What is the relationship between
"Enlightenment" and "God"?
And when [Eve] saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked...
The above description of mankind's Fall from Grace, in the Garden of Eden, is also a description of the beginning of the Buddhist religion. We shall re-examine it in that light shortly.
In the summer of 1986 I was in Kyoto, attending an international medical conference. In my room, I found a Gideon-sized volume called"The Teaching of Buddha". I had long desired to read an authoritative Buddhist source, but I had always feared books by American authors, since our drug-culture of the 1960's made frequent reference to Buddha, and I wanted my source to be authentic and untainted by the new ignorance of the 20th century.
"The Teaching of Buddha", it turned out, had been placed in every room in the hotel, and similarly in many other hotels in the Orient. It is published by the "Society for Buddhist Understanding", an organization created by a wealthy Japanese businessman named Yehan Numata, who was also the founder of the Mitutoyo Corporation, a manufacturer of precision measuring instruments. Mr. Numata was an Eastern "Gideon", who had decided to use his own wealth to spread the word of Buddha throughout the world.
I felt that I finally had what I sought -- an authoritative Buddhist source. But I didn't have time to read it. Would the hotel sell or give me this book? I was afraid to ask, lest they say "no". So I stole it. For some time afterwards, I lived with a certain amount of guilt.
Fortunately, when I eventually contacted the Society for Buddhist Understanding, I was relieved to find out that they distributed the book free of charge, simply for the asking. They suggested a voluntary contribution, and I sent many times that amount, acquiring, at the same time, additional copies of the book. These I distributed to friends and relatives, none of whom ever read it.
I myself, however, have thoroughly read and re-read this book. I have also committed parts of it to memory. From the very first day I ever looked at it, I knew at once that it contained the Truth. I cannot account satisfactorily for my certainty about this, other than to say that when Buddha spoke, his voice carried. He died over 2500 years ago, and it is still reverberating. That is because the phenomenon of Buddha on earth was a manifestation of an eternal love and compassion which was uncreated, without beginning or end.
Buddha spoke exclusively about "Enlightenment", which is the Ultimate Reality. As a Jew, I knew that the only Ultimate Reality was God. I knew therefore that Enlightenment and God were related, but I was not able to see the exact nature of the relationship. Whether they were equal or unequal, I could not say. If unequal, I could not say which was the "greater" Truth.
Inexplicably, these uncertainties did not bother me in the least. For years I walked about, in a cheerful and carefree state of mind (at least with respect to that question), certain in my heart that the answer would be revealed to me in the process of time.
I was extremely disturbed, however, when I realized the extent to which the Jewish-Christian-Muslim world disagreed with me. Orthodox practitioners of these "Western" faiths generally taught that Buddha was, without a doubt, a false prophet who denied the existence of God. "Enlightenment", they taught, was, at best, some sort of psychological phenomenon, in which the "seeker" deceived himself into a peaceful state of mind by denying reality. At the worst, "Enlightenment" was taught to be devil worship.
It was six years before the answer to this question, about the relationship between God and Enlightenment, was somehow revealed to me. It's really quite simple in retrospect. I shall now explain it. But first, we must examine Buddha in a bit more detail, otherwise the explanation will not make sense to you.
The Four-fold Noble Truth
In Buddhism, as in Western religion, there are numerous competing sects. But, also as in Western religion, they are bound together by certain common beliefs.
In the case of Judaism, for example, the bond is the Torah. No sect which renounced the Torah could ever be construed to be "Jewish". In Christianity, the bond is the universal belief in Christ himself. In Buddhism, the element common to all sects is the "Four-fold Noble Truth".
What is the Four-fold Noble Truth? Buddha regarded the world as a place of suffering. He discovered a pathway to salvation, and taught it to the world. The Four-fold Noble Truth is a succinct statement of his teachings. The four aspects of this Noble Truth are:
Let us now briefly examine these four pillars of Buddhism.
The first element of the Four-fold Noble Truth:
"The fact of suffering and its nature"
Buddhists believe in reincarnation. This means eternal life -- not in heaven, but in the physical world. The best way to understand this is to compare it to dreams. Just as your soul passes instantly into the dream world at night, and instantly back when you awaken, similarly, Buddha teaches that at the moment of death, your soul "transmigrates" into a new body, in a new world.
The nature of your new world is entirely determined by the collective moral weight, or "karma", of your previous life. Good deeds in this world lead to a better life in the next, whereas evil leads only to increased suffering.
This endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth can be broken by only one thing: Enlightenment. Then, and only then, one is born into "Nirvana", a state which corresponds to Heaven.
In this scenario of Buddhism, even small affronts can become nightmarishly large. Take school, for example. Sure, in retrospect school was bearable. But suppose you had to do it over again -- a thousand times? Or a million times? Or a trillion times?
Or how about the pain of giving birth, or of losing a job, or of going through a divorce, or of a serious illness? Sure, you got through these things once. Can you stomach them one billion more times? Buddha says:
"If one were to pile the ashes and bones of himself burnt in this everlasting transmigration, the pile would be mountains high; if one were to collect the milk of mothers which he suckled during his transmigration, it would be deeper than the sea".
(Teaching of Buddha, Section "Dharma", Chapter 4, "Defilements", part 1, pp. 172-174).
What a thought! In this view of life, even the smallest insult becomes magnified by repetition, growing into a living Hell. Thus, Buddha teaches that the world is a place of suffering -- not because it is a place of unendurable torture, but because it is a place of endurable but ceaseless unrest, which ends neither with sleep nor even with "death", but continues, without interruption, until Enlightenment is attained.
The Buddhist view recognizes life in this world as a succession of sufferings. The following is an arbitrary grouping into six categories, which embrace the sufferings between birth and death:
As for wealth, consider the fact that a man who has removed his desire for money is happy with a nickel, but a man who desires money can never have enough. The biographers of John D. Rockefeller tell us that he was tormented all his life by a nagging fear of poverty. This apparently got worse as he grew wealthier. What a nightmare!
Therefore, who among us has everything he wants? And every unfulfilled desire is a cause of constant unrest, until it is fulfilled.
In fact, neither money nor any other material "possession" brings rest. On the contrary, to "have much" only means that you "have much to lose". The biggest mistake in America is the fixed belief that somehow, in the end, money will "find a way". The truth is that wealth and power only increase our unrest. It is never the other way around.
Second element of the Four-fold Noble Truth:
"The source of suffering"
Buddha teaches that the source of suffering is desire and attachment. In Eastern religion, particularly Hinduism, it is taught that it is perfectly possible to acquire whatever things one needs in life without being filled with desire. This is a subtle teaching indeed. For most of us, however, life is ruled by desires and attachments.
In certain cases, the relationship of suffering and desire is obvious. In others, it is more difficult to see. Let us examine the Buddhist view of life, as outlined above, and see how it relates suffering to desire. Once again we shall, perhaps arbitrarily, divide the sufferings of life into categories. There are five:
1. We said that birth was suffering. It is not easy to see the relationship between suffering and desire in the fetus, unless one makes an effort to consider life in the womb from the fetus' point of view. All the physical needs of the developing baby are fulfilled, but it doesn't appreciate that fact -- the womb is the only "world" it knows or remembers, and the peacefulness and security are taken for granted. But the fetus surely suspects that the world is bigger than that. It hears loud sounds from the outside, and it sees brighter and darker shades of light (if you don't believe this, go into a dark room with a mirror, and put a lit flashlight into your mouth -- you'll be surprised at how much light penetrates the human body).
Furthermore, the fetus can move, and it soon finds out that the greater effort yields the greater movement. It wants to stretch out fully, but it can't.
I believe it is accurate to state that the fetus "desires" to be born, even though it has no idea who it is, what the womb is, or what birth is. Although the fetus "has it all" from the physical point of view, it does not appreciate what it has, and it desires more. It is therefore in a state of unrest, or suffering.
It may therefore be concluded that life in the world, with all the suffering which that entails, arises from the desire to be born.
This is admittedly a rather subtle point. It may seem, to the Western mind, that the processes of fetal development and birth are purely physical, and proceed mechanically without the slightest regard for the fetus' state of mind. But when one reflects upon this from the Buddhist point of view, starting from the basic premise of reincarnation, then the conclusion becomes logically inescapable.
2. At the moment of birth, the fetus experiences a shock that no living person can remember. The physical trauma of being squeezed through the birth canal must be painful, because it can cause serious and permanent injury or even death to the baby. Once outside, the child is, for the first time, plunged into coldness. With the sole exception of brain-injured babies, it is a universal fact that the newborn infant cries hysterically. The crying continues until baby is dried off, warmed up, and comforted.
Thus, it is apparent that the new-born child, no sooner having been born, immediately desires to have back the comforts of the womb, where oxygen, food, and temperature were in perfect balance and were obtained without effort! But there is no turning back. The child can move only forward. Since it now earnestly desires to get back what it had before, it is thus in a state of unrest, or suffering. As a child, it can do only one thing -- it cries.
If the child could somehow understand and accept the realities of life in the world, it wouldn't cry. But that is impossible for a child.
It may therefore be concluded that suffering arises from the desire to regain the physical comfort and security of the womb.
3. As a human being grows and develops, it proceeds from desire to desire. With respect to the innumerable physical cravings people feel, throughout their lives, the relationship to desire seems self-evident. We are constantly in a state of unrest because we desire more power, or more money, or more sex, or more physical comfort.
Buddha teaches that human desires may all be traced to the physical instincts, which have a strong will-to-live as their basis. This will-to-live translates into a need for the gratification of the physical senses; for the slaking of the many hungers and thirsts of the physical body.
When manifested externally, this will-to-live becomes a desire for knowledge about our environment. It is through such knowledge that we gain power and mastery over our surroundings, so that we can learn where, when, and how our physical desires may be satisfied.
In a society of human beings, the ultimate manifestations of the instinctual will-to-live are the desires for wealth, power, and influence.
Yet we have seen that the physical desires are ultimately insatiable, and that the possessions of wealth only increase unrest, never the opposite. It may therefore be concluded that suffering arises from the desires and passions of life in the physical world.
4. The sufferings of old age and death are also readily seen to be caused by desire. The aging process involves pain and loss of physical and mental power. We desire to have our comfort restored, as well as our physical strength. As death approaches, we desire the peace of eternal life in paradise, but, with few exceptions, we all fear death. What lies beyond? No one knows for sure!
Concerning the events which befall a person after death, the wisest of people throughout history have not agreed on any part of it, except for the one universal point of agreement, which is that we don't really die. In some way, shape, or form we go on after "death". The possibility that the next world might be unpleasant fills us with fear. We have no control over this at all!
Thus, somewhat like the fetus, who desires deliverance from the confines of the womb, we desire deliverance from the sufferings of this world. But we also fear that very same deliverance, for we know not what lies beyond. This state of conflict is usually resolved in favor of a clinging to life. The predominant desire is thus to hold onto what we already have, which has taken us a lifetime to get. Since the aging process moves inevitably forward, however, this desire cannot be fulfilled, and our unrest only increases.
It may therefore be concluded that suffering arises from the desire to live, and to avoid the common calamities of old age and death.
5. I have segregated the subject of disease from the others, because it is most difficult of all to see how the suffering of disease can be due to "desire". The suffering of birth is due to the desire for the comfort and security of the womb -- that's simple enough. The suffering of life on earth is due to the desire for more and more wealth and power -- that's simple enough. The suffering of death is due to a desire to live -- that's simple enough.
But how can the suffering of disease be due to desire? Desire for what? Isn't the pain of disease universal, and felt the same way by all people, regardless of how many "desires" they do or don't harbor?
The answer to the above question is "No". If one examines the suffering caused by disease, one finds that it is much more complicated than it seems at first. In fact, virtually all the suffering of disease is a manifestation of the other sufferings we have already considered. For example, when we become ill, we lose money. We can't go to work, and, additionally, we acquire medical bills. So, at the very least, part of the suffering is the same suffering we saw earlier: the suffering caused by desire for money and fear of losing what money we have.
If the illness becomes chronic, or causes lingering disability, our money-making capacities may be permanently reduced. So a serious illness can cause a serious or permanent loss of money. That hurts.
Imagine a person in the pre-antibiotic era with tuberculosis. This disease used to be so common it was called the "white man's plague", and the world was filled with the sounds of people coughing. A chronic cough eventually leads to wracking pain in the chest, spine, and abdomen, as all the ligaments and muscles get stretched and torn from the constant trauma. Each cough becomes a painful torment. How much worse it must be if, in addition to everything else, each cough is also a painful reminder that the illness is robbing the victim of money, and plunging his family into the straits of poverty!
But it's far more than simply the pain of financial loss. A serious illness may get better, or it may get worse. Ultimately, it may kill us. We have already seen that fear of death causes suffering. So part of the suffering of disease is actually the suffering caused by desire for life, and fear of death.
Furthermore, an illness may temporarily restrict our abilities to obtain such physical gratifications as food and sex. If we are students, than the illness may restrict our continuing efforts to acquire knowledge; the very knowledge we will need to gain mastery over our environment. These restrictions can become permanent if the illness is severe enough. Thus, part of the suffering of disease is actually the suffering caused by desires for food, sex, knowledge, and other worldly commodities.
What if we had none of the above desires? Would disease really be all that bad?
I have approached this question by creating an imaginary parable based on the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of America's most beloved presidents (but not by all!). Roosevelt, as everyone knows, had polio, and became a cripple. Evidently, that didn't stop him. Imagine, now, that prior to his illness, he had been visited by an angel, who gave him a choice between two options: (1) "perfect health", or (2) polio.
The angel of the parable explains it to Roosevelt thusly: If he chose "perfect health", he would be granted it, but he would have to live the ordinary life of the ordinary politician, with all its ups and downs. Like most of them, he would be striving endlessly for more power and money, with the constant threat of losing an election hanging over his head continually, like a sword. His career might end in success or honor, or, depending on circumstances, it might end in scandal and ruin.
But if Roosevelt chose "polio", the angel explained, the deal would be different. He would be stricken with polio, but he would surely recover, and the angel guarantees that the damage would be limited to his legs. Thereafter, he would be raised up to become a great leader. True, he wouldn't be able to walk, but there would always be people to carry him around. Is that not what the Kings of old desired?
Furthermore, although he would not be able to obtain food for himself, he would always be provided with the finest of foods that this world had to offer.
Finally, he would, from his wheelchair, command the mightiest army ever assembled, leading it to victory over Adolph Hitler, one of history's most heinous criminals; to triumph in the greatest war ever fought. In short, he would live the life of a hero, and die beloved by many. What more could one ask of life?
Now, which of these two options would Roosevelt have chosen? Surely the second. In fact, I imagine he would have shouted "bring on the polio!".
When the disease actually struck, how much suffering would he experience? Not much, I'd wager. In fact, he'd probably be smiling. Why not? His disease was now a stairway to success. With each pang, he would be one step closer to his glorious destiny. He would have everything to look forward to, and no reason to fear either death or disability.
It may therefore be concluded that the suffering of disease has little "substance" of its own, but actually arises from the other desires we have already examined, namely the desires for wealth, for physical comfort, and for life itself.
Third element of the Four-fold Noble Truth:
"What constitutes the end of suffering"
Buddha teaches that the end of suffering is Enlightenment, which comes about through a total renunciation of all worldly desire and passion.
It is important to emphasize that there is a large difference between not having anything, and not desiring to have anything. Buddha does not condemn money, or sex, or political office, when these things are rightly employed. He only condemns desire and attachment.
If a person, seeing the world through the eyes of Enlightenment, perceives that there is a way to remove suffering from the lives of others, and if that way involves "having" certain things of this world, then there is no harm in having those things. Thus, to spend money to relieve human suffering would be an honorable practice in Buddhism. But to stockpile money in a bank account would be regarded as a manifestation of delusional thought, if one imagined that by doing so one could somehow avoid the unavoidable sufferings of disease, old age, death, and reincarnation.
Fourth element of the Four-fold Noble Truth:
"The Noble Path which leads to the end of suffering"
Buddha recognizes that people cannot simply turn off desire, as if it were a water faucet. In order to assist people in attaining Enlightenment, he has shown mankind the "Eight-fold Noble Path" which leads to the removal of desire. Although there are other paths to Enlightenment known in the Orient, such as the path of extreme asceticism of Mahavira (the founder of Jainism), the Path of Buddha is a "Middle Path", avoiding extremes of sensuality on the one hand, and physical self-torment on the other. It is a Path whose validity has been recognized throughout the Orient, and to a lesser extent in the West as well.
We have mentioned the steps in thisEight-fold Noble Path elsewhere. If you've looked there, you will recall that the Noble Path is very similar to the "Ten Commandments" given to Moses on Mount Sinai. If this "Pathway to Enlightenment" sounds trivial, ask yourself how many people really follow these Commandments. When is the last time you read a daily newspaper which didn't contain at least one report of murder? How many people do you know who don't steal, even when there's no chance of getting caught? How many people do you know who are entirely free of envy? How about greed, jealousy, anger, rage or hatred? There's nothing trivial about either the Eight-fold Path, or the Ten Commandments.
If you doubt the existence of Enlightenment because you have "followed" the Ten Commandments and remain as unenlightened as you were before, think again. Have you really followed these Commandments? Or are you simply "patting yourself on the back" for a job "well done", when in truth, the job is not "done" at all?
The relationship between Enlightenment and God
If you agree with what has just been said about the relationship between worldly suffering and worldly desire, then the relationship between Enlightenment and God will now be easy to grasp.
(If you do not agree, then I suspect that the remainder of the argument will make no sense at all. If you can stand to do so, you should read the beginning of this chapter again, and think about the role of worldly desire in your own life).
It is widely taught, by Judeo-Christian-Muslim spokespeople, that Buddha is an avowed atheist. This is not true. Here is what Buddha says about God:
"In this world there are three wrong viewpoints. If one clings to these viewpoints, then all things in this world are but to be denied.
"First, some say that all human experience is based on destiny; second, some hold that everything is created by God and controlled by His will; third, some say that everything happens by chance without having any cause or condition.
"If all has been decided by destiny, both good deeds and evil deeds are predetermined, weal and woe are predestined; nothing would exist that has not been fore-ordained. Then all human plans and efforts for improvement and progress would be in vain and humanity would be without hope.
"The same is true of the other viewpoints, for, if everything in the last resort is in the hands of an unknowable God, or of blind chance, what hope has humanity except in submission? It is no wonder that people holding these conceptions lose hope and neglect efforts to act wisely and to avoid evil".
Buddha, therefore, does not deny the existence of God. He simply says that salvation through God requires "submission". Is this different from the "Western" point of view?
It is very interesting, at this point, to review the meaning of the word "Islam". According to Noss & Noss, authors ofMan's Religions :
A "Muslim" is "one who submits" or "one who commits himself to Islam". The word Islam is a noun formed from the infinitive of a verb meaning to "accept", "to submit", "to commit oneself", and means "submission" or "surrender".
Extraordinary! The Muslims; those most aggressive and warlike of monotheists, who drove Buddhists out of the Middle East with the edge of the sword...the Muslims actually agree with Buddha about the "nature" of God-worship! It involves complete submission.
Therefore, the difference between monotheists and Buddhists is not a difference in the way they perceive God. It is simply that Buddha chooses not to "submit". Why?
We shall now answer this question. First of all, it is extraordinary that Buddha even acknowledged the existence of God, because the available history of the period shows that God was not known in India at that time. India was a nation of idol-worshippers.
As discussed elsewhere in this Web Site, word of the existence of the God of Abraham was just reaching India during Buddha's life on earth. But it is apparent that the God of Abraham was not well-known to Buddha, since he describes God as "unknowable", whereas the Bible says that God can be known through earnest and heart-felt prayer.
Therefore, we may conclude that Buddha's Path to Enlightenment was not against the God of Abraham, but against the stone "gods" of ancient India. As for the true God, Buddha did not know enough about Him to proceed against Him. Buddha's method of attainment of Enlightenment simply proceeded without any reference to the Almighty at all.
If you still remain convinced that Buddha is the enemy of God, consider your own sin. Your Original Sin, that is. Let us review, again, the history of Original Sin:
And when [Eve] saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked...
What was it that drew Eve to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? What, for that matter, was the "nature" of mankind's Fall from Grace?
Well, the above passage from the Bible says that the Tree was "good for food". That means that its fruit had a nice taste. In our review of Buddhist thought, did we not make mention of desire for food?
The Bible says the Tree was a "delight to the eyes". In our review of Buddhist thought, did we not make mention of desire for gratification of the physical senses?
Finally, the Bible says the Tree was "to be desired to make one wise". That is, it gave Eve "knowledge". In our review of Buddhist thought, we showed how the gratification of physical desires was achieved through manipulation of the external world, which requires knowledge of the ways of that world.
But, as incarnate beings in this world, what sort of "knowledge" is it which we attain to? What, exactly, did Adam and Eve "buy into" when they ate from that Tree? And what did the "buy out of"?
It is clear, from a reading of Genesis, that Eve did not eat from the Tree specifically because she desired to be removed from the presence of God, although that was the final result. Clearly, she ate from the Tree because she wished to gratify her desires; the same desires we have been considering in this chapter: desires for wealth, pleasure, power -- the power which comes from worldly knowledge -- and, last but hardly least, the desire for life itself. Not the eternal life promised by Christ to all those who believe, but the incarnate life of those who live in the physical world of desire, passion, and illusion.
Isn't it self-evident, then, that the following of Buddha's advice, namely to remove desire, would amount to nothing more or less than a direct reversal of Original Sin? That is, Adam and Eve did not fall from Grace because they "renounced God", but rather because they embraced desire. Therefore, says Buddha, "embracing God" is not the only way of returning to Grace: it may also be regained through renouncing desire.
Isn't it also true, therefore, that Buddha's Path to Enlightenment is not so much a "renunciation of God" than it is an acceptance of responsibility for what we did in the Garden of Eden, and a recognition that what we did must be undone?
Buddha's parable of "desire" as a "poison arrow"
To further understand Buddha's point of view, consider the following parable which he told two-and-a-half millennia ago:
"Suppose a man were pierced by a poisoned arrow, and his relatives and friends got together to call a surgeon to have the arrow pulled out and the wound treated.
"If the wounded man objects, saying, 'Wait a little. Before you pull it out, I want to know who shot this arrow. Was it a man or a woman? Was it someone of noble birth, or was it a peasant? What was the bow made of? Was it a big bow, or a small bow, that shot the arrow? Was it made of wood or bamboo? What was the bow-string made of? Was it made of fiber, or of gut? Was the arrow made of rattan, or of reed? What feathers were used? Before you extract the arrow, I want to know all about these things.' Then what will happen?
"Before all this information can be secured, no doubt, the poison will have time to circulate all through the system and the man may die. The first duty is to remove the arrow, and prevent its poison from spreading.
"When a fire of passion is endangering the world, the composition of the universe matters little; what is the ideal form for the human community is not so important to deal with.
"The question of whether the universe has limits or is eternal can wait until some way is found to extinguish the fires of birth, old age, sickness and death; in the presence of misery, sorrow, suffering and agony, one should first search for a way to solve these problems and devote oneself to the practice of that way".
(From The Teaching of Buddha, Section "The Way of Practice", Chapter 2 "The Way of Practical Attainment", part II ("Search for Truth"), pp. 296-298).
This parable explains Buddha's position on God and Enlightenment. Although Buddha does not specifically state that it was God who shot the "arrow of desire" at mankind, a moment's reflection reveals that desire is nothing more or less than the flame of the "flaming sword" which God placed at the "east of Eden" (Genesis 3:22-24). Had God allowed Adam, having become desirous, to remain in Eden, he would have "put forth his hand, and [taken] also of the Tree of Life". Therefore, there is no return to the state of Grace, called Enlightenment, until the desires which caused the Fall from Grace have been thoroughly removed. When desire has been removed, the flaming sword east of Eden will cease to exist.
Thus, desire, which surely rules mankind, was the "arrow" of this parable, and the "arrow" was surely shot by God, who rules over all, and who alone is empowered to do such things.
Yet Buddha does not inquire about the "nature" of God. He simply teaches how the arrow may be removed. It may be removed in the same way it was introduced. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve "bought into" the world of desire. To return to Grace, we must renounce those very same desires.
We did not wish to remove ourselves from the presence of God when we ate from that Tree; we simply wished to live, which means to experience fulfillment of worldly desires. Therefore, simply wishing to be back in God's presence is surely not enough to get us there. We must first renounce the desires we "bought into" when we ate from that Tree.
Difference between worldly "knowledge" and Enlightenment
God planted a "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" in the midst of the Garden of Eden. Man disobeyed God's order and ate from that Tree. What was the nature of the knowledge which we sought, and what sort of knowledge did we leave behind?
We require "knowledge" of the physical world in order to live in it. Nowadays, people get all excited when they think to themselves that space travel or DNA-based genetic engineering will make us "gods". God forbid! What a curse, that we should have to "conquer" a whole physical universe, especially one which is constantly changing, and which seems to grow much larger every time we think we have looked to its outer (or inner) limits!
The highest form of knowledge in this world; the form which is the most uplifting of all the sciences, is the science of knowledge of God. We call this "religion". It might seem to some people that Buddha has renounced this form of knowledge, and that Judeo-Christianity-Islam has embraced it. But is this form of "knowledge" really satisfactory, or, by itself, sufficient for the attainment of salvation of the soul?
In the Garden of Eden, I submit to you that man had no "knowledge" of God in the sense in which we use the word "knowledge". God was known to man in the Garden because He was present, we were present, and we "knew" Him through his very Presence. There were no books! There were no Bibles!
In fact, there was no "religion" at all in the Garden of Eden. Religion is for outcasts from the Garden, whose knowledge of God can only be the sort of murky "knowledge" which is acquired through the consideration of data collected by the five senses, and processed by the sluggish human mind.
Was Buddha wrong to chose to ignore such unsatisfactory sorts of knowledge in preference to his own Path to Enlightenment? Let us now consider the difference between the true knowledge of Enlightenment and the worldly knowledge with which we are more familiar.
True knowledge may be likened to the knowledge one has about one's own leg. Now, legs are made for walking. Excepting the case of a cripple, sooner or later in a man's life he will stand up and walk. Doesn't that man now "know" his leg, in the truest sense of the word "know"? That is, does he really need to learn the Latin names for all the muscles, or the pathways of the flow of blood, or all the nerves, bones, or ligaments?
To put it differently, what would you rather have: a fully-functioning leg which you "knew" nothing about, or a crippled leg whose parts you could all name? Which is the real "knowledge", to know the leg through actually having it, or to be able to name all its parts?
This situation is precisely analogous to "knowledge" about God. On earth, members of militant religious sects, who are inclined to murder everyone who seems different to them, would have you believe that you can have "knowledge" of God by reading their book, or by reading their "Bible", or by following their example. They claim that by joining their sect, you can learn all the names of all the "parts" of God, and thereby attain salvation. It's a lie.
The knowledge of God which we can attain to on earth is, at best, "looking through a glass darkly". Or, to state this position by analogy to the human leg, we, in "buying into" Original Sin, have done the spiritual equivalent of cutting off our own leg, and replacing it with a prosthesis.
In getting expelled from the Garden of Eden, we have traded in the real "leg" of the Presence of God for the "prosthetic leg" of Bible-based worldly religion. To regain a real leg, we must find a way to remove Original Sin. In the meantime, we must hobble along on the prosthesis.
Like everything else in the world, there are different grades of prosthetic legs. People in general are drawn to everything which shines or glitters. But in the case of an artificial leg, if you are ever unfortunate enough to need one, beware. A poorly-constructed one, which is coated with a nice "skin" for sales purposes, might carry you for a while, but it is most likely to break down at the moment when you most need it. If, for example, you had to run for your life, the leg would be put under more stress than usual. A poorly-constructed prosthesis might, at that moment, "choose" to break down. Or, alternatively, it might run the wrong way!
In religion, as in prosthetic legs, one should choose very carefully. One's soul might depend upon it. We should not be fooled by the shine or glitter of the veneer. Nor should we permit ourselves to be attracted by human guarantees of worldly prosperity or of salvation of the soul after death. No human being can give us such guarantees.
As for Buddha, he took it upon himself to remove desire so as to attain Enlightenment. In his case, it took six years. During that time he lived as a homeless monk in the wilderness. He now brings to us a Path to follow, solely so that we may, perhaps, be spared some of the sufferings he endured. If we refuse to accept his teaching, because we are afraid that God will be "mad" at us, then we will have to find our own way to remove desire. This is surely "reinventing the wheel".
The "New Covenant" of the End Times: Removal of Desire
If you still cannot see any relationship between the Oriental concept of attainment of Enlightenment by removal of worldly desire, and the attainment of Salvation by complete submission to the will of God, then consider the "New Covenant" spoken of by the Prophets. The Prophet Jeremiah, for example, said:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
And what does this really mean; to "write the law in our hearts"? It means this: You do not steal. Not because you're afraid you might get caught -- not because you're afraid that you might go to Hell after you die -- but because you do not even desire anything which belongs to another person.
To "write the law in our hearts" means to not commit adultery. Not because you're afraid you might get caught -- not because you're afraid that you might go to Hell after you die -- but because you do not even desire to have sex with your neighbor's wife. Did Jesus not say "whosoever looketh on [another man's wife] to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart"? (Matthew 5:28).
Without a doubt, the great prophets of old had personally triumphed over worldly desire. Do you think, even for a second, that men like Moses or Jesus could have been "bought off" with a new car, or with a fleeting sexual encounter? You know that they couldn't have been! Do not, therefore, reject Buddha's teachings until you have fully considered all the facts. After that, if you still cannot accept Buddha, be prepared to recreate everything he accomplished, because you will never be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven while you cling stubbornly to worldly desires.
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Book: The Teaching of Buddha
The Teaching of Buddha is the most concise and all-inclusive Buddhist reference I know of, and I strongly recommend it to all. It is published by the Buddhist Promoting Foundation (Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai), an organization established by Mr. Yehan Numata, who was the founder of the Mitutoyo Corporation, a manufacturer of precision measuring instruments. Mr. Numata was an Eastern "Gideon", who used his wealth to spread the word of Buddha throughout the world. Consequently, his book may now be found in many hotel rooms in the Orient, just as the Gideon Bible is found in the West. In America, The Teaching of Buddha may readily be obtained from: The Society for Buddhist Understanding, 16925, E. Gale Avenue, City of Industry, CA 91745. The book is free, although a contribution is appreciated. The Internet address of Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai is: http://www.BuddhistReading.com/bdk.html.
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Man's Religions, 7th Edition. By John B. Noss and David S. Noss. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1984.