Buddhism is called by some a "non-theistic religion" because it does not concern itself with a creator god or the origin of humans. Indeed, the Buddha himself was a man who supposedly attained enlightened or awakened status simply by recognizing what causes suffering and choosing to live in a way that released him from such suffering. He then went on to teach these principles to others to alleviate their suffering also.
Buddhism, in my opinion, should not be called a religion because it does not require one to worship a deity or even believe in a deity. The Buddha was a man, not supernatural or divine, and never claimed such. He never asked to be called a god nor to be worshiped as such. After the death of the Buddha, some later groups of followers did begin this worship but it was not a feature of anything the Buddha taught, so not all sects of Buddhism worship the Buddha, although he is highly esteemed and revered in all sects.
Siddhārtha Gautama was born in a community of the northeastern Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE. Narratives of his life draw on the Nidānakathā biography of the Theravāda sect in Sri Lanka, which is ascribed to Buddhaghoṣa in the 5th century CE. Earlier biographies such as the Buddhacarita, the Lokottaravādin Mahāvastu, and the Mahāyāna-Sarvāstivāda Lalitavistara Sūtra, differ in some details. But there seems to be a general consensus that the outline of his life is birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, and death. Most Buddhist schools do not believe that Siddhartha Gautama was the only Buddha, but that there have been many enlightened or awakened leaders who discovered the cause and relief from suffering and taught others, and there will be others after him. It is, therefore, possible for anyone to become an "awakened one."
According to the narrative of his life, shortly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer named Asita visited the young prince's father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls. Naturally, King Śuddhodana, wishing his son to become king after him, attempted to protect his son from having knowledge of life outside the palace by confining him inside the palace walls, but young prince Gautama did in fact make several trips outside the walls where he encountered an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.
Gautama studied with all the religious teachers of his day but found that their teachings did not provide a permanent end to suffering, so he continued his quest. While studying with the religious teachers of his day, he had sought to end suffering by an ascetic lifestyle, almost starving himself to death in the process. But he realized this had not ended his suffering, so at that point he accepted milk and rice from a village girl. He began to practice meditation through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way: a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
At the age of 35, he famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree — known as the Bodhi tree — in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days, he discovered the causes of suffering and freed himself from such causes, arising from under the tree as an enlightened or awakened being.
A basic teaching of the Buddha which I personally find helpful is this:
"Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide."
This attitude toward life is sensible. When I was a Christian, I was constantly at war with myself, because many of the Christian principles and teachings did not seem kind, fair, or conducive to the good of all beings. And yet, the Christian God demands unquestioning loyalty to these principles. A belief in the Christian God or the God of Judaism also necessitates remaining in a certain way, ignorant. The Bible states that Adam and Eve were punished for having their eyes opened and understanding all knowledge; and that God's ways are higher than our ways and we can never understand them. We are to simply "have faith" and "trust God" rather than trying to figure things out for ourselves. This approach to life opens the way for many kinds of abuse. Remaining ignorant is never a good thing.
Buddhism puts YOU in the driver's seat of your own life. It puts the authority for what is right and wrong within YOU. You don't have to take anyone else's word for what is right. What is right is obvious by observing the world around you and considering it's affect on you.
Buddhism teaches that the cause of suffering is ignorance. We are ignorant of the true nature of things. We don't realize that we suffer because of our own desire or craving. Another word for this is attachment. We are attached to people places, things, or outcomes.
Stop and think about this. Why are you dissatisfied with your life? What causes you pain? We want something and we can't have it. We want money, but we are poor. We want health but we are sick. We want a love relationship but we are alone. Our suffering does not come from the fact that we don't have these things. Our suffering comes from the fact that we think we should have them and don't. Our suffering comes from the fact that we are attached to these things, or attached to the desire for them.
What if you changed your belief about these things? What if you said to yourself, "It doesn't matter if I have money." Then no matter how much you have, you won't be unhappy. You are not attached to the money, or the possessions you can buy with it, or the prestige it gives you. What if you said to yourself, "My happiness doesn't depend on other people." Then, whether you have a romantic relationship or not, you won't be unhappy.
You might say, "Well, I can TELL myself I can be happy without a relationship, but it would not be true. So how can that help me?" I am not suggesting you go around repeating things you don't believe. I am suggesting you start believing them.
A person has the capacity to, and CAN, be totally happy with themselves and their own company so that they do not suffer when alone. That doesn't mean you won't ever feel lonely, it just means that recognizing your feelings doesn't cause you suffering. Being alone doesn't have to be a negative thing.
In Buddhism, one learns the practice of meditation, and during meditation, one practices the art of accepting what is. The more one accepts what is, the less one will suffer from wanting something that isn't. The less one will be attached to certain outcomes, the lack of which cause suffering.
You see, your happiness is most certainly within your grasp. Changing your thinking will alleviate suffering. It's that simple.
The thing I like about Buddhism is, it gives you concrete tools you can use to help yourself. When I was a Christian, I would read in the Bible where it said that God would not give you more than you could handle and would provide a way of escape. Except there were many times when I prayed and prayed, and no help came. No way of escape was provided. That is the only method of help the Bible provides: Prayer and waiting on God ot act. Except many times, he ever does. Buddhism gives you concrete tools to help yourself.
Visit our web page called "Tools for Removing Obstacles" and you can find many tools to help you with your life. You do not have to wait around for a god to supposedly help you because you are too evil, wretched and helpless to do anything for yourself. I have experienced such peace since realizing that I can alleviate my own suffering.
Having said that, I follow many of the Buddhist teachings because I have found them to be helpful to me, but I do not identify myself as a Buddhist or by any other religious title. I don't not want to be identified with any major religion because I recognize that they are all man-made. Even though many of the tenets of Buddhism are true based upon my own observation and experience, Buddhism still includes some aspects which can't be directly experienced or proven, such as a belief in reincarnation or karma. Those are nice ideas, but can't be validated any more than the Christian belief in heaven or hell or god can be validated. One should never accept as true what one cannot directly experience oneself or validate through observation or evidence. There is no credible evidence or proof that a god, heaven, hell or rebirth exists, so it should not be accepted as fact.
Remember when I said that Gautama studied with all the religious teachers of his day but found that their teachings did not provide a permanent end to suffering, so he continued his quest? We are all on that same quest. I began my religious upbringing in the Church of Christ, a conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist Christian denomination. Once I realized that many of their teachings were in error, I went from one Christian denomination to another, finding in each one a deficiency that could not be tolerated. I finally realized that the problem was not with the churches but with the Bible itself being unreliable. I then looked into different religions, following them back to their fundamental origins. I learned that all religions, including Christianity, have borrowed heavily from previous pagan religions that existed before them, and that all religion, no matter which one, were man's attempt to explain the unexplainable. Now that we have a much more rigorous scientific inquiry and methods than ever before, we now have explanations for much of what used to be unexplainable, hence we no longer have a need for a religious cosmology.
I believe, based upon my own experience, that Buddhist ideas are among the healthiest and most practical, and my own experience has showed me that they are helpful in alleviating suffering and bringing peace. But you don't need to belong to a religion to have that peace.
During my quest, I came across the Unitarian-Universalist Church. I became intrigued by them because while they have seven principles which they adhere to, they do not require unquestioning acceptance of any doctrine or deity. Indeed, many Unitarian-Universalist churches contain Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, Taoists, Agnostics, Atheists and everything in between. It's a place where people who don't quite fit in anywhere else can find a place to belong. I don't call it a religion myself because it does not require you to believe in a deity or any dogmatic doctrinal stance. It's a place of openness and acceptance where those who are still searching can feel comfortable in the company of others that are still searching. Check out Unitarian-Universalism here.
Above all, if you are uncomfortable with some aspects of your present faith or religious system, by all means, you are not alone. Join our Facebook Page where we can have discussion of any aspect of unhindered living that you choose. We support you in your quest.