Whenever a word becomes scriptural it lies like a rock, an obstruction on the path of the spiritual search; it cannot be a step anymore. Then scholars start thinking about it and the sages drop it.
So Buddha dropped the “fullness” of the Vedas and the Upanishads. Those who know say that nobody is a greater sage of the Upanishads than Buddha, the whole essence of the Upanishads is in Buddha. But he dropped the word fullness, he dropped the word brahman – he used “emptiness.” He dropped the positive expression and took the negative expression. He denied the positive and accepted the negative. Until then existence had been defined as day, now Buddha defined it as night. It had been defined as light, Buddha now defined it as darkness. It had been defined as life, Buddha now defined it as death, as nirvana.
Death and night are as existential and divine as life and day.
The old way of expressing the truth had already exhausted itself; now it was only like smoke in the air – only the words and arguments remained. Some new expression was needed. Existence was in search of new words which could stir the hearts of those who were still untouched by scholars, which could call those who were innocent, pure and natural. Buddha invented the word emptiness, shunya; it is a significant word.
Think a little…Buddha and Mahavira were born around the same time, but Buddha’s influence spread far and wide. It did not happen to Mahavira. Buddha’s teaching went on spreading all over the world, its waves reached to the farthest corners of the earth. Mahavira’s teaching remained confined to a small area, it could only spread among a few people – though both were equally geniuses. Both had the same experience, both were very capable, both were the wisest of the wise, neither was inferior to the other – so why didn’t Mahavira’s teachings spread far and wide?
There is a reason: Mahavira was using old, outdated words. He described existence with the same old and stale word, atma, the soul. Buddha said anatma, non-being or no-soul. It struck the right chord. Mahavira said, “Knowing your atma – your soul, your being – is knowing truth. This is enlightenment.” Buddha said, “Soul? Being? This is ignorance. Non-being, no-soul – to become empty, to disappear is to know the truth, is to be enlightened.”
They were contemporaries, but Buddha gave a new definition to existence, new meanings; he brought a newness and it worked. It touched the innocent hearts.
Mahavira’s teaching was blocked by the scholars and it died. People said, “Okay, but he is just saying the same that has always been said.” But they had to think about Buddha’s statements.