Buddhism is the doctrine expounded by the Buddha. It is not a dogma, nor a revelation made known by any supernatural agency. The Buddha the expounder of this doctrine was neither a god, nor a son of a god, nor an incarnation of a god nor a prophet sent by such an agency. He was a human being, a prince of the clan of Sakyans of the northernmost part of Ancient India, born as a son to a king called Suddhodana who ruled over the kingdom of Sakyans situated at the foot of the Himalayan range. The name given him by his parents was Siddhartha Gautama. Though he was not a supernatural being, he was a prodigy, an extraordinary person, a rarest type of a person. He was brought up as any other child of a royal family and he lived amidst luxuries of the highest type, as his family was extremely rich and powerful.
But even from the days of his boyhood he was contemplative and mostly inquisitive, prying and argumentative. He saw how men and animals suffered from turmoil and tribulations of the world. He was moved by what he saw and grew up in compassion and pity for the suffering mortals. At last when he was 29 years of age, leaving behind his awaiting throne and all his possessions, went forth from home to homelessness in search of a Guru who could show him the way to freedom from all suffering.
He followed the instructions given to him by the teachers who had claimed to have found the way to perfect release from all suffering, but he was not satisfied with the results. At last, getting away from all those ways, after much struggle and experience, he discovered the way. Having trodden the path thereafter, he attained 'Full Enlightenment' (Buddhahood) and henceforth was recognized by his followers as "the Buddha" the Enlightened One. He realized what the world and the existence, as they really are, and how everything is only a part of a restless flow of unsatisfactory states or suffering, how and why this state continues to be so and what is the nature when it is ended and the way to put an end to this flow. He called these four facts the four great Truths.
After he attained enlightenment, he spent full 45 years teaching the world his discovery, sharing his wisdom with others so that they could also tread the same path and free themselves from all suffering. After incessant service of 45 years he passed away to perfect rest of eternal Bliss. Nibbana the Summum Bonum.
Freedom in Buddhism
The Buddha's method of teaching to his followers was absolutely unique and is not found in the teachings of any other masters of ancient days. The Buddha encouraged people to think for themselves, to reason out and test for themselves and not to be bound by any blind belief. No dogmas find footing in his teachings. The religion of Vedic sacrifice was the predominant cult followed by the majority of people in India at his time, and there were penalties for any infraction of the rules. If a man of a unacceptable caste listened to Veda-reciting, his eardrums would be ruptured as a punishment. If any of the lowest caste uttered any passage of Vedas his tongue would be cut off. If any person of the same low caste would somehow enter any of their holy centers and watch their ceremonies their eyes would be gorged out. People of other classes or castes had to pay respect and cater to the needs of Brahmins with no questions whatsoever. Such was the situation in ancient India at the time of the appearance of the Buddha. Brahmins wielded influence over a greater part of India. Caste distinctions introduced by Brahmins affected every sector in the country. Women had no freedom and they were slaves of their husbands. The Buddha came forward and criticized the system of Brahmins. He emphasized the importance of free thought and encouraged people to think and reason out for themselves without being slaves to dogmatic beliefs. Buddha did not approve anger, greed, killing, plundering, falsehood and violence in his teachings.
One day, when the Buddha, accompanied by a number of disciples was journeying along the high road, as it was getting dark he took lodgings for the night, in a inn reserved for the members of the royal families. In those days rulers had, allowed the monks, recluses and ascetics to use their inn as their temporary lodgings. A leader of a religious movement ended up coming to the same inn and took lodgings in another part, with his disciples.
Towards evening some of Buddha's disciples who were walking up and down in the compound of the building, overheard a hot discussion between the ascetic teacher and his chief disciple. The teacher was criticizing the Buddha, his teachings and his disciples in many ways while his disciple was praising the Buddha, his teachings and disciples in many ways. Both were quite contradictory to each other in their views.
The following morning, those bhikkhus told the Buddha about what they had heard the previous evening. Thereupon the Buddha advised them, saying "Bretheren, when you hear others speak ill of me, my teaching or my followers, don't hurt your feelings, don't get angry. If you hurt your feelings and get angry, how could you judge whether they were right or not in their criticism? Be impartial, on such occasions, and think about what they said of us. When you see they were not correct, and if you feel it was necessary, tell them where they were wrong, but do not hurt your feelings. If you hurt your feelings on that account, it will be a hindrance, which will prevent your self-development. Suppose others praise me, my teaching or my disciples, don't be proud on that account, too. How could you judge whether they were right or not right in their praising? Be impartial and judge. If you see they were right, approve of that, but be not proud. Were you proud on that account, it would be an obstacle against your own spiritual development. This was the Buddha's way.
On another occasion he said, "Brotheren, when I speak to you, don't accept it blindly, because you love and respect me. But, examine it and put it to test, as a goldsmith examines gold by cutting, heating and hammering to know whether it was genuine gold or artificial one. If you see it is acceptable, only then accept and follow it." This is the Buddha's Way. This is how the Buddha encouraged everyone to think for himself.
In some religions you are warned to believe what they teach, lest the god would push you into hell fire. There is no such things, a punishment, even a curse imposed on by the Buddha on others who would not believe him.
As regards the ritual of worship, it has no place in Buddha's teachings. You might question why Buddhists place flowers etc. before Buddha image. What Buddhists do in that way is just showing their gratefulness to the Greatest teacher, for his lifelong unselfish service done by teaching and guiding the world along the right path. It is not a ritual, at all.
Whether you pay homage to the Buddha or not it is not as important as living a wholesome life following the path shown by him. One day when one of the Buddha's disciples, who was deeply loving and respecting him, was sitting before him, looking at his saintly and beautiful form. The Buddha knew that and told him "What is the use of looking at this body" a mass of flesh and bones etc., go from here and look at the Dhamma (i.e. practice virtues, follow the Path)."
Whether you pay such homage or not, it is not so important as living a wholesome life, pure in deed, word and thought. If you try to be pure in your life in this way, you are a real follower of the Buddha.
Advice to Kalamas
One day, the Buddha visited a hamlet called Kesaputta. Then some princes of a clan named Kalama came to the Buddha and told him thus: "Venerable Sir, various types of teachers now and then come over to our town let and give us different kinds of teaching. One person teaches one thing and another gives a quite contradictory teaching. This happens over and over again. When we listen to them we get puzzled, and we cannot understand which one is correct and which one wrong. Thereupon the Buddha said: "It is no wonder that a man gets puzzled when he hears teachings contradictory to each other. But I tell you this:
" "Don't accept a thing merely because it is handed down by tradition.
" Don't accept a thing merely because many people repeat it.
" Don't accept a thing merely on the authority of the sage, who teaches it.
" Don't accept a thing merely because it is found in the so called scripture.
" Don't accept a thing merely because probability is in its favor.
" Don't accept a thing merely because you have so imagined, or it is inspired (by some supernormal agency).
" After examination, after testing for yourself, if you find it is reasonable and is in conformity with your well-being and the well-being of others as well, then accept it and follow it."
Respect for other teachers
From Buddhist point of view, one should never ridicule a great teacher, merely because he was not a Buddhist. There were great teachers like Zoraster, Confutze, Lao-tze, noble Jesus and many others. A Buddhist should never insult them. To do so is against Buddha's teachings. This freedom of investigation and accepting is encouraged in Buddhist teachings.
This broad-minded approach is seen in the account of Upali's meeting with the Buddha. Upali was a follower of Jainism. He came to the Buddha with a view to argue on some points of Buddha's teachings. But at the close of discussion he was convinced and expressed he wanted to become a Buddha's follower and that he would stop his support to Jain monks who until now he had highly regarded. But the Buddha said: "Consider further! Don't be in a hurry to follow me. Never stop supporting those Jain monks whom you have respectfully treated for so long."
There is another account of certain wandering recluse who had a discussion with Buddha concerning the difference between the doctrines of the both, at which the Buddha said, "Well, my friend, though we discuss our views and practices, don't think that I am trying to convert you to my side. I don't want to do so. You may go on your way, but let us see whether you or we that practice as you and we teach."
Thus there is full freedom of thinking and full freedom of speaking in the teachings of the Buddha. You can even be critical of the Buddha or his teachings and this freedom is extended to all people. So you should not get angry when others say things that you do not agree with. Listen to them and judge impartially, whether they are right or not right. That is the Buddha's way
Disease and cure
Most of the great teachers taught their followers to worship a god and tried to explain how the world was originated and so forth. The Buddha, on the other hand, taught that to find answers to the problem of the origin of the world was not at all helpful in finding answer to the question of suffering. Suppose a physician goes to a patient suffering from a serious illness he would diagnose the illness, find its cause, finds whether it is curable and prescribes the suitable treatment. Even though the patient is interested in getting some astronomical or geological problems solved, the physician would not listen to him and does not go out of his duty, because he knows how serious the patient's condition is.
The Buddha was just like the physician in this illustration. He served the world as the Physician for the mind's illnesses. All beings in the world suffer from so many distresses because of their mental diseases. There is greed ,anger, pride, selfishness, hatred, jealousy and many more adverse things in our mind. The root cause of all the diseases is ignorance. All beings (human and non-human) have become slaves of all these mental diseases, due to which they commit all types of wrong deeds, speak wrong words, and think wrong thoughts. Such action cause pain both to themselves and others. The Buddha directed his teachings towards the curing of all this suffering.
Root Cause of the Problem
Whether the universe has a beginning or does not have a beginning, has nothing to do with the curing of our suffering. What we have to do is to realize the nature of the mental diseases which bring us all sorts of sufferings both mental and physical, their cause, their cure and path. The Buddha guides you to realize these four facts. There are specific steps that must he taken to achieve this realization.
The first step is to build a good character within you. You have to refrain from wrong deeds, wrong speech and wrong way of earning your living. This is the foundation you have to set, on which you have to erect the building of spiritual development, which consists of two kinds of developments: development of mind's calmness and the development of insight. To develop mind's calm, you have to develop concentration of mind, for which there are 40 methods given in Buddhist scriptures, out of which one is to he chosen suitable to one's temperament.
The next and last step is to examine yourself to understand what you really have in your physical body and investigate and see whether there is anything permanent, that will never change in your body. As a result of this investigation you will see that body is a collection of ever changing materials and that there is nothing permanent in them, there is restlessness in them as they are always rising and vanishing and that there is no ego-entity in them. After realizing the exact nature of your body in this way you have to examine your mind. As you go on analyzing and scrutinizing your mind you will find what you call mind is but a stream of rising and vanishing mental states in which there is no substance. Every mental state is subject to change, that they are rising and vanishing more rapidly than material states of your body restlessly, and that there is no ego-entity. When you come to this understanding of your body and mind, your ignorance as to their nature disappears before the wisdom dawns at the moments of this full realization of your own nature. When you look at the external things from the same angle of your wisdom you will see the whole world is of the same nature as what you are. You will perfectly see there is nothing in the world that is to be attached to, that is to he angry with, that is to be taken for an ego-entity. When you achieve this full wisdom of the nature of life in the world, you will see its opposite side, the unconditioned, unchanging, eternal state of perfect calm and serenity free from all sufferings.
To achieve this goal you should require no worship, no ritual, no belief in a dogma. Only thing you have to do is to know yourself perfectly.
In brief, the Buddha's way is the way to self-understanding, the way to self purification, the way to free oneself from slavishness to the deceptive world.
" The Buddha gave an expression to truth of ever lasting value and advanced the ethics not of India alone but of humanity. The Buddha was one of the greatest ethical men of genius ever bestowed upon the world. - Albert Schweitzer
" Buddhists or Non-Buddhists, I have examined every one of the great religious systems of the world and in none of them have I found anything to surpass in beauty and comprehensiveness the Noble Eight-fold path of Buddha. - T.W.Rhys Davids