Religion or a Way of Life

Vivek Sakpal

Published in Issue III, September 2013

Buddhism, for many, is a way of life, a philosophy; for many, it’s a religion to be proud of. A debate sparks in mind where to place this beautiful thought, idea, or belief as you call it.

Way of life: Buddhism in its rightmost spirit is a way of life. A way of reasoning, questioning, rationalising actions, words and ideas. Questioning “The Buddha” in itself is the beauty of Buddhism. It also lets the individual choose his own Buddha. It can be Siddharth Gautam as popularly accepted or any other Buddha born before, after him or living currently. This approach focuses more on the concept of Buddhism than the individual aspect Buddha, Siddharth Gautam. With this approach one may create his/her own path towards the final destination of Buddhism, i.e. Enlightenment. But high chances are to be lost on the path or even compromise on personally defined ethics. This probably can lead to misinterpretation and justifying every action in pure ignorance or overconfidence in self.  Very few may have the power to find their own path towards goal. Many may have achieved it but may not have even realised it, that is what they are feeling or know is actually to be called enlightenment. This is the trickiest part of it.

Enlightenment can be simplified as a blessed state, awakening to ultimate truth or a divine experience.

The best part of this approach is, one need not be officially Buddhist, need not visit a Buddha Vihar, need not go for a formal conversion ceremony or to the extent that one may not even know that what he/she is actually doing is Buddhism. You can find many practicing Buddhist but not officially Buddhist in the Indian Society.

If we look around we find many such people who have raised themselves above all in multiple aspects, I feel that most scientists, rational activists, philosophers are in principle following this way of life, defined by themselves and hence they are in my view “A Buddha”. Some of them have great achievements and work, which is no less than Enlightenment, and can be termed equivalent to modern day Buddha, irrespective of their religious belief or belief in “God” or the “concept of god”. I opine that people like Jesus, Prophet Muhammad, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Plato, Archimedes, Einstein, Newton, Edison, Karl Marx or in Indian context Kabir, Ashoka, Tukaram, Phule, Gandhi and Ambedkar, are modern day Buddha. Yes, they may have differed or been limited from Siddharth Gautama, but in a larger scenario they are enlightened and hence it won’t be wrong to call them “Buddha”.

It’s up to oneself to choose this path and seek enlightenment.

Religion: Religion is a set of beliefs and culture. Buddhism as a religion developed and also saw a downtime in history and then saw its revival. Buddhism as religion mainly revolves around the five precepts of Siddharth Gautama, the Buddha, and his teachings to his followers. Siddharth Gautama showed a path in these five precepts towards enlightenment, in simplest form to an ordinary individual. These five precepts look very simple but in practice are very difficult too. One may follow these and as per him be an enlightened individual. I personally have no clue how many have attained enlightenment by walking on this path, it does not imply that I disagree or challenge it, but simply I state and accept that I am ill informed on this.

This path I see gets lost in rituals of the culture, slowly one tends to focus more on rituals than its actual meanings. One may observe that individuals practicing this path tend to focus more on important aspects of rituals than the core philosophy of five precepts and a rational mind. Differences over rituals separate people, forming sects within. Rituals are localised and sects tend to be localised too. But focus on five precepts; the vital most aspect of the path is blurred.

Siddharth Gautama was a genius in explaining his path. Once a person was in search of him and found him after a long struggle. On meeting him, the person asked how he could be enlightened then and there itself. The Buddha simply requested that as he was on his way, he could join him and they would talk over this in detail when they reach destination in the evening. The person stood adamant, seeking enlightenment there and then itself. He expressed that the next moment he may die, The Buddha may die, the world might end or any such action where in he could not attain enlightenment. The Buddha understood the need an urgency of his new disciple. He simplified and told “ In your seeking, let there be only seeking and nothing else, in you hearing, smelling, eating etc let there be only hearing, smelling, eating and nothing else. “His new disciple got his path to enlightenment. I personally tried to practice this path. I failed. It’s one of the toughest jobs to be so highly focused in your senses and let your mind not deviate or get distracted to even your own other senses, in day today life. The power to control your own sensory organs is difficult, and if achieved is remarkable.

Siddharth Gautama – The Buddha advocated the middle path. Yes, there can be a middle path between extreme point of view, way or life or Religion. One can choose the finer points of both. Try your best to follow the teachings of Siddharth Gautama – The Buddha, but not get lost in ritualistic aspect of the religion, at the same time keep your mind alert towards reasoning, questioning, rationalising actions, words and ideas of your own and others. A control on your senses, if possible, can help you a lot, although not sure how to achieve it.

The beauty of Buddhism lies in its rational approach and middle path. People tend to take extreme positions and defend themselves and their points. This may lead to a victory but not happiness of all. Happiness of all beings may surely lead you to enlightenment. Human needs in life are basic. An emotionally healthy person will surely spread joy around and make life better for all.

After all, it’s you who has to choose the path to walk………

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