Though by now there are many variants of Buddhism and each (or at least many) claim to be the "original" version which the Buddha taught "in secret," the verdict of history seems to be that
- early Buddhism was less devotional and more geared towards meditative practice leading to Nirvana (Hinayana). It is interesting to note that "nirvana" itself literally means "to snuff out," the image of putting out a candle flame being invoked here. This image is popular in Buddhism because it is used to explain how there is no "soul" or substantiality to the experiencer (anatman). The candle flame looks like a solid thing but it is actually a succession of moments of burning of a wick. Likewise human individuality is an illusion formed by the narrativization of successive experiences due to the causality given by desire. From life to life the momentum of desire-formations (samskaras) keeps us reincranating. Breaking the backbone of desire is like snuffing out the flame and leaves no experiencer, hence a complete extinction.
But this statement gets inflected in many ways by the 1st c. so that there is a proliferation of Buddhist sects, a thriving religion and much devotionalism with the entry of Mahayana schools with their reliance on Bodhisattvas.
- Madhyamika philosophy propounded by Nagarjuna (2nd or 3rd c. CE) brought about more profound changes in Buddhist philosophy and practice and spawned a variety of derivatives (all variants of Mahayana). Madhyamika's central formula is Samsara = Nirvana. This has been variously interpreted by some to mean that Nirvana has a positive content (is real) and some that samsara is an illusion (unreal).
- Zen and schools of its kind believe that it points to the absurdity of all assertions and calls for the realization of a state beyond all dualities, realities and unrealities, which cannot and should not be expressed except through paradox and only realized. In terms of "spiritual experiences" this means the goal of Buddhism could either be an erasure of all apparent substantiality (world, soul, mind) through a radical extinction or an entry into a state beyond the manifestation from which world can be "experienced" as either real or unreal.
- Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) makes extensive use of rituals and male and female spirits (or gods/goddesses), but as in post-Shankara Hindu Tantra, this use is made "under erasure" (one of SCI-Y's most favorite buzzwords) since the ultimate goal is a disappearance of self and world.
- Western Pure Land (or Amidist) Buddhism (the most popular form in Japan) believes in a final rebirth into a perfect world where everything is full of "Buddha-nature."
Today, it is very difficult to say exactly what "Buddhism" is. But in terms of "Divine Maya of Supermind," certainly none of the varieties of Buddhism see nature on earth as evolutionary and/or transformable to a terrestrial divinity (divine life on earth). The Bodhisattvas are still waiting in the astral sphere to help the last human to snuff himself out. Despite this, there is much that practitioners of Integral Yoga can learn from Buddhism (just as Buddhism through the centuries has learnt much from all other schools of Indic practice). DB