A man asked Gautama Buddha, "I want happiness."
Buddha said, "First remove 'I', that's Ego, then remove 'want', that's Desire.
See now you are left with only 'Happiness.'"
-- Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha
Guatama Buddha (Prince Siddhartha)
Half a millennium into human consciousness, 500 BCE, the traditions of the bicameral voice seemed pointless. As the voice had retreated from their minds, the ancients began to put more emphasis on appeasing their silent gods through more elaborate rituals and sacrifices.
Central America saw horrific human sacrifices, as did many other regions and cultures around the world at this time. Despite these desperate efforts, the bicameral voice rarely spoke anymore. In Asia, living in the heart of Hindu tradition, a single man decided to tackle the negative problems of consciousness head on.
The Buddha, as he is called, was born into a wealthy, ruling family, in what is now Nepal. It is said that he lived a protected and pampered life until he was a young adult. Buddha decided he wanted to see real life, beyond the walls of the royal palace where he lived. What he saw -- what he had never been allowed to see -- shocked him.
Stories say he saw old age, sickness and disease for the first time and was told that these things happen to every human. They would eventually happen to the Buddha also. This surge of mortality salience caused the Buddha to devote his life to answering the question of how to deal with mortality, self-interest and daily life while possessing a consciousness capable of feeling pain and misery.
Buddha tried, for six years, to live the life of an austere seeker of the truth. There were many such men who gave up everything and lived a life spent in meditation. Apparently none had achieved more than brief connections to the old bicameral voice through this method and there was no universal teaching that would alleviate the sadness and misery of the ordinary people. Hinduism and its system of reincarnation had failed the majority of the population, especially the lower castes.
Having lived the most royal and materialistic life of his day, and also having spent years fasting and living outside, Buddha suddenly realized that both extremes were not the prescription that would help the ordinary person cope with the misery of consciousness. Whatever the "cure" was, it would have to be universal and accessible to all humans. So what, he inquired, was the source of the misery?
Without reference to any voice, god, prophet or deity, Buddha focused on the fundamental cause of all sadness -- attachment. He devised a way of adjusting the subjective "I" such that it would no longer automatically make decisions and acts based on the main character in one's world view. It changed that world view.
For the first time it was possible for anyone to practice certain mental and emotional disciplines which would, through the plasticity of the brain, create unconscious networks of positive consciousness. The resulting consciousness fosters the same traits as the bicameral voice did -- peace and non-violence -- plus some new things called compassion and altruism.
Buddha was at first reluctant to become a teacher after his realization but he soon assumed the role and became one of the most significant teachers of humanity. His universal instructions were organized in The Four Noble Truths which taught people to recognize that life is a miserable and inevitable consequence of our subjective "I" becoming attached to its own existence, mostly through its association with the body and "things". It proposes a means to escape this misery.
So the self remains intact in Buddhism, but its motivation is changed from self-interests to a more generalized consideration for others (compassion). Self interest is mitigated by a systematic process of examining desires to determine their origin and ultimate goals, and by learning to control them.
The idea of reincarnation remains, although it is not presented as the main reason not to fear death. The escape from the cycle of death and rebirth is not something that will require elevation to a higher caste in some future, more ideal life under the tutelage of a guru or enlightened master. Escape happens immediately with the full understanding of one's own non-physical nature, of experiencing this emotionally and of the development of a whole new way of looking at the world and oneself.
Was it successful? I am inclined to think it was, and is. I especially like the idea that it is universal and requires no dogmatic beliefs, sacrifices or blood offerings. It does not worship a god, although some statues of Buddha have suggested this. While it does not re-connect man with the bicameral voice, it teaches man the ethics and understanding -- the knowledge of good and evil -- and provides the best and most honest solution to the negative problems of consciousness that I have come upon yet.
Just check this out:
Somehow the mental philosophy and practice of Buddha is able to provide a kind of euphoria that incorporates mortality and rebirth while, at the same time, fosters attitudes and behavior that promote peace and compassion among all people.
While estimates vary between 200-500 million adherents, the generally agreed number of Buddhists is estimated at around 350 million (6% of the world's population). This makes Buddhism the world's fourth largest (in terms of number of adherents) religion. The number of people who have reached enlightenment or "nirvana" is unknown but seems to occur mainly in the monks of the order.
Nevertheless, the philosophy of Buddhism is a very potent, righteous and highly socialized way of life that meets all of the motivational qualities of the bicameral voice in service to the ordinary person. Well done Buddha!
Next up: Jesus of Nazareth
As always I appreciate your kind emails and comments. More will come soon. Now it's time for some medicine. (later)