CONCEPT OF BUDDHIST RELIGION
Driven by an incredible metaphysical quest, Prince Siddhartha became an ascetic, adopting an austere lifestyle, trying every possible way in order to attain Self-realisation. With sustained effort and willpower, enlightenment did come to him one day with perfect luminosity. Being the Buddha, the enlightened one, he shared the philosophy of his path to those suffering around him, as a means of overcoming suffering. Gautama Buddha’s Middle Path relates more to the middle segment of creation in its present moment than to the so-called theoretical discourse on Creator, genesis and end of creation. He is more suggestive than explicit on the questions that relate to the metaphysical ultimate.
The present life is full of suffering caused by ageing, disease and death, which we know are part of life but yet, we do not strive to rise above them. Even understanding that suffering caused by these calls for a solution is a noble truth. The root cause of suffering lies in craving or attachment with transitory reality. The remedy lies in extinction of the flame of desire for which we need to follow an eightfold path. These constitute the four noble truths for contemplation and action in an adequate manner.
The Buddha’s eightfold path starts with right discernment of the reality behind the superficial apparent. This leads to right intention that is translated into action through right speech and right livelihood. The mystery of life is untied with right effort which consists of right mindfulness or observation of the wheel of karma and universal flux of phenomena. Finally, right contemplation on ultimate emptiness emancipates from the bondage of the cycle of unending misery-go-round.
Behind this deceptively simple teaching lies a profound philosophy on the characteristic of ‘being’. The Buddha found that ‘being,’ like all created things, is impermanent, made up of suffering arising out of craving. Our craving causes us to imagine impermanent objects as permanent whereas there is no such thing as permanent self. As fire appears to have continued existence although it changes from moment to moment, so does the self. Everything has a cause and everything becomes a cause. The illusion of continuity is caused by endless chain of cause and effect. The aim is to get out of this cosmic misery-go-round.
The Buddhist concept of nirvana is literally extinction of the flame of desire and thereby dissolution of the impermanent self. But what comes next? He never used any positive means of describing this ultimate, and emptiness is also a dependent concept meaning absence of divisive selves which owe their existence due to craving.
The Buddha categorically refused to pinpoint what exactly nirvana entailed or what happens to an enlightened soul after death. As it is impossible to conceive the concept of emptiness, the Buddha never attempted to explain it and left it open to interpretation. It has been explained that nirvana is extinguishing all objects and thoughts into one singular undivided consciousness underlying everything. That consciousness is undifferentiated, unqualified and one without a second. It is closer to the vedantic concept of Brahmn.
The greatest contribution of the Buddha lies in giving us a probing path without any fixed belief system associated with religions. Spirituality concerns direct experience of realisation over and above any belief system. Hence the Buddha steered a middle course between absolute denial and positive affirmation. He wanted us to develop absolute awareness of the entire cosmos and empathetic compassion for all sentient beings. The rest being silence, is required to be experienced in silence.