1. The Buddha and the Diversity of Spiritual Paths
Bhikkhu Bodhi [+]
Chuang Yen Monastery, New York
This chapter contends that the historical Buddha is best understood as advocating an exclusivist view of other religions. Contrary to common belief, the Buddha, as represented by the Pali Nikāyas and their parallels, did not subscribe to the view that the ultimate goal of the spiritual life could be attained through diverse spiritual paths but rather that the ultimate goal is accessible solely through the noble eightfold path, the distinctive discovery of the sammā-sambuddhas, those who attain perfect enlightenment. Nevertheless, through the centuries Buddhism has displayed an impressive tolerance in its relationship to other faiths. The chapter explains this apparently paradoxical attitude on the basis of a dual perspective that the Buddha adopts on the diversity of spiritual paths. On the one hand, he asserts that the eightfold path is the sole means to the final goal of the spiritual life, irreversible release from the cycle of repeated birth and death. At the same time the cosmology of Early Buddhism allows a more accommodative stance according to which the provisional goal of the spiritual life, the achievement of a blissful rebirth, is not exclusive to the Buddha’s teaching but can be reached through other faith commitments.