The Hindu Context
Before we review the teachings of the Buddha, it will help us to know
something of the intellectual and religious context in which he lived.
At that time (app. 500 B.C.), northern India had certain religious and philosophical parallels to ancient Greece. (This is probably no coincidence. Some 4,000 years ago, the same people in the northern part of the globe drifted south, some toward Europe and Greece, and some toward India. Knowledge of the classical Greek language, I am told, is of great benefit in studying Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language.) In Greece, religion functioned on two levels. There was the pantheon of gods that was part of the popular religion, but there was also the abstract characterization of the world and of man's place in it, which the philosophers were developing. The disparity between the two Greek views of the divine was made painfully clear by the death of Socrates.
He, who taught the importance of contemplating the sublime essences, was executed for leading the young away from their (the popular) religion. The same duality of religious beliefs existed at the same time in India. There was a pantheon of gods, with accompanying stories, symbols, rituals, and rules of worship. There was also, however, the more philosophical approach that saw deity in a more abstract form. It is this latter philosophical religion that gave rise to