An introduction to The Buddhist concept of man and ‘development’ – Part I

‘Development’ as we currently know it, is a concept invented in the west in the aftermath of the Second World War. The concept was and remains in large measure a part of the modernist discourse with its power structures firmly entrenched in the globalization discourse and international realpolitik.  When searching for alternative models of ‘development’ in other systems of knowledge, it is imperative that we search for the foundations of such alternate world views so that we do not get into the trap of having to justify such world-views with existing western knowledge.

A common mistake made by nationalist, non-western academics schooled and trained in western education[1] is to attempt a compatibility test between eastern philosophies and western models of thought, particularly western science. In other words, the endeavour to question eastern philosophies with the query – Is it scientific? Thus, in Sri Lanka, we have Imageacademics educated in the western sciences trying to not only find compatibilities between western science and Buddhism but to justify Buddhist sermons through discoveries in modern science. On the other hand, other advocates of the ‘scientific’ method tend to reject other forms of knowledge. For example, the tendency of allopathic medical doctors to reject doctors schooled in the ayurvedic, homeopathic, chinese and other traditions. Both attempts, either to eulogize or to ridicule, are faulty due to many reasons, the main reason being that western science was an invention of the last 500 years and arose as a result of the European enlightenment and the protestant reformation. It arose as a direct challenge to the authority of the Catholic church which dominated Europe during the Middle Ages and is a product of European culture. The progress achieved by civilizations of yesteryear[2] were certainly not the product of the last 500 years and therefore it is reasonable to say that ‘scientific’ knowledge is not the only way to obtain knowledge. The second is that western scientific knowledge has with it highly abstract conceptualization (gravitation, space-time curvature, evolution, electro-magnetic fields, electrons, quantum particles, dark matter etc.) which are not sensory perceptible[3] and two-fold Aristotelian logic at the centre of its knowledge base. As Prof. Nalin de Silva from Sri Lanka points out, western science is nothing but story-telling that tries to be consistent[4], although not always.[5]

So, when talking about a Buddhist concept of ‘development’ the first thing to be stated is that there is NO such concept in Buddhism, simply because ‘development’ is an invention of the latter part of the 20th century. However, there are sermons that deal with the material and spiritual progress of man. At the root of these sermons, is the Buddhist concept of man and it is that concept of man which we shall try to discern here.    

                                                                                   (to be continued……….) 











[1] Which includes me


[2] Egypt, Mesopotamian, Indus Valley, Inca, Aztec etc.

[3] Even in the western tradition there were those who questioned this. See Ernst Mach and the logical positivists.

[4] Prof. Nalin de Silva has written many articles on this subject including the role played by culture and chinthanaya in the creation of scientific knowledge.  A few articles can be read at

[5] See Thomas Kuhn (on incommensurability of scientific theories and paradigm shifts) in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions & Paul Feyerabend (on non-existence of the scientific method)  in Against Method


One thought on “An introduction to The Buddhist concept of man and ‘development’ – Part I

  1. Great Article, as you mentioned one main mistake is comparing Eastern knowledge with western concepts. Because the primary objective of these two streams are totally different.

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