Like Hinduism, various scriptures in Buddhism explicitly
identify the experience of light and ecstasy as one of its primary
goals. Also like Hinduism, the goal itself goes by many names:
nirvana, enlightenment, nothingness, or Buddha-realization. In
each case, however, we find that these terms are used to apply
to a profound, ineffable experience.
Buddhism grew out of Hinduism, beginning with a
young man of the Kshaitriya class named Siddhartha Gotama. Gotama
was born around 563 BC, in northern India. Although not a Brahmin,
the lad saw fit to contemplate the nature of ultimate reality,
and attained perfect enlightenment. From this point on he was
known as the Buddha -- the "enlightened one."
It is likely due to the fact that Gotama was not
born into the Brahmin class that Buddhism could not find a home
within Hinduism. Gotama in fact rejected the whole Hindu class
and caste system, and promoted enlightenment for everyone. In
this way Buddhism became a missionary movement, and enjoyed more
success outside of India than it did within.
Gotama the Buddha perceived that in contrast to
his state of enlightenment, this world was full of sorrow and
impermanence. To overcome this sad state of affairs, the Buddha
advocated following four Noble Truths. First, we must recognize
that life is suffering. Second, the root of suffering lies in
craving. Third, we can eliminate suffering by eliminating craving.
Fourth, craving can be eliminated by following the Noble Eightfold
Path. This includes maintaining the right views, aspirations,
speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and contemplation.
Examples of right conduct include abstaining from taking animal
life; from wrong sexual relations, such as fornication and adultery;
from drugs and liquor; and from violence. Anyone can become a
Buddha by properly applying these principles.
However, depending on the school, there is some
room for dissention as to how the methods are applied. In the
largest school, Mahayana, individuals can pray to a Buddha to
enlist help along the spiritual path. In the older school, Theravada,
prayers are considered meaningless, because the Buddha does not
exist as some sort of god, but as a state of being. The Mahayanists
counter that the Theravadins might be correct ultimately, but
if prayer and worship help a person achieve enlightenment, then
such practices should not be discouraged.
The Mahayana form of Buddhism moved into China
and South-East Asia by the first century CE. From China, Buddhism
moved into Korea and then Japan in the 6th century. By the 7th
century, again, the Mahayana form had moved into Tibet. The tradition
remained largely the same here, but had added to it new practices
known as Tantrism. This often misunderstood form of Buddhism includes
using sexuality as a means of achieving or at least symbolizing
the union of the human and the Divine: the two become one. This
form of Buddhism later spread in to Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan.
Like Hinduism, Buddhism sets as its ultimate goal
the achievement of a profound mystical experience. Unlike Hinduism,
Buddhism has always claimed that anyone can and should achieve
this. The exception would be for compassionate reasons, where
a bodhisattva would delay reaching enlightenment, so that another
person could be helped along the path. We should not be surprised,
then, to find that the kind of experience under investigation
can be found extensively in the Buddhist tradition.