I have said a couple of places that I am confused when it comes to understand Buddhism and I will try to explain why. Siddharta Gautama who later beacame Buddha is a historical person. He became a teacher after finding out what is called the four noble truths and the eight noble ways. An important fact, in my opinion is that there are no gospels and no god or godlike belief in Buddhism. Another central point in Buddha’s teaching is that each person had to work with himself to change according to the noble truths and the noble ways.
The four noble truths are:
The truth of Dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness ) The truth of the origin of Dukkha. The truth of cessation of Dukkha. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of Dukkha.
It is worth noticing that Dukkha has to do what is in a person, and this is reflected with the eight noble ways or paths leading to the cessation of Dukkha or Nirvana.
Right view. Viewing the reality as it is, not just as it appears to be. Right intention. Intention of renunciation, freedom and harmfulness. Right speech. Speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way. Right action. Acting in a non-harmful way. Right livelihood. A non-harmful livelihood. Right effort. Making an effort to improve. Right mindfulness. Awareness to see things as they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion. Right concentration. Correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhanas.
The four immeasurables for meditation are love, compassion, joy and equanimity.
Everything above has to do with working with yourself and your ethics and attitudes.
And what did I see in Myanmar.
People praying in front of Buddha-statues.
Thousands of Buddha-statues
Thousands of stupas.
Enormous wealth in the form of gold and precious stones on temples, stupas and pagodas.
Huge buildings made of millions of bricks which must have required millions of man-hours.
To me the difference between Buddhas teaching and that he is a human teacher and not a deity on one side and the reality as we saw it on the other side is a big paradox to me.
Has the practise as George Orwell writes about in the first chapter in his book: “Burmese days” become wide-spread? It is about a Burmese, Ko P0 Kyin, who has achieved position, wealth and social status through corruption, intrigues and other unethical means. At one point his wife says to him: ” Ko Po Kyin, you have done very much evil in your life”. Ko Po Kyin answers: “What does it matter? My pagodas will atone for everything. There is plenty of time.” (Ko Po Kyin has promised to build seven pagodas). His thinking was:” He never, when it could be done without in convenience, missed a chance of acquiring merit. In his eyes his pile of merit was a kind of bank-deposit, everlasting growing. Every fish set free in the river, every gift to a priest, was a step nearer Nirvana.”
It was several examples that donations were important, food to visiting monks, meals to a big monastery, statues in the Pindaya-cave, donation boxes on all the holy places. Historically there was no forced labour to build the huge buildings only donated time etc.
To me it seems that visual good deeds were important and as I understand it Buddha did not teach that. He emphazised the individual and the improvement of yourself.