Spiritual Ascent in Buddhism, Christianity and Islam 153
on the personality of its founder than, for example, Christianity. Nordoes Buddhism recognise the existence of God, as in Christianity andIslam. Nevertheless, Buddhists do show great reverence to Gautama asa supreme teacher and an exemplar of the ultimate goal that all strivefor.
The earliest Buddhist mysticism was concerned with theemptying of the subjective being, considered to be the greatest obstacleto individual spiritual growth. Central to the Buddhist teaching ispractical renunciation of the worldly appetites binding the soul to sufferand experience illusion. That detachment must be secured by thediscipline of meditation which leads to a spiritual enlightenment thatallows man to see the apparent world in its true light and thus deprivesit of all attraction. Because of this avowed quest for a realitytranscending outer appearances, mysticism, according to some writers,is interwoven in the whole pattern of Buddhism.
There are three eminent aspects of Buddhism that aim to guidetowards perfection: (1) The Promethean personality of Buddha. (2)Dharma, the Good Law pointing the way to liberation. (3) Shangha orBrotherhood of the Bikhus, whole body of monks and saints.
In the course of its long history, Buddhism has seen thedevelopment of three huge bodies of religious doctrine and practice,
which are characteristically called
(vehicles). The earliest
Buddhist movement was called H
na (the Lesser Vehicle), laterknown as Ther
(the Doctrine of the Elders). Ther
vadaBuddhism tends toward a conservative, orthodox interpretation of theBuddha's teaching. Since the beginning of the Common Era, Ther
vadahas been challenged by a later movement that called itself M ah
na(the Great Vehicle). It claimed to be a more comprehensive anduniversal way toward liberation, with a more ambitious religious ideal,and with a more liberal and innovative interpretation of the Buddha'steachings. In the Sixth Century CE, or perhaps a little earlier, a thirdorientation emerged, the movement called Vajray
na (DiamondVehicle), commonly referred to as Tantric or Esoteric Buddhism in theWest. It was characterised by its use of spells, symbols, and verycomplicated rituals, the acquisition of magic powers as a way towardenlightenment, by the development of psychological techniques; and bya system of esoteric transmission from master to disciple.