By: Aryadasa Ratnasinghe
For the first time in the history of the world, Buddha proclaimed an emancipation which each person could gain for himself, during this life, without the least help of a personal God. He strongly inculcated the doctrine of self-reliance, of purity, of courtesy, of enlightenment, of peace and of universal love for all living-beings. He strongly urged the necessity and importance of knowledge, because without wisdom ('panna') psychic insight could not be attained in this life.
Buddha said: "Atta hi attano natho ko hi natho paro siya".(One is, indeed, his own saviour and for what other saviour would there be). Therefore, one should not depend on a saviour as such, or on an Almighty God, whom none had ever seen, to direct him in the way he should go, and to protect him from all mundane obstacles in this life, and finally, to lie in an unknown corner of a solitary ground, to rest in peace (Requiescat in pace -RIP). Thus, Buddha explained the futility of expecting emancipation through God.
The glory of Buddhism is that it makes intellectual enlightenment as an essential condition for emancipation of mankind. In Buddhism, morality and intellectual enlightenment are inseparable from one another. While morality ('sila') forms the basis of the higher life, knowledge and wisdom complete it. Dogmatic theology does not explain so, but leaves everything to the Will of God, not ascertainable by mankind.
According to Buddhism, without a perfect understanding of the Law of Causality and transformation, as mentioned in the Paticca Samuppada, (Dependent Origination), no one can even said to be truly moral, if he does not possess the necessary insight. In this respect, Buddhism differs from all other religious beliefs. Monotheistic religions start with certain assumptions and are contradicted by the growth of knowledge which increases sorrow. Buddhism has no assumptions and the teachings are deep and recondite, because they stand on the firm rock of facts, not heresay, and can, therefore, never shun the dry light of knowledge, without intuitive wisdom.
The Christians and other monotheistic religionists, believe in salvation through God, a Supernatural Being, who is transcendent, all-powerful and related to the cosmos as Creator. The Holy Bible says: "In the beginning God created the heaven and earth" (Genesis 1:1). It also says: "So the God created man in his own image, in the image of God, created he him male and female, created by them" (Genesis 1:27).
There is no omnipotent God is Buddhism, but Buddhists do not repudiate polytheism, for gods remain but they rank subordinate to the Buddha. The most popular god among the Buddhists is Vishnu, believed to be the protector of the Buddha Sasana. But, Buddhists do not pray to any god for salvation, because death is followed by rebirth, according to the law of 'kamma' (volitional action). The only salvation open to Buddhists is to attain the most blissful state of Nibbana, and it is the aspiration of every Buddhist.
All religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism etc., came into existence and developed around God or gods of supernatural power, in guiding mankind the way they should go during their life on earth. They were inquisitive to know how the world came to be, who created it, how the hierophanies of nature came into existence and what life has them on earth. All these led to speculations between gods and men. From a rational point of view, belief in God began to wane.
Buddhism is the first missionary religion in the history of humanity with a universal message of emancipation for all mankind. Bishop Gore, in his challenge to other religions, says: "It is Buddhism, as we find it actually recorded, not a hypothetical primitive system, which still forms a challenge to other religions".
Great Brahma is the personified creator God in Hinduism. According to Islam, Allah is the Creator God and sustainer of all beings. Judaism is centred on the belief in one God, the transcendant creator of the world. Zoroastrianism (religion of the Parsees) believes Ahura Mazda as the Supreme God responsible for the creation of the world. On a logical point of view, one world has been created by many Gods. People began to believe in the existence of a personified God as the vehicle for their departure from the world.
The belief in a personal God and his association with creation of the universe has been protected and defended by believers to justify their existence on earth. They claim that the scriptures have come directly from the omniscient God as revelations in the form of divine or supernatural communications. A revelation can be in the form of a dream, trance or vision. The Holy Bible says: "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking orally, what shall I profit you except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying or by doctrine?" (1 Corinthians 14:6).
Today, the intelligentsia, who have reviewed all the available facts about emancipation, have come to the conclusion that, similar to the belief in god, the creation legend must be regarded as an evolution of human imagination, which arose with the false interpretation of the phenomena of nature. These misunderstandings were rooted in the fear and ignorance of the primitive man who became concerned with thanatophobia (fear of death).
Born as a man, living as a mortal, by his own exertion and intuition, Buddha attained the supreme state of perfection, i.e., Buddhahood. Without keeping his enlightenment to himself, he proclaimed to the world the latent possibilities and the invincible power of the human mind. Instead of placing an unseen Almighty God over man, and giving man a subservient position, in relation to such a conception of divine power, the Buddha demonstrated how man could attain the highest knowledge and Supreme Enlightenment by his own efforts, and seek emancipation by himself, without offering prayers and sacrifices to a personal God or gods.
Buddha never advocated the approach of the divine for emancipation after death, on the motto "What he sows, so will he reap", which means that divine intervention is a mere fiasco. H.G. Wells (1866-1946), fame for his scientific fantasies, once said: "In some ways, Buddha was nearer to us in our needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance in service to mankind than Jesus Christ, and less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality, and in approaching the divine for emancipation".
Hindus believed that gods can send people to heaven. At the time of the Buddha, there were certain brahmins who went by the names of Paccabhumaka, Kamandaluka, Sevalamalika, Udakarohaka, Aggiparicarika etc., who preached that they have the power to send all dead people to heaven. (The Gamini Samyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya, gives an account of these brahims, who were respected by the community).
The Buddha said that the only salvation for man is to attain Nibbana, the Supreme blissful state ceasing rebirth. He must follow the teachings of the Buddha to achieve this end, because no other can help him. Prayers beseeching divine help serve no purpose, and only lead to self deceit. As a means of emancipation, extreme unction or the sacrament of anointing with consecrated oil in one's last hours, is denounced in Buddhism, because it is a religious ritual of the Christians, for purpose of resurrection. Resurrection is a form of re-animation of a person after death, which belief can be traced to the late biblical Judaism and early Christianity, affirming the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in particular, who is the central figure of the Christian faith. In other words, it is the rising of the dead from the grave. It is for this reason that those who believe in resurrection, do not cremate their dead but bury them. All monotheistic religions follow this practice. The Holy Bible says: "And have hope towards God that there shall be resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust". (The Acts 24:15).
Buddha was not a god or a super-human being, and Buddhism is, in actual sense, not a religion. Buddha was a Sakyan Prince, who lived in the lap of luxury lacking nothing. He renounced the world at the age of 29 years, and having become a recluse, spent six years by leading an ascetic life, given to rigorous mortification of the flesh. Realising the futility of the ascetic ideal, he followed the Middle Path (Majjhima Patipada'), rejecting the extremes of self-mortification and sensuous gratification, to become a Buddha. He did not believe in the approach of the divine to achieve his objective.
Buddhism is a moral philosophy and not a religion as such, though it is commonly called by that name. There is no religion without a God or Gods, and polytheistic religions have a plurality of Gods and Goddesses. What is meant by religion "is the belief in, recognition of or an awakened sense of,a high unseen controlling power or powers, with devoted fidelity attached to it". In view of this, those who worship and pray to Gods are morbidly or sentimentally religious. Buddhism is free from divine worship because there is no God to be approached.
Buddhists do not pray to Buddha for salvation. To pray means to ask earnestly, to entreat and implore, to express one's desire to, or commune with a God or any spiritual power. The reason is that Buddha has no divine manifestation to listen to prayers. But Buddha is worshipped for the acquisition of merit ('Kusala'). However, prayer and worship are common to many religions as an integral part in the approach of the divine.
The philosophy of Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths (Cattari Riyasaccani), the last of which is the Noble Eight Fold Path (Ariya Attangiko Maggo) leading to Nibbana (the summum bonum in Buddhism). The entire doctrine of the Buddha can be epitomised to fall within these Fourth truths, viz: (i) 'Dukkha-ariya-sacca' (Noble Truth of Suffering), (ii) 'Dukkha-samudaya-ariya-sacca' (Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering), (iii) 'Dukkha-nirodha-ariya-sacca' (Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering) and 'Dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada-ariya-sacca' (Noble Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of suffering). The first is to be comprehended, the second (which is craving) is to be eradicated, the third (which is Nibbana) is to be realised, and the fourth (which is the Middle Path) is to be developed. For purpose of brevity, these four are known as 'Dukkha sacca', 'Samudaya sacca', 'Nrodha sacca' and 'Magga sacca'. Early Church Fathers believed in re-birth. It was in the year 533 that the Church Council at Constantionople (now Instanbul) declared the doctrine or rebirth a heresy. It was the Byzantine emperor (483-562) who declared war against those who upheld re-birth as a fact. St. Clement of Alexandria (150-220) was an exponent of rebirth. Archbishop Passavalli (1820-1897) admitted that re-birth is not at all in conflict with dogmatic theology. However, the Holy Bible has no reference to re-birth.
Today, Buddhism has reached the Western lands, and many have donned the yellow robe of a Bhikkhu, or have become converts to Buddhism, having realised the weaknesses in dogmatism. Eminent philosophers, scholars, historians, scientists, writers, religious dignitaries, social reformers and even politicians have found that there is nothing in Buddhism to speculate. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), who was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1950, writing about 'Why I am not a Christian', says "I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue, Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. But, I think I should put Buddha above Christ in those respects".
The Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula, speaking on Buddhism, says: "It is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and of the world as a unified entity. It does not falsely pull us into living in a fool's paradise, nor does it frighten and agonize us with all kinds of imaginary fears and feelings of guilt. The Great Khan Mongka says, "Buddhism is like the palm of the hand, the other religions being the fingers, because it is a vast philosophy never made known to man". Today, we live in an age of science and technology far advanced in knowing the truth of life rather than cling on to canonical works. We must have a rational outlook about our beliefs, because we are intelligent enough to choose what is good and what is bad or useless. We have the brains to guide us on the correct path, without getting lost into oblivion. Buddhism is a doctrine of analysis ('Vibhajjavada') and hence man can sort out good from evil. In Buddhism there is emancipation without approach of the divine.