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The unanswered questions

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The unanswered questions (Sanskrit avyākṛta-vastu, Pali: avyākata-vastu), refer to a set of metaphysical questions that Buddha refused to answer. The questions are referred to as avyākṛta (Sanskrit; Pali: avyākata), meaning "indeterminate", "unacertainable", "unaswered", etc.[1]

There are a number of versions of these questions.[2]

Context

Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

The Buddha always told his disciples not to waste their time and energy in metaphysical speculation. Whenever he was asked a metaphysical question, he remained silent. Instead, he directed his disciples toward practical efforts. Questioned one day about the problem of the infinity of the world, the Buddha said, "Whether the world is finite or infinite, limited or unlimited, the problem of your liberation remains the same." Another time he said, "Suppose a man is struck by a poisoned arrow and the doctor wishes to take out the arrow immediately. Suppose the man does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? If he were to wait until all these questions have been answered, the man might die first." Life is so short. It must not be spent in endless metaphysical speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth.

— Hanh, Thich; Philip Kapleau, Nhat (2005). Zen Keys. Three Leaves Press. p. 42. 

Ten unanswered questions

The Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta and Cūḷamālukya Sutta each contain a list of ten unanswered questions.

These ten questions are:

Is it true that:

  1. The world is eternal?
  2. The world is not eternal?
  3. The world is finite?
  4. The world is infinite?
  5. The soul and the body are the same thing?
  6. The soul and the body are different things?
  7. A Realized One exists after death?
  8. A Realized One doesn’t exist after death?
  9. A Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death?
  10. A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death?

The Buddha refused to answer these questions. He responded with the following metaphors:

Fourteen unanswered questions

Editornote image from pexelsdotcom 60x40px.png Editor's note: These fourteen questions are presented in Buswell's Encycopedia of Buddhism. It is not clear which sutras these questions appear in.

Another common version of these questions is a list of fourteen questions that are grouped into four categories.[3]

Questions concerning the existence of the cosmos in time

Is it true that:

1. The world is eternal?
2. The world is not eternal?
3. The world is both eternal and not eternal?
4. The world is neither eternal nor not eternal?

(The set of ten questions omits the questions on "both" and "neither")

Questions concerning the existence of the cosmos in space

Is it true that:

5. The world is finite?
6. The world is infinite?
7. The world is both finite and infinite?
8. The world is niether finite or infinite?

(The set of ten questions omits the questions on "both" and "neither")

Questions referring to personal identity

Is it true that:

9. The soul and the body are the same thing?
10. The soul and the body are different things?
Questions referring to life after death

Is it true that:

11. A Realized One exists after death?
12. A Realized One doesn’t exist after death?
13. A Realized One both exists and doesn’t exist after death?
14. A Realized One neither exists nor doesn’t exist after death?

The Buddha remained silent when asked these fourteen questions. He described them as a net and refused to be drawn into such a net of theories, speculations, and dogmas. He said that it was because he was free of bondage to all theories and dogmas that he had attained liberation. Such speculations, he said, are attended by fever, unease, bewilderment, and suffering, and it is by freeing oneself of them that one achieves liberation

Sixteen unanswered questions

The Sabbasava Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 2[4]) also mentions 16 questions which are seen as "unwise reflection" and lead to attachment to views relating to a self. [5]

  1. What am I?
  2. How am I?
  3. Am I?
  4. Am I not?
  5. Did I exist in the past?
  6. Did I not exist in the past?
  7. What was I in the past?
  8. How was I in the past?
  9. Having been what, did I become what in the past?
  10. Shall I exist in future?
  11. Shall I not exist in future?
  12. What shall I be in future?
  13. How shall I be in future?
  14. Having been what, shall I become what in future?
  15. Whence came this person?
  16. Whither will he go?

The Buddha states that it is unwise to be attached to both views of having and perceiving a self and views about not having a self. Any view which sees the self as "permanent, stable, everlasting, unchanging, remaining the same for ever and ever" is "becoming enmeshed in views, a jungle of views, a wilderness of views; scuffling in views, the agitation (struggle) of views, the fetter of views."[6]

See also

References

  1. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. avyākṛta
  2. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. avyākṛta
  3. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. avyākṛta
  4. "Sabbasava Sutta, Translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu". Retrieved 2013-06-26. 
  5. Douglas W. Shrader, Between Self and No-Self: Lessons from the Majjhima Nikaya
  6. Douglas W. Shrader, Between Self and No-Self: Lessons from the Majjhima Nikaya


Sources


External links

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