Wednesday, 3 June 2015

God and Buddhism

Greetings readers!

I believe in God. I am a Buddhist. Are these two views compatible, truly? Do most Buddhist sensibilities tend to go against any possibility of believing in God? Does it matter if we do believe in God or not as Buddhists? If we do, what kind of God would we believe in? 

These are all questions that many of us westerns face since God is always in our face somehow.

The idea of God and Buddhism has been explored by many scholars and has sat on the back of my mind and many of our readers, for sure.

I will not attempt to spell out or construct some kind of Buddhist theology because I don't think that's possible and that's how God likes it.

So why can't we construct a Buddhist theology? Are Buddhist questions and problems completely alien to the incorporation of Divinity?

There are two answers to this question and they both differ according to the way one views/believes in God. If one believes in God that is somehow above and separate from the world, is unchanged and can't change, is eternal and houses spiritual realms, then one has entered into fallacious and deluded ground. I do not believe there is much room for supernaturalism in the mind of modern folk. I state this across the board for any believer of anything. Supernaturalism not only enters into language it cannot speak, makes claims it cannot validate, damages the existential "make-up" of the person but also, strangely perpetuates conflict. 

The question now that I am begging is: is God necessarily a supernatural belief, and are all faiths that are theistic necessarily supernaturalistic? The obvious is no if one looks at an introduction to religious thought, or speaks to many modern believers. Yet, we must also not be under the misconception that every sensible person has the truth. (Not that I do....)

Buddhism does not escape supernaturalism often and remains atheistic in the same occasion making it another example that theistic belief is not an necessary part of any supernaturalism. Now that we have dismissed God from the corruption of supernaturalism where does God go?

This is where Buddhist "checks" can be setup to avoid ignorance, suffering, hate, and greed. The annihilation of supernaturalism is a big step in the process of clearing ignorance. We must constantly dig deeper, our endeavor is never over; we must constantly search for deeper premises. 

What kind of check ensures we do not suffer because of a faulty view in God? (All things are connected.) Can God decide to act in this world, intervening on certain occasion? Is God a player in history? The Buddhist answer is no. Is God a player in history is much more complicated and and a short no will not suffice. Buddhism demands transparency, proclaims temporality and an intensity of Life in the moment and those things are only "part" of God. I will come back to this.

Does God demand? Does God demand things that are not God's? Does God perpetuate a greed---my prayers are more and better than your prayers. Does righteousness, which is a combination of greed, hatred, and ignorance have any place within Buddhism?

We have setup a huge roadblock for God. There are a lot of things God cannot be:
1) a "being" outside the world.
2) Completely absolute with no connection to life lived in the moment.
3) the answerer of the traditional, or more supernatural intended prayers. 
4) supernatural 
5) an understood concept that is exhausted by words. We have no such capability. If we have any honesty at all then we ought to know that our most intense and mindful endeavors in the pursuit will only lead us to Wisdom and not always to answers.
6) God cannot be described in any anthropomorphic terms. No male, no female, no thinking....you see where this is going? (The heart sutra)

So if God cannot be certain things then it is not God. It goes against the very definition of God to be limited outright in so many ways. This is a valid point. Creating a God of the gaps, a concept that places God in any moment where "mystery" pops up in language that is alien, or damaging. God is not the explanation for any astronomical mystery, however twisted, from creation onward. This is just as reductionist as limiting God.

So what now? I stated earlier that we are on a constant pursuit for premises. Buddhism gives us tools to avoid certain blocks that will lead us away from a vision of awareness and mindful community. God must be a center, no, the center of all of this. From the depths of the abyss in the complexity of the Heart Sutra, the great call to Live Life on the Path comes with such assurance that it is a path worth walking. We know this because we breath every moment and think-I made it here-then breath again and stop thinking. The intensity of all experience that is felt only partially by humans is felt by all of the Universe itself, fully, in its transparency, in its awkward Absoluteness, in its totality.

Must we believe in God? No. Some would say that we do no matter what, some proclaim an entirely pluralist vision, I'm not sure where I stand. 

None of this is supernatural; it is more than humanistic because it affirms life with a grounding in reality itself and no temporal contract that we have written up.

We check as Budddhists that God can only be God if God is completely present in every single experience while being completely transparent as such. The absoluteness of God is language that Buddhism doesn't really speak, and that's okay. Yet God can be the center of it all, the confidence in the life of the path, the (for me, also Jewish) the burning bush dynamically burning my feet as I tread incinerating paths of wisdom.

8 comments:

  1. the god(s) the buddha spoke of are engaged in the same endeavor as we humans, trying to penetrate to the truth of emptiness, that there really isn't an "absolute" reality. the experience, the experienced, and the one who experiences, all of these are mere conventional designations and ultimately unreal. imputing an "absoluteness" to them, so as to allow one to cling to belief in a truly existing God, doesn't seem to accord with the buddha's basic teachings. but whatever works for you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am inclined to agree with you.

      Delete
  2. Not that I think Buddha is the Supreme Court on the matter of God (or anything, really), but Buddha, as we know, had no opinion on whether there is or is not a God.

    I cannot believe that any of the Gods 'out there' are "real." Not Jehovah or Mohammed or Zeus or Poseidon. Any God who is all-powerful and allows three-year-old children to be run over by cars and die in agony, bleeding out on the road, ain't worth shit and can get no attention from me. But it CAN be that there is a silent God out there, but I don't see what purpose that serves. He could be the creator of the universe -- and, yes, would necessarily be supernatural -- but we are left with the problem of what higher God created Him.

    Like it is with turtles, I think there are (maybe) Gods "all the way down" -- which I think necessarily means there are no Gods. [One divided by Zero equals ... ]

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree with you Thomas, no "out-there" God is real and no human word or human conception of God will suffice in anyway to meet the criteria of what we generally accept as being "God." The reverse is also true, we accept a lot of qualities that are based on human interpretation of power and give it to God. I believe I made a decent case against a theism that is necessarily supernaturalistic but ultra naturalistic.

    ReplyDelete
  4. An interesting post, Denis. Just a couple of musings:

    'Supernaturalism not only enters into language it cannot speak' - well, yes, you are quite right, but so does mysticism and even radical scepticism. Nargarjuna himself was only too aware of the limits of language, and the Madhyamaka tradition is based almost entirely on the premise that linguistic cognitions are necessarily bound up with essentialist notions and are thus inadequate for expressing anything other than conventions (i.e. cannot express ultimates; of which god, usually understood, would be one). So I think that whilst you have a point in the very general sense, it is somewhat disingenuous to assert that supernaturalism is any less a thesis owing to its inability to express *everything*.

    It could be argued (and is, in fact) that if a supernaturalist doctrine were able to express *all that is expressible*, this would suffice. That would place any god outside of human conceptual cognition (as Eckhart, Pseudo-Dionysius, Maimonides would have us do) but still allow for what I guess is a concept of 'divinity' and 'divine experience' which jettisons all things anthropomorphic in principle if not in practise (how many mystics report visions of anthropomorphic avatars?).

    'The question now that I am begging is: is God necessarily a supernatural belief, and are all faiths that are theistic necessarily supernaturalistic? The obvious is no if one looks at an introduction to religious thought, or speaks to many modern believers. Yet, we must also not be under the misconception that every sensible person has the truth. (Not that I do....)

    Buddhism does not escape supernaturalism often and remains atheistic in the same occasion making it another example that theistic belief is not an necessary part of any supernaturalism. Now that we have dismissed God from the corruption of supernaturalism where does God go?'

    It appears to me that there is nothing obvious about dealing with this question, and it indeed has two sides: you first ask whether belief in God is necessarily supernatural but don't really deal with the question in any meaningful sense. The claims to be made are that supernatural belief can be rationally justified (or not), and/or that theistic belief can be rationally justified (or not). I think that these questions could be probed fruitfully from a Buddhist perspective, and I would personally be of the same opinion as tamizharasan above regarding theism.

    Second, you make a jump and say that 'theistic belief is not an necessary part of any supernaturalism' - whether or not this is true (and I'm not fully convinced that it is if we want to use 'theism' in any recognisable way), that wasn't actually what you initially asked. You first asked. Whether *belief in god is necessarily supernatural* (and so whether theism is necessarily supernatural) or whether *supernaturalism is necessarily theistic* are two very different things. I don't think we *have* dismissed god from the realm of the supernatural here and have rather conflated two different positions and confused the issue rather than clarifying it.

    What is interesting for me is the use of god-like symbols as archetypes. One could argue that the Buddha himself is held up as archetype to aid in the correct spiritual praxis. I have some sympathy for positions that make the case that gods-as-archetypes serve the same purposes in other religious traditions. This would make god-imagery contingent and conventional, not absolute.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yo. I don't mean to drag a crippled horse out of the barn, but allow me first to mention in passing that I wrote a blogpost for ProgBud nearly four years ago, titled "Confessions of a Skyhooks Buddhist" which has some similarities in tone if not in specifics with Denis's post, here, "God and Buddhism."

    I differ with Denis in being uncomfortable with use of the G-word. The Abrahamic religions have been such an enormous bother I like to step away from them and leave the G-word at their feet. My interest, which may well be God neutered of his meta-dimensions that are all-powerful, looking down at us from his box-seats outside the multiverse, is one of attraction to the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

    Now, I don't mean any of this in the Republican sense -- making use of Good, True, Beautiful as three cudgels to beat sinners' heads with. Rather, I think there is something about being sentient that allows G, T, & B to pull us up from the mire. Whether there is some real God of any depiction rattling around in space or in a spaceless space somewhere, I cannot know. I only know no "personal" God speaks to me. And that is not because I am not listening; it is because He is deaf, dumb and blind or, maybe, taking a very, very long vacation in Las Vegas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! I remember that post, Tom. 4 years? 4 years! Eeeash... I too have found myself uncomfortable with the word 'God'; but also, as I hang out more with Unitarian Universalists, find myself quickly translating it into 'Cosmos' or some such thing in my head when I hear it from a friendly (non-Republican sinners' head beating) source.

      Delete
  6. I have found the Kabbalah entirely consistent with Buddhism. Even though Isvara is better known through Hinduism thre are also Buddhist references, and I find "him " compatible with JHVH.

    ReplyDelete