It does not actually raise such questions; There is not a person or self reaching Nirvana, from an absolute standpoint. As I noted earlier, the Buddha spoke of conventional truths and absolute truths. Speaking of one individual who personally may reach Nirvana is conventional speak, as that person absolutely is dukkha, impermanent, and any identity that he may have is not a part of the unconditioned.
People wo were listening to him were on that conditional level, therefore for them there was no need to present such a teaching which could (and did in reality) cause BELIEF in the absence of soul.
But even this interpretation seems to be flawed. As I can recollect, the Buddha was neither idealist, no materialist but taught those who believed in self, there is no such thing and those who believed in no-self -- there is something like it. As I understand him, his goal was to make everyone free from all the beliefs, opinions etc. Nagarjuna put it well saying:
"30. I bow down to Gautama, whose kindness holds one close, who revealed the sublime dharma in order to let go of all views."
His goal was to liberate man both from mterialism and idealism, from any metaphysics. As to the emphasis which anatman-teaching gained, I think that was due to the obsession of Hindoo philosophers to find that. That is to say, he and perhaps his first disciples had to have arguments with Hindoos mostly, therefore those who didn't understand them fully created an opinion that this is the quintessence of buddhadarma. Nowadays he would probably be called idealist because he'd have to speak with materialiats.
I think we can be sure he said something very much along the lines of what is presented in the various Buddhist schools of today. Maybe not letter for letter, but very close. Otherwise, it is just an excuse to disregard the whole teaching and carry on like it was never enunciated.
Yes, we can find some similarities in those texts and this may be called the real Buddha's teaching. But even this is quite doubtful.
Our only guide is our own Reason, therefore in every teaching we should seek what goes in accordance with it regardless of who is that person whom those teaching ascribed. I am recalling a reply given by Tolstoy to a certain young man who asked him what is the most profound work on the original text of Gospel (Tolstoy had made his own translation of it but latter found it useless and did not publish it). Out of courtesy Tolstoy recommended some books but said: "If thou canst not discern the falsehood from the truth in the Gospel with thine own heart, of what use is to read those books? Because in this case thou art looking not for truth about our life but for the words of Jesus to worship them. And if thou canst, again, of what need are those books?"
Nothing sould be taken on faith. Practice is based on faith, on belief in the result, on authority. Therefore for those who are looking for Truth, there is no place for practice.
But this is materialism, is it not? Only things are real? According to the Buddhist tradition, which I don't think you could call 'spiritualist', the sensory realm is acutally a composite of constantly changing phenomenal moments combined through the actions of the five Skandha to create an appearance of reality.
Such an idea is based on wrong understanding of reality. Because for most people "to be" very often means "to be permanent", "to remain in a certain state for a long time". On this confusioin is based Zeno's aporia "Arrow". "To be" applied to the external world simply means "to be perceived", without implication of duration. The existence of the things is momentary and there is no contradiction in it. We may speak there is something else which exists but this doesn't destroy the existence of things. But in this case we perhaps have to give another definition to the predicate "exist".
There is only a contradiction if your practise is conducted for selfish reasons. If you practise for the benefit of all beings, then there is no contradiction.
Is it a reply to my question?
I have to say "acceptance" "detachment" "indifference" is just not the Western way. The Western way is to solve problems and try to make the world a better place. To struggle and suffer in the pursuit of higher values and higher ideals. Ideally those pursuits involve freedom, creativity, human rights, human respect and equality of opportunity, respresentative government and the rule of law but "acceptance" is just not the "way".
Well, I think we should not separate the West from the East. For example, stoics taught the same:
"Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Lead thou me on.
To whatsoever task thou sendest me,
Lead thou me on.
I follow fearless, or, if in mistrust
I lag and will not, follow still I must."
The Western obsession with human rights has its root in the false implication that if the external conditions are arranged appropriately, we shall have happier life. When one comes to know what the happiness really is, politics in all forms drops.
I don't think that Buddhism teaches a person to simply "accept" and not try to make the world a better place. In fact, Buddhism is all about changing the way our minds work, in order to be more compassionate and understanding. When more people make this change, there is improvement on the societal scale.
Agree absolutely. And this the only way to make change outwardly -- to make it within oneself
This does not at all mean that impermanent, worldly affairs are not important. Take the Dalai Lama, for example, who is Buddhist, but very political, and involved in many Western affairs.
Dalai-lama doesn't seem to be Buddist at all. He is as Buddhist as our patriarch or pope are Christians. Having read his books I see that his "social doctrine" implies violence, government. His justification of old superstitions also disgusts.
Pangloss is entirely correct. Buddhism has been a vastly civilizing influence where it has gone, and is generally very progressive and practical. The image of the indifferent sage absorbed in nirvanic bliss is a stereotype from the Catholic Encyclopedia. (Look it up - it is exactly what it says.) King Asoka, the Buddhist Monarch, created one of the first universal civil codes and concept of the welfare state, all before the birth of Jesus. In fact if Buddhist civilization in India had not been destroyed by the Mughals, who knows what the result might have been.
And the same with Ashoka. King is that one who has political authority. Authority is impossible without violence. Buddhism as well as Christianity has always tried to find support from ruling classes, promising them heaven or good rebirth if they help to spread the teaching. Ashoka, emp. Constantine, prince Vladimir are manifestation of one nature.
With fools no company keeping...
It is the weak side of Buddhism: it makes a chasm between so-called sages and fools. But this is wrong and to call someone fool that is call him incapable of understanding is surely one of the most delusions (sins) as Christ said. This causes self-glorification and separation, and violence in the end (supreme and inferior race). Therefore the best thing (and the only true) is to have no idea of others which is in accordance with the freedom from thought. We all are like river and those who are "fools" may appear to be the highest sages if we help them.