The Buddha and God - Buddha did not deny God's existence
The Buddha and God
Buddha did not deny God's existence. He denied the limited perceptions about what that existence is.
9/24/2006 6:35 AM
re burl's comments...
thanks for the excellent research and commentary.... but again, it goes to semantics in India, in its theological history and etc.
The"Great God"you referred to is clearly a reference to Indra...who is called the"King of the gods."
In Western theology there is a list of 13 archangels and that list has a hierarchy of power. I think the more well known ones like Michael and Gabriel are about half-way down the list. Indra refers to the being at the top of that hierarchy. I forgot his Western name, I know a couple of the ones near the top are Sandalphon and Metatron (sorry, spelling may be off a bit).
What the Buddha was discussing was that even Indra, who is just slightly shy of full liberation, still exists within the karmic wheel. This is the same comment that Christ made about John the Baptist - that he had no rival among men, but in Heaven was still not a"full member"of the host of perfected beings. It is some stage of advanced spiritual development...there is moksha (Sanskrit), which is liberation and allows the being not to reincarnate. Then there is a higher experience called self-realisation - I think the Sanskrit is"siddhi."That is, so-called full"perfection."
Yes, the Buddha did mock the religion as it was practiced by these"Pharisees"of his day - these faux ascetics. But he did not mock the real ascetics...and it is quite a challenge, wading through the Vedantic theological subtleties to see the differences.
And the other statements you made, about Buddha and God are also in this context....the difference being him commenting on the limited views about God...that is true. He is not denying God's existence. He is denying the limited perceptions about what that existence is.
And he is going into complex Vedantic theological subtleties to do so. One really has to be quite versed in, say, the difference between Kali and Parvati (who are the same being) to understand the emphasis, metaphor and illustrative value to the teaching.
That is why the phrase"Great God"seems to refer to the Supreme Being, when those in India at the time of his teaching would immediately recognize this as a reference to Indra.
You know, in the same way that if someone in New York referred to the"lord"of the Yankees...they would know it is a sarcastic reference to George Steinbrenner and not a reference to the deity that the Yankees worshipped. One has to know the culture of theology in India, the culture of theology in popular view in India at the time, the culture of theology of the true ascetics in India at the time, and the culture of the (fadistic and cult-like) faux ascetics of the time, in that era, in India. Unfortunately, it really is that complex to fully understand the references.
In India there is a pervasive kind of superstition based religion and then there is, say, the priesthood's version of religion. And the difference is like the difference between Santeria and Christianity. It is that dramatic.
The ascetics in India have always included some"survivalist"kind of lunatics...as well as deeply religious hermits.
The Buddha's audience was familiar with all these distinctions and since he was speaking to them, and not a modern audience, he did not necessarily reference everything and in great detail.
So, unfortunately, unwinding the mess of it all can be pretty complex, that example of Indra is one of the ones that I am familiar with. I am sure that there are hundreds which I am not, yet which convey a far different meaning than one that can easily be gleaned with a modern eye that does not have these references.
The Buddha was very anti-Fundamentalist, if you will. It was a response to those crazy"survivalist"kind of ascetics, the crazy"Santeria-like"religious practices of the common people, and the limited and folksy kind of worship of God (like, say, some nice church going lady in the Midwest). In his attempt to fight these trends, he used strong metaphor and language. But he was not denying God's existence. Then, beyond that, he was trying to pass on a very advanced meditative attitude which did not want to"Affirm or deny." People have, understandably, taken this to mean a denial of God's existence. But that is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and not his intent. He was just trying to throw out"Fundamentalism," "survivalism," "Santeria," and"folksy religion."
nnn123 9/24/2006 12:59 PM
from the Sermon at Benares....
"As long as in these four noble truths, my due knowledge and insight with the three sections and twelve divisions was not well purified, even so long, monks, in the world with its gods, Mara, Brahma, its beings with ascetics, brahmins, gods and men, I had not attained the highest enlightenment. This I recognized."
Now, what you say is true, that the Buddha was teaching about the weaknesses of the various religious practices of his day. However, the above does not say that Mara (that is, say, Satan) and Brahma (the Supreme Being) do not exist. It merely is implying that as long as the Buddha held fast to these ideas and conceptions that were the cultural vogue of the religion of his day, he was getting nowhere. It is not a negation of the existence of these beings.
Just because there is a plane of consciousness in which there are no forms, does not mean forms can't exist, don't exist and it does not mean that God as a being does not exist.
And, in the world outside of Buddhism, we have the testimony of Sri Krishna and all the Hindu saints, Moses and all the Jewish saints, Christ and all the Christian saints, and Mohammad and all the Islamic saints. And this is the testimony of thousands of people, over the course of thousands of years, expressing the existence of God. Are they all simply lying? Are they all simply deluded? There is absolutley no evidence to suggest either, quite the opposite.
We can see this is the modern example of Mahatma Ghandi. He said that he heard a voice from God which directed him when to fast and for how long. Was he deluded? No, he was not deluded. He lived virtually his entire life in the public eye and never exhibited any mental illness. Was he lying? Again, his life is a shining example of some of the most extreme honesty ever exhibited in a human being.
And, then, the assertions of all those hundreds of saints, over the course of thousands of years.
No. The Buddha discovered the same reality that these saints discovered, but from a different path and methodology - and he used different language to describe these experiences. This is the testimony of the Indian saint Sri Ramakrishna, who practiced the paths of all the world's major religions and personally realised the goal of them all, and testified as to these goals being the same. And, as far as his veracity goes, he and his followers were recognized by Ghandi. Some of the Western followers later included Aldous Huxley, Dag Hammarskold - he had a very broad influence.
There was some mysticism in the United States in the time of Emerson and mentions of the East. But it did not take hold. Swami Vivekananda, of the Sri Ramakrishna mission, came to the US (and Britain) around the turn of the century and is one of the first, if not the first practitioner of Eastern religion to really establish a foothold in the West. Everyone of us with interests in Buddhism owes him a debt (and by the way, even though he was a Hindu, his favorite saint was the Buddha).
10/10/2006 1:02 PM
How does the"supreme god"concept fit into the Buddha's insight of impermanence?
It is about form and non-form. To attain to the state of nirvana, one must transcend all form. You can read more about this if you read the relationship between Sri Ramakrishna and Totapuri. Totapuri was a wandering non-dualist monk. Sri Ramakrishna was a devotion saint, who decided to personally practice the disciplines of all the major religions to see if they produced the same result, including non- dualist practices.
So, a form is a limited construction. But Sri Ramakrishna said, that if consciousness is an ocean, if some takes a form as an iceberg, that does not mean it is distinct from the ocean (the direct quote is much better).
If one is meditating and trying to break through the final boundary and release oneself into nirvana, it is there that attachment to form becomes a problem.
People have interpreted this to mean that Buddha said God did not exist. They are wrong.
How does the"supreme god"concept fit into the Buddha's insight of non-self?
English words are a big problem...self can mean ego, self can mean a subtler and higher state of consciousness...you can read more in Sri Yukteswar's work on the similarities between Christian and Hindu mysticism...
there is the mind, the intuitive mind, the overmind.. the astral body, the casual body and then, beyond that..
the"non-self" is not a negation of soul, it is a negation of the limited connection of ego to soul, which is not the true (or unlimited) being.
How does the"supreme god"concept fit into the Buddha's insight of dependent origination?
I need a scriptural reference for this, and please...at least two pages on either side of the discussion, not just a quick quote...
If someone wants to be a theist then be a theist. Why try to fit theism into Buddhism? I really don't understand.
The problem is, is that people meditate and gain some clarity and think it is nirvana. Others go farther and gain some light during meditation and think it is nirvana. Other go farther and get to a place where they can truly transcend many negative qualities and have light and compassion and all kinds of spiritual qualities...and yet, it is not nirvana. The problem is that people accept limitation. They don't try for the highest branch because the stop at a limited experience.
10/10/2006 1:02 PM
Buddha stopped a charging elephant with a look. Christ walked on water. Even Gandhi had an appendectomy without anesthetic. If we can't do these things, why do we assume that we have achieved the highest rung of the spiritual ladder?
That is the problem, because people truly don't know what the goal is...they look around the room, everyone else doesn't know what the goal is and the result is accommodating to limitation.
Whereas, the deists, with many of their own faults, to be sure, tend to believe that unless they see a vision of angels and talk with God, that they aren't quite there yet. They have faith that there is something beyond their own experience and don't assume to try and take others experience and re-interpret it to mean only what they have seen, felt and heard.
The disciples of Christ saw him resurrect a dead man, walk on water and etc. They also felt his overwhelmingly love and gentleness and compassion. These people lived. It was not a myth. The disciples of the Buddha had similar experiences around him. But somehow when we hear that the Buddha stopped an elephant, we think it must be a metaphor. No, he had occult power, he had mastery over the animal kingdom and he possessed all 8 of the occult powers of an illumined sage. Now they are not the goal, but unless we have them, we are not a fully illumined being.
No, nirvana is not a mood, it is not"being here now"or whatever else. If you enter into nirvana, you can come back to the real world and walk on water, resurrect dead people and on. If you can't do that, it is not because that was cutesy mythological language, it is because there is something far, far, far, far, beyond our own experience.
So, what is the point. The point is to keep trying hard on the path, because we are not there yet.
Take every single human quality of goodness and truth. We can examine ourselves. If we are not perfected in every single quality, we are not there yet.
In my monastic community there were a few people who not only did not get angry, they had never experienced what anger was, even in their mind.
Sri Ramakrishna said that he had never had a single thought of lust in his entire life. Not once.
It is said that the Virgin Mary's power and purity was such that in her presence, during her life, no one was ever able to even think a thought of lust around her - the force of her being chased it all away.
These saints - Buddhist or Christian or whatever...are just far, far, far beyond the kinds of"be here now"discussions...these are beings who can cure others of any disease they choose, beings who can solve any problem in any arena... Swami Vivekanada was once reading the Encyclopedia Britanica. Someone asked him what he read. He answered," which page"He had read the entire work, in one sitting and memorized the entire 30 volumes or whatever. And, when asked, he could recite the entire thing.
These beings are infinite and their abilities are infinite and that is the star to which we should aspire, not just being able to be calm or clear or strong or whatever else.
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