Here is something which confuses many people with their pre-conceived notions of Buddhism and new age hogwash. Have kept it short, hope you enjoy. I hope it illustrates how (in a way) it takes great courage to go with Buddha, that being the uncorrupted teachings of Buddha rather than popularised Buddhism.
What distinguished Buddha was that he was one of the first to stand up and say that the search for Truth (the religious or scientific search) is not external, but internal. Buddha does not negate the external, but he made it clear that to understand the external one must first look inward. In doing this, Buddha turned the religious and scientific search into one of practical psychology and meditation. Rather than look at the causes of the universe as aspects that are separate from us (which exist out there in the stars, or somewhere in the past), rather than look at the scientific factors involved in the creation of the human form, Buddha recognised that existence is an ongoing process which is fundamentally related to all life forms, and that all life co-exists within existence in the present moment. Buddha recognised that human life is conscious and that all life is energy; this led him to question the relationship between consciousness, existence and energy. He asked ‘Who or what is creating this life force, this consciousness, this energy that is my Being? Is this existence that I am, fundamentally related to all existence?’ Rather than look outwards for a creator or creative force, Buddha turned the search onto the searcher. This has been a masterstroke.
Buddha presents a religion that perplexes theologians. It is a religion – for want of a better word to describe Buddha’s approach – with no God, no structure and no belief system; where what is taught is not the acquisition of new virtues, but the uncovering of layers of falsehood to reveal abiding Truths that are already within. It is a religion where the final objective is not to have an objective, where ‘God’ is recognised as merely an idea that humans have formed because of our primitive, fear-orientated minds. It is a religion where its primary teacher denies the existence of the soul and one that informs humanity that the world is merely a dream and that one day, on the day of your death, that dream will end. Buddha says that all of your relationships, your possessions and your attachments are part of that dream and therefore ultimately not real. Buddha says don’t have attachments because the nature of reality is impermanent. He says don’t cling to that which you think is permanent because your thinking is misguided; nothing is permanent, not even your sense of self. He says all relationships are transitory and ultimately you are on your own. Buddha takes away everything from you: your home, your possessions, your relationships, your reality, every aspect of ‘you’ down to the last remnant of ‘I’. He says everything that you think you are, you are NOT, not one bit at all! In death nothing of you will remain; absolutely everything you have ever known about yourself – your body, your mind, your idea of a soul – will dissolve, and that which remains is something you know nothing about. Every element you would deem recognisable about yourself will be gone when you die; absolutely nothing of ‘you’ will remain.
‘Why should we put ourselves through this search for Nirvana? If my life is a dream, if my relationships are to cease and I am not who I think I am, at least let me pretend that it is all real otherwise what is the point of anything?’
According to Buddha such an attitude will not help you because any type of pretending is false. If you live a life that is false, then you are not free and whatever is not free can only ever suffer. Because we do not know any different, we may think we are not suffering but Buddha says this is illusion; the very nature of selfhood, the very nature of feeling cut off from existence, is to suffer.
‘But my life is the only real thing that I know, to negate this is to negate everything!’
Buddha is not suggesting that you negate your life, your relationships or your life history as many ascetics have done, far from it. He is simply suggesting that you recognise that you are part of a greater process that is happening now and that one day, the process that is you will end and another will arise. You will die and all that will remain is something that you cannot understand right now. Buddha is immovable on this point. ‘Absolutely nothing of me’ is hard to comprehend, it feels very much like a total death, a total non-existence, but this does not automatically mean there is nothing at all; what Buddha means is there is nothing of ‘you’ – the difference is monumental. Since we do not understand, since we cannot comprehend a ‘no self’ existence which is not total annihilation, we think ‘that which remains’ must be our soul. But as Buddha explains, the self disappears completely, there is no ‘I’, there is nothing of you that remains, yet there is something that you cannot understand that will remain. We grasp onto this and think, ‘Buddha says nothing of me is to remain yet something will continue. This something must be life continuance of me in some way, surely then it is a form of soul?’ But Buddha couldn’t be more resolute in his denial of the existence of the soul – one of his deepest offerings to humanity. This something you think is your soul is not your soul. A soul remains a subtle form of ego ‘I’. You need to understand that the ego ‘I’ with all of its subtleties will be gone; the soul is part of the ‘I’ and the ‘I’ will die completely. Every idea you have had about yourself will die completely. Buddha says you are nothing other than pure, empty space; you are nothing but pure, empty awareness. He does not say more about this, he does not say what comes after death. On this he stays silent.