Week 2 of Rita Gross’s Tricycle Retreat, “Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners,” starts today. This week, entitled “The Buddha’s Original Ideas,” explores the questions: How much of what the Buddha taught was original? How much of it was something that other people were already saying as part of the religious teachings of India in his day? There’s an excerpt from Gross’s teaching below and well of a preview of this week’s video. Enjoy!
I think that the first thing we need to know is that the India of the Buddha’s day was a very sophisticated place. Buddhism grew up in the Gangetic valley and the Gangetic plains and at that point in time that was a very fertile, rich, and thriving part of India. A great deal of religious speculation and philosophy had already occurred. Buddha obviously knew about and participated in the milieu of religious speculation and practice that was going on in his day. He did not invent everything that we know as Buddhism whole cloth himself. I think it’s important to know what Buddhism shares with its religious neighbors and what is distinctive to Buddhism.
Much of the basic Buddhist worldview was already in place in the Buddha’s day. There is rebirth—taken for granted in most Buddhist cultures—and rebirth is controlled by karma. There is also that there are multiple world systems in all directions of the cosmos—a much bigger view of the universe for those of us who grew up with the Judeo-Christian world. It’s interesting to think that so long ago people had a view of the world that much more resembles our modern view of the world as immensely vast, that there is endless space and in that endless space there are many, many worlds and cosmoses. That was already the view in India by the time of the Buddha, and he pretty much took that on and took it for granted. He also took for granted that there were many different beings living in many different dimensions of the universe, or we should say multiverse, and that they were all caught in the same basic situation. So many of the things that we think of as Buddhist were already part of India at the time of the Buddha.
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