Was the Buddha Trying to Start a Religion?

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It seems that the Buddha was anti-religion—he yearned for spiritual truths, wanting to learn the meaning of suffering and purpose.

He studied with famous religious teachers of his time and found their practices to be insufficient. He studied fire rituals, devotion to deities, and radical self-denial. None of these were what he was looking for. He didn’t find important spiritual truths through devotion to dogma.

He essentially ended up saying, “Religion doesn’t answer the questions that I want to answer.”

It should be noted that the dominant religion in that time and place was anti-science and hostile to women and minorities (I hope we never have to deal with anything like that), so it’s true that it really was worth rebelling against.

So, he rejected religion. He created a spiritual, mystical path that didn’t need dogma. In fact he always told his followers to think for themselves and not accept his teachings on faith. He didn’t want to be worshiped, although there are certainly those that decided to worship him soon after his death.

The path of the Buddha is more like a science of the mind. He had practical advice for spiritual cultivation. All of early Buddhism can pretty much be summed up in cultivating the virtues of morality, concentration, and wisdom. That’s what the Buddha said we should be doing.

But, just as importantly, we should be testing the path to make sure it works for us.

However, shortly after his death, several branches of what I would call ‘religious buddhism’ were created. He wasn’t trying to create a religion, I think. Most of the earliest teachings, the teachings that were actually from the Buddha himself, have seem to have more in common with Humanism than with any modern religions.

Other religious figures have stories that seem similar.

Was Jesus trying to make a new religion, or simply to reform Judaism? There’s no way to know for sure.

The Buddha, I think, was trying to create something beyond religion, beyond sectarianism and dogma.

A way out of suffering.

 

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

 

 

 

 

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anonymous Nov 20, 2013 3:39pm

So what do you do during meditation? You do the opposite, you do nothing,
completely refrain from doing anything. But that's difficult. Now this has so many
methods of how not to do anything. In fact, many of these methods are elaborate
ways of doing things so that we do nothing. This is where Buddhism becomes very
complicated because it's very paradoxical. The very path, they tell you not to do
anything, they tell you things like emptiness and so on and so forth, but at the same
time they tell you to chant mantras, visualise extra hands, extra eyes, extra heads,
as if the head that you have is not enough. They tell you all of that and it really can
confuse you. But those are necessary because the path is like a boat; if you go to
another shore you take a boat. So you take a boat but once you reach the other
shore you have to abandon that boat.
So the Buddhist path, Buddhist methods, are like a boat. In this way it is probably
the last and most difficult obstacle to abandon, the Buddhist path itself. You have to
realize this, which I think not many people do. Many people think that Buddha was a
Buddhist, but he was not. Buddha was not Buddhist. Buddhists are followers of the
Buddha. We created this, but we have to have the courage to abandon it. What I am
saying is that the method is not the result, broadly speaking….Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

anonymous Nov 19, 2013 7:28am

The early history of Buddhism in India is remarkably little known and the attempt to construct a consistent chronology of that history still engrosses the minds of contemporary scholars. A generally accepted tradition has it that some time around the beginning of the third century BCE, the primitive Buddhist community divided into two parties or fraternities: the Sthaviras (Pali, Theriyas) and the Mahāsāṅghikas, each of which thenceforth had its own ordination traditions. Throughout the subsequent two centuries or so, doctrinal disputes arose between these two parties, resulting in the formation of various schools of thought (vāda; ācariyavāda) and teacher lineages (ācariyakula) (Vin 51–54; Mhv V 12–13. See Cousins 1991, 27–28; Frauwallner 1956, 5ff & 130ff; Lamotte 1988, 271ff). You undoubtedly know all this yet You ask this question…He taught thus he wanted to see his teachings live on. If you choose to label these collectives of knowledge as religious institutions then do so, but that is on You. =)

anonymous Nov 18, 2013 5:34pm

I don't think Jesus was here to start a new religion, but to free people from one. Also, what are your thoughts on Jesus being a reincarnate of Krishna?

Thanks for the post!

anonymous Nov 18, 2013 4:36pm

I don't think the Buddha was anti-religion nor was he "trying to create something beyond religion…" Nor do I think his intent was to create a religion. But his intent was not to "create" something else as you state. The Buddha taught to the acumen of groups and individuals. To all he taught the Four Noble Truths. For others, Prajnaparamita. It is safe to say that the schools of religion present did not satisfy him. But how would you have known the name "Buddha" if there was no lineage? Would you classify lineage as religion? Without knowing all of the paths of Buddha are you excluding based on what?

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Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City. He’s been practicing Buddhism for nearly 20 years. He teaches at the Open Heart Project Sangha and is a Zen Teacher (Fashi) in the Dharma Winds Zen Order. His main focus is on mindfulness practices rooted in the earliest Zen teachings and compassion practices rooted in the Bodhisattva Tradition. He has taken Bodhisattva Vows and Brahmajala Precepts and he is affiliated with the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun.
Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook