At first, he did not want to share his insights because the truth he perceived was, even though very basic and simple, extremely subtle as well and therefore very difficult to teach to others.
convinced him ultimately that there would be indeed a few human beings
around who would be ready and able to understand what we would have to
say. For the sake of those few, he proceeded to teach the next forty to
fifty years before his physical body expired.
Gotamo asserted a 'state' that is fundamentally independent of the system of this Universe. Since labels can only be attached to phenomena that are within a system, there cannot possibly be a name for this state and even classifying it as a 'state' is therefore, strictly seen, incorrect. Likewise, whoever is able to reach this 'state', cannot be labelled either.
The only possible approach to this 'state' is an _indirect way_. Therefore, Gotamo taught a way of thinking in exclusive terms rather than the common way of thinking in identities.
For example, contemplating
'self' is necessarily an identifying and self-reflexive way of thinking
and it cannot
possibly lead to the 'way out'. In the contrary, since thinking in identities
is the very condition that is holding Beings in this Universe in the first
place, self-reflexive thinking will INCREASE the bonds that prevent a person
from being able to have the choice of withdrawing from this world.
Everything Gotamo said must be seen in the context of this very special approach which was (and still is) radically different from other philosphical or religious approaches.
He summarized his message in 'Four Special Truths':
1. The truth that there is a 'state' _beyond_ this Universe
and that everything that can be perceived is 'not-this-state':
"the truth of dukkha".
2. The truth about how a Being alienates itself and becomes
trapped in a Universe. Or, in a non-identifying description:
the truth about how the condition of 'dukkha' comes about.
3. The truth of the possibility of a 'Way Out', or again, in
non-identifying words, 'the truth of resolving 'dukkha'
4. The truth that there is a way to the 'way out', or,
how to go about it in resolving 'dukkha'.
While Gotamo recognized that there are more ways to reach the 'state beyond' other than the one he taught, he postulated that the 'Four Special Truths' are so basic that they must be part of any other approach as well.
In this light,
the 'Four Special Truths' are of paramount importance and could therefore
be seen as the hallmark of the validity of any system that is pursuing
the goal of liberation.
One feature of Gotamo's teaching that is makes if significantly different from most other applied philosophies or religions is that it is expected to yield concrete and conclusive results during _this_ lifetime. His message was 'Come and see for yourself! Become free HERE AND NOW!"
Accordingly, a clearly recognizable landmark is required to determine if success occurred or not.
This landmark was described by Gotamo as 'entering the stream that leads to the state beyond' (Sotapanno).
Reaching this level was the goal he set for his audience. It is the on-ramp for the 'Liberation Superhighway'.
He outlined three levels after this, depending on the speed at which the final goal, complete liberation, can be expected to be obtained. But since reaching the level of a 'Sotapanno' is a definite point from which a person cannot sink into a lasting delusion anymore, the upper three levels are more for the record than goals in their own sake.
The reason why a 'Sotapanno' cannot sink back into delusion is that reaching this level is based on surpassing a threshold of understanding of the non-self character of the world that makes it practically impossible that the 'Sotapanno' could ever fall back into thinking in identities.
This and the other levels may be reached without the person being yet aware of it. Gotamo therefore added an entry level to each of the four levels. In this classification of eight levels, the second level obviously is the one that should be achieved because it includes the full awareness and certainty of the achievement of the first level.
Again, recognizing that the world is non-self, in other words, resolving conscious, unconscious and superconscious identities is the threshold process that will yield the 'entering of the stream'.
There are two basic routes to this: the intellectual and the intuitive route. Only the first is 'guaranteed to work for everybody', according to Gotamo. The latter, the path of meditation, is depending on the talents of the individual and furthermore carries a considerable danger of being misleading because of the multitude and strangeness of perceptions one can be exposed to in its pursuit.
In praxis, the route of an individual will be a combination of both immediate insight and abstract reasoning. This is illustrated by Gotamo's observation that both abilities of a person are culminating at the fourth, top level, of the path.
Since each individual is different from every other individual, every route will necessarily be unique.
The goal of 'entering the stream' can be reached by anybody and it can be reached here and now, whatever the circumstances of life may be in the moment.
There is one, and only one, condition that can prevent a human being from 'entering the stream':
believing than an outside condition or someone other
than oneself could bring about liberation for oneself
It should be noted that 'entering the stream' is about gaining the ability to make free choices. It is most certainly not about rejecting life itself or conditions of life. Rejection or suppression is adding a new layer to the original attachment without resolving the underlying issue.
The freedom of
choice is the most valuable ability a human being has. Animals as well
as beings without a body cannot develop this ability during their respective
lifetimes. Within the sphere of human life, however, everybody can increase
the ability to make choices. 'Entering the stream' is open to every human
being, regardless of gender, race, age, wealth, health, and even education.
At the core of Gotamo's 'very special, subtle' teachings is the strict avoidance of 'thinking in identities'.
Thinking in identities, the root of delusion in the first place, is so deeply engraved in human thinking that Gotamo's own prediction was that the special characteristics of his teachings would last "...not more than 500 years, if at all that long..." before being lost.
Indeed, not long after his physical body quit its functions, his followers started to think in identities again. Instead of respecting his expressive request to not to think of him in any identifying terms, he was soon labelled 'Suddho' ('Someone who is safe') and, later on, 'Buddho' ('One who woke up').
A couple of centuries
later the first 'Buddha' sculptures were set up, marking the final dissolution
of the original and special features of his teachings in a way that could
not be more dramatic and revealing.
Gotamo restricted himself to teaching only the most basic principles. He rejected the use of the scholarly Sanskrit language and spoke in a local dialect that could be understood by common people. As a direct result of his basic approach of avoiding to think in identities, he used daily life examples rather than creating codified assertions.
The original reports of his dialogues, compiled against his will some years after his departure, are preserved in the books of the so-called 'Pali Canon' which is available on the Internet and on CD-ROM. They contain a wealth of examples and practical applications but there are only a few translations widely available, all of which suffer from the problems in translating unique philosophical concepts, and especially the very specific approach of Gotamo.
But there are now also many publications about modern philosophies and technologies dealing with the mind. Many of them are copies or variations of ancient techniques but some appear to be rather unique and new. There is no reason why they could not be employed for the purpose at hand.
Whether practical applications and techniques are being extracted from Pali sources or retrieved from modern approaches, they can be examined for compliance with the basic principles of Gotamo.
The question "Is non-identical thinking involved?" is sometimes difficult to answer. But from the central principles, tests can be developped which may be easier to apply.
To name a view:
A technique or a system of techniques that passes tests like the ones above can be expected to lead towards the goal of complete liberation.
Any such procedure or insight can also be expected to be highly beneficial for the well-being of the person doing it - no matter if the person shares the ultimate goal of Gotamo or not.
This makes Gotamo's principles an invaluable tool for everybody and at any stage of spiritual growth.