I have always believed that Buddhism is closer to what you might call a ‘generic religion’ insofar has it cuts through religious terminology which often becomes a stumbling block. When the Buddha taught his religious insight he used a religious terminology that everyone could understand. It is only in later years that new and difficult terms were inserted into the original canon of Buddhism.
So, how is Buddhism a generic religion? First of all it deals with the reality of our present bodily existence which is universal to all humans. Furthermore, by taking up self-introspection we can look within ourselves to verify the Buddha’s words, that is, we can look within to see how we are attached to corporeal existence which is always limited and precarious for us.
This brings us to the generic ministry of the Buddha, viz., that we are not awakened (bodhi) to the animative force that preexists and moves our body. What prevents us from awakening is our excessive attachment to the physical body and its distressed existence. As such, we know of no other way of being. There are no options, in other words, besides ‘grin and bear it’.
Yet, there is another option that the Buddha uncovered through his own awakening. It is by awakening our animative power (citta) that is presently asleep and ignorant of itself. To understand the problem, let’s imagine that we are like a pure light beam that is unable to see itself, seeing only itself in its refracted form. As a result, all that we connect with is light which is broken up into countless changing moments and patterns. The task before us then, if we are spiritually inclined, is to see the pure light beam in its non-refracted truth. Therefore, instead of following the body as was done previously, we start recollecting the pure light beam gradually becoming the more of it as compared with the physical body.
I think a great deal of the Buddha’s generic approach to religion can be found in other religions, for example, in the epistles of Paul the Christian and the Gospel of Thomas. Interestingly enough, the Apocalypse of Peter contains a very interesting passage dealing with the animative power.
“’put your hands over your eyes, and tell what you see.’ But when I had done it, I did not see anything. I said, ‘No one sees this way.’ Again he told me, ‘Do it again.’ And there came into me fear and joy, for I saw a new light, greater than the light of day.”
When we begin to nose around religious literature which speaks of “light” (this being the animative force of the body), we are uncovering what generic Buddhism, in my opinion, is teaching, especially in Mahayana Buddhism. It is only in modern times that we have almost completely lost this understanding.
I, for one, am astonished at just how asleep people are who claim to be religious. They are utterly dead like zombies depicted in horror movies. Even more astonishing are scientists who hold the opinion that religious literature is nothing more than mumbo-jumbo. This applies, especially, to those in neuroscience who believe that consciousness arises from brain tissue. For anyone free of dogma, such a belief is like studying the parts of a computer to find out how it programs itself—assuming that it does! Enough said.