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