In my opinion, Buddha was a religious innovator- since he went against all other prominent religious beliefs of the time in declaring that there was no soul- no permanent self (anatta). I will be discussing whether Buddha was indeed a religious innovator, the ideas he has taken from other religions and entirely original, new concepts he created.
He disagreed with many other popular religious practices, for example sacrifices- around which the Vedic religion (which was popular around Buddha’s time) revolved. He did so for many reasons, the main being Buddhists don’t believe in a God- no God would mean sacrificing an animal would be wasteful and pointless. Another reason he disagreed with this would be that hurting the animal would be against the eightfold path since harming the animal unnecessarily would not be a ‘right action’ it would also be an example of not showing the ‘right mindfulness’ since if we were aware of the animal’s pain and suffering then we wouldn’t be sacrificing the animal. Many Buddhists choose to be vegetarian as hurting animals creates bad karma due to the above.
Buddha’s main difference in opinion to ideas of the time would be that the Buddhist Dharma (or teaching) says that we have no soul or ‘no permanent self,’ this is called Anatta. Buddhists believe that because we are made up of five Skandhas- (Form, sensations, perceptions, mental formation and consciousness) that are constantly changing, we have no permanent self. Buddhism was the first religion to say that we have no soul.
The Jains and Shramanas (both prominent religions of Buddha’s time) both taught that the atman (or soul) is reincarnated time after time until Moksha, where the soul returns to God (or ‘Brahmin’ in some cases.) In Buddhism, Buddha taught that it is not our atman that is reborn, but our karma. For example- a candle lighting another candle, it is the heat from the first candle that lights the second- no part of the first candle is passed along to the second. Buddhists believe this, but with karma instead of heat- that is, they believe it is our karma that causes rebirth time after time.
Buddha also made it clear that equality was an important part of Buddhism since we could be reborn as anything- poor man or a king- we are all the same. This was innovative since in Eastern Europe there was great emphasis on the social division called the caste system, which was present in the Vedic religion and very rigid. This meant that many of the lower classes and poorer people could not take part and so were cut off from the religion.
However, Buddha did take ideas from the ideas of karma, but changed them slightly. For example, the Jains believed that karma was a sticky substance which floated above their heads preventing them from escaping rebirth, whereas Buddhists might perceive karma as a force which governs balance- for example if you’re a bad, mean, rich person in this life, you might come back as a poor beggar who lives a miserable life.
Another Jain idea that Buddha imitated was that of ‘Ahisma’ or non-violence. Buddhists believe violence is wrong because of parts of the eightfold path, such as ‘right action’. This was the Jains main teaching- they were the first to become vegetarians- many Buddhists choose to become vegetarians too.
Having considered both points of view, I still believe that Buddha was a great religious innovator simply due to the fact that most of his teachings and ideas had not been heard before.