Friday, 4 May 2012

The point is not to interpret the world....

Here are some excerpts from the Pothapadda Sutta from the Pali Canon and Marx's Theses on Feurerbach, which both highlight the primacy of practice over theory and speculation.

Certainly, one is focussed on the inner world and the other on the outer, but essentially the concerns are the same.

The Buddha:

 " Then, in the same terms, Potthapada asked (the Buddha) each of the following questions:
1. Is the world not eternal?

2. Is the world finite?

3. Is the world infinite?

4. Is the soul the same as the body?

5. Is the soul one thing, and the body another?

6. Does one who has gained the truth live again after death ?

7. Does he neither live again, nor not live again, after death ? And to each question the exalted one made the same reply: It was this.

"That too, Potthapada, is a matter on which I have expressed no opinion ".

28. " But why has the Exalted One expressed no opinion on that ? "

(Because) "This question is not calculated to profit, it is not concerned with the Dhamma it does not redound even to the elements of right conduct, nor to detachment nor to purification from lust, nor to quietude, nor to tranquillisation of heart, nor to real knowledge, nor to insight, nor to Nirvana. Therefore it is that I express no opinion upon it. "


The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such....


The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.


The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.


All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.

The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

1 comment:

  1. Great comparison! I often think of the parallels myself, especially in a similar sutta, Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire [1].

    I highly recommend checking out this article for an interesting discussion of buddhism and (materialist, even!) dialectics [2].