“Siddhartha’s awakening from the illusion of permanence gives us reason to refer to him as the Buddha, the Awakened One. Now, 2,500 years later, we see that what he discovered and taught is a priceless treasure that has inspired millions—educated and illiterate, rich and poor, from King Ashoka to Allen Ginsberg, from Kublai Khan to Gandhi, from H. H. the Dalai Lama to the Beastie Boys.” ~ Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
I’m lucky to have interactions with people from different religions.
And I’ve noticed that the ones who aren’t familiar with Buddhism often perceive Buddha as a God, an idea that seems reasonable in their own religions. Before studying Buddhism, I thought the same.
When you enter a Gompa in the East, you see statues of the Buddha, with candles and offerings below them. It all appears to be a form of worshiping. The truth is, it’s not.
Buddha was not a God—he was just a man who found a way to end suffering.
People are sometimes baffled to learn this, since Buddhism falls under the category of religion. But, when studied in depth, it’s not. The Dalai Lama loves to call it “the science of Buddhism.” In my Buddhist studies, they call it “the philosophy of Buddhism.”
It is the science and philosophy of the mind.
The difference between Buddhism and other religious institutions is the concept of suffering. The Buddha taught that we are the cause of our own suffering and we are the only ones who are capable of ending it. Buddhists do not believe in a God who will do the job for us. And since every problem begins in the mind—and the mind is a part of us—then we are its own masters.
Buddha studied the mind. He asked his followers to investigate what he taught them and to put it into practice. If it resonated deeply with them, then it was of benefit to proceed with the teaching, but if it didn’t, then they must drop it. He made it clear that he wanted no worshiping, nor blind followers.
To worship a God means to praise him and ask him for particular wants and needs in prayer. This is not what Buddhists practice. Offerings are placed at Buddha statues to show respect and gratitude for a human being who offered teachings that can eradicate suffering.
Most beautifully, Buddhism is accepting of all religions. Buddha accepted people from all backgrounds with open arms since he believed that studying the nature of the mind shouldn’t be limited to a certain class of people. It should be available for everyone, regardless of their beliefs.
Knowing that Buddha is a not a God, but a man who went out into the world, beheld suffering and sat in meditation for years to discover the solution, is incredibly important. This realization is paramount because knowing that Buddha is just a man, like us, means that we also have the intellectual capacity to reach enlightenment and experience an end to our suffering.
When most people refer to “God,” they imagine an external figure, superior to themselves, or an entity capable of “saving” them. This can hinder our progress on the spiritual path. However, acknowledging that there was a man who did all of this by himself, is motivating to our spiritual growth. It gives us hope that enlightenment is reachable. It is available to all of us.
In some ways, we’re all like the Buddha.
We see suffering in the world every single day: hunger, wars, shootings, natural disasters, bombings, accidents. And the most intense suffering that we see from moment to moment is inside ourselves.
But only when we’ve had enough of the pain, do we truly opt to work on ending it. This is what happened to the Buddha. And we can all walk the same path, but only when we choose to.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Nicole Cameron