Is Buddhism the Way to Enlightenment?
originally posted by: Out6of9Balance
Desire is suffering, maybe sometimes unaware.
Buddhism developed in Asia, and most adherents to it are still on that continent. But interest in Buddhist teachings has been increasing in other
parts of the world in recent times. Many look to it as a way to “enlightenment.”
Buddhism is based upon the person and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as “Buddha” (meaning “Enlightened One”). Siddhartha
was born into a royal family in India in the sixth century B.C.E.
While still a young man Siddhartha became disturbed over the fact that sickness, suffering, old age and death are the common lot of everyone. He
determined to abandon his royal surroundings and to become a wanderer in search of truth.
For six years Gautama practiced extreme self-denial. During this time he spoke with many teachers and philosophers but could not gain satisfying
answers as to why life seemed to be so filled with unpleasantness. What would he do?
Gautama had grown up as a Hindu and was familiar with yoga, which includes exercises by mental concentration. He decided to search for the truth by
means of meditation. To that end he sat down under a large fig tree called a bo tree. Here he claimed to have become enlightened, this making him a
“Enlightenment” About What?
What was Buddha enlightened about that has attracted so many followers for centuries? To answer that question, let us consider some background
information about the people of India in the sixth century B.C.E.
A scholar of Buddhist writings, Professor T. W. Rhys Davids, points out:
“The country was politically split up into little principalities, most of them governed by some petty despot, whose interests were not often the
same as those of the community. . . . A convenient belief in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls satisfied the unfortunate that their woes
were the natural result of their own deeds in a former birth, and, though unavoidable now, might be escaped in a future state of existence by present
good conduct. [They were] hoping for a better fate in their next birth.”
Buddha himself was influenced by that belief in transmigration of souls after death. He developed a complicated philosophy based upon it. In general,
Buddhists believe that rebirth can take place in five different states: (1) in hell (there are eight hot hells, eight cold hells and other minor
hells); (2) as an animal; (3) as a “preta” (a ghost with a small mouth and big belly, tortured by hunger and thirst); (4) as a human; (5) as a
god. Of course, certain groups may list these various “states” somewhat differently.
Thus Buddha believed that all things were constantly going through a cycle, changing from one state to another. He considered nothing permanent.
Buddha expressed his view of life as follows:
“Birth is suffering; decay is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; not to get what one
desires is suffering.”
Buddha’s enlightenment had to do with how to escape from the endless cycle of rebirths. How would that be possible?
By recognizing the “Four Noble Truths,” which may be summarized as follows: (1) All living is painful; (2) Suffering is due to craving or
desire; (3) When desire ceases there comes a release from suffering;
(4) The way to release from suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path
consisting of four ethical precepts—right speech, effort, conduct and work—and four mental precepts—right views, hopes, attentiveness
So it is desire, in Buddha’s opinion, that links a person to the chain of rebirths. To escape from it one must extinguish all desire for things
pleasing to the senses. All craving for life as we know it must be suppressed.
Meditation was viewed as a means to that end.
The Way to Nirvana
The kind of meditation that he advocated involves concentrating all of one’s attention on a single object, a certain part of the body or perhaps on
a phrase or riddle. In time, the mind empties of all other thoughts, feelings and imagination. Through such meditation some have even developed
“superhuman qualities” or abilities, including levitation, ability to project an image of themselves to a distant place and mental telepathy. It
is said that one meditating can get to a point in which he is indifferent to pain or pleasure and no longer desires life or any of the pleasures
associated with it. At this point he is said to become free of the necessity of rebirth. He has reached Nirvana. What is that?
Professor of Sanskrit Walter E. Clark explains that Nirvana is a state which “cannot be reached or described by human knowledge and words.” It is
“utterly different from all things in the knowable world.” Does that sound desirable to you? Would a state in which you are neither aware of life
nor desire it help you to cope with the problems you face in life?
Does Buddhism Satisfy Man’s Spiritual Need?
Man has an inborn need to worship God. That is why he has always had some form of religion. Can Buddhism satisfy man’s spiritual need? Can it answer
his questions about how the universe came about, how life came to be upon earth, why wickedness exists and whether it will ever end?
Concerning the origin of the universe, Buddha said: “The origin of phenomenal existence is inconceivable, and the beginnings of beings obstructed by
ignorance and ensnared by craving is not to be discovered.” Buddhist writings say that the universe evolved from the dispersed matter of a previous
universe that wore out. In time Buddhists expect that the present one will dissolve and that out of it will arise another.
Zen Buddhist expert Daisetz T. Suzuki emphasized:
“To us Orientals . . . there is no God, no creator, no beginning of things, no ‘Word,’ no ‘Logos,’ no ‘nothing.’ Westerners would then
exclaim, ‘It is all nonsense!
It is absolutely unthinkable!’ Orientals would say, ‘You are right.
As long as there is at all a
“thinking” you cannot escape getting into the dilemma or the bottomless abyss of absurdity.’” [Italics added]
How do you feel about that? Do you wish to believe in something that is admittedly “nonsense” if a person uses his thinking ability? In your own
experience have you found that thinking leads only to “dilemma or the bottomless abyss of absurdity”? Are you more successful in coping with the
problems of life when you refrain from thinking? Is it really enlightenment to say there is no Creator and to believe in an unprovable theory of
evolution? Such a philosophy could never satisfy your spiritual needs. In fact, it failed to do so even for followers of Buddha in ancient times.
Professor Albert S. Geden explains:
“The human craving for an ideal or idealized object of love and homage was too strong. . . . The desire was met, and found its satisfaction, in
the deification [after his death] of [Buddha] himself;
. . . With him were reintroduced the Hindu deities, or the more important and popular of
them. But they were always subordinated in attributes and power to the Buddha. And thus a system in theory deistic became a practical polytheism.”
(did you notice the hypocrisy in the behaviour described in the bolded part compared to the earlier bolded parts?)
Toward the beginning of the Common Era images of Buddha made their appearance. The simple places of Buddhist devotion were changed into
elaborate temples. Some of these temples also contain images of the Hindu gods Vishnu, Siva and Ganesha. Buddha’s refusal to enlighten his followers
about God left a vacuum that was filled by his own deification and by adopting gods and practices of other religions.
What about guidance for everyday life? Buddhism does contain some moral precepts. There are, for example, the “five precepts” against
killing, stealing, adultery, lying and drunkenness. But moral precepts alone are not sufficient. People need a reliable guide for making everyday
decisions. Where do many Buddhists turn for such guidance? Professor L. A. Waddell observes:
“Divination is sought after by the majority of professing Buddhists in matters of almost everyday business, as well as in the great epochs
of life—birth, marriage, and death—or in sickness. . . . The Burmese, who may be taken as a type of the [conservative] ‘Southern’
division of Buddhists, are lettered in the bonds of horoscopes and witch-doctors.”
Buddhists, like everyone else, have a need for spiritual guidance on matters. Because Buddha’s philosophy does not fill that need, they
resort to divination.
[to be continued]