That one’s behaviour is determined by one’s intrinsic motivations in the contemporary world would not be considered radical in the slightest. Twenty-five centuries ago in India it certainly was. The idea of pre-determination of behavioural action is now one shared by Buddhists, Freudians and modern neuro-scientists. The idea of things evolving from others was spread by Darwin’s evolutionary theory at the end of the 19th century. Freud’s views that all neurosis was predetermined were disseminated in the early 20th century. These views on pre-determinism have largely been confirmed or supported by neuro-science in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Like many of Buddha’s views his theories displayed a prescience that hasn’t easily been eclipsed.
To be accepted as a committed Buddhist one is traditionally expected to adhere to the three jewels of Buddhism. These are beliefs in the Buddha as in his person, the Dharma as in his teachings and the Sangha as in the Buddhist community. Dharma is a Sanskrit word, part of Vedic conceptualisation as early as 1300 BCE. In the case of the Vedas the primary meaning of dharma was moral duty. Dharma meant right action. It represented the moral law of the universe affecting all reality and was the basis of all law, religion and duty. In Buddhism dharma related to the teachings of Buddha with particular reference to the four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the enlightened truth and the practices as outlined in Buddhist scriptures according to Buddhist doctrine. They encompass the Buddhist values of ethical conduct, wisdom and compassion. In Buddhism dharma incorporates both the physical and psychological aspects of the individual. The Buddha maintained that nothing should be accepted as truth without one’s primary experience supporting it as such. Dharma nature refers to the true nature of existence and universal truth.
Although Buddha changed the emphases, many of the notions upon which he built his philosophy and psychology were initially derived from Vedic and Brahman traditions. A further example would be the five kleshas or poisons of the Yoga sutras. These were ignorance, attachment, aversion, fear of death and ego. Buddhism speaks similarly about the three poisons of Buddhism as being ignorance, attachment and aversion which as can be seen are the first three of the Vedic kleshas.
Buddha was well known for changing the interpretations of traditional Vedic or Brahmanic elements to suit his particular viewpoint. One such re-interpretation was in his play on the three fires that were traditionally lit and had to be kept alight indefinitely in the house of a Brahmin a Brahman priest. These symbolised constructiveness, preservation and destructiveness as the power of the fire god Agni. This later became transposed into the primary trinity of the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. Buddha made the parallel analogy that the three fires that burnt incessantly in the heart of man’s were the fires of greed, hatred and delusion.
Fire is an important symbolic element in the Vedic background where the Brahmins used sacrificial fires as the direct vehicle of communication with the gods. Fire rituals still play a pre-eminent role in Hindu life to this day where they are required in most of the major rituals of Hindu life such as daily or weekly worship, weddings and other social rituals. In this context it is interestingly to note that the term nirvana the Buddhist term for enlightenment literally means blowing out the lamp or the fire. The cleverness that Buddha displayed in the reinterpretation of the Vedic and Brahmanic narratives has been commented upon by a great number of Buddhist academics and scholars. One could say that he simply psychologised and ethicized a lot of the principles already in evidence in the original materialised Vedic conceptions.
I believe that one of Buddha’s most insightful and significant contributions was in illuminating the internal psychological mechanisms that underpinned the outward material manifestations of the Vedas. I think with further expansion and ethicisation they became a coherent psychological path of their own.
This became the basis of the unique, the individual and the enlightened path of the man we have come to know as Gautama-Buddha the awakened one.