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Barbara O'Brien

God, No God, and Buddhism

By January 5, 2009

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Ed Halliwell has a must-read essay at The Guardian on God and Buddhism. As he says, in the current debates between theists and atheists, we Buddhists find ourselves in an odd place.

For the most part, the Buddhist position on the God question is neither yes nor no. Although some Buddhists consider themselves to be atheists, and some (sorta kinda) conceptualize the buddhas and bodhisattvas as godlike beings, the Buddha taught that belief in God is irrelevant. Believing in God or not believing in God will not help you realize enlightenment.

OK, so far. But I'm a compulsive mediator; by instinct, I take everybody's side at once. It pains me when atheists dismiss the God of monotheism as a "sky fairy," because I know my theist friends to be thoughtful and intelligent people whose understanding of God is far more subtle and sophisticated. As Ed Halliwell writes, "Part of what makes the argument [about God] so comical is how the concept of 'God' onto which atheists project is rarely the same as the one defended by believers."

At the same time, I take the side of atheism when someone argues that people need religion to be moral. At a time when much of the planet is rocked in violence and atrocity connected to religion, such an argument is, um, dumb. Whenever someone makes that argument I almost want a giant hand to come out of the clouds to smack them.

In my experience, good socialization is a better indicator of basic good behavior than religious beliefs. I will trust a well-socialized atheist over a religious psychopath any day.

I see belief in God as neither right nor wrong, but as a potential upaya. Could atheism also be a upaya? Well, why the bleep not? I think how one holds beliefs or not-beliefs is far more critical than the thing believed in, or not. (If you need to re-read that last sentence a few times for sense, I understand.)

The Buddha's refusal to make a declaration on the God question may seem like an evasion, but it was anything but. Disciples were always asking the World-Honored One to answer the Big Questions, like who they might have been in a past life, or who they might be in the future, and his response -- that the questions were unskillful -- denied them the dead-end comfort of certainty. Instead he left them dangling in the vast openness of What is this? Upaya, indeed.

Comments
January 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm
(1) Jamie G. says:

After I deconverted back in Dec. of 2006 I dived head first into the world and culture of atheists, joining several atheist and humanist groups (local and national). The more vocal atheists tend to congregate online at different places. At first I had a lot of zeal, but now that I have had time to settle a bit, I realize that the zealousness of some of the “New Atheists” is bordering on the fanatical. Some strong atheists are calling for the eradication of all religions. Though I don’t take this as a physical threat, it does tell me that atheists have been far too long focused on the Abrahamic faiths, and assume all the world’s religions and faiths fall under the same heading, which they don’t.

I find that some atheists can be as close-minded as some theists. When a few of my atheist friends found out that I have taken an interest in Buddhism, now calling myself a Buddhist, they quickly break out the keisaku to whack me back into reason.

What a world… and the people in it!

January 5, 2009 at 2:10 pm
(2) Bhanusimha says:

Nice essay!

My sense is that from the perspective of Buddha Dharma, the question “Does God exist?” is understood to be much less useful than the question: “Does the one asking this question (and needing an answer) ‘exist’?”

January 5, 2009 at 2:35 pm
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

Jamie G., if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend the book The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. It was written almost 60 years ago, after World War II, but it still applies to our crazy species. And it has the grace of being short and readable. Anyway, in one place Hoffer makes the point that the opposite of a religious fanatic is not a fanatical atheist, but “the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not.” A fanatical atheist and a religious fanatic, Hoffer said, are at the same end of the scale, not the opposite ends.

January 5, 2009 at 3:50 pm
(4) Jamie G. says:

Anyway, in one place Hoffer makes the point that the opposite of a religious fanatic is not a fanatical atheist, but “the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not.”

Gentle cynic… that about describes me, except I’d change cynic to skeptic.

I’ll check out the book, thanks for the recommendation.

January 5, 2009 at 4:20 pm
(5) Kendall says:

I’m quite partial to Buddha’s answer on God. Even if god came to visit me in “person” and had tea with me, I would not start worshiping him. I would continue my way of life, free of worship, and full of compassion.

January 6, 2009 at 4:26 am
(6) Ave Maria Gratia Plena says:

I think there are essentially two kinds of religious people. Those who are mostly against something and those who are mostly for something. Some things may be absolutely true (you disagree I know but bear with me) but adhering to the truth alone is not enough. How and why we adhere to the truth as we understand it is crucial too. If we are Buddhists because it is part of our cultural identity as Sri Lankans, say, then we might with our lips profess things which our hearts are far from accepting. Or we might be gentle atheist who all unknown to ourselves have a warm and close relationship to the poor Christ whom we do not believe in. Or to put it another way it ain’t what you do its the way that you do it.

January 7, 2009 at 11:31 pm
(7) Wu Xian says:

I don’t give much time in debating whether there is a God or not. As a Taoist/Tibetan Buddhist, my altar is filled with Gods, yet I don’t believe they ARE God. They are there to help me to the Way, to enhance my compassion, to protect me from evil. But I don’t debate whether or not I believe in them. They just are, leading me to Tao, leading me to enlightenment.

January 8, 2009 at 3:20 pm
(8) Jackson says:

I’m enjoying everyone’s comments.

My position on the God question has been very fluid for the last couple years. Right now I’m attempting to explore the question from a contemplative/phenomenological perspective. I find that when I try to use reason (such as ontological arguments), I am able to rationalize a belief in God. But when I consider the nature of reality through contemplative modes, such as insight meditation, I find no absolutes and no trace of a necessary Self (whether in myself or the divine).

I guess what I’m saying is that my answer to the God question varies with different modes of inquiry. Has anyone else experienced what I’m talking about?

January 8, 2009 at 5:22 pm
(9) John says:

I think that this is a fascinating conversation. As a “former” evangelical christian, I see the “800 lbs gorilla in the room” not in whether “God” exists, but the insistence of human beings to feel they have to “fit” themselves into a certain “group”, whether that be a “committed atheist” or a “born again Christian”. It is the ultimate “Self vs. Other” practice in our society today. I think the most unfortunate thing is that the “passion” of these beliefs generally make otherwise “enlightened” persons behave in extremely unenlightening ways.

January 8, 2009 at 8:17 pm
(10) David says:

I am truly enjoying this subject. I am a former Reform rabbi who has taken a more secular humanist path. The Buddhist answer that the question of God is not relevant is wonderful in that it sidesteps the second God question–If there is a God, then what is God’s will (Torah? Quran? Church doctrine?)? That’s the question that is the real bugbear.

January 8, 2009 at 9:17 pm
(11) Rajeev G says:

“Hatred” is the problem with belief. God believers hates “Non-belief” and “non-believers” of their sort. Atheists hates believers and “God/s”. This very hatred towards anything is a hindrance to “Freeing the mind”. That is probably the reason Shakyamuni Budha told, any discussion or argument on that is unfruitful. If one has to live in this world can live and enjoy the fruits just by following the teachings of Dhamma. No need of a futile discussion and hatred generation….one more point from my side

January 8, 2009 at 9:52 pm
(12) Glen says:

Kendall,

I like what you said about “God” (forgive the quotes, but he/she/it/they have so many names…) joining you for tea. What an interesting conversation THAT would be. As for worshipping him, who’s to say that your attitude of compassion ISN’T a form of worship?

I used to spend a lot of time online with some pretty fanatical atheists, and thought that many of them had some great ideas. However, when they started discussing how awful ALL religions are, I started to have some issues. I don’t necessarily think that the religion is the problem (if one even exists), rather the people who follow that religion and how they interpret the teachings of Yahweh/Jesus/Mohammed/Ahura-Mazda or whomever.

January 8, 2009 at 11:56 pm
(13) Greenman says:

As a former Mormon AND an ex-catholic you’d think I’d be rabidly pro or con “God”. I’m not really…..I’m growing to love and appreciate the teachings of the Buddha and I’ve also evolved into a neo-pagan. I like the whole notion of having a diety or two to worship and I don’t think that that belief has to run afowl of the dharma. Belief in the Goddess & God satisfies a part of me just as the teachings of the Buddha satisfies another part of me. Perhaps in time that will change but for now neither set of beliefs contradicts the other.

January 9, 2009 at 9:00 am
(14) Fineway says:

I have been exposed to buddhist teachings fora long time. my experience with the teachings is that, they resinate with me only in my head and not my heart. When I say my prayers and say a rosary, I see things in a transparently manner. I see GOD within others and myself. I see God within every aspect of my life, and respect them dispite their classes, race. I don’t tend to worship people

January 9, 2009 at 12:22 pm
(15) emr says:

Jackson – really enjoyed your comment:

I guess what I’m saying is that my answer to the God question varies with different modes of inquiry.

It brought to mind the distinction made by Adyashanti between “practical mind” and “egoic mind.” Practical mind refers to the intelligence that can accomplish day-to-day tasks and/or engage in “higher thinking,” without making it into a battle of some sort.

Egoic mind, on the other hand, lives on resistance — needs struggle to remain in its trance-state.

So then I wonder: how might I engage in this kind of inquiry (re: the God question) in a way that remains spacious & relaxed (perhaps even playful) — rather than devolving into contraction/struggle, which would seem to be the seeds of fundamentalism?

January 9, 2009 at 9:30 pm
(16) Rahb says:

Great thread, this topic always gets lots of responses. I’ve been dealing with the question too (particularly being that Dawkins calls belief in God a delusion, the word perks some of our ears up). Strange that he doesn’t point to our belief that, capitalist democracy is “best”, as a delusion. Neither does he question our belief that refined sugar, unnatural chemical dyes and additives etc. are “food”. The extreme atheists attend groups (one of my best friends is involved in some of these) ironically they don’t understand that they are just attending a religion that opposes religion. They accuse “theists” of blindly following rather than questioning(which can be true), but turn red arguing (and then pale) when it’s demonstrated that history doesn’t support their claim that “religion is responsible for all wars”. Likewise when it’s demonstrated that atheist movements (i.e. communist china, particularly Mao’s) have also committed violence against humanity.
Personally (I am an unskilled novice, so take with a grain of salt),I think both ideas God and No-God stem from wrong view, but I’ve already written too much to into that. Ultimately if your view, regardless of religion or non-religion, is leading you to selfishness, arrogance, etc. (delusional egos), hatred, fear, etc. (aversion), or greed, spoils, etc. (desire) than you already know that it is of no or little good. If the view leads to altruistic and beneficial action, compassionate and wise thoughts, and fair and truthful speech, then you already know that it is good. Something like that, as translated by my limited and conceptual mind, said the blessed one while speaking to the Kalamas.

January 10, 2009 at 6:05 am
(17) Dave O'Neal says:

Excellent essay, Barbara, and it’s certainly generated some intriguing responses. I really resonated with your idea of either belief-in-God or not-belief-in-God as upaya, and with the assertion that it’s the way beliefs are held that’s more important than what the beliefs necessarily are. The “God” that athiests decry–and that a lot of my fellow Buddhists seem to be running from–is the ultimate straw man, but so is the God a lot of religious people so ardently cling to. I started out loving God, but it seems like the closer you move toward “him,” the more elusive he becomes; the more concepts about him are revealed as idols that naturally fall away when recognized as such. I feel a greater connection with the people I left behind in Christianity who got past the god-concepts and kept going than I do for a lot of the Buddhists I practice with.

January 10, 2009 at 2:49 pm
(18) Jackson says:

emr – thanks for posting the Adyashanti video link. I’ve heard of him, but had not yet seen him speak. Regarding how you might go about engaging in spacious/open inquiry about the God question, I think it flows naturally out of insight meditation as one begins to dissolve their constricted identity. From the point of view of no-self (or perhaps it’s a non-point-of-view), the experiential response to the question turns up very different answers than one would find using other modes of inquiry. This is my experience, which I’ll admit is still very limited. What other kinds of approaches might one engage in?

Dave O’Neal – great comment. Coming from a biblical studies background (at a pentecostal college), I know that one derives a very different idea of God depending on how they get their information. At bible college, we used the biblical texts to find our God answers. My answers have become quite different since I began using contemplative modes of inquiry. As you stated, there are Christians who also use contemplative modes and are able to stay with their faith. I also have a great amount of respect for such individuals.

January 13, 2009 at 5:19 am
(19) fineway says:

I would like to add on to the point I made on 9th. If we do believe there’s God, then we don’t even understand ourselves. That is why we are abusing each other and the environment as a whole. Thay Thich Nhat Hanh said that, if we are mindful and pay attention to every aspect of our our life we will see God from the time we are rising to sun set. In this case, I see God in all human beings, trees, rivers, because without these things I would never survive. I respect them and not worship them. To me God is very much alive in every second of my day

January 13, 2009 at 10:36 am
(20) Sreedhar rao sonti says:

The question wether or not God exhists
doesnt find an answer since none knows what god is. Even if someone ventures to describe and locate god attributing some preferred qualities, a phenomenon which is also impermanent according to The Buddha.

January 14, 2009 at 6:43 pm
(21) Saddha says:

Those who claim Buddhism isn’t about God should is non-sense. The 4th Noble Truth of the path leading to the end of suffering in Buddhism is taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and taking the 5 precepts — this is called, only then can one enter the stream of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Buddha himself in ALL Buddhist sutras is referred to as “Bhagavan” which means “God” and “anuttaro” which means the “Supreme” which is a commonly used term to mean “Supreme God” in north Indian languages.

People who some how think Buddhism is God neutral are fooling themselves and misrepresenting Buddhism — unfortuneatly, that’s the level of ignorance present in modern Buddhists.

January 14, 2009 at 6:48 pm
(22) Hi says:

Buddha is supposed to be God! Duh!

Who do these foolish Buddhists think they are taking refuge in? These pseudo-intellectuals…always ignorant!

January 22, 2011 at 5:00 pm
(23) Michael B says:

Hello,
A person came upon the Buddha shortly after he had reachec enlightenment.This person asked the Buddha,are you a God?No,said the the Buddha.Then are a man the person asked?No,replyed the Buddha.Then what are you the person again asked?The Buddha,replyed..I am awake!

The Buddha had shed all delusions and had reached the highest state of awareness,one that He says all sentient beings have the ability to do.All we have to do is awaken.Then the God question will be answered.

January 14, 2009 at 7:41 pm
(24) Barbara O'Brien says:

Comments #21 & 22 — This has been a generously open-minded exchange until now. I hate to see it devolve into rancor. You are welcome to state your perspective, but in the future do so without insulting others.

As for what we take refuge in, with his final words the Buddha said we take refuge in ourselves. What do you think he meant by that? Are we God, too?

God is a concept. What is it a concept of? Don’t cling to views.

January 16, 2009 at 7:31 am
(25) Rajeev G says:

Now, after reading all the comments, I would like to take all to the concepts of gods we have

1. “God” as a super intellectual(omnipotent, omnipresent etc) who made this universe (Purpose unknown)
2. “God” Came to this universe along with evil and in constant fight, god helps us to liberate from Christopher or any other evil(Satan).
3. “Gods”(Plural) born to this universe like us with differing abilities. If we worship any of them gives that quality to us.
4. “God” appears himself here as Universe
5. “God” is quality less and cannot be understood by words or knowledge and any notion about God is ungodly.In Veda it is called “Brahma”.

I am able to collate only these many definition at this point of time and there can be many more. When we argue to another person, first we have to know what is his idea about “god”. Then, is “idea is god?” to be questioned. After that heated discussion, we may have to ask whether worship of any image is going to give any “relief from suffering” or “Engaging in pleasure”?. If we can deeply meditate on these subjects, our mind itself will answer as “pure consciousness” can penetrate all science and logic. To be frank, when I did a study on all the above possibility, 3rd one may be a possibility like ghosts(a creature lives in different frequency beyond the reach of our senses or scientific extension of our senses). May be “More purer consciousness can answer this” or that very pure consciousness in fragments may be Gods and in unison “God”. I would like to answer as “I don’t know”. Probably that is the honest answer anyone can give.

June 29, 2009 at 6:56 am
(26) Sikus says:

As Barbara said insulting others won’t do any good.

- The term “Bhagavan” or “Bhagavan-svayam” is a part of Hinduism not Buddhism. These are different.

- The term “anuttaro” means unsurpassed or unexcelled in the context of Buddhist teachings as written in the Dhammavibhāga I, 7.4. So as to speak Buddah was unsurpassed in Buddhist teachings, that has nothing to do with any form of gods or being god like. Since when are teachers god like?
Citing words out of context is like a captain without a ship and a crew.

Cheers

September 3, 2009 at 8:46 am
(27) Sam says:

Thank you for a wonderful article. As a Baha’i I’m very interested in this topic as rather curiously, the Baha’i Writings revere and love the Buddha as a “Manifestation of God” of the same rank and station as Moses, Christ, Muhammad, Baha’u'llah etc… and His teachings are just as valid even though He seems (from what we know) to have dodged the question. This initially seems odd, especially to Baha’is of Judeo-Christian background who bring their concepts of God with them, but closer inspection of our teachings reveals something very mysteriously beautiful: our concept of God is so far removed from anything Judeo-Christian (yet at the same time can be totally in keeping with it if we so prefer) that, as in Buddhism, the question is almost irrelevant. As a fiercely rational scientist and ex-atheist my understanding of God based on Baha’i Writings resonates very much with what His holiness The Buddha taught. Thus it is no surprise that I find so much similarity between our understanding and yours. ‘God’ bless you for a great article :)

October 29, 2009 at 3:54 pm
(28) Therapon says:

Some very interesting comments here. As a practising Hellenic Polytheist I feel I should point out that nearly all of these comments as well as the original post all relate to ‘beliefs’ about the divine. This is the ‘elephant in the room’ ‘belief’. Those of us that still worship the Gods don’t base our religious practices on beliefs. Hellenismos is an ‘orthopraxic’ religion it’s based on practice not faith. We simply take it for granted that the Gods exist, are real and leave it to the individual to contemplate the true nature of the divine.

The second point I would like to make is that stories about the Gods are not there to explain the origins of the world , they’re their to explain the origins of the human experience of the divine.

Kind regards

Therapon

January 14, 2010 at 8:04 am
(29) onglai says:

god is inside your heart… those statue we pray for is just for us to learn the way they live..

March 12, 2010 at 5:37 am
(30) C.E. says:

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your article. The conversational way it was written is wonderful.

I even learned a few things I had not considered while observing those that follow Buddhism, and I thank you for that.

I do hope that you continue to write and comment on things you find dear.

November 10, 2010 at 4:53 pm
(31) Owrang says:

I think if Buddha said “belief in God is irrelevent” does not therefore mean God does not exist. He may be saying that if one claims to believe in God and yet does not reflect His teachings in his life then it is a hollow belief.
Also it is not “dumb” as the author describes the divine,relegious morality and its apparent clash with relegious violence in the world. It is like saying schools and universities do not exist because there are many uneducated people in the world. Some people choose to be free and stay away from education and some who go to school will use their education to invent and construct more ways to kill other people. The point is as with relegion we all have free will and can first choose to further our aducation and then to use it wisely and constructively for the good of mankind. If you put away all your prejudices and and investigate the history of all relegions you will find that their spiritual and social teachings initially united people in a common bond and brought love and peace (relative to their times). Only when a given relegion becomes old, diversifies into many branches, misunderstandings and deliberate misinterpretations become rife and is used as a political tool that relegion loses its soul. At such times we are sometimes better off without relegion. But I believe from time to time God sends another messanger throughout the ages with a new revelation.
By the way can you compare a relegious psycopath with a athiest psycopath. It is only fair.
Finally regarding Buddha not answering what you call the big questions and Buddha referring to them as unskillful questions indicates to me the peoples lack of intelligent questions in the context of that time.
I think for me there is undoubtedly God in the Buddhist faith.

November 10, 2010 at 6:01 pm
(32) Barbara O'Brien says:

I think if Buddha said “belief in God is irrelevent” does not therefore mean God does not exist.

If you stay with Buddhism long enough you realize the question of whether God exists is irrelevant, never mind what you choose to believe. The question is, what is existence? What is the nature of existence? Do you exist? If so, how? Mahayana/Madhyamika philosophy teaches us not to think in terms of any phenomenon existing nor not existing. This includes ourselves.

Nothing is separate. There is no one outside yourself to “send” anything. The God of monotheism as imagined by Christians, Jews and Muslims cannot exist in the reality that we come to perceive through practice. There is no God as you seem to understand God in the Buddhist “faith.” Sorry.

December 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm
(33) Owrang says:

To Barbara
What are you “sorry” for? I dont understand that comment. Who says there is no one outside ourselves. Much of what you say is someones ideas and with no foundation ( simply a fallible persons philosophy) I think getting bogged down with questions like do I exist is a waste of time and not constructive.

December 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm
(34) Barbara O'Brien says:

Owrang — this is a Buddhism website. We’re discussing Buddhism. According to Buddhist teaching, you exist, but not in the way you think you do. Everything else exists, but not in the way you think it does. This is very important to some of us. But if the topic doesn’t interest you, you are welcome to leave it all alone and go annoy someone else on the Web. Thanks much.

January 14, 2011 at 12:43 pm
(35) Tomas says:

Ok Barbara, then why don’t YOU explain God in Buddhism, instead of beating about the bush with “you exist, but not in the way you think you do. Everything else exists, but not in the way you think it does.”

What the heck kind of answer is that?

That doesn’t answer Owrang at all, it just looks like an poor attempt to sound profound and ends up looking like prevarication.

January 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm
(36) Barbara O'Brien says:

What the heck kind of answer is that?

Buddhism is not a religion of belief, but a religion of practice. The purpose of the practice is to enable us to break through the limitations of ordinary cognitive knowledge and see reality for what it is; this is called “enlightenment.” But until you’ve done that, no explanation will help you. Because realization lies outside ordinary cognitive knowledge, words and concepts cannot explain it.

So, the answer to the question is to go find a dharma teacher and work with him or her for a few years, and maybe you’ll realize it.

I go into more detail on this matter in a couple of more recent posts; see “The Mystic Eye” and “Ryutan Blows Out the Candle.” See also the beginner’s introduction to the Heart Sutra.

Regarding existence, the Madhyamika teachings of Nagarjuna are foundational to Mahayana Buddhism, and Madhyaika tells us that beings and phenomena neither exist nor do not exist. Now, “believing in” that as a doctrine is pointless; it makes no sense. It is only through direct experience of suchness that one sees the truth of it.

January 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm
(37) Tomas179 says:

continued….

“God” does not necessarily refer to a single “being”, it can also refer to “spirit”. To be frank, the English language is not well suited to describe “god”.

Even though “God” in Buddhism is not [usually] seen as a “godhead” or a “person” Buddhism definitely does believe in the divine and life after death etc, and definitely a “Spiritual world”

regards

January 14, 2011 at 8:17 pm
(38) Tomas179 says:

You still didn’t describe Buddhism’s conceptualization of God. I should mainstream/orthodox Buddhism.

I mean no offence but to be brutally honest, your reply comes off as further prevarication!

I am aware of the concept of God in “new age aka liberal aka atheistic Buddhism, but Buddhism does have a belief in “God”

Sorry but I think you are being disingenous Barbara!

Your answer sounds more like “oh I can’t explain it to you so err, go off and work with a dharma teacher…..”

God is Buddhism might not be seen as a “person” but nevertheless Buddhism believes in “God” – yes I know you are going to say “it’s not like that, you have to meditate/become skilled/work with a teacher to understand it…..etc etc” but that is more prevarication!

Simply put, please tell us if YOU believe Buddhism has:

1. A higher power/divine entity or belief in divinity

Because if you answer no you are an “atheist Buddhist” and that is not traditional or orthodox Buddhism.

I KNOW that in Buddhism BELIEF in God/The Divine/Higher power etc are not doctrine or dogma or are said to be *unnecessary*, and that good deed and conduct are of primary importance (and that is noble)

But the question was does Buddhism have belief in the divine. If it does it is not “atheism”

The honest truth is that Buddhism has been “reinterpreted” (in my opinion hijacked) by western “new age” types who want a religion without having to believe in “god” when traditional Buddhism itself definitely believes in the “divine”. Regardless of whether or not the divine is a “person” or whether we can or cannot “understand the divine without enlightenment” (actually God is truly ineffable and therefore beyond man’s understanding), real Buddhism most definitely believes in the divine, and not as a “concept”

To say god is a “concept” is just new age hooey

….

January 14, 2011 at 9:32 pm
(39) Barbara O'Brien says:

1. A higher power/divine entity or belief in divinity

Because if you answer no you are an “atheist Buddhist” and that is not traditional or orthodox Buddhism.

I KNOW that in Buddhism BELIEF in God/The Divine/Higher power etc are not doctrine or dogma or are said to be *unnecessary*, and that good deed and conduct are of primary importance (and that is noble)

But the question was does Buddhism have belief in the divine. If it does it is not “atheism”

Son, you don’t know Buddhism from spinach. I’ve practiced Zen for 20 plus years and have worked with highly regarded teachers, getting a grounded old-school education in traditional Buddhism, so I have a pretty good idea of what it is, and you don’t get it.

I say again, in Zen, we are taught to not divide the world into “divine” and “not divine.” Everything is divine. Everything is not divine. Dichotomies such as divine/mundane are a delusion. As it says in the Hsin Hsin Ming (Chinese, 6th century,)

Do not remain in the dualistic state — avoid such pursuits carefully.

If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong, the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.

Although all dualities come from the One, do not be attached even to this One.

When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way, nothing in the world can offend, and when such a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way.

And in fact, the One is neither one nor many. This is beginner-level Mahayana. Nothing is separate; all phenomena inter-exist. No thing or being has an intrinsic existence or permanent “self,” (the doctrine of shunyata) and if there is a God that would also be true of God, and in the dharmakaya God would be indistinguishable from cow poop. So what’s the point of singling out part of the great ocean of existence and labeling it “God”?

Words like “God” (as westerners understand the word; the Sanskrit “deva” is an entirely different critter) or “atheism” don’t function within Buddhism. A person working within the traditional teachings is neither atheist nor not-atheist, Stephen Batchelor notwithstanding.

Now, I realize much of what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense to you. You have to put in the time and do the practice before it all clarifies. That’s what Buddhism IS, actually.

To say god is a “concept” is just new age hooey

No, in Mahayana Buddhism, all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence, and whatever identities they have as individual phenomena are just concepts we project onto them. (See, for examlple, “A Few Words About Emptiness” by Zen teacher Norman Fischer) So, “you” are a concept, and so am “I.” We exist, but not in the way we imagine we do. This is not “New Age,” but old-school Buddhist philosophy developed many centuries ago. Madhyamika dates to about the 2nd century CE, for example.

There are different views on the nature of existence within Buddhism. See, for example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama (who’s an old-school guy):

It is said that inanimate objects do not have an inherent existence but a conventional one. This applies not only to inanimate objects but also to animate objects– that is, to beings endowed with conscious-ness. In this respect, the inanimate world is on an equal basis with the animate world of living beings. As far as the relation between the external world and the inner world (the mind) is concerned, according to certain philosophical schools, in particular the Yogacara Svatantrika (a sub-school of Madhyamika) and the Cittamatra, external phenomena do not exist; all that exists is of the nature of the mind. Relativity is explained principally by the Prasangika branch of the Madhyamika school. According to the Madhyamika-Prasangika school, external phenomena exist and are not of the nature of the mind. They have no inherent or ultimate existence, but their nature is different from that of the mind. The outer world exists in dependence on the mind, insofar as it exists as a designation made by the mind. It does not, therefore, exist independently from the mind’s imputation, nor is it of the nature of the mind. Therefore, an external world which can be examined objectively does exist.

I’m telling you this not to persuade you of anything, but to try to show you that there are vast oceans of stuff about Buddhism you don’t know about, and you aren’t in a position to challenge my understanding.

If you want to continue this, I’d prefer to move it to the forum to give other people a whack at it. This post is an old one and I doubt anyone is seeing our conversation but us.

February 23, 2011 at 3:35 am
(40) Tomas179 says:

You so completely misunderstood what I said that you went off on the same tangent you were on before and missed the point I was making.

Everything you typed in your mini essay I already knew and wasn’t even refuting.

I understand Buddhism very well actually, I’ve studied comparative religions on and off for the last 22 years, and by the way it’s not wise to call a younger man “son” unless you want to be called “mama”….. :D

I also understand how spirituality and the human consciousness (and even Buddhist/Hindu thought on this) can be described through quantum physics which is my other area of interest.

I know very well that in Buddhism “everything” is divine.

I already made that clear.

That’s why I said it is ludicrous to describe Buddhism as “atheistic” and for Buddhists to call themselves “atheists”

It is ridiculous. Because “theism” is the belief in anything “divine”. (oh please don’t start with the pseudo-philosophical there is no such thing as a “thing” because you know what I mean)

Buddhism is Panentheistic. PanenTHEISTIC. That is the universe is “God”, but not the sum total of “God”. So outside the PHYSICAL UNIVERSE would be the spiritual or “heaven” realm which is in a sense synonymous with “God”.

So basically, Buddhism believes in the “divine”. As you so angrily pointed out (!) – and I wasn’t even saying anything to the contrary – rather I had stated that already: in Buddhism “everything is divine”.

Theism = Belief in the divine, NOT simply belief in a “deity” (ie, a man-like “god” or “heavenly being” which usually has the form of a person.

Also, to be fair, you belong to one sect of Buddhism, and Buddhists are many different sects with widely varying beliefs.

cont…..

February 23, 2011 at 3:38 am
(41) Tomas179 says:

continued….

But bottom line in Buddhism, “heaven” and “god”, or (“ultimate reality”) are synonymous in a sense.

I KNOW that you are going to say “it is more complicated than that…….” etc, but smetimes you have to encapsulate something and be straightforward.

The problem is that like many other Americans and other English speakers you seem to assume that the use of the term “God” refers only, and every narrowly to a “Deity”. It doesn’t.

The problem to be fair, is also due to this idiosyncrasy in the English language.

The true meaning of the word God would probably seem strange to English speakers and Westerners if they knew the root of the Indo-European word God actually means (it is Indo-Iranian in origin), but that is another matter.

Whatever you want to call it, “the absolute” “ultimate reality” – basically the same thing Hinduism believes in – and the belief in that continued in that in the daughter religion Buddhism – is synonymous with “God” in the Dharmic religions.

Both Hinduism and it’s offshoot Buddhism believe in what could be described as “the eternal” and the divine, except that Buddhists don’t believe this to be a “person”

That doesn’t mean “it” is not “god” however, so Buddhism doesn’t come even close to qualifying as atheism.

Though to be fair Vairocana could also be described as a personification of “god as described by Buddhism”

Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra itself describes how the “divine” is inside every person (or sentient being) !

continued…..

February 23, 2011 at 3:41 am
(42) Tomas179 says:

For example, the most common sect of Buddhism in the world is Pure Land, which centers around “Amida Buddha” (which is another “concept” as you say, since Amida Buddha is synonymous with heaven or “nirvana” in a way, but is also described as the “Omnipresent, Omniscient, Liberative Essence of Reality” which seem to stem from the Tathagatagarbha and Lotus Sutras which are central in Mahayana.

But bottom line in Buddhism, “heaven” and “god”, or (“ultimate reality”) are synonymous in a sense.

I KNOW that you are going to say “it is more complicated than that…….” etc, but smetimes you have to encapsulate something and be straightforward.

The problem is that like many other Americans and other English speakers you seem to assume that the use of the term “God” refers only, and every narrowly to a “Deity”. It doesn’t.

The problem to be fair, is also due to this idiosyncrasy in the English language.

The true meaning of the word God would probably seem strange to English speakers and Westerners if they knew the root of the Indo-European word God actually means (it is Indo-Iranian in origin), but that is another matter.

Whatever you want to call it, “the absolute” “ultimate reality” – basically the same thing Hinduism believes in – and the belief in that continued in that in the daughter religion Buddhism – is synonymous with “God” in the Dharmic religions.

Both Hinduism and it’s offshoot Buddhism believe in what could be described as “the eternal” and the divine, except that Buddhists don’t believe this to be a “person”

That doesn’t mean “it” is not “god” however, so Buddhism doesn’t come even close to qualifying as atheism.

Though to be fair Vairocana could also be described as a personification of “god as described by Buddhism”

Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra itself describes how the “divine” is inside every person (or sentient being) !

cont…..

February 23, 2011 at 3:42 am
(43) Tomas179 says:

I think Sokei An described it well also when he said:

“The creative power of the universe is not a human being; it is Buddha. The one who sees, and the one who hears, is not this eye or ear, but the one who is this consciousness. This One is Buddha. This One appears in every mind. This One is common to all sentient beings, and is God.”

All the rest of the stuff you said was irrelevant to the point I made in the first place.

Try to keep the pseudo-philosophy to a minimum so other readers will understand what you are saying, and so the argument doesn’t get convoluted with irrelevancies!

A simple question on whether Buddhism has a belief in the divine can be answered as such, without requiring a 10,000 word essay on how me and the keyboard I am typing on are “one and the same” or whatever…I know all that stuff you are trying to explain, but it wasn’t the issue being discussed.

I don’t understand why you even saw my post as a threat and a “challenge of your understanding”

I merely pointed out, plainly and simply that Buddhism is not atheism. It is Panentheism.

kind regards,

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