Against The Stream ~ BACK TO THE ROOTS

SOME PEOPLE LIKE to make soup of religion, putting several or all together and mixing them up. The result? More confusion than before!

There are more than enough separate and different religions in the world already; is it not more important to find out why we need religion at all, as we obviously do? Where does the religious impulse come from? We should go to the roots and not just deal with twigs and leaves.

Let us imagine how it was in primitive times, thousands of years ago, when there were no houses, roads, no fine food or clothes; there weren’t even any metal implements! People lived on fruit they gathered, or on animals they were able to trap or hunt with sharp sticks and stones; they worse skins and went barefoot. Life was precarious, dangerous and short, and far from easy or pleasant. They were subject to all kinds of sickness and disease, and had no cure for them; they lived in caves or simple shelters of branches and grass. As well as hunting, they were often hunted; tigers, wolves and other wild beasts preyed on them. They were also subject to and powerless against the elements; droughts, famines, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions destroyed them in great numbers; it is amazing that mankind survived.

How did they feel to be so imperiled by natural disasters, over which they had no control? Cringing in terror, they began to personify and worship the forces of nature; in their ignorance and fear of these destructive forces, they imagined angry spirits, demons, or gods at work, and felt themselves to be the objects of their anger. In attempts to appease the imagined spirits or gods, therefore, they began to make offerings of things that were important to them, like food— fruit, and animals they had slaughtered. If the earthquakes or eruptions subsided, they attributed it to the gods being pleased with their offerings; but if the disasters continued, they would take it that the gods were still unhappy, and make more offerings, even to the extent of sacrificing their innocent children. Religion began this way, its roots going back to prehistoric times. Its tap-root is ignorance, its side-roots fear, hope and greed.

Later, people were selected to become priests or leaders of religion— or appointed themselves as such— particularly if they were more intelligent than others and knew something of the art of healing. The priests became the most powerful and respected members of those primitive societies.

Time passed; rituals developed; mumbo-jumbo took hold. Shrines were built, later becoming temples; myths were concocted and handed down; religion became more complicated and refined. The gods, hitherto worshipped as beings inside the storms, earthquakes, mountains, sun, etc., were given names and forms and installed on altars; their worship became the center of all activities; people would do little without first praying to their gods, whether it was planting their fields, moving to new locations, going to hunt, setting off to war, and so on. Each tribe had its own special deities, as well as the major ones common to their area, and, when contact with other tribes was made, differences in beliefs and rituals caused conflict, as each group naturally considered its gods and ways of worship best, as people still do. History shows that such differences sometimes led to ‘Holy Wars’, and sadly, even in our times, such madness goes on, started and fueled by misunderstanding, fear, intolerance and hatred.

Men were— as now— afraid of the painful realities of life, and developed ideas to explain and help them cope; various concepts about what happens after death arose. Attempting to bring order into society— as well as increase their own power— the priests expounded ideas of Heaven and Hell, or rewards and punishments in the afterlife for those who lived within and without the dictates of their authority. Religion became ever more oppressive and authoritarian.

2,600 years ago, compared with Northern Europe and other parts, India was quite highly civilized. Although there were towns and cities, it was mainly a rural civilization, of course, and the people lived peacefully, content to farm and worship their gods. But the priests were powerful and corrupt, oppressing the people with temple-fees, taxes, and teachings of priestly superiority, claiming that rebirth in heaven was only for those who obeyed them, and that low-caste people were meant to serve the higher castes.

Not everyone accepted this system, of course, and there was quite widespread resentment against the authority and arrogance of the priests; some people rejected their teachings, and sought for truth in other ways. One such rebel was a young nobleman, who, at the age of 29, impressed by the painful realities of life around him, left the comfort and security of his palace and went off into the forest in search of Truth. After six strenuous years, during which he almost died, he found what he had been seeking, and thereafter was known as The Buddha, or The Awakened One. After His Enlightenment, He formulated His Teachings according to what He had found and realized. They contained no reference to a ‘Supreme God’ that had created everything and who was in control of it all, rewarding or punishing as it saw fit; natural phenomena were not personified or worshipped, and the way to enlightenment was declared open to all who would make the necessary effort. His Way had no need of priests or intermediaries. He exhorted to live righteously and to work out their own salvation. This did not require any kind of worship or prayer. The gods were dethroned.

Buddhism is based upon facts that we can experience and verify for ourselves, not upon ignorance, fear and superstition. Its roots are not hidden in the mists of time, shrouded and obscured in antiquity. It is not a ‘revealed’ religion, but began at a time when civilization was quite highly developed, and grew out of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, out of direct experience and objective observation of the realities of life And, since realities do not change, what the Buddha found and pointed out is always Here for anyone to experience who will. He did not speak of a ‘Creator-God’ to explain the way things are; nor of a first beginning of things, saying that to speculate about it is a waste of time. No-one knows— nor ever can know— how things began. Indeed, nothing comes from nothing; everything is the result of many causes; there is always something before everything.

The Buddha stressed that what is important is Now, as it is the only time we have. But what is Now? Are we content with things as they are? If we are, there is no reason to desire to change or escape from them, but if we are not, we must look for a way to do so. The Buddha offered us such a way: first, to examine what is Now and understand it, and then, by making efforts, or new causes, to change the effects we do not like. There is no need to pray to external agencies; we must learn to depend upon ourselves.

< Previous  -   Next>

Home  -   Against The Stream  -   As It Is  -   Because I Care  -   Behind The Mask  -   Boleh Tahan -   Just A Thought -   Let Me See  -   Lotus Petals  -   Not This, Not That  -   Parting Shots  -   Ripples Following Ripples  -   So Many Roads  -   This, Too, Will Pass  -   Wait A Minute!  -   Your Questions, My Answers  -   Download  -   Funeral  -   Links  -   Contact