Like a religion, but not ....
TO TALK OF BUDDHISM we must first talk about its origins. I have said that the origin of religion was the fear of danger, but the origin of Buddhism is no longer the fear of danger, but the fear of suffering. Please note this distinction. In the section dealing with religion we talked about danger, but when dealing with Buddhism we will be talking about suffering, which carries a much broader meaning. Specifically, the fear of danger has its object in external factors, such as floods, earthquakes, and so on, but suffering includes all the problems experienced in life, including those within the mind. What is suffering? Suffering is the condition of stress and conflict, in short, the human predicament. We could put it very simply and say that suffering (dukkha) is difficulty (pah), because difficulty is what causes stress and frustration. Other religions looked for the source of danger. As far as man could see, whenever something occurred in human society, there had to be someone to cause or direct it. In society, man was the controller, but the natural world was beyond man's control. Still, man thought there must have been someone directing things, so he searched for this 'someone' and came up with a director, a deity or deities, a supernatural force, the source of all these natural dangers. These were the forces that brought the clouds, the storms, the floods, the fire and so on. This is the emergence of religions.
Ancient man looked at the situation in terms of reward and punishment. It seemed that freedom from danger had to be sought from its source. Observing that in human society there are leaders who wield power, they applied this model to the forces behind nature and came up with the gods. This is why some contemporary psychologists have said that mankind created God in his own image, reversing the Christian teaching that God created man in his own image.
So mankind, seeing these deities as the source of danger, reasoned that it was necessary to please the deities, just as for an earthly leader. This resulted in numerous techniques and ceremonies for showing respect and paying homage, sacrifices,praying and so forth.
The essential factor in determining events in the world, according to these ancient religions, was the will of the deity (or deities).
The factor which tied humanity to these deities or super-natural power was faith. This faith in a deity or deities was demonstrated throughsacrifices, prayers, ceremonies and so on.
So we have an overall picture here of a director of events- the will of God; we have the human connection - faith; and we have the method of interaction - sacrifices, prayers and so on. This is the general picture of the role of faith in most religions.
Now, let's see how these factors relate when it comes to Buddhism. As I have mentioned, Buddhism is based on the desire to be free of suffering. What is the appropriate method of practice in respect to suffering? To be free of suffering you must have a method of doing so. To know this, you have tolook at where suffering arises from, Where is the source of suffering? Whereas other religions taught that the source of danger was in supernatural forces, Buddhism says that the source of suffering is a natural process which must be understood.
Suffering has an origin which functions according to the natural processes, namely the process of cause and effect. Not knowing or understanding this natural cause and effect process is the cause of suffering. Buddhism delves into the origin of suffering by looking into this ignorance of cause and effect, or ignorance of the Law of Nature.
At this pointed have arrived at the hearted Buddhism. Just now I said that the origin of other religions was the awareness of danger, the origin of danger in turn being the will of superior beings or forces; but the source of Buddhism is the awareness of suffering, the origin of which is ignorance of the natural process of suffering, or ignorance of the Law of Nature.
Now we come to redressing the problem. How do we redress the problem? When ignorance of the Law of Nature is the cause, the remedy is its exact opposite, and that is knowledge and understanding of these things, which we call wisdom.
Previously, religions had relied on faith as the connection between human beings and the source of danger. Buddhism changed the human connection to wisdom. At this stage the emphasis has shifted from faith to wisdom, and this is a prime difference of Buddhism. According to Buddhism, human beings must know and understand the process of cause and effect, and then to treat the problem accordingly.
Finally the work of correcting the factors involved in the creation of suffering is a human responsibility, and it is within human potential to do so. Therefore emphasis for solving the problem has shifted from the will of a supernatural force to human endeavour.
These three points are highly significant.
Most religions concern themselves with the source of danger, which is said to be deities (heavenly), but Buddhism concerns itself with the source of suffering, which is said to beignorance. The tie to this source in most religions is faith, but in Buddhism it is wisdom. The director of results in most religions is a divine or supernatural power, but in Buddhism this responsibility hasbeen placed back into human hands, with the emphasis on human action.
The emphasis in Buddhism shifts from faith to wisdom, and this is a revolutionary change. Such wisdom begins with the desire to know, or the desire for knowledge - before there can be wisdom, there must be an aspiration for it. But this aspiration for knowledge differs from that of science, as I will be pointing out presently.
Another important shift in emphasis in Buddhism is from the directives of a deity to human endeavour. This is one of Buddhism's cornerstones. No matter where Buddhism spreads to, or how distorted the teaching becomes, this principle of emphasis on human endeavour never varies. If this one principle is changed, then we can confidently say that it is no longer Buddhism.
The principle of human endeavour is expressed in Buddhist circles as the Law of Kamma, People may misunderstand kamma, there may be many misconceptions about it, even within the Buddhist world, but no matter how it may vary, kamma always deals with human endeavour.
Buddhism's combination of adherence to the Law of Nature, proclaiming man's independence, and putting wisdom to the fore instead of faith, is a very unique event in the history of religion. It even makes some Western analysts feel that Buddhism isn't a religion at all, Western books on Buddhism often state that Buddhism is not a religion, meaning that it isn't a religion as is understood in Western cultures.Therefore we have these three important principles:
a Law of Nature
proclaiming man's independence
replacing faith with wisdom.
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