Was the Buddha trying to start a religion?
It seems that the Buddha was anti-religion. He yearned for spiritual truths, wanting to learn the meaning suffering and purpose.
He studied with famous religious teachers of his time and found their practices to be insufficient. He studied fire rituals, devotion to deities, and radical self-denial. None of these were what he was looking for. He didn’t find important spiritual truths through devotion to dogma.
He essentially ended up saying, “Religion doesn’t answer the questions that I want to answer.”
It should be noted that the dominant religion in that time and place was anti-science and hostile to women and minorities (I hope we never have to deal with anything like that), so it’s true that it really was worth rebelling against.
So, he rejected religion. He created a spiritual, mystical path that didn’t need dogma. In fact he always told his followers to think for themselves and not accept his teachings on faith. He didn’t want to be worshiped, although there are certainly those that decided to worship him soon after his death.
The path of the Buddha is more like a science of the mind. All of early Buddhism can pretty much be summed up in cultivating the virtues of morality, concentration, and wisdom. That’s what the Buddha said we should be doing. But, just as importantly, we should be testing the path to make sure it works for us.
However, shortly after his death, several branches of what I would call ‘religious buddhism’ were created. He wasn’t trying to create a religion, I think. Most of the earliest teachings, the teachings that were actually from the Buddha himself, have more in common with Humanism that with any modern religions.
I’ve always felt the same way about Jesus. Although honestly, I am not a believer. He showed up and saw the religion of the day and said, “This stuff is unnecessary. All that really matters is love. God is love and tolerance and hope and compassion, not ritual and fear.”
He said that real spirituality, as opposed to religion, is all about inclusiveness and love. And, of course, he proved it. He spent a vast majority of his time with the most disliked people in society, hookers and poor people, and foreigners. Because love and compassion are what’s really important.
Right after his death, people made a religion out of it. They wanted to bring back the ritual and dogma that he had spoken out against. This guy named Paul approached the early Christians and said, “I know what to do, guys, I saw the ghost of Jesus.” And for some reason they believed him. And from that he made a religion.
(why the writings of Paul are accepted in the canon, I will never understand.)
I think Jesus was trying to move his people beyond religion just like the Buddha was trying to move his people beyond it.