I've been reading Thoughts Without a Thinker by Mark Epstein, a Harvard trained psychiatrist who is also a long time Buddhist. It's interesting how he looks at Buddhist teachings from a psychoanalytical point of view. For example, here he talks about some questions of a metaphysical nature that the Buddha refused to discuss:
1) Whether the world is eternal, or not, or both, or neither.I think it would be helpful to note here that the core of the Buddha's teaching was suffering and the end of suffering. Also, he taught "the middle way", which basically is about avoiding extremes:
2) Whether the world is finite (in space), or infinite, or both, or neither.
3) Whether an enlightened being exists after death, or does not, or both, or neither.
4) Whether the soul is identical with the body or different from it.
The Buddha taught that to attempt a definitive answer to these questions would give the wrong idea, that to do so would only feed the tendency to cling to an absolute or to nihilistically reject, neither of which he found useful. He never taught the existence of a true self, nor did he ever support the idea of a chaotic universe in which "nothing matters" and individual actions are of no importance. Rather, he encouraged a consistent doubting of all fixed assumptions about the nature of things. In a teaching that he gave to a skeptical follower named Malunkyaputta, he likened the asking of questions about the ultimate nature of things to a man wounded by an arrow refusing to have the arrow taken out until all of his questions about who the assassin was, where he came from, what he looked like, what kind of bow he was using, and what make of arrow had been shot had been addressed. "That man would die, Malunkyaputta," emphasized the Buddha, "without ever having learnt this."
Applying the same logic to the more intimate psychological questions about the nature of the self, the Buddha was equally resistant to being tied down. When asked point-blank by a wanderer named Vacchagotta whether there was or was not a self, the Buddha remained "therapeutically" silent. He later explained to his attendant Ananda (often the recipient of the Buddha's teachings in the Sutras), that there was no way to answer the man's question without reinforcing some erroneous view of self:(edited for grammar/spelling, that kinda thing)If I, Ananda, on being asked by the wanderer, Vacchagotta, if there is a Self, should have answered that there is a Self, this, Ananda, would have been a siding-in with those recluses and brahmans who are Eternalists. If I, Ananda, on being asked by the wanderer, Vacchagotta, if there is not a Self, this, Ananda, would have been a siding-in with those recluses and brahmans who are Annihilationists . . . The wanderer, Vacchagotta, already confused, would have been increasingly confused (and he would have thought): "Was there not formerly a Self for me? There is none now."