The transition from a state of ignorance into a state of awareness, insight, and conscious mindfulness can be very painful and is often perceived as a crisis. An existing equilibrium of being-in-the-world is shaken and destroyed for a while, until that new bit of knowledge or realisation becomes part of a new established equilibrium in a slightly more awaken state. There are different strategies of how to deal with this unpleasantness of learning from experiences. From one perspective, it might be helpful to have no consciousness or self-awareness at all. We can’t see that rabbits, for example, suffer emotionally and intellectually from making life experiences. Instincts drive them away from dangers and threats, but they don’t realise or evaluate those situations in the same way as humans do. Our evolutionary ancestors have been embedded in such an ecological equilibrium without conscious awareness, and it worked out well (more or less). Then, early humans started to reflect, and all the trouble began.
This incident is depicted in the Genesis story in the Bible: God (here naturalistically understood as the driving force of emergence) wanted Adam and Eve to remain in this unaware state. God (and its established state of harmony) would keep them safe and protected in their paradise. The inherent potential of self-awareness is illustrated in the form of a tree of knowledge: Once eating its fruits, there would be no way back into the unaware mindless state. According to the story, a snake lured Eve to eat the apple, ultimately leading to the expel from the paradise.
It is basically this story that drove me away from being a Christian. God didn’t want humans to be knowledgeable and self-aware. He (if I may use the male form, here) wanted us to remain stupid, manipulable and controllable. I believe this is also the main reason for many other atheists in the West to turn away from church and its doctrines. The submissive acceptance of the power of God is in sharp contrast to the humanistic ideal of questioning everything.
The above-mentioned crisis can also be solved in the other direction: Bring to your awareness as much as you can, see clearly, free your mind, become the captain of your fate! Wake up! Instead of retreating into the cozy comfort of ignorance, overcome all ignorance and awaken into an enlightened stage of mindfulness! In this image, the snake from the Genesis is not evil, but the bringer of freedom and wisdom.
Now comes the clue: The Chinese character for Buddha, particle of many related Chinese words, is 佛, fó. It consists of a radical 人, rén, for person, and a radical 弗, fú, old way of negating something (“not”). Together they depict the non-self doctrine as central element in Buddhism. I am not an etymologist, and I am even quite sure the following has no linguistic, hermeneutic, analytical justification. But having a closer look at the character, I had an inspiration:
Buddha is like the snake in the Biblic story, telling the unaware people to wake up, gain knowledge and insight, grow awareness and mindfulness, and finally reach enlightenment concerning what the world and our life in it really are.