Are you ready to have all your spiritual questions, goals, hopes and epiphanies realized? All you have to do is answer this question:
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
What, impossible? To reach enlightenment you must break free from the mind’s logical chains and the dichotomies of possible and impossible. This, at least, is what one Buddhist sect teaches. The original Buddha had slightly different ideas – but they still provided an open door to this thought.
The man behind the religion is worth understanding. Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama, heir to ruling a powerful kingdom and with the world’s finery at his fingertips. Secluded (so the legends say) from any and all of its sorrows, his first encounter with an old man, then a sick man, then a dead man, and then a monk living apart from life’s luxuries changed him forever. He left his palace in the night to search for truth and life’s meaning on his own.
Hinduism, the major religion of his native India, had begun to develop some faults of its own. The caste system, originally intended to let different types of people live to their fullest potential, had brought about strict regulations that instead stifled them. The untouchable caste was introduced. The Brahmins, or religious leaders, were teaching cultish ritual, ordained expensive fees for their instruction, and maintained that the only freedom from the ruthlessly endless cycles of reincarnation could only be reached when, after a few thousand lives, one was born into their caste.
Gautama did not agree with this. He searched long and hard until, while meditating under a tree, he vowed to stay until enlightenment was his. Tempted ruthlessly by the devil (as Jesus was before his ministry, Smith parallelizes), his meditation was so great that neither fierce storm nor hopeless self-doubt could deter him, until “his mind pierced at last the bubble of the universe and shattered it to naught, only, wonder of wonders, to find it miraculously restored with the effulgence of true being.” (Smith, 86)
And so he found it; enlightenment was his. He became the Buddha (Enlightened One). It had stemmed from Hinduism and maintained their goal of “true being,” but it came with a few interesting additions and modifications. Once enlightened, Buddha became a beggar, teaching to all who would hear, but always remembering to spend three times a day secluded from the world and in his “sacred source” (87). Unlike the Brahmins, he cared naught for caste or gender or whether one was accepted by society. He felt called by a “cosmic mission to perform” (91). But what is truly fascinating was his high opinion of reason. Though compassionate to all, he possessed a very analytic mind, being “one of the greatest rationalists of all times” (88). His religion was based on empirical, autonomous reasoning and inflective spiritual study. And when man is the basis for his own standards, only logical absurdity can result. Being closely related to Hinduism, it has similar problems in beliefs about Karma morality, and while not quite as surrealistic with ideas on maya, that idea does have its influence. But Buddhism’s major flaw flows from its beliefs about God and its foundation in autonomy.