Seven weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.”
The general theme of this series is to highlight the fact that even though the orthodox Buddhist view is that most traditions of Buddhism are atheist traditions, there are many passages in the Buddhist Sutras that refer to Gods and heavenly states and devas (angels) and the like.
I have presented the case that these passages suggest that the Theravada Buddhist tradition is not really as much of an atheist tradition as their leading teachers claim.
As noted in earlier posts, my goal is not to imply that atheists should become believers. Rather the goal is to encourage people to carefully read and think about the key books that are the foundation of their tradition. Also to ask probing questions about any contradictions they may find in those books and the traditions that developed out of these canonical texts.
From this reflection and discernment one can realize there are no perfect books, though many books contain a perfect message in key passages. Another realization is that no tradition has “all the answers” even if they say they do (and most say they do).
From a careful study of the gap between what is written in the sacred books of a tradition, as compared with what the leading teachers of a tradition say, one can come to realize the importance of being able to think for one self.
It is also possible that as people ask the tough probing questions of their tradition they will be able to better reflect on the key unanswered questions of that tradition. As people live with these sustained reflections, and at the same time continue to practice to the best of their ability within their tradition, I hope there will be moments of unexpected creativity. I hope some members of each culture will break free from the attachments to ancient dogma, without losing contact with the essential truths of some of the ancient dogmas and practices. I also hope as people break free from blind attachment to dogma, and broaden the circle of their understanding by comparative study of other cultures, that each of the traditions will continue to evolve. My hope is this organic evolution will generate a body of beliefs and practices that will allow the ancient traditions to survive the tsunami of modern rationalism and global consumer culture which generally threaten to drown the world in a sea of violent and savage mediocrity.
Before I wrap up this series, I want to draw on one final teaching from the movements that sought to reform Theravada Buddhism. The reform movements within Buddhism I am referring to are Mahayana Buddhism in general and Zen Buddhism in particular.
That general image or concept is called “Buddha Nature.”
This term is not used in the culture of Theravada Buddhism that I have been focusing on the past few weeks. Rather it seems to have developed in the early centuries of the Common era in the Mahayana Buddhist reforms of India, China, and Japan in the period roughly extending from the 2nd to the 8th century of the common era.
Here is a citation from a Buddhist site Buddhism.about.com
“Theravada Buddhism did not develop a doctrine of Buddha Nature. However, other early schools of Buddhism began to describe the luminous mind is a subtle, basic consciousness present in all sentient beings, or as a potentiality for enlightenment that pervades everywhere.
(Please see (http://buddhism.about.com/od/mahayanabuddhism/a/Buddha-Nature.htm)
I want to draw particular attention to this phrase, ” …a subtle, basic consciousness present in all sentient beings…”
In this theme from Mahayana Buddhist and Zen culture one can see how closely this matches Christian beliefs, and the beliefs of other God centered traditions, that divine life is the foundation of all reality.
Once again I am not saying that Buddhists should become Christians. I am saying that it will prove to be helpful to Buddhists to reflect on those concepts in their culture such as “the deathless” (Theravada) or “Buddha Nature” (Mahayana) or “Original Mind” (Tibetan).
What are these terms referring to if not God?
Is not God ” …a subtle, basic consciousness present in all sentient beings…”?
Or as St. Paul says Acts 17:28
“He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being…”
To be even handed, I pose the same magnitude of questions to Christians or Jews or Muslims and others about the serious contradictions in their own sacred books and traditions. In particular, how could a loving God have created the human, animal, insect, plant, microbial and viral forms of being where there is so much struggle, violence, crippling, and devastation?
It is important to remember that Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Confucius, Lao-Tze, the authors of the Upanishads, and the Buddha significantly challenged the cultures they were born into, while still preserving much of the ideas, language, customs and practices of their cultures.
I am sure the teachers, stewards, reformers, and renegades of the near and distant futures will do much the same. But what form these re-forms will have, none can say. Also there will be many attempts at reform (such as Mormonism) that miss the mark by a wide degree.
The challenge will be to find the balance between really knowing the ancient cultures, and being living witnesses to an ancient culture, while still being open to the intuitions and inspirations to meaningful reform that arise from sincere practice within the culture.
What do you think?
Will there be a reform movement in Buddhism that openly talks about God as an alternative description of “Buddha Nature?”
Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.
will at meditation practice dot com ( spelled out to limit spam)