|Religions too are subject to birth, old age, sickness and death.
Vol. XLVIII, No. 9
Several years ago, I spoke at an inter-religious gathering and mentioned that for Buddhists, all things are subject to birth and death, and that this included religions and religious institutions. The response was immediate and dissenting. It was an eye-opening experience to see how emotionally charged the reaction was. The position was that if a religion was true, it could not die out, for to do so would bring into question the truth of that religion. Buddhists however, look at it from a very different angle.
For Buddhists, Shakyamuni Buddha left a systematic way of waking up to the true nature of what we and all sentient beings are – and that this awakening experience allowed one to let go of attachments to a false self and hence to ones self-created suffering. But this is seen through the lens of our own self-created karma and hence seen, understood, and experienced in our own uniquely individual way. Buddhism helps us on our way by pointing out what is not true and real rather than what is. Bodhi or awakening is not, after all is said and done, a scientifically or objectively verifiable fact. It can only be verified as an action of religious experience, and an ongrowing action at that.
If the institutions of Buddhism becomes so stifled by intellectual hairsplitting, preoccupation with mystical rituals, amulets, exorcisms, protection, prediction, and accumulations of wealth, position, and power, etc. etc. ad nauseum – then Buddhism as we know it will and should die out and be replaced by the next religious awakening (symbolized by Maitreya – the Buddha to be). Maitreya or Miroku in Japanese, is thus not a messiah who returns with an old truth, but a new Buddha with a new way of waking up. Thus we do not look upon the religions of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Maya, etc. as religions that ultimately failed and thus ultimately false. Instead we look for what these religious systems pointed to and whether they are still helpful to us today. It is not a matter of which religious tradition is true and eternal, none of them are, including Buddhism – it is a matter of what in any of these ever-changing traditions can help me to see my true condition and thereby live and die more fully.
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