What is religion?

Religion, as understood in the West,is defined in the English Oxford dictionary, as the belief in and worship of many gods (polytheism) or one God (monotheism). Buddhism is not such a belief or worship. Therefore some writers point out that Buddhism is not a religion but an atheistic philosophy. They even equate Buddhism with Marxism as a philosophy.

While this is one point of view, which may be called theistic, Buddhists hold that Buddhism is a religion. Buddhism is not a theistic religion, however, but a humanistic religion.  Buddhists do have a concept of gods and a God. This God of courseis defined from a humanistic point of view.  God is not seen in Buddhism as the Creator of the world.  God is the human concept of perfection that human beings conceive and struggle to realize as an ideal through the practice of religion. Buddhists believe that it is possible for the human being to realize this ideal, and when the human being does realize this ideal, it is called uniting with God. To unite with God is to become God (Brahma bhuto). Just as when a river falls into the ocean, it loses its identity as a river and becomes the water of the ocean, so when the human being realizes the ideal of perfection (God), he becomes God.  All monotheistic religions speak of uniting with God. This is how the Buddhist unites with God.

This means Buddhism is not atheistic, though it does not believe in a Creator.  It is humanistic and has a humanistic definition of God. Even if we go on the premise that all religions must have a concept of God, still Buddhism remains a religion, though humanistic.As Buddhism is not theistic, this concept of God is not used generally in Buddhist thinking, though it has to be used when communicating with theists, in order to make Buddhism meaningful to them. The term used by the Buddhists is “Buddha,” meaning the Awake One, who has awakened from the dream of existence.

This means the normal human being is not fully awake though he thinks he is. He is most of the time dreaming rather than awake. In his unawake state he is dreaming that he exists.  He is guided by emotions that are self‐centered rather than reason.
This is quite in agreement with the Freudian concept of the unconscious, where consciousness is compared to the tip of aniceberg, a greater part of the human mind being unconscious.  Modern findings in scientificresearch on the brain, confirm this idea.The human being is awake to the extent that he is conscious of an objective world outside, and a subjective self within. Most of the time his behavior is unconscious.  Only occasionally he acts consciously such as when learning to drive a vehicle or learning to practice typing. Most other times he is on automatic pilot.
This is why the difficulty of meditation, where one tries to remain conscious for long periods.

The problem of existence

Buddhists do not look upon religion as something that has come down from heaven to earth, to satisfy the purpose of the Creator, carrying the message of the Creator to the human beings.  They believe that religion has grown up on earth to solve a human problem.  It is the problem of existence.

The problem of existence is that out of all the animals in the world, the human being is the only animal that is aware of his own existence and is also aware that he/she is going to die.  And death is not only for old people but even for babies immediately after birth or any time after birth. Death can happen even before birth, while in the mothers womb.  And death is not only for human beings, but also for animals and even plants.  Even inanimate things in the world can die. Even the sun, moon, planets, and stars can die. This is the problem of life. It is the impermanence, transience, and evanescence, of every thing that comes into being. All plants, animals and human beings are struggling to keep‐existing, but no one really exists forever.Every thing and everyone has to die forever. Existence is a static concept in a dynamic reality of change.

The conscious human beingdoes not want to die though he can die at any moment. The time of death cannot be predicted. It comes suddenly without any warnings. Our life is like a sword hanging over our heads, which can fall and kills us at any moment.  Isn’t it our duty to deal with this problem, instead of forgetting it, and running away into fantasy?

What is a Buddha

The Buddha was born as a prince in a royal family. He experienced all the luxuries available at the time.  He married at age 16 and stayed married till he was 29. The sight of his child just born made him reflect on life. What turned him off was the sight of an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. He began to think: “This is life: being born, growing old, falling sick, and dying. This is not something that happens to one person but to all human beings.  It happens not only to human beings, but also to animals and even plants. It happens even to inanimate things. Even the sun, moon, planets, and stars in the universe can die.”
Then he saw a hermit who had renounced the worldly life, who was devoted to a meditative life, purifying the mind through meditation. This started a new train of thought: “All normal human beings, being subject to aging, sickness, and death, they seek and cling to things that are subject to aging, sickness, and death. As a result they only suffer.  Here is one person who instead of going after such things and suffering are leaving these things and go after what does not age, fall sick, or die. This is the right thing to do.  I will also do what he does.”

So he gave up his life of luxury, he gave up his beautiful wife, gave up his only child just born, giving him the name Bond (Rahula), gave up his parents, and even his future as a king or emperor. Then taking the guise of a beggar, he went into the woods in search of yogis devoted to meditation.  He met the most advanced yogis at the time. They had developed very high levels of meditation, which he learned but yet he did not find the solution tothe problem of existence, which was nothing but immortality here and now. He was not satisfied with “the leap from reality into
the fantasy of immortality after death,” which many teachers offered.

So he entered the field of asceticism hoping for a solution. He began to practice the worst forms of ascetic practices such as starvation for long periods till he became almost like a skeleton with only the skin remaining. He even tried to stop breathing. When he fell down unconscious due to exhaustion, and then after he woke up, he decided this too was not the way. All these days he had been following other
peoples methods.  So he decided he should go his own way.

He remembered that when he was a child, he sat under a tree during the yearly plowing ceremony. Everyone was looking at the plowing and he was left alone for the first time.  At this time he just relaxed and focused his mind within. Then he experienced a state of extreme stillness and peaceful tranquility of mind. “This is what I should develop” he thought.So he sat under a tree and resolved: “Let my flesh and blood dry out, I will not get up from this seat till I have reached the ultimate solution of the problem of existence.”

His great resolution led to the ultimate level of stillness, where all activities of the mind finally stopped.  All consciousness ceased and he was left with only the body with no sensations or feelings. The difference between his body at this point and a dead body was that his body contained the metabolic life activity and temperature, while the dead body did not. After sometime he woke up from that state,and as he woke up, he was able to directly experience how the mental process worked to create the “world” and the “self” that he was aware of. He saw that the world or his self was not created by an external agent, but by the mental process that was going on within the body quite unconsciously. There was no mind or self to speak of. It was all an impersonal activity that was going on dependent on the necessary conditions. With this experience, he awoke from the dream of existence, and brought all suffering including death to an end. This was his solution of the problem of existence.  This was his immortality here and now. He realized that there was no existent“self” to suffer or to die. This experience is what is called
Nirvana.  This is the highest spiritual perfection. This is becoming God. This is
becoming a Buddha.

A Buddhist is a person who takes refuge in the Buddha, his teaching (Dhamma), and his community of followers (Sangha). These three: Buddha,Dhamma,andSanghacomprises the Holy Trinity of the Buddhist, called the Tisarana.

Once a person has taken refuge in the Tisaranathis way, one becomes a Buddhist who practices the Buddhist way of life. The Buddhist worships the Buddha but does not pray to him.  To pray is to ask for help. To worship is to recognize the worth of something or someone.  The Buddhist recognizes the worth of the attainment of the Buddha, and follows his example.

The Buddhistexpresses his devotion to the Buddhaby his full body bow, and the offering of lights, incense, flowers, and even food. It is also expressed by his chanting of hymns about his great purity and wisdom. The best way to express his devotion is to practice the teaching of the Buddha.

To become a Buddhist is to expand one’s consciousness to include all beings in his interest, not only oneself. The narrow mind is a selfish mind. The broad mind is selfless.  The Buddhist practices the divine dwelling: universal benevolence (metta), Compassion that makes no distinction between oneself and others (karuna), the happiness of selflessness (mudita), the mind that is introspective and apperceptive (upekkha).  This results in in‐sight (pañña), which results in a paradigm shift (ditthincaanupagammadassanenasampanno), which awakens one form the dream of existence (sambodhi), leading to liberation and Nirvana.