Buddha’s Principle of Relativity (Based on the philosophy of Dependent Arising) By Don G. Athukorala

Book Review by Prof Carlo Fonseka - Emeritus Professor of Physiology in the Universities of Colombo and Kelaniya

A Scientific Approach to Buddhist Psychotherapy

From an ostensibly scientific stance, when a devout, octogenarian Buddhist with an impressive track record of knowledge and experience in engineering science declares that “Ven. Buddhaghosa got it wrong” on Paticcasamuppada the foundational premise of Buddhist philosophy, he commands my serious epistemological attention.

For I believe that scientific methodology is a surer guide to the nature of reality than philosophical speculation. Moreover, to dispute Ven. Buddhaghosa’s interpretation of a Buddhist doctrine is not necessarily to doubt a teaching of the Compassionate Buddha.

Students of Buddhism will recall that the Buddha cautioned against the error of being led, among other things, by mere reports, tradition, hearsay, authority of religious texts and speculative opinions. 

Interpretation of Paticcasamuppada (PS)

Ven. Buddhaghosa an Indian Hindu migrated to Sri Lanka around the 5th century AC.

He is the renowned author of Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification), and Sammohavinodani (Dispeller of Delusion) which are classic expositions of Theravada Buddhism. Don notes that in Visuddhimagga, having judged that the central doctrine of Buddhism – Paticcasamuppada is very difficult to understand and explain,

Ven. Buddhaghosa nevertheless laid it down that it is a process that applies on “a lifetime to lifetime basis”, that is, to past, present and future lives. In his subsequent work Sammohavinodani Ven. Buddhaghosa alludes to another possible interpretation of PS, namely, that it applies to “Mind-Moments” or brain waves according to Don, but definitively rejects it in favor of the “lifetime to lifetime” interpretation.

In Don’s judgment, it is in plumping for the “lifetime to lifetime” application rather than the brain wave application, lasting brief seconds, which Ven. Buddhaghosa “got it wrong”. At any rate, for the purpose of Don’s book and its remedies, theoretical considerations demand the ‘brain wave’ application. And so the pragmatic engineer that he is, Don opts for the latter interpretation and uses it as the basis of the therapy he prescribes for the modern malady called “STRESS”.

In Part Three of Don’s book titled Mind-Body-Stress seeks to explain how certain mental states can generate ‘stress’ and even stress related diseases including anxiety states, depression and addiction to substances such as alcohol. On the basis of his analytical understanding of PS, the author then goes on to declare confidently that the appropriate and effective remedy for such states is not MEDICATION but (Buddhist) MEDITATION.

To make his case for such therapy Don has had to re-examine the cardinal Buddhist concept of Paticcasamuppada and decisively reject its traditional interpretation in favor of the less established Mind Moments theory. As a devoted Buddhist he has the epistemological right to do so, duly sanctioned by the Buddha. He has ventured to formulate his treatise in terms of modern neurophysiology which he has expounded more or less accurately.

As an empiricist physiologist with a special interest in how the human brain works, I can only envy the acuity, industry and daring of Don G. Athukorala’s octogenarian brain!

The book can be purchased from Adyar bookshop, 99 Bathurst Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Phone (02) 9267 8509 Cost AUD 34.95

In Sri Lanka the book is titled 'A treatise on Mind Body Stress' specially tailored for the Sri Lankan market. It is sold by Lake House bookshop and Vijitha Yapa Bookshop Cost Rs 550.00


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