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.



Divine Encounters

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