“The Buddha wasn’t a god; he wasn’t even a Buddhist. You’re not required to have more faith in the Buddha than you do in yourself. His power lies in his teachings, which show us how to work with our minds to realize our full capacity for wakefulness and happiness. These teachings can help us satisfy our search for the truth — our need to know who and what we really are.
Where do we find this truth? We start by bringing an open, inquisitive, and skeptical mind to whatever we hear, read, or see that presents itself as the truth. We examine it with reason and we put it to the test in meditation and in our lives. As we gain insight into the workings of the mind, we learn how to recognize and deal with our day-to-day experiences of thoughts and emotions. We uncover inaccurate and unhelpful habits of thinking and begin to correct them. Eventually we’re able to overcome the confusion that makes it so hard to see the mind’s naturally brilliant awareness. In this sense, the Buddha’s teachings are a method of investigation, or a science of mind.
Religion, on the other hand, often provides us with answers to life’s big questions from the start. We learn what to think and believe, and our job is to live up to that, not to question it. If we relate to the Buddha’s teachings as final answers that don’t need to be examined, then we’re practicing Buddhism as a religion.
In any case, we still have to live our lives. We can’t escape having a “philosophy of life” because we’re challenged every day to choose one action over another — kindness or indifference, generosity or selfishness, patience or blame. When our decisions and actions reflect the knowledge we’ve gained by working with our minds, that’s adopting Buddhism as a way of life.
As the teachings of the Buddha pass into our hands, what determines what they will be for us? It’s all in how we use them. As long as they help clear up our confusion and inspire confidence that we can fulfill our potential, then they’re doing the job that the Buddha intended.
Siddhartha was a truth seeker, nothing more. He wasn’t looking for religion, as such; he wasn’t particularly interested in religion. He was searching for the truth. He was looking for a genuine path to freedom from suffering. Aren’t all of us searching for the same thing? If we look at the life of Siddhartha, we can see that he found the truth and freedom he was seeking only after he abandoned religious practices. Isn’t that significant? The one who became the Buddha, the Awakened One, didn’t find enlightenment through religion — he found it when he began to leave religion behind.”