But it was not long before extremist followers across Asia and India split his teachings into separate branches and sects, ruled over by self-appointed lamas and monks.
The same exists today in a Hinduism that is dominated by a priestly caste of Brahmins who have co-opted the ancient wisdom religion for their own purposes.
It compares to Islam where a minority of priestly fanatics have gained dominance and political power, and who preach a severe and even violent dogmatism aimed at preserving their right to rule.
Yet Buddha’s life and teachings showed humanity the way to conscious enlightenment without priestly intermediaries, through direct spiritual development, merit and compassion. People were inspired to rediscover and live according to the dictates of their own peaceful spiritual insights without any forced obedience to caste or creed.
The Buddha’s teaching of individual responsibility and the primacy of individual spiritual action should have saved the world from religious dogmatism. But with the persistence of the selfish side of human nature such teachings would not prevail.
Similarly, Christian religious dogmatism, with its god and invented savior, cleverly placed beyond our mere earthly domain, the ‘only son of God’ dogma secured a virtually unbreakable dominance over the soul of humanity.
“Shun ignorance, and likewise shun illusion. Avert thy face from world deceptions” and “mistrust thy senses, they are false,” The Voice of the Silence (Fragment 2) declared. “But within thy body, the shrine of thy sensations,” it insisted,
“seek for the ‘eternal man,’ and having sought him out, look inward: thou art Buddha.”
The ancient origin of the [Upanishads], H. P. Blavatsky notes in The Secret Doctrine [Summing Up section], “proves many of the the Upanishads were written before the caste system became the tyrannical institution which it still is.”
“Half of their contents have been eliminated,” she wrote, “while some of them were rewritten and abridged.” A few brave souls today are speaking and acting out, as Blavatsky did, against dogmatic desecration and dominance.
Rags to Riches
Turning to India, the New York Times for December 21, 2011, the correspondent Lydia Polgreen reported on the ‘untouchable’ Ashok Khade who overcame the future allowed to him by the dogmatic religious system.
“On his barefoot trudge to school decades ago,” Polgreen writes, “a young Ashok Khade passed inescapable reminders of what he was: the well from which he was not allowed to drink; the temple where he was not permitted to worship. At school, he took his place on the floor in a part of the classroom built a step lower than the rest. Untouchables like him, considered to be spiritually and physically unclean, could not be permitted to pollute their upper-caste neighbors and classmates.”
Having achieved enlightenment, Buddha taught that we too have the potential to achieve freedom from our illusions. His compelling Heart Doctrine is faithfully reflected in Book the Eighth of Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia:
Ye are not bound! the Soul of Things is sweet,
The Heart of Being is celestial rest;
Stronger than woe is will: that which was Good
Doth pass to Better — Best.
I, Buddh, who wept with all my brothers’ tears,
Whose heart was broken by a whole world’s woe,
Laugh and am glad, for there is Liberty!
Ho! ye who suffer! know
Ye suffer from yourselves. None else compels,
None other holds you that ye live and die,
And whirl upon the wheel, and hug and kiss
Its spokes of agony…
Freedom vs Illusion
“The significant issues we face cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
The world’s greatest teacher hoped we would set free our inner Buddha. But practical doctrine is, evidently, too challenging a process of for many.
“The special doctrine of the Buddha was anatta or sunyatta (no-self or voidness), the former being the special case and the latter the general case of the same basic principle.
“This is a profound doctrine, difficult for beginners and in it’s subtleties an ongoing source of speculation for the philosophers”. Some of these breakaways are heroic affirmations of a soul in evolutionary struggle with its own self-imposed limitations.
But then as now, abstruse doctrinal disputes are widespread among the intellectually hardened sectarian elite. The Buddha had a much more egalitarian view of truth. He held that we ought to: “Believe nothing…”
…no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
River of Compassion
Philanthropy comes from the Greek word: philanthropos, which simply means “loving people”. Philanthropist Charles Annenberg Weingarten and the explore.org Team, always ready for adventure and learning, set out for India, a land ascribed with deep running spiritual and philosophical roots, a land of magic. Here, under the inspirational guidance of Swamiji Muni Baba and his beloved Ganges River, we will take an unforgettable journey to discover the spiritual nature of philanthropy, and find ways in which we can all practice the art of compassionate giving. (Written by Link TV summary)
A Conscious Universe
Perhaps Buddha was attempting to remind us that, unlike our human obsession for dogmatic predictability, the universe is, at its base, the penultimate free thinker. Atoms are forever engaged in an active and continuous search for reality.
Buddha’s overarching idea was that one should “believe nothing,” except the dictates of our common sense. This may be difficult for the dogmatically disposed, and nearly impossible for the very old — we need wise parents and teachers as we begin our journey.
Our parents and teachers were themselves raised in hand-me-down conformist systems, and have neither the motivation or training to mentor ‘free thinking.’
To Think About: Our increasingly material and technological worldviews seem to have gradually diminished our capacity to recognize and encourage individuality and personal spiritual instincts. Primal soul urges are squelched alike by governments and society.