Buddhism and Religious Liberty

By Anna Cox.  Anna Cox, a retired psychotherapist, co-founded the Ecumenical Buddhist Society in Little Rock, Arkansas and founded Compassion Works for All, a prison Dharma organization.

Buddhism is inherently a program of self-liberation in which the liberty of each individual is honored as an essential part of the process of consciousness evolution.

Here is a quotation from Siddhãrtha Gautama (Shakyamuni Buddha) who offered the foundational teachings of what later became the tradition of Buddhism:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.

Do not believe in traditions simply because they have been handed down for many generations.

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

Buddhism is less a religion and more a path of experiential unfoldings. Buddhism asks that one listen to teachings, enter into community with other supportive and like-minded participants, and then to primarily practice meditation and contemplation until one experiences what becomes known to one in their spiritual heart. Teachings offer wisdom understandings of reality and how to gain compassion. Their main focus is on the methods of meditation, compassion, and explorations of subtle consciousness evolution. The practitioner is then asked to spend thousands of hours in meditation practices. Teachers who have done these experiential journeys themselves and who have accomplishment in awakening consciousness, tutor and guide students as they follow these same pathways into self-awareness. As each begins their path, it is known that the practitioner will have their own unique experiences while traveling through similar consciousness territories. They will be growing in their way to wisdom awareness and compassionate transformation.

Liberty is at the very heart of this unique unfolding.  There is not even the concept of a path other than what unfolds since each individual must be honored and supported on a path that is theirs alone. Liberty is emphasized in the students having the inner permission and courage to listen to their unfolding path for their ultimate awakening into true Buddhahood.