The REAL history of Buddha
As per the present day historians, Buddhism was supposedly born and spread as follows.
There lived people who were happy. They were the adherents of a particular religion; and were immersed in the worship of God who belonged to that religion. Then came a true intellect in the proper sense of the word -- Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha's original name). He burst forth on the scene and condemned the rituals of the people. He dissuaded them from worshipping any God. Instead, he told them that true happiness lies in conditioning of actions and perfectioning of soul.
Buddha told them that the root cause of all suffering is human craving and desires -- give up any thoughts of God, give up craving, give up desires and condition yourself -- that way, the human soul eventually reaches the stage of everlasting bliss. People were really enamored by his teachings.
They decided that all this talk of God was non-sense, because he told them so. They snubbed their God. They turned their backs on their God, followed his teachings, and converted into Buddhism in large numbers. Thus was born one of the most important religions of the world, supposedly around 500 BC. By 400 BC, it mutated itself into four different schools of thought. By second century BC, it gave birth to the more compassionate Mahasanghika school of thought. By 1st century AD, the Mahayana school, which advocates theism and propounds that Buddha is God himself, emerged. A couple or more centuries later, Buddhism even took tantrik worship rituals into its fold.
This is supposedly the story of Buddhism. Can this be true? Can a religion be born and spread in such a manner? Can forgetting God be so easy? Just take today's world. Can an intellectual person burst forth on the scene today and make most of the people of this world forget the worship of God and convert them into relative atheists -- that too in less than a century or two? And why did Buddhism, which initially advocated pure atheism, later adapt to theistic paradigms? If we peak into the Buddhist philosophy, we would be confronted by a large number of such other questions.
Much of our history has been written by historians who do not understand theology a lot. And yet, most of the human history lies there, embedded in our religious scriptures. Religions are nor born out of thin air. Religions are born out of the socio-economic and climatic conditions and necessities that are prevalent at the time the religions are born. And as they progress through their evolutionary cycle, they continue to respond and evolve in response to those conditions they continue to face.
Buddhism was born out of the extremely calamitous worldwide drought of 2200 BC, which lasted for three centuries. Millions across civilizations died of thirst and hunger. People's continuous and heart-wrenching entreaties to God to save them from the calamity did not yield any results -- to the extent that people questioned about whether God really existed. Even as the drought receded, faith was shaken irrevocably. Into this atmosphere came one the greatest intellects of all time -- Gautama (Buddha). He told them not to waste time in worshipping and entreating any God to bring them out of the suffering. He told them that in order to be happy, they need to give up all sort of craving, which is the root cause of all suffering, and embrace a systematic method of detachment of human soul from all that was worldly. Given the mood that people were in, they decided to turn their backs on God and embraced the new faith in large numbers. Thus was born Buddhism.
The esoteric teachings and practices enjoined by the Buddha took time to assimilate and institutionalize. After a few centuries, as a reasonable understating of Buddha's teachings emerged, the theology branched off into several schools under the patronage a great emperor, who took steps to spread the religion far and wide. The next few centuries after the emperor were consumed by the efforts it took to spread the religion far and wide. After the religion spread sufficiently and got stabilized, the religion faced its first challenge -- a revolt ensued, by the society, which perceived Buddhism to be nothing but a special religious setup for the salvation of selfish monks who were simply not bothered about the rest of the society. As a response, the more compassionate schools like that of the Mahasanghika emerged. Then, after a few more centuries, as the drought was well more than a millennium into the past, the memory of the calamity was no longer present, and the thoughts of the omnipotent compassionate God re-emerged -- conditioning of actions was no longer sufficient to satisfy the spiritual needs of the people; people wanted to worship an all-seeing creative force i.e. God. In order to address these new needs, Buddhism had to incorporate theistic concepts; and the Mahayana school emerged.
The school propounded Buddha to have been God himself; and the school gave rise to the thoughts of certain quasi-divine saviors called Bodhisattvas. Buddhism even adapted to tantrik practices in a bid to satisfy the theistic needs of the people. Despite all of these adjustments, the theistic elements of the theology were no longer sufficient; and Buddhism, eventually, after more than a millennium of struggle with theism, a struggle that involved several stages, lost ground to theism -- it got effaced from India, its birth place. It, however, survived and grew in other parts of the world.
This is the true history of Buddhism. All of this required more than two millennia to take place, right from 1800 BC to 1000 AD. The way it is portrayed now, it is as if the religion was suddenly born from nowhere, became hyper active, spread across civilizations in no time at all, simply, for no reason, divided itself into a large number of schools of thought -- one after another -- the way all of this history has been cramped into less than a millennium by the current history books with complete disregard to the theological aspects of the timeline presents a totally unrealistic picture that can only test our credulity. That Buddhism was born around 1800 BC can also be proved in several other ways as well -- please read my article "Buddha has to be dated to 1800 BC" published earlier on Viewzone.
Each and every faith -- including Zoroastrianism, Vaishnavism, Saivism, Judaism, Christianity, and other religions and cultures -- has its own story of how it emerged, evolved, mutated, and transformed, depending on the socio-economic conditions prevalent at that time. Zoroastrianism was born as a revolt against a certain oppressive religious setup that made them see the evil side of God, which was later named as Satan by the rest of the world. The same oppressive setup made Mesopotamians contemplate on how inferior they are to gods.
Vaishnavism and Saivism were born out of certain gigantic natural disasters, which made them visualize God in terms of cosmic proportions. Idol worship was banned in Judaism not because it was sin, but because Moses wanted to save the religion of his clan from the influence of the neighboring tribes. Judaism was born out of a titanic struggle waged by Moses against the same drought that debilitated other religions. The split of God in Christianity into two, into a father and a son, resulted from a certain theological rivalry between two religious sects. This split was not liked by the prophet, which led him to propound a unified view of God in Islam.
There is an extra-ordinarily large amount of historical information present embedded in our religious scriptures and theologies. Attempting to fathom human history with scant regard to the information embedded in our theological understandings, our most important source of information about the past, may be an incorrect exercise that can only keep us groping in the dark.
Source: Excerpts from Prithviraj R's book on history -- "19000 Years of World History: The Story of Religion" -- a book that presents for the first time, the precise and detailed way in which the major and ancient religions of the word were born and evolved. The book is now available on Amazon, Lulu, and other online bookstores. Source: Excepts from Prithviraj R's book on history (read reviews of his book) -- 19000 YEARS OF WORLD HISTORY: The Story of Religon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Much of our history has been written by historians who do not understand theology a lot."
It seems you do not understand Buddhism very well either. When asked "Is there a God", Buddha remained silent, for, if he said 'yes', people would misunderstand; if he said 'no', people would misunderstand.
Mahayana does not consider that "Buddha is God himself"...
Mind's pure essence is Sunyata, Voidness. Its nature is Luminosity, radiant light, which in meditation is often visioned as forms of deities. (this is the level of "God", which is merely a mental construct, yet just as real as the illusions of matter. The union of these two gives birth to all manifest form, and Compassion.
One who has fully realised Mind's essence is an awakened Buddha.
However, your understanding of history is worthy of praise.