Jesus wasn’t ‘christian’. Krsna wasn’t ‘hindu’; Buddha and his principal disciples weren’t ‘buddhist’—so why should I be? Actually ‘Buddhism’ is a blanket term coined by British colonialists, covering a wide variety of teachings descended from the Buddha. And the idea of a religion based on the teaching of the Buddha is relatively recent, maybe a thousand years old at most.
There is no problem with basing a religion on the Buddha’s teaching, or even many of them. The problems begin when the religion becomes the context for the teaching, instead of the other way around. The Dharmasar Solution liberates the teaching of the Buddha from the context of religion, revealing a supremely powerful and independent system of thought and practice.
My mentor Bhikkhu Ñānananda confirms,
An idea got deeply rooted at a certain stage in the Sāsana history that what is contained in the Sutta Piṭaka is simply the conventional teaching and so it came to imply that there is nothing so deep in these suttas. This notion also had its share in the present lack of interest in these suttas. According to the Aṅguttara commentary Manorathapūraṇī, already at an early stage in the Sāsana history of Sri Lanka, there had been a debate between those who upheld the precept and those who stood for realization. And it is said that those who upheld the precept won the day. The final conclusion was that, for the continuity of the Sāsana, precept itself is enough, not so much the realization. — Nibbana the Mind Stilled, 1
Ñānananda goes on to echo my observation that South Indian Vedic philosophy and religious practices were overlaid on the Buddha’s original teaching. The commentaries obscured the Suttas instead of revealing them. The scholastic monks wanted to show off their exegetical skill, but wound up creating an inferior system based on their mental speculation. The original teaching, with its emphasis on practice, is far superior in leading people to enlightenment.
Limiting the Buddha’s teaching by keeping it in the context of religion is the principal reason why very few people are becoming enlightened these days. Enlightenment is supreme independence. In fact the Buddha’s explanation of how people create suffering is called Dependent Origination. One who attains freedom from dependence is called independent. To make the Buddha’s teaching dependent on a religious context is to cripple its potential for delivering people from suffering driven by Dependent Origination.
Context determines meaning. Putting the Buddha’s teaching in a religious context changes its meaning. Even the Commentaries change the meaning of the Suttas—and that’s another obstacle to attaining enlightenment. The Suttas, the original sermons and teachings of the Buddha, do not require support from anything. They are completely independent, self-referential and self-validating. They stand on nothing; they are their own refuge and support.
This is because the Buddha’s teaching is scientific, dealing with natural law. Anyone who duplicates the experiments in phenomenological self-observation of the Buddha must come to identical conclusions. Thus it is an error to make the Buddha’s teaching dependent on a religious organization; rather, any religion should be dependent on the Buddha’s teaching.