In our last installment we explored polytheism through the spectrum of Hinduism and asked if it could be the truth. In this segment one of its adherents from a privileged Caste ultimately rejected the basic tenets of Hinduism. Siddhartha Gautama was born into a Hindu family in 563 B.C. He became disillusioned by the suffering he experienced in his Hindu world. In his quest to reform Hinduism he became an ascetic agnostic because he concluded the Hindu pantheon of gods and idols enslaved people to the suffering in this world.
After 6 years of wandering he sat under a Bo tree near the river Gaya and achieved enlightenment where he became the Buddha or enlightened one. In this state he discovered the Four Noble truths: Life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire, removing desire eliminates suffering and a cessation of desire occurs by following the Middle Way. The Middle Way is achieved through the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path includes Right Views, Resolve, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Concentration and Ecstasy. Right Views and Resolve relate to understanding and observing the Four Noble truths. Right Speech, Action and Livelihood help one avoid desire. Right Effort deals with emptying the mind where Right Concentration involves mind and body control. Right ecstasy occurs when senses cease and one achieves universal knowledge. This breaks the cycle of Hindu reincarnation through a release from the law of Karma (Cause and effect) and allows the Buddhist to enter the nothingness of Nirvana at the cost of ones being and personality.
Buddha’s teachings are also an inhibitor towards natural compassion for one another. Buddha taught ‘If someone is suffering that is his Karma. You are not to interfere with another person’s karma because he is purging himself through suffering and reincarnation. You are to be an island unto yourself.’ Buddha also said, ‘Start moving your hands and kicking your legs, but you have to make it to shore yourself!’ Buddhism’s inherent agnosticism and karma leaves people all alone save their fortitude towards a discipline that adherents believe will lead to Nirvana. Siddhartha Gautama was repeatedly asked about the existence of god[s] and said that he did not know about the next life because he hadn’t gone there, but urged a focus on this life to achieve the Four Noble Truths. Absent from Buddhism is the hope of a Savior. If Buddha could help his followers he would not because by doing so he would violate his own teaching. To Buddhists, Buddha has attained the Nirvana of nothingness. He died in 483 B.C. What Buddha invented was a human religion free of a Creator.
Buddhism is a religion in which one must work towards not existing. In John 14:6 Jesus said “ I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The choice is clear the nothingness of Buddha in contrast with life eternal promised by one who claimed to be the Son of God.
What is described here reflects the southeast Asian Theravada [aka Hinayana] school. The better known and larger Mahayana school is quite different, with a strong component of charity and “boddhisatvas” [helpers to enlightenment] being souls of those who have achieved enlightenment and are eligible for nirvana delaying it to help those seeking it. Ironically after 2500 years of Buddhism, its most revered shrine the Golden Pagoda in Rangoon contains over 3500 wood, stone and metal statues of the Buddha. The faithful kneel before these idols and pray for their dead ancestors. The Bible condemns this behavior in Jeremiah 10:3-15 and Romans 1:22-23 because people are worshipping a thing created by man rather than the God of Heaven who gave all of us life.
Buddhism is an agnostic religion in its inception that can include idol worship at least to some of its adherents. It is one man’s response to the inequalities and suffering inherent in Hinduism. The Buddha promised a destiny of nothingness for those who religiously follow his proscribed path.