal 'marks' of existence (anicca, anatta, dukkha),
the four Noble Truths (on dukkha), Conditioned Arising, etc. Here we approach
what may seem to be straight doctrine, metaphysics and philosophy. However, the
question then arises for analysis of Buddhism (as also for Western philosophy)
of what is meant conceptually by the term 'truth'. When saying that something is
true in Buddhism, does it mean (a) that it is factually true, (b) that it is
figuratively or symbolically true so that its value is utilitarian and
heuristic, or (c) that it is relatively true within a particular world view,
language game or wider conceptual scheme. Such positions echo the Western
philosophical categories of (a) 'correspondence', (b) 'pragmatic utility' and
(c) 'coherence'.  All three positions arise in various Buddhist settings,
such as Abhidharma 'correspondence' vis-a-vis the reality of dharmas. However,
position (b) seems more often and centrally perceivable, with Buddhism showing
a certain caution over absolute metaphysical speculation, and instrumental considerations
One sign of this was with an interesting episode when the
Buddha was asked 'what is the Truth (Dhamma)?' Instead of replying with
standard set Buddhist formulations he took this approach:
teachings thou can assure thyself thus: 'Those doctrines conduce to passions
not dispassions: to bondage, not to detachment: to increase of (worldly) gains,
not to decrease of them; to covetousness, not to frugality: to discontent, and
not content: to company, not solitude: to sluggishness, not energy: to delight
in evil, not delight in good'--of such
teachings thou may with certainty affirm 'This is not the Dhamma, this is not
the Discipline. This is not the Master's Message'. But of whatsoever teachings
thou can assure thyself... [as above, but opposite]--of such teachings thou may
with certainty affirm 'This is the
What stands out here is the explicit functionalist listing
of traits of character, through which one can recognise the Truth; thereby
emphasising that wisdom points to actual transformation, rather than
ontological definitions. Verbal formulations are not then in themselves the
crucial factor, it is whether they are resulting in, or being the instrument of
particular changes. In this vein we then have the Pali Canon's famous Raft metaphor.
 The whole point of the analogy is that it pinpoints the function of
Buddhist teachings (the raft) as being effective, that they are there to bring
movement, or transformation, with the other side, Nirvana, being reached. The
raft is still a means rather than the end, the raft not carried on one's head
(not clung to) on reaching the other shore.
Equally interesting is the Buddha saying, "Bhikkus,
of what I have known I have only told you a little", which led into the
famous 'unanswered questions', classical metaphysical questions concerning
creation and the afterlife, which the Buddha refused to answer. To explain why
he did not answer them the Buddha then used the 'Poisoned Arrow' analogy. Here
a person hit by a poisoned arrow should not spend (i.e. waste) time on vague speculation
about whence it had come, the motives of the person shooting the arrow, etc.
Instead they should do the one immediate practical thing which would change
their situation, namely take action--pull the arrow out! In a similar way those
classic metaphysical questions were ultimately distractions, for one should
instead do something about the here and now. As the Buddha said of those
Why, Malunkyaputta, has this not been explained by me? It
is because it is not connected with the goal, is not fundamental to the brahma-cariya
'holy life', and does not conduce to turning away from, nor to dispassion,
stopping, calming, superknowledge, awakening, nor to Nibbana. Therefore it has
not been explained by me. 
For Jayatilleke this stance identified the Buddha as a
'Pragmatist', with a criterion for dismissing questions "if they were not
relevant to the central problems of religion".  The Buddha's
continuation, on exactly the same funcfionalist grounds, was "then, what
has been explained by me, Malunkyaputa?... anguish (dukkha)... the arising of
dukkha... the stopping of dukkha... the course leading to the stopping of
dukkha has been explained by me because it is connected with the goal,
Traditional metaphysical speculation about the past and
future was not practically effective, whereas the Fourth of the Four Noble
Truths (the eight-fold Path) was effective. Ultimately truths were only useful
if they were instrumental in bringing about the necessary transformational
changes, themselves centred on cutting trsnd ('craving, desire').
Here reference should be made to Abhayarajakumara
Sutta. Jayatilleke, whose work Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge remains
an important point of reference, found this sutta of particular epistemological
interest. The sutta gives three sets of considerations governing the Buddha's
statements, i.e. statements that were true (bhutam, taccha.m), or false
(abhutam, ataccham), those that were useful (atthasamhitam) or useless (anatthasamhitam)
and those that were pleasant (paresam piya manapa) or unpleasant (paresam
Eight possible variations or combinations emerge. With
regard to pleasantness, Buddhist wisdom may be pleasant or unpleasant--that
just reflects what is appropriate to the situation. With regard to truth and utility,
instrumental effectiveness for Buddhist purposes seems implicitly paramount. On
the one hand "the dhamma was useful for salvation and its value (though
not its truthfulness) lay in its utility. It ceases to have value, though it
does not cease to be true, when one has achieved one's purpose with its help by
attaining salvation."  Buddhist wisdom was itself true (factually),
but this was a secondary feature, with its primary feature one of being useful.
It was this that made it part of the dhamma. On the one hand, a statement could
be useless without being false. A mundane example is that the Caspian
Sea has a certain depth and area, but while that is true it is not
particularly useful for Buddhism in helping one achieve or realise
Enlightenment. Such a 'fact' is not an example of Buddhist 'wisdom'. Conversely
the benefits accruing from meditation or ethical application, from a Buddhist
perspective are both true (can be experienced) but above all useful. In such
settings, can Buddhist wisdom be untrue yet still useful? This line of thought
does not really appear in the Pali Canon, but reappears with the Mahayana.
An interesting nuance is that Buddhism, while presenting
teachings in doctrinal scriptural formulation, shows wariness about
ultimately depending on such material. This is brought out in the famous
Kalamas episode, where the Buddha was asked to adjudicate between different
claims by varied teachers of the day, both in terms of actual content, but also
in terms of approaches or methodological stances for resolving questions of
truth. The Buddha's response was distinctive:
Kalamas, do not be misled by reports, or tradition, or
hearsay. Be not misled by the proficiency in the collections of religious
texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor after considering reasons, nor after
reflection on and approval of some theory, nor because it fits becoming, nor
out of respect for a recluse.
Here, traditional props of religious formulations
(scripture and teachers) are undercut, as indeed is much of formal philosophy.
Instead, the Kalamas were advised "when you know for yourselves that these
things are unprofitable, these things are blameworthy, these things are
censured by the intelligent, these things, when performed and undertaken,
conduce to loss and sorrow, then indeed do you reject them." This talk
of 'unprofitability' and 'conduce' has a practical, functionalist ring to it, and
it echoes Dewey's stance that ideas must always be tested by experiment.
All this means that although there is the traditional
formula of taking refuge (saranam) in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, such
refuge is perhaps more a question of practical confidence rather than any
faith. As the popular Dhammapada summed up "only a man himself can be the
master of himself: who else from outside could be his master?", for
"it is you who must make the effort; the Tathagatas only show the
way." This reasserts the instrumentalist role of Buddhist doctrines as
being to generate transformation of the individual, so that the individual then
will truly know for themselves, based on their own consequent experiential verification.
Jayatilleke has this in mind when considering Buddhist saddha (faith, belief)
in truth statements as being to "provisionally accept a proposition for
the purpose of [experientially] verifying its truth." Elements of
'correspondence' are here, but 'Truth' in an abstract sense has become a spur
to deeper experiential development, with the specific initial formulation being
more a means than an end.
(4) Theravada ritual
One interesting point made in this area is a stylistic one
raised by Sangharakshita, in connection with the 'Dialogues' of the Buddha
being "richly embellished with similes, metaphors and parables... This is
not just a literary device, or empty rhetorical flourish, but an integral part of
the Buddha's teaching method. It represents an attempt to communicate his
vision of reality, not merely in abstract and conceptual terms, but by means of
concrete images, appealing not to the understanding alone, but to the total
psyche, including those unconscious but powerfully operative forces that are
hardly to be reached in any other way." Talk of concrete images, the
total psyche, and of powerful operative forces, takes this material away from
just being theoretical exposition. They are there to operate, instrumentally
speaking, to bring about response and change in the audience. All religious
literature is of course, or tries to be, effective in terms of its intended
audience, yet there seems a more explicit awareness and use of this in
Popular literature maintains this anchoring, as in the
Jataka tales on the former lives of the Buddha. Certainly they can be read as
mythological tales, providing popular grass roots stories to entertain the
laity. However, Ling noted a more serious, extremely practical, side to this,
that "the Buddhist... says in effect: 'If that is what you believe, and if
that is how you see this life, then let us start there!' And he proceeds to use
this initial position as the taking off point for an approach to the eternal
Dharrna. Almost always he makes use of popular stories and legends... They
cannot be said to form anything more than a threshold to Buddhist belief; but
it is a wide threshold and offers plenty of scope for all. Buddhism has in this
matter, I believe, displayed considerable wisdom."  The wisdom would
seem to lie in the practical grounding and usefullness of such material.
Sangharakshita also gives high effectiveness value to the
role played by such popular literature, for 'appropriating the entire wealth of
ancient Indian folklore... en bloc in their own rapidly growing oral-cum-literary traditions as the simplest and most
effective means ofpropagating the truths of the Dharma among the common people...
The audience is simultaneously amused, instructed and inspired."
Popular and loved background stories could thus be adopted, yet also adapted.
In doing so, Buddhist teachings (themselves a spur to action) could have a bigger practical chance of local acceptance,
through using 'the simplest and most effective' means. Ling seems to have
noticed a similar process with respect to such Theravada literature, that
"the important point to notice is that although Buddhism has thus allowed
an open frontier between its own Dharma and animistic beliefs, this frontier
has always been firmly controlled from the Buddhist side. What may be seen to
have happened in the course of Buddhist history is not demythologising, but a
Buddhist-inspired remythologising of popular thought: a recasting and refilling
of potent psychological symbols as a result of the stimulus of Buddhist
spiritual experience."  Again, such a phenomenon is of course not
restricted to Buddhism; most religions have done this to a greater or lesser
However, one could argue that Buddhism shows a distinctly
more flexible attitude in this area than most other traditions. Again we have
this sense of practical results being achieved through such literary developments,
using 'potent psychological symbols' following on from and in turn helping to
foster the 'Buddhist spiritual experience'.
A further manifestation of this instrumental grounding of
scriptures lies in related congregational chanting, where Sangharakshita
asserts a strong functional significance:
One might even argue that the texts were compiled in their
present form for the purpose of liturgical meditation, wherein the grave rhythm
of the chanting serves to calm and concentrate the mind, while the recurrence,
at regular intervals, of certain key words and phrases, enables it to
penetrate, with each repetition, ever deeper into the truth which these
formulae represent. 
Such talk of mnemonic value and meditative undertones
indicates deeper potential functions for rituals, serving and enabling deeper
developments and so indeed, though subtly, being instrumental.
(5) Mahayana Buddhism
The preceding details have been taken from Theravada
Buddhism. This 'basic' predisposition would, it can be argued, also operate for
Mahayana Buddhism, which retained Pali Canon (Sutta pitaka) type material
within its own canonical literature. Moreover, certain Mahayana features
maintained and highlighted this instrumental predisposition of Buddhism still
A particularly specific Mahayana development, seen in such
popular early classics as the Saddharma pundarika sutra (Lotus Sutra) was in
upaya ('skilful means'). Pye quite rightly wrote a whole study on this
important Mahayana theme.  In a sense this is but the application of Pali
Canon teachings on the Buddha's teaching being 'effective' (kusala). The
Mahayana then picked up this theme, as illustrated in the famous Lotus Satra
stor of the burning house, whereby various messages were given in order to get the
children in danger out of the burning house, itself a metaphor for the raging
fires of trsna.  The logic being that if the same full message had been
given to all, then not everyone would have taken the appropriate action. Here
teaching explicitly becomes a means rather than an end—the instrumental means
to bringing about progress and transformation. The Pali Canon permutations (and
an element of tension) surrounding teachings in terms or truth/untruth,
usefulness/uselessness, pleasantness/ unpleasantness have already been
mentioned, with the Pali material presenting Buddhist wisdom as being both true
and also useful, with the implication being that the crucial attribute was in
its usefulness. With the Mahayana the implications of this emerge even more strongly,
as upaya above all is an instrumental feature--whether the content is strictly
true or not is overridden by the use (direct/outcome) of the statement or
action. Thus, untruthful statements (or even ones immoral on the surface, as in
some of the stories about Zen and Tantric masters) could be justified in the
short term if they brought longer-term effective changes, as in the Burning
House story of the Lotus Sutra. This readiness to acknowledge the provisional
and instrumental character of teaching was maintained and disseminated in further
popular Mahayana classics like the Vimalakirti nirdega sutra, where a layperson
instructs Boddhisattvas and arahants in the true underlying meaning of the
Dharma, including upaya.  One immediate nuance of this instrumentality, is
the way in which the Lotus Sutra has the Boddhisattva Avalokitesvara talking
about taking a whole variety of forms (e.g. traditional Hindu gods like Shiva,
Vishnu, etc.) or descending into the deepest recesses of hell, if that would pull
someone a little bit further along in their own progress. With this
perspective, a lot of the details of distinctive Mahayana schools make sense,
when treated not as ultimate doctrines but as complementary practices, with the
devotional Pure Land and the meditation Ch'an/Zen traditions for example, able
to be reconciled on this plane of instrumentality. Such features echo the Pali Canon
criterion 'whatsoever leads to dispassion, peace, etc., that is the dhamma'.
Another fundamental Mahayana theme emerged with the
Prajnaparamita ('perfection of wisdom') literature, which became the foundation
for further Ch'an/Zen and Tibetan developments. Its ultimate conditioned or sunyata
('empty') character of things was elaborated by Madhyamika figures like Nagarjuna,
who also employed ruthless dialectical negation. Practical functionalist
implications permeate the Prajnaparamita corpus. Its earliest sutra, the
Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 lines (Astasahasrika Prajnaramita) talks not so
much about Perfect Wisdom but 'training in Perfect Wisdom.'  This is why it
is the 'perfect wisdom that tames and transforms', which implies dealing with
negative blocks and fostering positive change. Revealingly, its chapter 16
section on 'Enlightenment and Emptiness' immediately follows on from its
section on 'Perfect Wisdom and Skill in Means' and precedes the section
'Requisites of going forth to Enlightenment'. Interestingly, and crucially,
comes the caution that 'names and signs are also sources of attachment.' In
this setting, verbal formulations, i.e. truth statements, are to be treated
with caution, since "a Bodhisattva is not even trained in all-knowledge...
because a Bodhisattva trains himself in non-attachment to all dharmas",
including conceptual formulations . Moreover, the Buddha is represented
with the popular, and rather functionalist phrase, as "the supreme
physician who accords [appropriate] medical treatment to the sickness of the
world." A similar diagnostic remedial analogy on the role of sunyata,
and on the dangers of misconceiving it (as a theory, or as dogmatism) comes in
the later Kasyapa Parivarta (Ratnakuta) .
The Prajnnaparamita's most famous summation came in the
influential Diamond Sutra (Vajrachchedika-prajaparamita-sutra), with its
warning that any "object is a matter of linguistic convention, a verbal
expression without factual content. And yet the foolish common people have
seized upon it." Doherty has a clear and persuasive instrumentalist
sense of the role of the Diamond Sutra, since "it underscores both its own
status as a discursive phenomenon and the contradictions involved in mistaking
its declarations for either literal or metaphorical truth. Decoding its own procedures
it enacts that detachment from codes which it seeks to induce in the reader.
Thus in presenting language as an instrument of deception it seeks to unmask
that deception and the motives which help to perpetuate it through the kind of
desire which attachment to language induces... if language functions to structure
homogeneous 'self' and a 'world', then the Sutra functions to expose these two
types of mental constructs as contingent and arbitrary."
Sunyata implications achieved full explicit force with
Nagarjuna (2nd-3rd century BCE), the leading light of the Madhyamika
school. It would though be a mistake to treat the M5dhyamika's sunyata emphasis
as just the result of abstract philosophical reasoning, as sunyata was both the
result and spur to experiential 'transformative' meditation insight. A
classic presentation of Nagarjuna's stance comes in the Madhyamikakarika. He
deals with concepts in a double fashion, as 'the teachings of the dharma by the
various Buddhas is based on the two truths, the relative truth and the absolute
(supreme) truth.' However, it should be remembered that the absolute of the
truth was not static 'correspondence', absolute ontological objects or levels,
but rather was the operation, or process, of emptiness. Truth was in fact
no-truth, to look back to the Diamond Sutra, and forward into Zen formulations.
Moreover, ultimately there was identity between the two levels. In his
Vyavaharasiddhi, Nagarjuna still acknowledged the practical use of relative
truth for "though all phenomena, such as mantras etc, arise dependently
and thus neither are existing nor non-existing, they are none the less
efficient. Likewise all interior and exterior phenomena arise dependently, and
though they are thus mere metaphorical concepts, Buddha has formulated his
dharmas with a specific practical purpose (samdhaya)." Nagarjuna
indicates a functionalist process when he talks in the Madhyamikakarika of
"the real [i.e. instrumentalist] purpose of sunyata."  This is
echoed more recently by King and Patel. [61 ]
The practical purpose arising through the application of
sunyata can be more specifically pinpointed as breaking various trsna-driven
egotistic (negative) fetters and instead developing certain (positive) characteristics.
As Nagarjuna himself said 'by taking any standpoint whatsoever one is attacked
by the twisting snakes of passions. But those whose mind has no standpoint are
not caught.'  Thus, at the higher level of truth (itself empty):
Grasping ceases to be where, internally and externally,
(the ideas of) individuality and self identity are destroyed. From the
cessation of grasping the cessation of birth also follows. There is moksha (release)
from the destructiveness of karmic defilements which are but conceptualisation.
These arise from the mere conceptual play (prapanca) which are in turn banished
in sunyata. 
This maintains traditional Buddhist features like anatta
(no-soul), liberation, the cycle of rebirth and the detrimental role of
clinging, grasping attachment, desire (trsna)--with trsna-driven false
conceptions and dualistic elaborations ceasing and being undercut by emptiness.
In the Sunyatasaptatikarika Nagarjuna advised 'karma has passions as its cause (klesanitimittaka)...
when one correctly understands that karma is empty (sunya) because the truth is
seen, karma does not arise.' This is because the passions (klesas), the
cause of karma, have been cut through the transformative power of the insight
of emptiness. Or, as he says later, "by seeing correctly that things are
empty (sunya) one is not infatuated."  Other testimony to this
perception of sunyata's functionalist role in cutting negative fetters can be
seen, as for example the Maha-pra-jnparamitag-sastra (traditionally attributed
to Nagarjuna, but only preserved in the Chinese translation from Kumarajiva),
Candrakirti (late 6th century CE), the early Chinese Middle Treatise, and the
present Dalai Lama.  Contemporary scholars like Streng and Ingram have also
noticed this.  Sunyata's effective soteriological efficacy gets us back into
basic Buddhist premises which state that (second of the Four Noble Truths) the
cause of duhkha 'frustration' is trsna, ignorant ego-driven clinging
attachments to objects--material and conceptual.
Trsna-driven egotistic grasping could manifest itself
around language itself, with sunyata able to challenge this through its
deconstructionist dynamics. Jiju Kennet, a modern Western Soto Zen Roshi,
accordingly reorientates Nagarjuna and sunyata away from metaphysical
abstraction. For her 'the purpose being religious rather than metaphysical,
these words were written for the purpose of freeing energetic intellects from
mental blocks which they set up of themselves to bar their path to spiritual understanding.'
 What she does is to highlight the functionalist/instrumentalist nature of
Nagarjuna's thrust, redirecting speculation onto applied training. Robinson's
study of early Madhyamika brings such language implications of sunyata to the
Emptiness characterises every term in the system of
expressional truths... Verbal thoughts and expression are 'constructed' or 'imagined'
(vikalpyate). They express only metaphorically, and there is no such thing as a
literal statement... Once this is granted the functional value of language is
admitted by the Madhyamika. 
His use of the term 'functional' is interesting. It evokes
both this whole article's thrust, and has striking overlaps with Wittgenstein's
'language game' and crucial 'use' of language, which from a Buddhist
perspective form a very serious and profound game.  Analogous comments on
the provisional use (and misuse) of language have come from Sangharakshita, since
'the dialectic of Nagarjuna, by exposing the contradictions inherent in the
Buddhist doctrines themselves when taken literally, serves as a reminder of the
supremely important fact that these doctrines, constituting the conceptual
formulations of Wisdom, possessed not absolute but only relative validity, and
were not ends in themselves but only means to an end. By shattering the hard
shell of literalism in which Buddhism was then imprisoned, Nagarjuna not only
saved it from suffocation and probable death but also gave it room for future
development.' Sangharakshita here reasserts the functionalist role of
teachings, as a raft or conventional methods, rather than as fixed absolute
ontological Truth statements which could become the source of subtle
In such a functionalist framework, sunyata should also be
able to be seen as inculcating particular Buddhist virtues, as indeed suggested
by Shantideva in the 7th-8th century:
He who maintains the doctrine of Emptiness is not allured
by the things of the world, because they have no basis. He is not excited by gain
or dejected by loss. Fame does not dazzle him and infamy does not attract him.
Scorn does not repel him, praise does not attract him. Pleasure does not please
him, pain does not trouble him. He who is not allured by the things of the
world knows Emptiness, and one who maintains the doctrine of Emptiness has
neither likes nor dislikes. 
Here what is being referred to is not just the danger of
trsna, but also inculcating the core Buddhist upeksa ('equanimity'). Sunyata is
itself not a positive 'thing', replete with the dangers of being grasped and
clung onto, rather it was seen as being able to generate positive
transformations in the trainee. In a modem setting Sangharakshita has also
similarly noted sunyata's dynamic implications:
The remembrance of emptiness, far from decreasing one's
own powers of spiritual activity, increases it enormously. It becomes easy, effortless,
spontaneous, full of joy. Because the obstacle to activity, which is the
[egotistical trsna-driven] self has been removed. The activity of the self is
not really activity at all, and is always frustrated. The activity of emptiness
is true activity and is never frustrated. The activity of emptiness is
Sunyata ('emptiness') then becomes a lever not just to
undercut clinging attachments but also to generate appropriate detached
At this point Mahayana Buddhism reasserts the whole point
of doctrines not just existing in themselves but as having a purpose. This is
well suggested with Santina's talk of provisional devices of 'discoursive
soteriology' which are "validated merely by their effectiveness in
producing the soteriological change which is wanted. The devices of discoursive
sotetiology are illusory no doubt, but that does not prevent them from exercising
their intended function.". From a pragmatic point of view it could be
said that Nagarjuna's ruthless dialectical negation, if carried through, was a
perfect mechanism for short-circuiting traditional (but potentially
diversionary) abstract metaphysical speculation. Actual practice could be
reinstated, along with meditation and realisation, rather than discussion and
argument about doctrines. Madhyamika insights can be clearly recognised in the
 Huang Po (d. 850 CE), an early Ch'an master
considered that sunyata could counteract conceptual clinging attachments, since
"with the merest desire to attach yourselves to this or that, a mental
symbol, is so formed, such symbols in turn, giving rise to all those sacred
writings which lead you back to undergo the various kinds of rebirth. So let
your symbolic conception be that of a void, for then... . "
Traditional Buddhist formulations, "such as Enlightenment, the Absolute,
Reality, etc." were "mere concepts for helping us through
samsara."  As for language itself, clear functionalist views come in
Engo's comment in the Hekiganroku that "every word and phrase is a means,
for the moment, of leading students to realisation."  Zen Buddhism can
be readily seen as profoundly, overtly and primarily functionalist in
character; with its koans, behaviour patterns and discourses of masters fluid
and above all aiming at awakening the potential of the trainee by whatever
formulation, or indeed non-formulation, was appropriate for that particular
An interesting, and revealing situation emerges if we
consider the main rival to the Mdhyamaka, namely the Vijnanavadin ('idealism')
school, subject to Madhyamaka criticism for appearing to slip into Absolutist frameworks.
However, the Lankavatara Sutra, a central Vijanavadin text, counsels the higher
state of training "where all means of logical proof are not seized upon,
where there is no seizing upon the real truth but a disregard for it, as being
a likely cause of infatuation."  This suggests a practical (i.e.
instrumentalist) readiness actually to downplay the potential absolute status
of their formulations. Admittedly, epistemological concerns and claims arise in
Dhar-makirti's Pramanasiddhi.  We may though be able to argue that his
seemingly absolute epistemology still reveals functionalist concerns, with him
talking about "the path to freedom from [samsaric] existence, because
through accustomating it as the direct
antidote to self-grasping one eliminates all faults and attains a completely
transformed state." Moreover, there is deliberate highlighting of the
medical analogy, itself related to upaya, since like the physician, "in
order to save generations of beings from their disease of passions with which
they are ill, I teach people with my doctrines, knowing the power of their
Indeed in a citta-mattra ('mind-only') setting, all truth
statements (e.g. like the Four Noble Truths, or the Vijnanavadin's own
particular alaya-vijnana ('storehouse consciousness') framework) themselves are
products of the mind (manas). The mind might be a central junction point of reference
but all truth claim statements would still fall into the compounded realm of
language. They might be more or less factually true, but they were inherently
conditioned by their existence in and mediated through the realm of form, as
filtered through the mind. They might be able to point towards the highest
truth, but that truth was itself beyond description. Within the Vijnanavada
framework, knowledge consisted of parikalpita 'constructed/imagined' illusions
about the material world, the subtler paratantra ('other-dependent') awareness
of the flow of underlying dharmas, etc., and the parinispanna ('absolutely
accomplished') knowledge which was characterised by thusness (tathata) and
sunyata ('emptiness'), i.e. an absolute setting of Truth that was a non-setting
as otherwise it could become the focus for clinging. With the mind as the
central junction point or filter, doing something about the mind becomes a
clear practical imperative generated from the epistemological framework.
Vijnanavadin metaphysics are thereby translated into Yogacara mind discipline,
i.e. meditation. All this would give a functionalist thrust to Jackson's own introductory
comment to the Dharmakirti's Pramanasiddhi to "accept as axiomatic that
Buddhist works are written for the purpose of assisting their readers to attain
Other 'positive' sounding Mahayana concepts can be
considered for their degree of functionalism. In King's analysis of the
language appearing in connection with tathagatagarbha (Buddha-nature), she
argues, "it is not a matter of substantialist monism", for "the
decision to say that the Buddha nature exists aboriginally appears to be a pragmatic one;
this is the statement that will most encourage practice. Yet it is also quite
clear that this does not mean that Buddha nature 'exists' in the normal sense; aboriginal
existence has nothing to do with either being or non-being. Why?
Because it has to do with a person's actions or practice
of the Buddha way, which is not essentially ontological, and because it has to
do with change or transformation, with what appears 'Thus', which is never
thing like but always in flux [anicca]. The ontology of flux is related to the
soteriology of practice... Hence to say that the Buddha nature (aboriginally) 'exists'
is the very opposite of giving it a substantial or thinglike character. Rather
it is to encourage practice, to indicate the primacy of practice."
Consequently she considers 'positive' and 'negative' language to be "often
soteriological, rather than strictly philosophical, in intent." Yet
again, the soteriology boils down to its appropriate and crucially
functionalist dynamics, in reducing attachments.
What of the Mahayana strands of faith? Certainly the
Nichiren Shoshu tradition has blunt assertions over the truth of its statements
concerning the status of the Lotus Sutra and of Nichiren, embedded in the
practices of chanting the Namu-myoho-renge-ky6 ('Veneration to the Sutra of the
Good Law') and performing Gongyo (chanting of the Lotus Sutra chapter 2 and chapter
16). The Nichiren tradition is controversial, particularly over exclusivist
claims like "Buddhahood can only be revealed by chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo".
 Yet the whole point of the chanting is that it does function effectively,
in generating 'conspicuous benefits' and 'inconspicuous benefits' for oneself,
or others. It provides results. This should not obscure the conceptual
underpinning for the tradition, nor should this obscure their strong
('correspondence') claims as to the absolute truth of their statements, but it
remains noticeable that Soka Gakkai literature is also conspicuous in affirming
and thus valuing this results-efficacy criterion.  The efficacy of chanting
the Lotus Sutra chapters does not depend on knowing their formal meaning, as
the very action generates effects. One does not chant to understand the truth,
but to release its power.
To conclude this section finally we could consider another
Buddhist path of faith, the Pure
Land tradition. There we
would seem also to have absolute truth statements, with full 'correspondence'
frameworks of truth in the shape both of Amitabha ('infinite light') Buddha and
of his Pure Land, for which total unconditional faith was prominent, with the
'original vow' and success of Amida being truths independent of other humans'
choices and actions. Yet a closer look has such seeming Pure Land
correspondence becoming more subtle and, one could argue, ultimately
functionalist. After all the Amitayur dhyana sutra, replete with descriptions
of both Amitabha and the Pure
Land, also explicitly
acknowledges its own use there of metaphors.  Traditionally, at the surface
level, the very absolute truth of the Amida's original vow and success in
creating a Pure Land
then implies the functionalist efficacy of subsequent practices, i.e. the whole
point of the nembutsu recitation is not to state a doctrinal truth, but to use
it as the instrument to gain rebirth in the Pure Land.
Amitabha Buddha is true, but true as what? As Amitabha, a Sambhogakaya
manifestation (within the tri-kaya setting) of the Dharmakaya (beyond
descriptions); as Buddha, the same Buddha-nature that is also present and able
to be awaken in the devotee.
Subtle positions emerge from modem Pure Land
figures. Hosen Seki is clear enough on the ultimately provisional (though
highly transformative) nature of such traditional language.
Why did the Buddha speak of a land 'to the west?' Why a
westward country? One reason is again to do with concentration of the mind. If the
Buddha had said that the land is everywhere (which it is), then our mind,
already scattered and dispersed in its daily confusion, could not concentrate
its vision. 'Everywhere' pulls too hard at our mental limitation. But when the
Buddha says 'Western country', our thought goes at one in that single
direction. Of course many will think that this Pure Land
is really situated in the western quarter. According to a person's capacity, he
believes what he believes... even though we are now truly in the Pure Land,
human illusion prevents us from seeing it so. Therefore Gautama Buddha couches
this teaching in terms of an immensely desirable country--an offer no one could
find unattractive 
This echoes the whole thrust of the Mahayana's upaya, with
language designed to have a 'practical' effect on the listener. The literal
'out there' description of the Pure
Land is a skilful means,
rather than being a fixed separate absolute. Similar subtlety comes over
We cannot measure the Infinite with our limited knowledge.
This means that the Infinite Light and Life is manifested as this Dharma repository
in order to be understandable to our limited intellect. So this universal truth
is presented to us in the form of an understandable and acceptable myth; but
the truth behind 'myth' makes the myth truer by far than what we take for
reality in our deluded lives... the light of the Infinite penetrates every
corner of existence, and there is nothing that obstructs it. We are the Amida's
light today, tomorrow, and forever. 
Amitabha then has become a symbol, but a symbol of
transforming depth both in terms of role as a myth, and in terms of relating to
the depths of the individual. This stance has also been put forward with
relation to Pure Land dynamics by Sangharakshita. 
Another modern Pure Land figure, Takeuchi Yoshinori also
seems to use the Pure Land ultimately, but hugely importantly as a symbol or
lever for transformation here and now, as 'the symbolic world (in which all
Buddhas continually praise the name of Amida Buddha and guarantee the truth of
that name and birth in the Pure Land through its invocation) is discovered directly
underfoot of the present'.  Indeed for him the Pure Land
as a symbol seems both relative and absolute, through it being indeed a highly effective
symbol, as (in shades of Bultmann) he noted:
In connection with which the problem of human finitude of
the human world is taken up, lies the
idea of a Paradise in the West. From my standpoint (and it may be argued that hereby
I myself am demythologizing the meaning
of the Pure Land in the West), this means that we have to give ample
consideration to what the symbol of a Pure Land signifies... it becomes present
in the present from the future, in the form of an arrival from the transcendent
yonder shore to the hither shore of the present world... Accordingly I find the
symbol, of the Pure
Land in the West
exceedingly significant and possessed of a meaning too weighty to be displaced
or replaced by any other symbol. 
Seeming absolute faith in the truth of Amitabha, in the Pure Land
framework, becomes a massive spur and instrumentally effective lever. If faith
works wonders in dissolving egotistic clinging, then (pragmatically speaking)
absolute faith in the truth of Amitgbha is needed todissolve such fetters.
Here we come full circle. This article started by
suggesting that Buddhism suffers from the danger of philosophy, and of
superficial cross-cultural comparisons. In fact a more precise suggestion would
be that Buddhism suffers from the danger of particular types of philosophy. An
interesting Western figure to mention is Braithwaite, whose criticism of
Russell's type of correspondence/realism, and his own modification of logical
positivism have some resonance with Buddhism. Particularly evocative are Braith-waite's
argument for "allowing use as well as verifiability to be a criterion for
meaning".  Here Braithwaite explicitly acknowledges Wittgenstein's
'language game' use-framework--with other related figures influencing this
functional/pragmatic epistemology being William James—and Jung's 'subjective
truth', i.e. what works for the individual. Braithwaite argues for 'a
connotative rather than an emotive theory' of ethics for the individual, for
"he is not asserting any proposition or necessarily evincing any feeling
of approval; he is subscribing to a policy of action", at which points he
quotes the functional-sounding New Testament passage "by their fruits ye
shall know them".  That he is sensitive enough to the nature of
spirituality is clear by his acknowledging "the resolution proclaimed by a
religious assertion may then be taken as referring to inner life as well as to
outward conduct".  A final nuance is Braith-waite's flexible view on
the role of sacred literature and of formulations, as he asks "if the
religious stories need not be believed, what function do they fulfil in the
complex state of mind and behaviour known as having a religious belief?... . it
is an empirical psychological fact that many people find it easier to resolve
upon and carry through a course of action which is contrary to their natural
inclinations if this policy is associated in their minds with certain
stories."  All this brings to mind the operation and implications
surrounding upaya, and of the transformational experiential thrust of most
This study also comes full circle with Jacobson's
pinpointing of Buddhism in general, and Nagarjuna in particular, as manifesting
very early process philosophy.  Anicca, (dependent origination), as indeed
Nagarjuna's sunyata, focus the emphasis on the here and now, this moment,
replete with its dynamic movement. Jacobson contrasts process philosophy with
absolutist abstraction (the legacy of Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Leibniz and
Hegel), the latter perspective having dominated Western thought down the
centuries and being seen by Jacobson as "the concentration camp of what
can be defined and formulated"!  He pinpoints three particular
manifestations of process philosophy. One was the full blown legacy of Buddhism
and Nagarjuna, second was the isolated classical Greek figure Heraclitus (universal
flux) and third were some modern US figures--in particular Whitehead,
Hartshorne, and Dewey (our initial 'nstrumentalist' reference point). Within
Jacobson's appreciation, two citations highlight some of their philosophical
critiques of traditional philosophy. First, Hartshorne's awareness of 'the need
to be free from theory. We have to respond to situations always more complex
than we can understand, and we have to respond with more than understanding.
Buddhist meditation has this as its purpose. We might begin with the importance
of nonconceptual, nontheoretical apprehension of reality.'  Dewey also
called for 'a reconstruction in philosophy', in his 1920 lectures in Japan,
where some of the shared 'process' concerns with Buddhism seem to have emerged.
Elsewhere from Dewey we hear "where egotism is not
made the measure of reality and value, we are citizens of a vast world beyond
ourselves with which a sufficiently experiential probing may give us a sense of
unity".  For Buddhism, since the root cause of dukkha, and the main
obstacle to realising Nirvana, is egotistical trsna, then anything that
undercuts trsna is to be used. It is precisely because of the important
spiritual significance given to the end (Enlightenment) that Buddhism by and
large takes an ultimately instrumentalist functional view of its own teachings and
practice. Far from devaluing these 'means', it thereby reaffirms their actual
practical use within the Buddhist training process. Functionalism seems an
appropriate key for better understanding the operational dynamics, existentialist
goal and epistemological criteria through which Buddhism mostly operates.
 SCOTT, D. (1985) Ashokan missionary expansion of
Buddhism amongst the Greeks, Religion, 15, pp. 131-141; idem. (1986) Buddhist
attitudes to Hellenism: a review of the issue, Studies in Religion, 15,
pp. 433-41. The Milindapanha 'Questions of Milinda' is one such example.
 See BATCHELOR, S. (1994) The Awakening of the West (London, Aquarian) for
various examples.  Thus KALANSURIYA, A. (1979) Two modern Sinhalese views of
Nibbana, Religion, 9, pp. 1-12, argues against what he sees as narrow
('empirical-philosophical') approaches; as does RAJAPAKSE, R. (1986) Buddhism
as religion and philosophy, Religious Studies, 16, pp. 51-55.
 HOFFMAN, F. (1982) The Buddhist empiricism thesis,
Religious Studies, 18, pp. I51-158. He considers 'empiricism understood as a
theory of knowledge which holds that some or all knowledge or the materials of knowledge
is either derived from sense experience or is in some senses dependent on sense
experience'. In that setting he does not consider Buddhism as a form of
empiricism, which is true insofar as Buddhism claims to go beyond the senses
for insight. However Hoffman also approvingly used Edwards' definition
(Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 1967) of empiricism, the 'theory that experience
rather than reason is the source of knowledge and in this sense is opposed to
rationalism' (p. 383). Buddhism would, however, fit into this type of
definition, given the centrality of experience in its system. See also HOFFMAN,
F (1985) Buddhist belief 'IN', Religious Studies, 21, pp. 381-387. Buddhism's
experiential and experimental character is perhaps lost sight of amidst
Hoffman's unhappiness with the term 'empiricism'. Functionalism or
instrumentalism may be more effective alternative terms to use.
 SOUTHWOLD, M. (1983) Buddhism in life. The
Anthropological study of religion and the Sinhalese practice of Buddhism
(Manchester, Manchester University Press) p. 186: 'instrumental activity as
action directed to altering the state of the world, one's environment, as a
means of altering one's subjective state of experience, which it is taken to
determine. The strategy of ameliorating experience by such means I shall call
the "instrumental strategy". The system of assumptions, thoughts and action--including
the necessary basis of action in belief about facts of which this strategy is
part, I shall term "instrumentalism" '. This sociological usage is
distinguished from what he calls 'sapientism'.
 See QUINTON, A. (1977) Inquiry, thought and action:
John Dewey's theory of knowledge, in: R. PETERS (Ed.) John Dewey reconsidered
(London, Routledge & Kegan Paul) pp. 1-18, esp.
'Instrumentalism' pp. 9-14.
 HARVEY, P. (1992) An outline of Buddhism, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge,
 Anguttara Nikaya V.1-3 (I.189), trans. F. Woodward
(1936) The Book of the Gradual, Sayings (Anguttara-Nikaya), (London, Pali Text Society) Vol. V, pp. 3-4.
 SANGHARAKSHITA, B. (1987) A Survey of Buddhism, (London, Tharpa) p.167.
op. cit., note 7, p. 196.
 PREMASIRI, P. (1989) Ethics of the Theravada Buddhist
tradition, in: CRAWFORD (Ed.) World Religions and Global Ethics, (New York, Paragon) p. 57.
 SADDHATISSA, H. (1970) Buddhist Ethics. Essence of
Allen & Unwin), pp. 110-14.
 PREMASIRI, op. cit., note 11, p. 59.
 GROSS, R. (1985) The householder and the world
renunciant: two modes of sexual expression in Buddhism, Journal of Ecumenical
Studies, 22, p. 81. 'Buddhism has coexisted with monogamous, polygonous,
polyandrous, and even homosexual commitments but [crucially] judging each by
the degree to which it lessened egocentricity and advanced inner liberty. This
same attitude has meant that divorce, childbearing and contraception have not
been treated dogmatically but rather judged case by case... Generally, Buddhism
has favoured monogamy, responsible childbearing and child rearing, and
marriages. It has disapproved of divorce, irregular sexuality (for example oral
or anal intercourse), and homosexuality--but not rigidly or without regard to
intentions or special circumstances that might change the evaluation'; cited in
CARMODY, D. & CARMODY, J. (1988) How to live well: Ethics in the World
Religions, Wadsworth, Belmont, pp. 120-121.
 ALEXANDRIN, G. (1981) Buddhist economics, Eastern
Buddhist, 21(1) pp. 36-37.
 Ibid., p. 52.
 SCHUMACHER, E. (1974) Buddhist economics, in: Small
is Beautiful (London,
Abacus) p. 1. Cf. SIVARAKSA, S. (1992) Seeds of Peace. A Buddhist Vision for
Renewing Society, (Berkely,
CA, Parallax Press) pp. 44-47 for
outer and inner correlation and balance.
 See BATCHELOR, M. (Ed.) (1992) Buddhism and Ecology (London, Cassell).
 PREMASIRI, op. cit., note 11, pp. 62-3.
 Ibid., p. 63.
 SADDHATISSA, H., op. cit., p. 28.
 PREMASIRI, op. cit., note 11, p. 43.
 SADDHAT1SSA, op. cit., note 21, p. 68.
 KING, W. (1980) Theravada Meditation (Pittsburgh, PA, Pennsylvania State University)
 BUDDHAGHOSA, (1976) Path of Purification (Visuddhi
Magga), trans. B. Nyanamoli (London, Shambala) esp. pp. 84-406 for elaborations
on the kasinas, pp. 406-408 for various benefits.
 Table from King, op. cit., note 24, p. 31; see pp.
31-34 for general instrumentalist role of meditation (Nirvana), and the more
specific directioning. Kumarajiva's dhyana-samadhi treatise is another example
of a functionalist matching of temperaments for certain meditation exercises. See
CONZE, E. (1956) Buddhist Meditation (London,
Unwin) pp. 11-13.
 Truth claims categories in Buddhism and in Western
philosophy are discussed in Is Enlightenment Possible? Dharmakirti and rGyal
tshab rje on Knowledge, Rebirth and Liberation, trans. and commentary by R.
Jackson (1993) (New York,
Snow Lion) pp. 43-107.
 Vinaya 2.10, trans. Woodward 1973, London,
Oxford University Press. Some Sayings of the Buddha, p. 186. Also trans. I. Homer (1992) The Book of the Discipline. Vol. V
Pali Text Society) p. 359. Woodward's translation brings out the point a little
more clearly perhaps.
 Majjhima-nikaya no 22, Alagaddupama sutta (=
1.130-142), trans. I. Horner (1975) The Collection of the Middle Length Sayings
Pali Text Society) Vol. I, p. 173.
 Majjhima-nikaya no 63, Cula-Malunkya sutta, (=
1.4226-432), trans. I. Homer, Vol. II, 97-101, p. 101.
 JAYATILLEKE, K. (1963) Early Buddhist Theory of
Allen and Unwin) pp. 470-471.
 Majjhima-nikaya no 63, Cula-Malunkya sutta, (=
I.426-432), trans. Horner, Vol. II, p. 101.
 Majjhima-nikaya no 58, Abhayarajakumara sutta, (= I.392-396),
trans. Horner, Vol. II, pp. 60-64, esp. pp. 62-63.
 JAYATILLEKE, op. cit., note 31, p. 358.
 Anguttara-nikaya 1.188, trans. F. Woodward (1936) The
Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara-Nikaya) (London, Pali Text Society) Vol. I, pp. 171-72.
 Ibid., p. 172.
 The Dhammapada 12.4 (= verse 160), 20.4 (= verse 276)
trans. J. Mascero (1973) (London,
Penguin) pp. 58,75. THERAN (1954) The Dhammapada (London, Murray) is a useful literal version.
 JAYATILLEKE, op. cit., note 31, p. 391, with a wider
discussion of saddha pp. 383-400, including a secondary post-Buddha increase of
dogmatism, p. 400.
 SANGHARAKSHITA, (1985) Eternal Legacy. An
introduction to the Canonical literature of Buddhism (London, Tharpa) p. 34.
 LING, T. (1979) Buddha, Marx, and God (London, Macmillan) p. 44.
 SANGHARAKSHITA, op. cit., note 39, pp. 55,60.
 LING, op. cit., note 40, p. 44.
 SANGHARAKSHITA, op. cit., note 39, p. 29.
 PYE, M. (1978) Skilful Means (London, Duckworth).
 Lotus Sutra ch. 3, trans. B. Watson (1993) (New York, Columbia
State University) p. 56-71.
 The Vimalakirti nirdesa sutra, trans. C. Luk (1972) (London, Routledge &
Kegan Paul) ch. 2 on upaya.
 Lotus Sutra, ch. 25, trans. Watson, pp. 301-02.
 Submitted to Journal of Chinese Religions, current
 The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines,
trans. Conze, E. (1975) The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and
its Verse Summary (Bolinas,
CA. Four Seasons Foundation) text
tr. pp. 83-300, ch. II.5 (verses 42-44), p. 100.
 Ibid. ch. III. 1 (53), p. 104.
 Ibid., ch. VIII.2 (190), tr. p. 144.
 Ibid., ch. I.3 (16), pp. 88-89.
 Verses on the Perfection of Great Wisdom trans.
Conze, 9-73, ch. XXXII. 6, conclusion, p. 71.
 'Of all theories, Kasyapa, Sunyat a is the antidote.
Him I call the incurable who mistakes Sunyata itself as a theory (drsti). It is
as if a drug, administered to cure a patient, were to remove all disorders, but
were itself to foul the stomach by remaining therein. Would you, Kasyapa, consider
the patient cured?... Likewise Kasyapa, Sunyata is the antidote for all
dogmatic views; but him I declare incurable who misapprehends Sunyata itself as
theory'. Cited in: T. MURTI (1972) The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. A Study
of the Madhyamika System (London,
Unwin) p. 164.
 Trans. Conze (1973) The Short Prajnaparamita texts (London, Luzac) p. 138.
 DOHERTY, G. (1983) Form is emptiness. reading the
Diamond Sutra, Eastern Buddhist, 16(2), pp. 114-23.
 see STRENG, F. (1978) The process of ultimate
transformation in Nagarjuna's Madhyamika, Eastern Buddhist, 11(2), pp. 12-32.
Conze comments that 'emptiness is not a theory, it is a ladder... a severely
practical concept as a medicine the investigation of emptiness is the chief
task of Buddhist wisdom. Only systematic meditation can disclose its
profundity'. Conze, E. (1962) Buddhist thought in India
and Unwin) p. 243. Nagarjuna's method and investigation of emptiness is only
properly performed by systematic meditation.
 Madhyamikakarika 24.8, trans. K. Inada (1970)
Nagarjuna. A translation of the Mulamadhyamikakarika (Tokyo, Hokuseido) p. 146.
 Fragment (contained in Santaraksita's
Madhyamakalamkaravrtti), trans. Lindtner (1987) Nagar-juna. Studies in the Writings and
Philosophy of Nagarjuna (Delhi,
Motilal Banarsidas) p. 95.
 Madhyamikakarika 24.7, trans. p. 146.
 KING, S. (1991) Buddha Nature (Albany,
University of New York Press) p. 109. For King
'Madhyamakans use sunya to destroy all views; they "sunyatize"
sunyata to deconstruct the later, to be clear that sunyata is not Truth nor a
valid view about [it] .' Patel, in his consideration of Nagarjuna's paradox of
negation ('no proposition has its own intrinsic thesis') argues that to see
this as an 'argumentative/systematic' (absolutist?) statement is missing the
point. Instead he prefers to ask 'then what function does it serve?', since
'the functionality of a negative statement centres around its efficacy in
furthering Buddhist soteriology'. PATEL, K. (1994) The paradox of negation in
Nagarjuna's philosophy, Asian philosophy, 4(1), pp. 17-32.
 Yuktisastika, trans. Lindtner, op. cit., note 59, pp.
103-119, verse 51 p. 117.
 Madhyamikakarika 18.4-5, trans. p. 114.
 Sunvatasaptati-karika 38-39, trans. Lindtner, op.
cit., note 59, pp. 51-52.
 Sunvatasaptati-karika 65, trans. p. 65.
 Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra, 'craving is the root of
clinging... if one would seek to become free from suffering, he should first
put an end to trsna... words are [just] a means to get the meaning... so, in
order to destroy their clinging, it is taught that all things are really
sunya... if people cling even to impermanence and suffering, then the Buddha would
teach that even these are sunya, not ultimate.' Extensive extracts and
commentary in RAMANAN, K. (1966) Nargarjuna's Philosophy as Presented in the
Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidas) verses 200a, 720b, 296c,
291b, trans. pp. 106-107, 183, 193;CANDRAKIRTI Commentary on Nagarjuna's Guide
to the Middle Way ('Emptiness is taught in order to lay to calm all verbal
differentiations, the net of concepts') in: P. WILLIAMS (1990), Mahayana
Routledge) p. 70; Middle Treatise, regarding Nagarjuna's famous four-fold
negation noted that 'it was declared to demolish the four kinds of attachment.'
See verses in ROBINSON, R. (1967) Early Madhvamika in India and China
Banarsidas) p. 56. The Dalai Lama discusses the 'imprint or benefit' of emptiness
in weakening forces like desire and hatred. GYATSO, T. (Dalai Lama) (1975) The Key
to the Middle way, in: The Buddhism of Tibet (New York, Harper & Row) pp. 79-80.
 Streng earlier rejected the absolutist metaphysical
nuances of Murti's (Hindu-coloured?) treatment of sunyata, using an interesting
phrase in a letter dated 2 June 1977 to Jacobson: "the term 'emptiness'
functions as mental judo". Cited in JACOBSON, N. (1983) Buddhism and the
contemporary worm (Carbondale,
IL, Southern Illinois University
Press) p. 15. P. Ingram believes 'the whole point of Nagarjuna's concept of
Emptiness is that... if we experience everything as empty of "own
being", including our philosophical doctrines, we cease clinging (upadana)
to them'. INGRAM, P. (1990) Buddhist shunyata and the Christian trinity: a
response to Michael von Bruck, in: R. CORLESS & P. KNITTER (Eds) Buddhist
Emptiness and Christian Trinity. Essays and Explorations (New York, Paulist Press) esp. p. 71. This
was in opposition to what Ingram calls the uncritical absolutist interpretation
of Bruck. See the essay by VON BRUCK, M. Buddhist shunyata and the Christian
trinity. The emerging holistic paradigm, in ibid., pp. 44-66.
 KENNET, J. (1976) Zen is Eternal life (Emeryville, CA,
Dharma) p. 19.
 ROBINSON, op. cit., note 66, p. 49.
 See GUDMUNSEN, C. (1977) Wittgenstein and Buddhism (London, Macmillan).
 SANGHARAKSHITA (1987) A survey of Buddhism (London, Tharpa) p. 347.
 Dharmasangiti Sutra, Siksasamuccaya passage cited in
DE BARY, W. (1972) The Buddhist Tradition (New York, Vintage) p. 97.
 SANGHARAKSHITA (1982) Crossing the Stream (Glasgow,
Windhorse) p. 208, amid his section 'The Way of Emptiness' pp. 205-209.
 SANTINA, P. D. (1986) Madhyamika Schools in India
(Delhi, Motilal Banarsidas) p. 41; pp. 30-41 for more elaboration.
 See the interesting article by CHENG, H. (1979) Zen
and San-lun Madhyamika thought: exploring the theoretical foundation of Zen
teaching and practice, Religious Studies, 15, pp. 343363.
 The Wan Ling Record 46, trans. J. Blofeld, The Zen
teachings of Huang Po (London, Buddhist Society) pp. 122-123.
 Ibid. (4, tr. ibid.) p. 69.
 Hekiganroku case 3, trans. K. Seida, Two Zen
Classics. Mumonkan and Hekiganroku (New
York, Weatherhill) p. 152.
 Lankavatara Sutra, trans. D. Suzuki (London, Routledge &
Kegan Paul) p. 74.
 Is Enlightenment Possible? op. cit., note 27.
 Ibid., p. 413, including the commentary by rGyal
 Ibid., p. 170.
 Ibid., p. 61.
 KING, op. cit., note 61, p. 112.
 Ibid., p. 113.
 UK Express, the Soka Gakkai official organ, March
1994, p. 9.
 CAUSTON, R. (1988) Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. An
Rider) pp. 123-129.
 Amitayur dhyana-sutra, trans. S. Beyer (1974) The
Buddhist Experience: Sources and interpretations (Encino CA., Dickenson) p.
117. Beyer's translation replaces the older one in the Sacred Books of the
 SEKI, HOSEN trans. and commentary, (1973) Buddha
tells of the Infinite. The Amida Kyo (Tokyo,
Publications) pp. 15, 49.
 Ibid., pp. 39-40.
 Sangharakshita, op. cit., note 9, p. 379, the
"realities are the same, but in one case [Prajnaparamita (Wisdom)] they
are indicated by means of conceptual and in the other by means of imaginative
symbols. Such a transposition is obviously attended by very great advantages.
While a philosophy only titillates the rational surface of our being, poetry
stirs it to its depth. Because they engage the darkest and most deeply
submerged desires and urges of our personality the symbols of the Amitabha myth
are collectively able to orientate our whole being towards realisation."
 YOSHINORI, T. (1983) The Heart of Buddhism (New York, Crossroad) p. 141.
 Ibid., p. 135.
 BRAITHWAITE, R. An empiricist's view of the nature of
religious belief (the ninth Arthur Stanley Eddington Memorial Lecture, November
1955), in: B. MITCHELL, (Ed.) (1971) The Philosophy of Religion (Oxford, Oxford University
Press) p. 72. My thanks to my colleague Arthur Giles for pointing out this
analogous overlap, and also for wider helpful comments.
 Ibid., p. 80.
 Ibid., p. 83.
 Ibid., p. 86.
 JACOBSON, N. (1988) The Heart of Buddhist Philosophy
University Press) p. 9.
 Ibid., p. 46.
 HARTSHORNE., cited in ibid., p. 83.
 See AMES, V. (1982)
Zen and American Thought (Honolulu, HI, University
of Hawaii Press) pp.
214-235, 'Dewey and Zen'.
 DEWEY, cited in Jacobson, op. cit., note 98, pp.
TABLE I. Appropriate meditation exercises according to
type of person
Type of person Subject and themes
Devotional Buddha, dharma, sangha, sila, benevolence,
Intellectual Calmness or peace, death
Repulsiveness of food, four material elements
Passionate/sensual Body constituents
Angry/irritable Four sublime abodes (brahma-vihara)
Dull and unstable Respiration
All types Ten basinas
All types (after
fourth jhana) Four formless objects (ayatana)
Vol. 5 No. 2 Oct. 1995, Pp.127-149
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