Buddhism Versus Greek Mythology

“[A human being] experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness, “said Albert Einstein. “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” (“Heart Quotes”). Einstein’s view on nature is similar to that of Indian Buddhists. Life-giving Indian weather inspired the Buddhist cyclic view of rebirth while the rugged terrain of Greece inspired their harsh outlook on nature.Buddhists believe man is one with nature while Greek mythology emphasizes the all-importance of man. Buddhists live in harmony with nature whereas the Greeks show violence towards it and all its creatures. However, as the Greek mindset shifted towards philosophy, so did it shift towards similar reverence towards nature. The defining distinction between these two perspectives on life is that the outlook on nature of Buddhists show values from the belief that all is in harmony with Atman, whereas the Greek outlook on nature shows that man is above nature.Before these monsoons, the earth is dried and parched; food and water are scarce. It is, in every way, a season of death. Then, however, the rain arrives, harsh and relentless, but life giving nonetheless. The rain is the amniotic fluid catalyzing the re-entrance of life unto the barren earth. This annual cycle of death and rebirth presents the native people with a dire ultimatum: they must either obey nature or not survive. If they try to go against nature’s course, they will inevitably fail. Nature controls life. Observing this phenomenon, Buddhists learned from nature and realized that this cycle can be found everywhere.They realized that humans undergo an equivalent cycle called samsara, or reincarnation. ————————————————- “He could no longer distinguish the many voices, the cheerful from the weeping, the children’s from the men’s: they all belonged together. The lament of the knower’s yearning and laughing, the screaming of the angry, the moaning of the dying- everything was one; everything was entwined and entwisted, was interwoven a thousand fold. And all of it together, all voices, all goals, all yearnings, all sufferings, all pleasures, all good and evil-the world was everything together.Everything together was the river of events, was the music of life. And when Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, listened to this song of a thousand voices, when he did not listen to sorrow or laughter, when he did not bring his soul to any one voice and did not enter them with his ego, but listened to all of them, heard the wholeness, the oneness- then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was ‘om’: perfection…belonging to the oneness” (Hesse 118-119). At the core of Buddhism lies an important lesson about maya and Enlightenment. To reach Enlightenment, one must understand all.One of the first steps towards such understanding is to understand maya, or illusion. Everything that one sees, feels, and tastes belongs to the world of maya. Even one does not exist but in the world of maya. Thus, if all does not exist, then all is equal. One is equal to everything in the surrounding world, especially nature. All are one in Atman, which is the heart of all of Buddhism. Everything is one. All of this separation from nature and from one another is simply maya, or an illusion. Consequently, in Buddhism, any injustice done to nature is an injustice to oneself.To reach Enlightenment, peace and oneness with nature are essential. Man and nature are one. Therefore, everyone and everything, especially nature, should be treated as so. “[Siddhartha said,] ‘This stone is a stone, it is also an animal, it is also God, it is also the Buddha, I love and honor it not because it would become this or that someday, but because of this because it is a stone, because it appears to me now and today as a stone, it is precisely because of this that I love it and see worth and meaning in each of its veins and pits, in the yellow, in the gray, in the hardness, in the sound it emits when I tap it, in the dryness or dampness of its surface.[T]hat is precisely what I like and what seems wonderful to me and worthy of worship…I love the stone and the river and all these things that we contemplate and also a tree or a piece of bark. These are things and things can be loved” (Hesse 126-127). In harmony with the principle of reincarnation, any plant, creature, or other aspect of nature is a part of the cycle of rebirth. Therefore, any of these can one day become a man, for when something in nature dies, it undergoes the cycle of rebirth and can be reborn as anything.One day, it will become a human. Nature holds the ability within itself to be a human and, for that reason, should be considered as an equal. The true magnitude of nature’s presence in Buddhism is truly portrayed by the distinct mentioning of Siddhartha reaching enlightenment under a tree, specifically the Bodhi tree or the Asiatic fig tree (Gach 16). The scriptural account of the Enlightenment of Buddha gives this significance to nature when Buddha sits under the Bodhi tree for seven whole days.After the seven days, the Buddha gets up only to sit down again at an Ajapala banyan-tree for another length of time. He rises once again just to sit down once more at the foot of a Mucalinda tree (“Bodhi Leaf”). Nature is therefore made clear as one of the most important aspects of Buddhism. As Buddhists have such a deep reverence for nature, they believe in keeping peace with every aspect of nature. This does not just mean plants but also animals and other living creatures. However, that does not mean that all Buddhists must be vegetarians although it is strongly suggested to do so.It is said that the act of eating meat is a form of karma that will lead a person farther from Enlightenment. Therefore, the more meat one eats in one’s various lives, the more times one will have to experience the cycle of death and rebirth. On the other hand, some Buddhists believe in another view of meat eating. One is allowed to eat meat that one receives unless one knows or suspects that the meat in question was killed especially for one (Epstein). As far as sacrificial practices, meat is not sacrificed but instead herbs and incense are given up in prayer.Peace is a very important aspect of treating nature. Peace comes in many forms: peace towards environment, towards creatures, towards man, etc. A Buddhist definition of peace is “softening what is rigid in our hearts” (Chodron 17). In keeping with their attitude towards nature, Buddhists also believe that a man should not kill another man for any reason. In Buddhism, war is never the answer. In fact, the first few lines of the Dhammapada, a Buddhist scripture, state “For love is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love.This is a law eternal” (Chappell 81). Therefore, instead of fighting hate with hate, Buddhists believe in fighting hate with love. That is the only way to overcome and to reach Enlightenment. “’When someone seeks,’ said Siddhartha,’ then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.You, Venerable One, may truly be a seeker, for, in striving toward your goal, you fail to see certain things that are right under your nose. ” (Hesse, 121-122) As previously stated, to reach Enlightenment, Buddhists believe all that is needed is understanding. The ultimate goal of Buddhists is to attain this understanding, this meaning, this Enlightenment. However, one must be aware that spending a life seeking is not the way to reach Enlightenment. To be a faithful Buddhist, one must understand that the key is not to seek.For, in seeking, as this quote says, the obvious is not seen. Buddhism then teaches that to reach Enlightenment, one must find not seek. Therefore, Buddhists do not seek to explain nature (Hanh 78). They are content with nature as it is- unexplained, for nature’s explanations can be found without seeking. “’Is this what you mean: that the river is everywhere at once, at its source and at its mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea ,in the mountains, everywhere at once, and only the present exists for it, and not the shadow of the future?’ ‘That is it,’ said Siddhartha. ‘And when I learned that, I looked at my life, and it was also a river and the boy Siddhartha was separated from the adult Siddhartha and from the old man Siddhartha only by shadow, not by substance. Nor were Siddhartha’s earlier births the past, and his death and his return to [Atman] are no future. Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has being and is present” (Hesse 94). A final important aspect of Buddhism is the concept that time does not exist. Time is a man-made notion that does nothing but bring about worries.All sufferings in life can be attributed to time. Buddhists believe that once the concept of time is released, life will hold no more problems, worries, or stresses. Only then can Enlightenment be truly reached. When the concept of time is destroyed inside oneself, it allows for a completely new philosophy to surface. Greece is a country lined with hostile, jagged mountains, in which there are very few arable location surrounded by threatening seas. There is no cycle, no preconception, no structure. To the Ancient Greeks, it seemed that nature was not kind; nature was no friend to them.Therefore, their logic decided that they should be no friend to nature. Such was the physical and mental location of this people, and the beginning of many differences between Greek thought and Buddhism. Greeks living about six hundred years ere the birth of Christ were very religious, as well as very diverse spiritually. All the answers to their questions were found in different religions. Ancient Greeks passed down their religious traditions orally through myths. A myth is “a story about the gods which sets out to explain why life is as it is” (Gaarder, 22).Greek mythology was an integral part of Greek culture. The ‘miracle of Greece’ is a phrase that describes the awakening of Greek culture and its effects on the rest of the world. One way the Greeks accomplished this was through their focus on man’s importance. They put mankind at the center of their world so that man was all-important. The Greeks even created the gods in their own image, complete with very human qualities. This was the first time in history that a god was made into a recognizable, tangible form. Erstwhile, gods had no lucidity about them.“Greek artists and poets realized how splendid a man could be, straight and swift and strong. He was the fulfillment of their search for beauty. They had no wish to create some fantasy shaped in their own minds” (Hamilton, 9). Man was put on a pedestal and made the most prominent being in the world, so that he was made into a deity. Any human could be the son of a god, thereby half-divine, an idea unheard of before this time. This idea of man being the ultimate authority is in complete contradiction to Buddhism, where man was equal to nature, not above it.“And soon as the men had prayed and flung the barley, first they lifted back the heads of the victims, slit their throats, skinned them and carved away the meat from the thighbones and wrapped them in fat, a double fold sliced clean and topped with strips of flesh. And the old man burned these over dried split wood and over the quarters poured out glistening wine while young men at his side held five-pronged forks. Once they had burned the bones and tasted the organs they cut the rest into pieces, pierced them with spits, roasted them to a turn and pulled them off the fire” (Homer 93)Myths were also used for other purposes than learning. “But a myth was not only an explanation. People also carried out religious ceremonies related to the myths” (Gaarder, 25). Like most other religions at the time, the Ancient Greeks’ religions consisted of brutal rituals and rites that contrasted greatly to the thoughts of Buddhism (Connolly 87). Buddhism teaches of kindness to animals whereas Greek religion utilized animal cruelty as part of their holy worship to the gods. The gods of Olympus, who were created in the ultimate image of the Greek people, used the forms of innocent animals to manipulate and get what they wanted.