If we want to be free of the pain we inflict on ourselves and each other -- in other words, if we want to be happy -- then we have to learn to think for ourselves.
Although he was a prince born into a wealthy and powerful family, the young Siddhartha often just wanted to get away from it all. He wanted the space to think independently about who he was and what the spiritual path was about. Such freethinking was important to the Buddha's search for inner truth and his ultimate realization of enlightenment. These days more and more people in the West are following the teachings and example of the Buddha. But what are these teachings about? What is Buddhism? It looks like a religion, but is it?
Those teachings today still describe a deeply personal inner journey that's spiritual, yes, but not religious. The Buddha wasn't a god -- he wasn't even a Buddhist. You're not required to have more faith in the Buddha than you do in yourself. His power lies in his teachings, which show us how to work with our minds to realize our full capacity for wakefulness and happiness. These teachings can help us satisfy our search for the truth -- our need to know who and what we really are.
Where do we find this truth? Although we can rely to some degree on the wisdom we find in books and on the advice of respected spiritual authorities, that's only the beginning. The journey to genuine truth begins when you discover a true question -- one that comes from the heart -- from your own life and experience. That question will lead to an answer that will lead to another question, and so on. That's how it goes on the spiritual path.
We start by bringing an open, inquisitive, and skeptical mind to whatever we hear, read, or see that presents itself as the truth. We examine it with reason and we put it to the test in meditation and in our lives. As we gain insight into the workings of the mind, we learn how to recognize and deal with our day-to-day experiences of thoughts and emotions. We uncover inaccurate and unhelpful habits of thinking and begin to correct them. Eventually we're able to overcome the confusion that makes it so hard to see the mind's naturally brilliant awareness. In this sense, the Buddha's teachings are a method of investigation, or a science of mind.
Religion, on the other hand, often provides us with answers to life's big questions from the start. We don't have to think about it too much. We learn what to think and believe and our job is to live up to that, not to question it. If we relate to the Buddha's teachings as final answers that don't need to be examined, then we're practicing Buddhism as a religion.
Full article by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche at Buddhist Channel