Experience as the main source of knowledge

A strong case can be made that making sense of life’s experiences is the central concern of the Buddhist tradition. The historical Buddha taught the Kalama people that they should not accept teachings as true until they had tested them out in their own experience – does it actually work in making you a better person? (see under Buddhism and Science). The teaching of the historical Buddha sprang from his own experience – his privileged life which did not bring him happiness, his reflections on suffering, his study and practice of meditation and asceticism and his experience of Enlightenment. The category of ‘experience’ covers both everyday experience, for example how irresponsible behaviour leads to suffering and less common experiences such as some profound states reached in meditation, remembering past lives, unusual psychic powers, and finally the experience of nirvana or Buddhahood. It is the latter that are usually called ‘religious’ experiences, but this perhaps makes too sharp a distinction between what is ‘religious’ and what is not. Experience that leads to insight or spiritual feelings such as devotion can include the events of daily life, meditation, or taking part in ceremonies and rituals, all of which are available to the many and not just the few. Even ‘religious’ experiences that seem to suggest levels of reality beyond the everyday do happen to more people than we hear about, whether Buddhist, ‘religious’ or not.

Download the entire essay here

Buddhist worldview traditions


493.5 KB

Download resource