Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
You must always see the context. If you talk about Buddha and what he said, then you should not forget to whom he spoke and what was the state of affairs at that time in the society he was in. Similarly if you want to talk about Jesus, or Mohammed, or any other prophet, you should not forget the context — where what was said, and to whom it was said.
During Buddha’s time, India was at its pinnacle. It had the wealth of the world. It was the most developed country at that time. People had everything; material riches were in abundance.
Just 200 years ago, Lord Macaulay, when he went to London, he wrote to Queen Elizabeth saying, 'I have travelled the length and breadth of India, and I have not see one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage'.
Buddha’s time was such a golden period where people had everything materialistic in abundance, and they were so steeply immersed into it. So he said, ”Come on, wake up. There is something more than material comfort and material wealth”.
At that time people were fighting with each other and there were small feudal wars over foolish things. So Buddha said, “Come on, drop this. There is something greater in life”.
People also thought they knew, without any real experience. They had all the philosophy and they would talk about God without knowing what it is.
Lord Buddha said, ”Come, I have a simple thing to tell you”.
He took people step by step into meditation, which people had forgotten.
Buddha never started a new religion and lived as a Hindu sanyasi (monk). He followed all the rules of a monk and died as a monk. It was after Buddha that all his teachings became a separate religion. Virtually, Buddha said almost everything which is in the Upanishads, just with one difference, i.e., Anatmavad (the atman does not exist).
He said, "There is no Self. I searched and searched for the Self, but I couldn’t get that Self. All that exists is emptiness".
Buddha spoke more about the emptiness in everything. He said, “Everything is nothing”.
There were eleven questions which Buddha never answered. One of which was on God. He would never answer if anybody asked whether God exists or not. He never denied it, but he did not want to get into it either. There were so many concepts that people had at that time. Everyone thought they know it without even knowing it. So he thought it is better not to get into this debate and he said, “I have come here to give a simple technique to get rid of sorrow in your life.”
He talked about meditation and nirvana (liberation).