Religious Beliefs

Is the term revelation useful in understanding Buddhist tradition?

Revelation, as a number of traditions use the term, presupposes that the ultimate truths remain beyond the grasp of human beings until the source or custodian of those truths chooses to make them available. By “unveiling” the mystery, the giver of truth entrusts the ultimate realities to humankind, often through a mediating figure such as a prophet. Buddhist tradition considers ultimate truths within reach of any person willing to pay attention. The truth is not, as some have always believed, “out there.” It is “right in front of you and within yourself.” But dealing consistently with that kind of in-your-face truth is difficult and demanding—and often lonely. As a result, Buddhists over many centuries and in many places have developed their distinctive variations on the theme of revelation, with its suggestion of privileged access to hidden truths. Buddha told his followers to be lamps unto their own feet, but there have always been Buddhist teachers and preachers to remind people what the Buddha said. Buddha told his followers the truth was not wrapped in arcane mysteries, but there have always been special, sometimes very esoteric, teachings about the secret meanings of what the Buddha said. The major difference here between Buddhism and, say, the Abrahamic faiths, is that the concept of prophetic revelation is at the heart of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic worldviews.


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