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Michael Wood on the Buddha

From Chapter 2, "The Power of Ideas", in India by Michael Wood, a thoughtful explanation of the core of Buddhism:

We are used to our heroes in history being warriors or men of action, which usually means men of violence, for good or ill. That, after all, is what we teach our children at school. These are the makers of history. But here the hero sat under a tree and simply thought. During the course of the night he came up with an idea, a technique for self-knowledge. It was an idea so powerful that it would transform half the world and be spread not by war, violence and coercion, but by curiosity, dialogue and a thirst for knowledge.

The key idea is deceptively simple. The human condition, by its very nature, entails suffering; suffering is caused by the human ego, by desire, clinging, attachment, and greed. Humanity can find tranquillity only by removing attachments that are at the root of all human unhappiness, anxiety and aggression. The way to liberation is not through worship of a god (or anything else), but by becoming a fully autonomous and compassionate human being. Those, in a nutshell, are the noble truths, and the Buddha called the way to them the eightfold path — one of right conduct and truthfulness. To expound his system further would need far more space than this book allows, and more conversance with the subtleties of Buddhist thought than I possess. But to this definition one might add a further observation — that the implication of the Buddha's logic is that even belief in god is itself a form of human desire and clinging, a product of the ego and another cause of suffering in that it prevents a person from becoming an autonomous and free human being. This was nothing less than a rebellion against history.

^z - 2010-12-22