Salvation-Free Buddhism

by

Why An Awakened Human Being Abandoned Religion

For a complete understanding of the Buddha’s Dhamma referenced herein within the scope and context intended, please read “Foundations Of The Buddha’s Dhamma” on our Home Page: Becoming-Buddha.com.

Clinging to a belief in non-physical salvation as the ultimate reward for appropriate behavior is the common fabrication recognized and abandoned by Siddartha Gotama, the human being who awakened to a profound understanding of human reality. This pernicious fabrication requires a belief in the need for salvation and that salvation is awarded only under certain behavioral conditions through personal supreme beings or a compulsively exaggerated “spiritual” system of reward and punishment.

Recognizing and abandoning fabricated views of self in relation to the people, institutions, and events of the impermanent world we live in is the purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma. 

Institutionalized religions, new-age philosophies, and pop-psychology social remedies are convenient, mutually agreed upon societal constructs. Once established, these mental constructs provide an acceptable thought-structure for maintaining human confusion that can only result in stress and suffering. Continuing ignorance of Four Noble Truths maintains this delusion.

One of the oldest known religions is Hinduism. During his search for understanding, Siddartha Gotama studied the Vedas, the doctrinal precursor for modern Hinduism. At a critical point in his development, Siddartha rejected without reservation the teachings of Alara Kalama and Udekkha Ramaputta. Both of these prominent teaches taught a variation of the Vedas and the magical views presented therein.

The emerging Buddha discovered that with no foundation in human reality, magical/religious views could not lead to his goal of understanding the nature of human life and the cause of human suffering. 

A foundational understanding of the Buddha’s Dhamma shows that any speculated and imagined belief of permanent self-establishment in “higher realms” is rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Self-establishment in “higher realms” is a common and necessary component of modern religions. The subtle and pervasive fear of ordinary human life is generated by fabricated religious beliefs and then salvation offered but only for true believers. 

In the past thirty years, some have begun to question the “my-religion-ios-best” fabrication. The resolution of years of divisive beliefs is now an even more subtle and so even more hurtful belief: The fabrication that ultimately we are “all one” sharing a collective consciousness and, ultimately, a common god, or a common mental construct such as “cosmic mind,” “emptiness,” “nothingness,” “Buddha-Nature,” “Buddhahood” or any other popular fabrication.

This quality of mind is rooted in and developed from a foundation of wrong views, views ignorant of Four Noble Truths. The Buddha’s Dhamma resolves this specific ignorance. A mind rooted in ignorance of the reality of Four Noble Truths develops subtle but powerful common strategies that provide an acceptable distraction from life -as-life-occurs.

Siddartha Gotama discovered that the belief in external salvific intervention is rooted in a grasping-after-salvation conditioned quality of mind. Many who cling to the fabricated belief in non-physical interference providing salvation from common and ordinary human conditions will be (at least) disappointed to find that an awakened human being rejected any notion of external salvation. This disappointment will then often lead to the common human reaction to the stress of ongoing ignorance by creating ever-changing powerful and subtle strategies for continuing ignorance and maintaining wrong views. A few may realize the brilliance of an awakened human being’s Dhamma and develop awakening or full human maturity.

Teaching Authentic Dhamma

  • There is a practical problem when teaching the Dhamma with integrity that requires confronting societal sacred cows. 
  • The Buddha exemplified great wisdom supporting the true compassion of awakened human beings by making the recognition and abandonment of all fabrications the central theme of his Dhamma. Understanding the mental constructs a person ignorant of these truths fabricates and what is reality is the entire purpose of this Buddha’s Dhamma. 
  • There is a sometimes-too-subtle-to-notice difference between denigration of social constructs and a well-defined description of Four Noble Truths and the contradictions between the Dhamma and any speculative and fabricated beliefs.
  • That which continues ignorance of any kind is to be recognized as such and immediately abandoned if one is to develop the Buddha’s Dhamma.
     
  • Fabricated beliefs create imaginary phenomena for continued self-establishment. This is the purpose of fabrications.
  • Any equivocation here will prevent the Dhamma from being developed to its culmination of full human maturity.

The difference is fundamental to the Buddha’s Dhamma. Authentic Buddhism identifies all fabricated and speculative ideologies and beliefs. Once identified, they are gently abandoned.

When teaching the Buddha’s Dhamma, it is the Dhamma itself that guides me. Right Speech informs to be honest, to be free of gossip, to teach what is necessary and helpful, and to maintain fidelity with the Buddha’s Dhamma. 

The Buddha teaches that without repetition, there is no Dhamma. The method the Buddha used to establish, preserve, and present the key themes his Dhamma is repetition. His admonition to recognize and abandon all speculative views rooted in fabrications born of ignorance of Four Noble Truths is the constant overarching theme of his Dhamma.

The Buddha taught to recognize the sacred cows formed by fabricated beliefs and maintained by collective societal agreement. Religions, popular new-age beliefs, and pop-psychology social remedies are nothing more than intentionally fabricated self-establishing impermanent ideologies.

Once established, these beliefs become objects of individual and collective worship. Worship is an acceptable form of craving-after-salvation maintained by clinging to common and ordinary fabricated beliefs as absolute truths that cannot and should not be questioned.  

Collectively agreed upon fabrications, these objects of worship now provide an institutionalized structure for maintaining ignorance of Four Noble Truths. 

When viewed from the Right View developed through the Dhamma, unexamined beliefs, particularly those that insist on complete devotion to an institutionalized herd mentality conveniently provides all the distraction required to maintain fabrications. 

Understanding Fabrications is Fundamental to the Buddha’s Dhamma

The Buddha teaches that stress and suffering arise from ignorance of the reality of human life taught by a Buddha as Four Noble Truths. 

Nearly all religions and “spiritual” disciplines use fear and the promise of unimaginable long-term suffering and the powerful coercive-carrot of personal salvation from this speculative suffering. Most of these speculative belief systems promise wonderful and fantastic improvements to the human experience. Continued grasping-after speculative beliefs only serve to diminish human life-as-life-occurs and instills a grasping-after and clinging-to promised salvation. All that is required to receive these rewards is unquestioning belief and obedience. 

The practical effect of these fabrications is a pernicious dependence on an outside agency or magical force to provide human meaning, direction, protection, and reward for enduring life’s struggles and disappointments “with a stiff upper lip.” Fabrications such as these can only obscure ignorance. Courageously developing individual introspective insight through the Buddha’s Dhamma reveals ignorance. Once known, ignorance is directly and with Right Intention abandoned.

This obvious but feverishly ignored product of individual fabricated beliefs joining with or clinging to others believing that “god” is working for them, and so they protect and defend this fabricated “god.” This self-centered-salvation is then used to justify hatred and extreme, and often institutionalized, violence against those with different (fabricated) beliefs. 

This violent history alone should be enough to cause human beings to question the legitimacy of these speculative beliefs, as Siddartha Gotama did. It is on this understanding that the Buddha built his Dhamma: The recognition and abandonment of all fabricated beliefs. If something can’t be directly experienced in human form, with a well-concentrated mind it is not an aspect of authentic dhamma practice. 

The Buddha’s Dhamma is not for everyone. The Buddha’s Dhamma is for individuals who are free of clinging to others and the world, or intend to be.

I intend no disrespect in general, or specifically, to any one religion, new-age belief system, or those that teach such. I teach in this manner following my teacher’s example through his words as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka.  

Describing my maturation in the face of the self-referential fear that feeds fabrications of reality may be useful in understanding this subject. The Buddha’s experience with magical thinking and magic-teachers (Alata Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, for example) mirrored my own experience in recognizing and abandoning the results of this particular aspect of thinking rooted in ignorance.

As the Loka Sutta teaches, “Where there is desire there is fear,” including, and most significantly, the belief in and the desire for salvation. What could be more self-referential or fabricated self-establishment than grasping-after salvation?

I was raised in a Roman Catholic family with parents devoted to Catholicism. Like most religions, Catholicism is characterized by its system of after-life reward for a lifetime of arbitrary “good” behavior and the promise of eternal damnation for arbitrarily inappropriate behavior. The problem with this system is that there is nothing other than fear-based coercion to provide guidance and direction.

The induced belief in the need for god, gods, the devil, salvation from “original sin,” etc. was presented to me as a fact of human life. I was taught that my parent’s religion was the “best.” I was taught that this doctrine cannot be questioned, or the “gates of hell” would be waiting for me or any non-believer. This divisive and destructive belief in good versus evil has continued its distracting grip on human society. Now, almost any expression of non-compliance with any arbitrary belief system or political ideology is immaturely characterized as “evil, sinful, racist, anti-something/anything” which would only lead to hell-experiences. The stress and suffering caused by these beliefs is immeasurable and unending.

Of course, this common environment began to influence and condition my developing mind towards accepting these “truths” without question, or there would (literally) be hell to pay! I could not accept that billions of human beings are condemned to the eternal fires of hell simply for not believing in the “right” god or no god at all. 

Questioning this belief structure brought ridicule to me as an evil blasphemer increasing my confusion and frustration How could I believe much less worship a god who could have such cruelty to its creation simply because of common ignorance? Questioning the status-quo when no answers were available only created more confusion and even more fear! Unlike most “good Christians,” I was not able to completely accept the religious rhetoric, and I was conditioned-by-coercion to believe that this alone was enough of an insult to my “loving creator-god” that I would burn in hell because of this. I was taught that the most important aspect of life was not this life but another life that would be rewarded to me if certain arbitrary conditions were met.

I was being conditioned not to question or look too closely at obvious and widespread religions or “sacred” views and notions. Even as a teen these arbitrary “truths” seemed impossible to accept. These fabrications loose in the world obviously led to great confusion, stress, and very often violence rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion as exemplified by many “true believers” and both historical and modern crusades and Jihad. 

Thousands of years of human history reveal the ultimate uncertainty and cruelty of speculative beliefs that encourage joining the battle between god and lucifer, the fabricated battle between good and evil. 

At the age of twelve, I could no longer go along with this game of make-believe. I told my parents that I would no longer be going to parochial school or attend mass. My decision led to immediate stress and suffering for my well-intentioned but deluded parents and myself. This unfortunate divide would affect our relationship for the next twenty years. 

This stress between us was rooted in my parent’s indoctrination in their religion that taught them that unless I was a “good catholic” I was doomed to a life of evil and an eternity in hell. Of course, my parents lost their minds at my announcement. At the time, this was a constant source of disharmony – precisely what one would think religion would provide – but only for true believers! Critical thinking must be abandoned as critical thinking relates to fundamental aspects of human life! I became the black sheep of the Haspel family. The notion of salvation-by-right-identity seemed arbitrary and cruel, and something I could not accept. 

The Unfortunate Results Of Fabrications

Salvation-by-right-identity has now overcome social discourse. Differing opinions are no longer differing opinions. Self-marinating fabrications become a human battle between good-and-evil. This usually subtle but now often unrestrained entrenched position is a convenient and widely accepted embedded social structure. Rather than an exchange of ideas through social discourse, ideologically-driven religious and social groups justify hatred simply because of non-compliance with their fabricated beliefs! Blindly clinging to ideological beliefs while insisting others do the same is the cause of almost all human misery.

As I continued to mature and more worldly influences increased my doubt as to the truth and practical usefulness of Christian beliefs in particular and all fabricated beliefs in general, I became more confused about who and what I had become. I was lost in a world thriving on ignorance and the societal constructs of religion and new-age beliefs rooted in ignorance. 

In my hope to understand, I studied most of the major religions well enough to say that I understand their purpose, development, and actual practice, and obvious failings. The culmination of all of these religions resides in non-physical and speculative self-establishment. Any self-establishment outside of any human possibility or reality contradicts and nullifies the Buddha’s Dhamma.

The Ultimate Liberation Of The Dhamma

In my mid-20’s, I began studying meditation and, eventually, modern Buddhism. I found that modern Buddhism suffers from the same fabrications I had been confused and 

I was distracted by these imposed fabrications my entire life. From my direct experience, I know it is the mindful focus and clarity I found in the Buddha’s Dhamma as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka that informs and strengthens my “authentic courage” or inner poise. It is the effectiveness of the Dhamma in developing within me the recognition and abandonment of all fabrications, including the fabricated salvation schemes of modern Buddhism-By-Common-Agreement. Rather than encouraging continued clinging to institutionalized ignorance, the Buddha’s Dhamma resolves in an understanding and abandonment of all fabrications, including fabricated “sacred cows.”

When referring to religion or any other fabrication, I am not distracted by thinking of contradicting a favorite priest from my local parish, or my parent’s devotion. I am not distracted by what may be seen as the “good” aspects of fabrication, such as using the concepts of reward for “Right Belief” and punishment for not believing. I do not view my parish priests, my parents, or institutionalized ignorance as anything other than human beings living life from the same wrong view I had – nothing personal.

 When teaching, I am thinking of my earlier profound confusion. I am also thinking of many, if not most of my students that became conditioned in just this same manner. There is no freedom of thought clinging to institutionalized fabrication, as described in the PaticcaSamuppada Sutta, the primary sutta on Dependent Origination.

I now view my Dhamma practcie and my previously self-developed wrong views clearly. The understanding and “authentic courage” or inner poise developed through the Dhamma has brought me the ability to speak clearly and directly about the effects of ALL fabricated beliefs, in particular the institutionalized fabrications of religious or spiritual belief systems.

I continue to find this aspect of teaching as unpleasant. I do so from the courage rooted in the Dhamma to teach ONLY with fidelity to the Buddha’s Dhamma and abandon ANY self-reference that would cause me to personalize my relationship to religions and the family, friends, and associates who do. In this way, I am able to avoid what many sincere but misguided and misinformed teachers have done: abandon teaching with integrity and fidelity to the Buddha’s Dhamma and adapt, accommodate, and embellish the Dhamma to maintain these “sacred cow fabrications.”

Also, as a practical matter, depending on the sangha members attending a specific class, I may place more emphasis on fabricated beliefs. Occasionally, there are sangha members involved in divinity studies or clinging to fabricated religious or “spiritual” beliefs. Any equivocation on my part would be misleading and cruel.  

Teaching and practicing the Buddha’s Dhamma requires an authentic Dhamma teacher who actually studies and practices only what the Buddha taught. An authentic Dhamma teacher must know fabrications and avoid furthering fabrications rooted in ignorance. An authentic Dhamma teacher must maintain Right View always. An authentic Dhamma teacher must have the ability to depersonalize all fabrications and the Dhamma, too.

The path to emptying oneself of ignorance sometimes seems not so simple when fabrications are revealed. The constant standard of the Eightfold Path provides the framework and ongoing guidance to avoid any fabricated view that would distract from true Dhamma practice.

The Eightfold Path to lasting peace and happiness is through recognizing and abandoning ALL fabricated beliefs. This direction is simple though it becomes very complicated and impossible to develop when fabrications are maintained by fear of confrontation with thoughts clinging to worldly entanglements. The way is through recognizing and abandoning fabrications rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths, and the only path an awakened human being taught, The Noble Eightfold Path.

In the Loka Sutta, the Buddha teaches, “Where there is desire there is fear.” The ongoing distraction of self-referential desire results in the pernicious and subtle belief that human life should be magical, or at least have magical moments. It is obviously magical thinking to clings to the belief in the need for salvation and that “I” will (or won’t) be saved. 

Developing Right View

Once adopted as reality, fabricated (magical) beliefs will always generate fear when the grasped-after fabrication is challenged, even in a general way. Undertsnding that there is no need for salvation as there is nothing to be “saved” from brings the ability to abandon all fabrications beginning with the most obvious and socially institutionalized. 

To some, the thought that nothing is magical about human life will prove disappointing and will generate fear and aversion. It is a pervasive but subtle fabrication that human life should or must be institutionally distracting through magical moments. Societal constructs emphasize grasping-after “peak experiences’ and “Self-actualization” as the purpose of life. Nothing encourages continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths as this common fabrication. 

Lacking understanding of Four Truths, a mind will always seek relief from its ignorance through “magical” or “special” events that occur TO ME, for example: “I am being punished for wrong or arbitrarily unacceptable behavior or I am being rewarded for right or arbitrarily acceptable behavior.” 

It is from a lack of understanding of Four Noble Truths that fabricated the belief that one’s religion was “the best religion,” the one religion approved by the “best” god who holds the only power to vanquish the evil that lands on non-believers! From the Christian Crusades to modern Jihad, this divisive belief is common to most modern religions and is necessary to establish discrete religions that can attract and control their followers.

The Buddha taught a direct and straightforward Dhamma that develops true and lasting peaceful happiness through recognizing and abandoning the underlying cause of greed, aversion, deluded thinking disappointment, and unhappiness: All fabricated beliefs arising from ignorance of Four Noble Truths

Peace

John Haspel, May 25, 2020

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Sources

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.


Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Peace

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