Buddha Dharma, or Buddhism,
is one of the oldest organized religions in the world (Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and aboriginal traditions are older,
though it is older than Christianity, Islam, and their offshoots). Buddhism originated roughly 2,500 years ago in what is
now northern India and southern Nepal. More about its history and evolution can be found in other pages on this website, and
in other sites on the links page.
I suppose all major religions, as can be
interpreted from their specific teachings in texts, mythology, and rituals, can be said to have a central message.
In the case of Buddha Dharma, it centers on inner transformation.
In Theravada (way of the elders), which
may be the oldest sect of Buddhism, a well-formulated path is laid out in which the yogi or yogini observes how
stress is associated with activity, particularly mental activity such as compulsive
thinking/desiring, and observes the link between stress and possessiveness (to people, places, things, situations, and
outcomes, and even attachment on a more subtle level to any beliefs, opinions, and concepts, i.e. the lens used to look
at reality, rather than reality itself).
The foundational teaching is that clinging is suffering. Clinging is coterminous with the craving that arises with sense contact, and obsession with memories or the future, but a consciousness that is serene, at rest, and clear, can be liberated.
No other sect of Buddhism disputes
these core teachings, but some include other teachings and meditative techniques.
In Tibetan Dzogchen the Vajra master (i.e.
Rinpoche, a sort of guru) directly shows the disciple how to clear away mental obstructions and focus on the free, open space
of mind prior to all thinking. Zen, similarly, is an austere path that directly teaches its students how to notice
the limitations of the intellect's language, binary splitting/fracturing, and (perhaps most importantly) grasping, in order to experience reality holistically (the referents rather than
the symbols), in a non-verbal state of attentiveness and present-centered awareness. This spontaneous state of mind, in almost
all sects of Buddhism (and perhaps Taoism and Yoga as well), is considered the source of ever-present enlightenment. Tantric
teachings also get us to this grounding source, and includes special practices, such as transmuting the energy behind
emotions and desires for the purpose of transformation, and other Buddhist sects, including Theravada, also have practices
that cultivate positive emotions, extending generosity of spirit as well as expanded perspective (ultimately to all, freeing
the constricted mind from a single center).
In each case, there are means of freeing
the mind (and heart).
Now, can other religious teachings be transformative?
I believe so. Do I believe we even need religion to transform us? Not necessarily. It's the transformation of consciousness
that's important, not adherence to dogmas.
You may not agree with the teachings,
and it may not benefit you, but it’s at least worth considering.