During the time of Gautama Buddha, there were two religious systems which predominated the landscape of India, namely Hinduism and Jainism . Gautama when he renounced his wealth, position and family and began his spiritual quest, encountered many philosophies. He came across vedic ritualistic Hinduism , upanishadic vedantic philosophical Hinduism, Jainism and Atheism.
Vedantic philosophers taught that God is both personal and impersonal, but cannot be described. They used around twenty three negations to describe God. Their description of ultimate reality was ‘neti, neti’, which means ‘not this, not this’. They believed in Atman or the soul in man and the reincarnation of soul in accordance with ones karma. Buddha rejected their concept of God and the Atman(self), but accepted the doctrine of karma.
The Jains, who followed the teachings of Mahavira, also called “Thirthakara” or “Path finder”. Mahavira rejected the concept of God and practiced extreme fasting, compassion, non-violence(ahimsa) and meditation, to mention a few, to attain enlightenment. He also believed in the doctrine of karma and rebirths. Buddha accepted a lot of his teachings like non-theism, compassion, non-violence, meditation etc but did not practice extreme fasting and other extreme disciplines.
Buddha called his new path, the “middle way” as opposed to the teachings of sensuality of materialistic atheism on one side and extreme asceticism of Hinduism and Jainism on the other.
Though the Buddha tried to be more practical in his approach and claimed to reject what is not obvious, he nevertheless accepted the doctrine of karma and rebirths with some modifications from the religious environment around him. He also believed that meditation could lead to enlightenment, though he does not give any acceptable explanation for that assumption. Meditation, dharma, karma and rebirths were not new concepts the Buddha introduced. These were there in the his contemporary religious scene of his age and he accepted them with some modifications of his own.
A few of his assumptions are as follows :
1. The reality of the physical world, though he did not believe in a creator God. He believed in the effect but denied a first cause.
2. Reality of the thought world corresponds with the reality of that which is seen, but still denying a creator without whose design it is an impossibility.
3. Karmic law, moral law without a belief in the moral law giver.
4.Reality of suffering and a defining suffering as the problem of humanity
5. Meditation as way of attaining enlightenment
6.The concept of rebirth and it’s causal relationship with karma and desire
7. Transmigration of consciousness from one body to another during rebirth
8.Suffering implies absence of an all loving, all powerful, all knowing creator God. Denying God in spite of the presence of joy and enjoyment.
These assumptions of the Buddha were simply superstitious and nothing less. He was his own authority and he accepted and rejected as he thought best. He did not give any acceptable reason why anyone should accept these assumptions of his.
Can anyone even give an acceptable proof for karmic law and rebirths? Can anyone prove that meditation will lead to enlightenment and how meditation and other teachings will lead to enlightenment? Why should anyone believe that craving and attachment will lead to rebirth? Why should anyone even believe the central teaching of the Buddha that “all of life is suffering”? People experience both joy and suffering .Though there is a molecule of truth in saying that desire is the root cause of all misery, it does not explain all misery and sufferings humans experience. The Buddha’s view is highly reductionist and superstitious. It is even sad to notice that it became more and more superstitious as it traveled far and wide into Indo-China, Tibet, China and Japan .
1. Buddhism and Christianity, Rev.Ahmed Shah
2.101 Questions about Buddhism, John Renard