It must have been frustrating in a way to be the Buddha. I cant help but have an image of the guy permanently serene and unflappable, but in reality he must have had to deal with some truly trying bullshit. Even Gandhi was known to lose his temper now and again, and the Buddha was dealing with a multitude of students, detractors, factionalism, skepticism and hostility. If I have learned one thing its that awakening is not some special magic state where nothing ever bugs you again, as the title of a great book on zen put it “After enlightenment, the dishes”. So you are awake? great! But the lawn is still going to need to be mowed, the dog still poops on the carpet and your great aunt will still send you 40 chain letter emails a day. The world doesn’t stop or fit our expectations with awakening, its just that we see all that’s going on clearly so we don’t get too hung up about it anymore.
So many of the supposed things the Buddha talked about were answers to questions. What is the meaning of life? will i be reincarnated? is there a soul? is the no such thing? What did that dream i had last week mean? Is there a god? and hundreds more just like that. If there was an existential or theological question i have no doubt that the poor guy got asked them all. A lot. In part it seems to be a natural thing for us humans to look for someone to tell us things that are, in reality, un tell-able. We expect our religious leaders to be particularly good at this. Ask a priest of most any faith about what happens after you die and you WILL get an answer, delivered with a surety and authority that must seem comforting. But the Buddha wasn’t into comforting, he was into the truth. So when asked these questions his answer was less satisfying to those looking for an authority figure to live their lives for them.
The Buddha simply answered “The question does not fit the case.” In his way he was trying to say “that question is worthless” but in a nice, Buddha-y way. Worthless because;
1)no one alive knows those answers from first hand experience.
In an old zen koan the emperor asks a monk “What happens after we die?” and the monk simply answers “don’t know.” The emperor responds with “Why don’t you know, you are a holy man!?” to which the monk answers, “Yes, but not a dead one.”
2) the questions lead from one theory to another, a tangle of ideas with no resolution.
If the buddha were to say “There is a god” then the logical question is then, who was there before god, and before him, and before him, etc etc. Its a question without an end or a resolution. Its like asking “what was the universe before the universe was formed?”
3) Pat answers cause suffering
when someone gives an answer based on tradition or orthodoxy its not based on experience or testing, its simply the passing on of a corpse from one person to the next. Each person will try to treat the answer like its valid and living, but it will only feel hollow and doubtful. We are too smart to accept this. If we ask “is there a heaven?” we may want to believe with all our hearts, and we may be told exactly what we wish to hear and yet in our minds will always be that doubt, doubt because we know that no one (especially ourselves) can really say with certainty. So we naturally have doubt, unfortunately in most religious if you have doubt then they teach that you are a bad person. Despite the fact that these faiths are full or illogical conjecture you are expected to believe all of it without any question at all, when we (naturally) cant swallow the party line we feel guilt about being doubtful.
The Buddha didn’t want people to take anything as orthodoxy, one of his final words were “Be you a lamp for your selves”. light your OWN way. He specifically instructed his followers to test the things he taught them and that if they found any of it didn’t match with reality to throw it out. How many religions ask their followers to test them for accuracy?
The Buddha realised on the morning of his enlightenment that we suffer because we are worrying about the wrong stuff. We worry that we don’t have enough money and then if we get some we worry it will go away or that it wont be enough. We worry about what happened in our past or we fret about what might happen in our future. We worry about things being stagnant and then we worry about change. We worry about being with the right person and then when we are we worry about whether they are really the right person or whether we are their right person. In short, we spend so much time worrying about everything except what is right in front of our face all the time. And what is that?
The real world. The moment each of us occupy right here and now. This very moment has nothing to do with whether we are reincarnated, whether there is a god, whether we have money or a cool car or a hot girl, this very moment the only important thing is to attend to this very moment. Is it washing the dishes? then be in this moment washing the dishes. Are you riding a bus? then be in this moment riding the bus. All that other stuff really is not worth worrying about. In fact it turns out that when we really and truly attend to each moment that those things we worry about stop mattering so much, work out fine, and are taken care of in due course instead of fretting over.
It turns out that all that important stuff we fret over, the big worries are not even worth the effort to agonize over. Even better, it turns out that by taking care of the ‘little’ worries that the big ones are taken care of automatically! I mean that literally too.Do you want to be taken care of? then care for those around you. Do you want peace? then be peaceful . Do you want to go to heaven? then act in a way that creates heaven right here and now. Do you want to know god? then open your eyes the whole universe and understand that you are a part of it as it is a part of you! the answers aren’t ‘out there” they are (and always were) in you.