"As the wise test the purity of gold by burning, cutting and examining it by means of a piece of touchstone, so should you accept my words after examining them and not merely out of regard and reverence for me."
"Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart. But people have various desires and various passions, and they may practice all of what they should or only a part of it. But one who receives great gifts yet is lacking in self-control, purity of heart, gratitude and firm devotion, such a person is mean."
Among the founders of religions the Buddha (if we are permitted to call him the founder of a religion in the popular sense of the term) was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple. Other teachers were either God or his incarnations in different forms, or inspired by him. The Buddha was not only a human being; he claimed no inspiration from God or any external power either. He attributed all his realization, attainments and achievements to human endeavor and human intelligence. Man and only a man can become a Buddha.
Man’s position, according to Buddhism, is supreme. Man is his own master, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny.
‘One is one’s own refuge, who else could be the refuge?’ said the Buddha. He admonished his disciples to ‘be a refuhe to themselves’, and never to seek refuge in or help from anybody else. He taught, encouraged and stimulated each person to develop himself and to work out his own emancipation, for man has the power to liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence. The Buddha says: ‘You should do your work, for the Thathagatas (Buddha) only teach the way.’
In Mahaparinibbana sutta the Buddha says that he never thought of controlling the sangha (Order of monks), nor did he want the sangha to depend on him. He said that there was no esoteric doctrine in his teaching, nothing hidden in the ‘closed-fist of the teacher’ (achariya-mutthi), or to put it in other words, there never was anything ‘up his sleeve’.
The freedom of thought allowed by the Buddha is unheard of elsewhere in the history of religions. This freedom is necessary because, according to the Buddha, man’s emancipation depends on his own realization of Truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward of his obedient good behavior.
It is undeniable fact that there must be doubt as long as one does not understand or see clearly. According to the Buddha’s teaching, doubt is not a ‘sin’, because there are no articles of faith in Buddhism. There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say ‘I believe’ does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he can not proceed. If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say ‘I believe’, or ‘I do not doubt’ will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.
The Buddha was always eager to dispel doubt. Even just a few minutes before his death, he requested his disciples several times to ask him if they had any doubts about his teaching, and not to fell sorry later that they could not clear those doubts. But the disciples were silent. What he said then was touching: ‘If it is through respect for the teacher that you do not ask anything, let even one of you inform his friend’ (i.e., let one tell his friend so that the latter may ask the question on the others behalf)
Not only the freedom of thought, but also the tolerance allowed by the Buddha is astonishing to the students of the history of religions.
The spirit of tolerance and understanding has been from the beginning one of the most cherished ideals of Buddhist culture and civilization. That is why there is not a single example of discrimination or the shedding of a drop of blood in converting people to Buddhism, in its propagation during its long history of 2500 years. It spread peacefully all over the continent of Asia, having more than 500 million adherents today, and continue to spread in America and Europe in the recent past. Violance in any form, under any pretext whatsoever, is absolutely against the teaching of the Buddha.
In the third century B.C., the great Buddhist Emereror Asoka of India, following his noble example of tolerance and understanding, honored and supported all other religions in his vast empire. In one of his Edicts carved on rock, the original of which one may even read today, the Emperor declared:
The question has often been asked: Is Buddhism or religion or philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label ‘Buddhism’ which we give to the teaching of the Buddha is of little importance. The name one gives it is inessential.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
In the same way, Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Muslim. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men’s minds.
This is true not only in intellectual and spiritual matters, but also in human relations. When, for instance, we meet a man, we do not look on him as a human being, but we put a label on him, such as English, French, German, American or Jew, and regard him with all the prejudices associated with that label in our mind. Yet he may be completely free from those attributes which we have put on him.
To the seeker after Truth it is immaterial from where an idea comes. The source and development of an idea is a matter for the academic. In fact, in order to understand the truth, it is not necessary even to know whether the teaching comes from the Buddha, or from anyone else. What is essential is seeing the thing, understand it.
Almost all religions are built on faith- rather ‘blind’ faith it would seem. But in Buddhism emphasis is laid on ‘seeing’, knowing, understanding, and not on faith, or belief. In Buddhist texts there is word saddha (Skt. Sraddha) which is usually translatedas ‘faith’ or ‘belief’. Bit saddha is not ‘faith’ as such, but rather ‘confidence’ born out of conviction.
The question of belief arises when there is no seeing- seeing in every sense of the world. The moment tou see, the question of belief disappears. If I tell you that I have a gem hidden in the folded palm of my hand, the question of belief arises because you do not see it yourself. But if I unclench my fist and show you the gem then, you see it for yourself, and the question of belief does not arise. So the phrase in ancient Buddhist text reads: “Realizing, as one sees a gem in the palm.
It is always question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing. The teaching of the Buddha is qualified as ‘ehi-passika’, inviting you to “come and see”, but not to come and believe.
Once the Buddha explained the doctrine of cause and effect to his disciples, and they said that they saw it and understood it clearly. Then the Buddha said:
Elsewhere the Buddha explains this famous simile in which his teaching is compared to a raft for crossing over, and not for getting hold of and carrying on one’s back.
"O bhikkhus (monks), a man is on a journey. He comes to vast stretch of water. On this side the shore is dangerous, but on the other it is safe and without danger. No boat goes to the other shore which is which is safe and without danger, no is there any bridge for crossing over. He says to himself: “This sea of water is vast, and the shore in this side is full of danger. It would be good therefore, if I would gather, grass, wood, branches and leaves to make a raft, and with the help of the raft cross over safely to the other side, exerting myself with my hand and feet. Having crossed over and got to the other side, he thinks: “This raft was of great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I carry this raft on my head or on my back wherever I go”.
“What do you think, O bhikkhus, if he acted in this way would that man be acting properly with regard to the raft? “No Sir. In which way then would he be acting properly with regard to the raft? Having crossed and gone over to the other side, suppose that man should think: This raft was a great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I beached this raft on the shore, or moored it and left it afloat, and then went on my way wherever it may be”. Acting in this way would that man act properly with regard to that raft.
“In the same manner, O bhikkhus, I have taught a doctrine similar to a raft- it is for crossing over, and not for carrying (getting hold of). You, O bhikkhus, who understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up even good things(dhamma), how much more then should you give up evil things (adhamma)
From this it is quiete clear that the Buddha’s teching is meant to carry man to safety, peace , happiness, tranquility, the attainment of Nibbana. The whole doctrine taught by the Buddha leads to this end. He did not say things just to satisfy intellectual curiosity. He was a practical teacher and taught only those things which will bring peace and happiness to man.
The Buddha once took a few leaves into is hand and asked his disciples: “What do you think, O bhikkhus? Which is more? These few leaves in my hand or the leaves in the forest over here?”
“Sir very few are the leaves in the hand of the blessed one, but indeed the leaves in the forest over here are very much more abundant.”
“Even so, bhikkhus, of what I have known I have told you only a little, what I have not told you is very much more. And why I have not (those things)? Because that is not usefull… not leading to nibbana. That is why I have not told you these things.”
Here , it is clear that Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them as ‘wilderness of opinions’.