Friday, November 07, 2008

Is there God in Buddhism?

1.
The answer to the often asked question, "Is there God in Buddhism?" is first No and then Yes.

Its definitely No for those who like to imagine God as an old man with long white beard living somewhere above the cloud in a place called Heaven. Buddha was not interested that petty, absurd personification. Nor he was for idols. In the time of Buddha (around 500 BCE) it was already a land where God ideal was filtered through limited imaginations and turned to man made idols. Buddha himself was big against idol worship and would strongly disapprove those who make and bowdown to his statues. Although many fragments of imagination of God ideal was there in his time, yet people were fighting over 'your God vs. my God' delusion (which still humanity as a whole hasn't really come out of even about 2500 years later). One can safely say that there is no idea of God in Buddhism when best people could do is to associated limited human attributes with the Divine and could not grasp the absolute transcendent nature of the Divine.

Because historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama didn't entertain the question of God directly doesn't mean he negated the concept of God. Buddha by no mean was an atheist. He didn't entertain the question of God and any creation myth because people were fighting over ethnocentric imagination and idol centric God ideals and it didn't solve their problems. Buddha's spiritual genius was to help people see their divine nature within and to achieve the perfection through the cultivation of that true nature which he called 'return to original nature'. His mission was to find the simple truth in life which helps people achieve freedom from sufferings.

Every world teacher when they appear they negate and reform the already dead, old tradition. If we take the example of Jesus Christ, he faced enormous challenges from the Jewish religion which badly needed reform and fresh vision at his time. Since Judaism was filled with "dont do this", "dont do that", hundreds of complicated rules, lists after lists for sabbath and other rituals - the whole religion became a shell devoid of spirit. Naturally Christ was not interested in those rules and hundreds of regulations. So we find Christ teaching is not about rules and regulation about what to do and not to do on certain day of week or years but transcending beyond those.

Similar was the case of Buddha. Just like Christ who strongly and openly criticized the pharisees and doctors of religion of his time who monopolized the religion, so did Buddha dismissed the limited imagination of the so called religious doctors of his time as "foolish talk", as "ridiculous, mere words, a vain and empty thing". For Buddha the notion that the false, ego centric Brahmins (the priestly caste), who have not realized Brahma, can teach others how to achieve union with - is something to criticize about. This is not a denial of the existence of Brahma, but a radical vision and attempt to discover the truth from a different dimension, starting first with discarding that which doesn't hold the truth: the limited notion about God.

Wahiduddin writes in his article Buddha leading us to God: "He saw that on-going arguments over whether or not "my god is better than your god" were not bringing insight to mankind, but were actually resulting in painful division, misunderstanding, hatred and violence. He saw that instead of the people's belief in Brahman bringing them together in peace, their religion often led to petty bickering over which gods, goddesses and attributes were superior. Siddhartha also noted that many unenlightened teachers were leading the people astray and using either the love of God or the wrath of God as the reason for every action. But that approach was leading only to more pain and suffering. Over time, Siddhartha was shown that there was another path, a path that would rise far above and beyond such arguments, divisiveness and hatred."

If we place Buddha in his unique time and culture in which he was raised, we will come to appreciate why his teachings were not theo-centric. The hindu religious tradition in which Buddha was born already had a very mature understanding of all pervading Brahma (Divine). Buddha rephrased the absolute transcendence aspect of Brahma which is non-describable, which is beyond word and called it the Ultimate Reality, the Ultimate Goal, the Ultimate Void or Sunnyata. As a mystic Buddha very well knew that the Ultimate Reality is beyond word; every attempt to describe that Reality must come to fail, hence he maintained his silence on the direct question of God. But in his teaching, the concept of Sunnyata, the Great Void (Emptiness) is the pointer to That Which is Unspeakable.

2.
Infact the description of Buddha's Emptiness is not far from how Brahma (God) is described in hindu sacred scripture Upanishad. Here is a comparison:

In the highest golden sheath is Brahman, stainless, without parts; Pure is it, the light of lights. This is what the knowers of the Self know. The sun shines not there, nor the moon and stars, these lightnings shine not, where then could this fire be? His shining illumines all this world. Brahman, verily, is this Deathless. - Mundaka Upanishad

And Buddha's teaching recorded in Buddhist scripture of the description of Emptiness as: (Emptiness is) where water, earth, heat and wind find no footing, there no stars gleam, no sun is made visible, there shines no moon, there the darkness is not found; When the sage, the brahmin, himself in wisdom knows this place he is freed from the form and formless realms, from happiness and suffering. - the Udana

3.
In some major traditions of Mahayana Buddhism (the Tathagatagarbha and Pure Land streams of teaching) there is a notion of The Buddha as the Omnipresent, Omniscient, Liberative Essence of Reality (not the historical Buddha, but The Buddha). The Buddha is spoken of as generators of vast "pure lands", "Buddha lands", or "Buddha paradises", in which beings will unfailingly attain Nirvana.

The concept of Adi-Buddha or Primordial Awakened One is present there in Buddhism which is also notion of the Divine. The concept of Adi-buddha is from the Kalachakra (Cycle of Time) teachings in Buddhism. As presented in the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Adi-buddha is beyond words, beyond concepts, unimaginable. That exactly is the Transcendence attribute of the Divine, its just the difference in terminology but in essence the concept of the Divine Reality is there.

The "God idea" forms the part of Theravada where refuge in Buddha is the supreme and unequaled refuge which allows release from all suffering - with the "deathless realm of Nirvana" a hint of an impersonal, transcendental Absolute.

A further name for this irreducible, time-and-space-transcending mysterious Truth or Essence of Buddhic Reality is the Dharmakaya (Body of Truth).

The term Amitabha Buddha reserved for the Most Supreme concept in Mahayana School of Buddhism and also Pure Land Buddhism is simply translatable as "Fully Conscious Infinite Light". Does it ring a bell?

Zen Buddhism goes deeper where it incorporate the Mysteriousness of God. Zen master Sokei-An said: The creative power of the universe is not a human being; it is Buddha (Completely Awakened Consciousness). 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.

4.
Some mystics love to interpret the affirmation of divine reality, "La ilaha illaLla" as "no thing truly exists but Absolute". And Buddha, a mystic himself - two major theme of his teaching are Impermanence and Emptiness. Impermanence (anitta) is about the fact that every "thing" in this manifest world of creation is always rising and passing away, coming and going, its very outer reality is made with impermanence and everything is ephemeral; and literally la ilaha means, "no thing" is worthy of worship. This was also a part of Buddha's teaching where he shunned worship of all man made idols and objects calling them useless.

Also Emptiness or Sunyata can be seen as a quality of the Absolute. Sunyata means when every 'thing' else efface and only That which remains. The concept of Emptiness in Buddha's teaching embodies the Divine paradox as stated in Heart Sutra: "Hear, O Sariputra, emptiness is form; form is emptiness. Apart from form, emptiness is not; apart from emptiness, form is not. Emptiness is that which is form, form is that which is emptiness." (from Emptiness or the Essence comes everything, hence form is emptiness, emptiness is form).

Similar mystical quality of the Divine is also found in theistic religious tradition when Divine is described with similar paradox: "The Divine encompasses everything and nothing encompasses the Divine." Also the Divine is seen as the Source of all and its quality is not created, it is ever living without a beginning or an end.

In Heart Sutra again we read: "Hear, O Sariputra, all phenomena of existence are marked by Emptiness: not arisen, not destroyed, ... not deficient."

So the concept of the Divine is present there in Buddhism, but since its not a personalized picture of God, hence rest of the traditions (specially those from who has personified picture of God) have a hard time grasp this Divine Reality which is beyond the idea of beyond.

The great mystic Mansur al-Hallaj said: "You know and are not known; You see and are not seen."

5.
'Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Swaha.'

Gone, gone, gone beyond,
completely beyond the idea of beyond.
There behold the arrival of illumination!

- from the Heart Sutra.

The Divine - there is no deity but One. The King, The Most Pure, The Perfect Peace, The Trustworthy, The Safeguarder, The Almighty, The Compeller, The Supremely Great. Glory be to the Divine Essence, beyond and above all that limited mind associate with.

- from Quran, Surat al-Hashr, 59:23.


# Reference:
. The Buddhist Path and One Light
. Where is God in Buddhism?
. God in Buddhism
. The Nirvana Sutra and its teachings on the Supreme and Eternal Self of Buddha
. Buddha Never Bowed Before a Statue, and Jesus Never Kneeled Before a Cross
. Buddha's teaching
. God in Buddhism: Is there One?
. Buddhism by Swami Sivananda Pin It Now!

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