God and Buddhism
Part 7


Six 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.

However, the core of intellectual integrity is to approach any subject as dispassionately and objectively as one can. With this in mind it is important to be clear most Theravada Buddhists, and the teachers of most other Buddhist traditions, do not believe in God or the need for divine grace for a person to reach the highest goals of the spiritual life.

A good example of how the Buddha somewhat scornfully dismisses beliefs in an all- powerful creator, please see Sutta #1 “What the teaching is not” sections 2.1 to 2.7.

The Long Discourses of the Buddha  A Translation of the Digha Nikaya                    Wisdom Publications Somerville, MA 2012 Pages 75-76

In this passage the Buddha begins by saying that for one reason or another a being is reborn in an “Abhassara Brahma world.” This is a high plane of existence where beings live as beings of light, or devas, in great joy and ease for a very long time.

But through fatigue or loss of merits, one of these beings drops down a level of being into an “empty Brahma palace.” which is also a lofty plane of existence just not as high as the “Abhassara Brahma world.” Over time this being gets a little lonely and begins to wish other beings were present. When other beings also drop into this realm the first being begins to think, “I am Brahma, The Great Brahma….the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful Lord, the maker and creator, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.”

In short, the first fallen being starts to mistakenly describe their identity as being Brahma. The beings who appear later in this “empty-Bhrama palace” also start mistakenly thinking of the first one they meet there as being Brahma.

To appreciate the full significance of this, it helps to know that Buddhism developed in the midst of sixth or fifth century BCE in India, when Brahma was the name given to the supreme deity of the Indian culture of the time. With this in mind, this passage from Sutta #1 is saying the God the Indians have worshiped for centuries as the supreme deity is in actuality a deluded being who fell from a higher realm. Furthermore those who worship this being are also deluded into thinking something is true that is not. To say that this analysis is a bit disrespectful and specious is an understatement.

But, from a Buddhist perspective the most important feature in all such matters is this:

Even though in Buddhist texts there are many references to Brahma, heavenly states, devas, the 33 Gods, and the Ruler of the Gods, these realities are not seen as being that important. To Buddha and his followers all of these heavenly states and Gods are simply additional examples of impermanent states and beings.

To orthodox Theravada Buddhists the Buddha’s enlightenment is superior to all these states and beings for a very simple reason.  All states and beings however exalted are created. All that is created will pass away. Gods, devas, heavenly states, heavenly sights and sounds may be exalted and very pleasant, but like all created phenomena they will come to an end. In that end they will experience suffering and death and rebirth into the cycles of birth, suffering, and death.

But Nirvana is not a created state and therefore escapes the cycles of arising and passing away. What is surprising to me though is that Nirvana is often referred to as “The Deathless.” (I believe it is in Chapter 3 of the Dhammapada from the Pali Canon but I need to check that source).

What Buddhists are generally not willing to concede is that this “deathless” Nirvana state sounds a great deal like eternal life as described by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others. When you think about it “eternal life” and the “deathless” don’t really sound all that different do they?

But, perhaps the Buddhist teachers are right. Perhaps there is no real comparison between Buddhist Nirvana and Christian eternal life in Heaven.

Then again it is also possible Buddhist teachers refuse to consider the possibility that Nirvana and eternal life in God are very similar due to unwholesome attachments they have to the views of their teacher/savior Gotama (or the tradition that used his name to expound their views).

By the way even If this is the case, they are no less attached to their dogmas than Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others are to theirs.

Still it is a good question. What is this “Deathless” the Buddhists talk about?

Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.

More next week.



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God and Buddhism
Part 6

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Five weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.” If you have a moment, please see the 2nd and 3rd posts of this series for a general orientation. (The archive of past posts is on the lower right hand corner of the home page.)

The goal is not to say that Buddhists should believe in God, or that Christians should become Buddhists. The general direction is to encourage all people to think carefully about the foundations of their beliefs. The process is to pro-actively seek to uncover the contradictions and hazy assumptions upon which one’s beliefs, or the beliefs or others, are built.

A good example can be found in an article I cited last week by an Australian who converted to Buddhism and became a monk. His name is Venerable S. Dhammika.

For the text of his comments please see, “Do Buddhists Believe in God?”                   (on Buddhanet.net/ans73.htm). In his comments on this web page he mentions a number of orthodox Theravada Buddhist reasons why belief in God is simply incorrect or un-necessary.

I draw attention to this one particular assertion:

“Some claim that the belief in a god is necessary in order to explain the origin on the universe. But this is not so. Science has very convincingly explained how the universe came into being without having to introduce the god-idea.”

This statement is a good example of a comment where a monk could not possibly be as sure what he is saying is true as he asserts.

Here are several reasons why I say this based on general facts about Inflationary Cosmology. The basis for the numbered points below are drawn from an article by Charles Q Choi posted on Space.com “Our Expanding Universe Age, History and other facts”, The comments after each numbered paragraph are mine. (Inflationary Cosmology is a refinement of Big bang theory.)

1) In the first hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, according to inflationary cosmology the universe expanded at a rate that exceeds the speed of light.

But the speed of light is a cornerstone of 20th century physics. One answer posited to explain this violation of the speed of light is that it was not matter that expanded faster than the speed of light but rather that space between the matter is what expanded faster than the speed of light. How exactly this could have happened, let alone why, no one can say for sure.

2) For another example: in the first 3 minutes of the universe the temperature of the universe was at a high point of 100 nonillion degrees kelvin. This is 10 followed by 32 zeroes. This is more much more fthan a trillion times a trillion degrees of heat. This is a lot of heat. After the first three minutes the universe allegedly cooled down to a mere billion degrees.

Where did the original sub-atomic point the universe expanded from and all this heat come from?

3) Also, in this scenario, called the Inflationary model of the origins of the universe, the universe began as a point as small as a sub-atomic particle.

The only problem is that the density of this small point would be so great that any attempt to understand this super dense particle through the standard lens of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity is not possible. It is well established that there is no known way to reconcile the mathematics of these 2 disparate, but equally venerable scientific theories. So the foundation assumptions of 20th century physics that describe time and space and sub-atomic activity cannot in any way explain what supposedly was going on at the moment of creation.

Are these three points enough to prove that scientists have not convincingly proved much of anything about the origins of the universe despite what Venerable Dhammika asserts? If not, quite a few more could be added.

None of this is to imply that these unanswered questions in physics mean that therefore only God could have created the universe.

But I think these points and others like them should be enough of an indication that physicists are far from being able to offer a convincing explanation of the origins of the universe as Venerable S. Dhammika insists is the case in his article.

Since physicists have no convincing explanation of how the universe was created it is not possible for anyone to rule out the possibility that some form of divine act or divine will was and is the primary force of creation.

So for Buddhists to say there is no God, based on 21st century physics, is just as unfounded an assumption as it is for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others to say that God definitely exists in the way they say God exists because their books say so.

Living with this kind of uncertainty is destabilizing for most people so a lot of people choose one of the available answers and cling to it.

But the ability to live with significant levels of uncertainty may be one of the prime traits needed for enlightenment.

Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.

More next week.



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God and Buddhism
Part 5

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Four weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.” If you have a moment, please see the posts of the last two weeks for a general orientation on the series. (The archive of past posts is on the lower right hand corner of the home page.)

It is true that the Theravada Buddhist teachers I have heard in person, and those writers I have studied, are emphatic that Buddhism is an atheist tradition. A good example of this view can be found in Venerable S. Dhammika’s written comments, “Do Buddhists Believe in God?” (on Buddhanet.net/ans73.htm). In his notes on this web page he mentions a number of orthodox Buddhist reasons why belief in God is simply incorrect or un-necessary.

For those inclined to agree with such positions, I encourage you to read his comments. I am sure you will find much you will agree with. It is also true there are many passages from the oldest Buddhist Suttas that support the claim that Buddha did not believe in God.

But what surprised me when I started reading the oldest Buddhist Suttas was how often I encountered passages such as the following which are attributed to the Buddha where he discusses the fates of certain monks:

“I see him arising after death, at the breaking up of the body, …in a place of destruction, hell.”

“I see one practiser….arising after death, …in a good place, a heavenly state.”

The Long Discourses of The Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya  translated by Maurice Walsh, Wisdom Books Somerville, MA 2012 Sutta #8 “The Lion’s Roar page 151.

What is this hell? What is this heavenly state the Buddha is alluding to?

For another example of comments attributed to the Buddha:

“Then that a disciplined monk, after death, at the breaking-up of the body, should attain to Union with Brahma-that is possible.”

Ibid Sutta 13 page 194.

As noted in earlier posts, my point is not to try to convince atheist Buddhist monks that they are wrong or to try to prove that God centered Jesus worshippers are correct. My first point is to highlight there are many contradictory passages in all of the old books. In this series I am highlighting the contradictions I perceive in the Buddhist texts.

My second point is to highlight that most monks whether they are Christian, Jew, Buddhist, or Sufi, simply parrot the views of the “group-think” doctrines of their culture.  My feeling is that by doing this they impoverish not only themselves but their culture as well. I strongly believe this is what Venerable S Dhammamika has done in the comments that I referenced above. The tip off is how confident he seems to be that his views are the only ones worth taking seriously. It is simple. There are many passages in the Buddhist texts themselves that contradict directly, or indirectly the teaching that asserts there is no God.

Clinging to the idea that God does not exist, or that Mary really was a virgin, or that the Koran is the complete and final revelation of God’s truth, or that God gave Jerusalem to the Jews forever, or that Physicists have discovered the origins of the universe, are all examples, in my opinion, of fixation, clinging, and attachment which will stunt a monk’s, or a scientists development.

The important point is not to abandon those practices of Buddhism or Catholic Christianity or Islam or science that you feel are important to you. The point is to emphasize the need for sufficient humility and awareness to realize that you could be wrong on many important aspects of your beliefs, regardless of how right you may be in many others.

In my experience, as noted in my comments on the oldest Buddhist Suttas, there is a great deal of contradiction and error embedded in the ancient books of all cultures. What is difficult is that these contradictions and errors are intricately interwoven with other core teachings of those cultures. Regrettably it is not as simply as holding on to the baby as you dump the bath water. O that it was this easy, but it is not.

In the years, decades, generations, and centuries to come, it will be the difficult task of others to discern how to reform the ancient cultures. I thought I might be able to do a lot of this work in my life. I realize now that I will not be able to achieve any real conclusion to this discernment. The contribution I am able to make is to encourage people to neither abandon the old ways, nor to be hypnotized into thinking that any one culture has a complete set of answers whether that is ancient Buddhism or 21st century physicists.

Asking tough questions about the “group-think” doctrines of one’s own culture and of the cultures of others is one good way to engage this process.

Realizing that no matter how smart or diligent you are, that you probably are not as “right” about any important question as you think you are, or that others say you are, is another good practice.

What do you think?

Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.

More next week.



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God and Buddhism
Part 4

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Three weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.” If you have a moment please see the posts of the last two weeks for a general orientation on the series. (The archive of past posts is on the lower right hand corner of the home page.)

To be clear the first point of this series is to establish, in general, by the declarations of leading Buddhist teachers, that Buddhism is an atheist culture. The second point is to establish that within core Buddhist texts, and in the comments of leading teachers, there are many comments that contradict the view that Buddhism is an atheist culture.

None of this is to imply that atheists should become believers in God, or that Buddhists should become Christians. My first goal is to ask people to think carefully about what they do believe and to be honest about any contradictions in the culture they identify with. A second goal is to help people realize there is a balance to be struck between following some aspects of an ancient culture that are uniquely valuable, and rejecting those teachings of an ancient culture that never were right in the first place. This is a lesson that is just as important for Buddhists as it is for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and everyone else.

For more of an indication that Buddhism is an atheist culture please see this comment from best-selling author Bhante Gunaratana. He is the senior Theravada Buddhist monk for North America.

“Fetters (to) overcome to reach the first stage of enlightenment.”

*belief in the existence of a permanent self or soul”

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness  Wisdom Publications Somerville, MA 2001Bhante Gunaratana Page 152.

What I ask any Buddhists to consider, especially western Buddhists, is this: do you really believe there is no soul? Are you fully aware that in the view of your teachers you need to let go of any belief in a permanent soul to achieve enlightenment? If the answer to both questions is yes then you have your beliefs. But if these questions cause you to pause and step back to think more carefully about what you are hearing and what you actually believe then that is OK too.

In my opinion, with regards to their teaching there is no such thing as a soul, Buddhism suffers from the same degree of serious contradiction in the core teachings of their tradition as do other faiths.

Let me illustrate: also from Bhante Gunaratana, on the same page as the above quote we read: “A difficult child hood or other bad experiences do not cause the fetters. They come down to you from many lifetimes.”  Ibid Page 152

Irrespective of the serious damage this irresponsible comment may cause, this comment clearly suggests, as do many others, that karma does indeed survive the death of the body. Most Buddhist teachings teach that important dynamics of one lifetime carry-forward to the next lifetime. These carry-forwards are decisive  causal impacts on the well-being, or the suffering, in one’s future lifetimes.

But, if karma carries forward from one lifetime to another, what is it that survives from one life time to another as the mechanism of karma or as the fetters?

If this is not a permanent self or soul then what is it?

No doubt the doctrinal savants of Buddhism have some nuanced way they seek to explain away this seeming contradiction. The hairsplitters of all traditions are well practiced at coming up with some arcane way of explaining away gross contradictions as a way of glossing over important contradictions. These answers are confusing enough and usually sound profound enough that many, many people accept that somehow there is no contradiction after all and stop asking questions, at least out loud.

But is there any real role, or need for such hairsplitting and web-spinning in the 3rd millennium?

Wouldn’t it be better of religions could just admit, “We got a lot of things right and a lot of other things wrong?”  Would that really be so terrible/?

Notice how closely the Buddhist doctrine that karma carries-forward to future lifetimes parallels the doctrine of reward and punishment in Christian and Muslim cultures.

In Christian and Muslim belief, if you are good in this life, you are rewarded after death with heaven. If you are bad in this life you, are punished after death in hell.

In Buddhist beliefs if you are good in this lifetime you are rewarded either with a favorable rebirth, or if you are really good, there are no more rebirths. If you are bad in this life you are punished with great suffering in your next lifetimes.

So let’s see: in Buddhism something carries-forward from one life time to future life times. In Buddhism the good are rewarded and the bad suffer.

Who is it that created this process of karma and rewards and punishments?

Is this very orderly and highly intricate system and apparatus just a random feature of a random universe?

Or, do the Buddhists actually believe in something like a soul, and in something like divine justice, created by something like God? Isn’t it really that they believe in all these things but just call these realities something else?

What do you think?

Please send in your comments or stories. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted.

More next week.



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God and Buddhism
Part 3

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Two weeks ago I started this series, “God and Buddhism.” If you have a moment please see last week’s post for a general orientation on the series.

To be clear the first point of this series is to establish that, in general, by the declarations of leading Buddhist teachers that Buddhism is an atheist culture. The second point is to establish that within core Buddhist texts and in the comments of leading teachers there are many comments that contradict the view that Buddhism is an atheist culture.

What I am sure is confusing to many people about my views in such matters is this.

If someone wishes to be an atheist and feels this is the truth of life, then by all means become the most dedicated atheist you wish to be. If someone wishes to be a Buddhist in one of the many Buddhist traditions, then be all means be the highest integrity Buddhist you can be. If someone wishes to be a conservative or progressive Christian then by all means be as faithful and dedicated as you can.

What I do ask anyone in any tradition to do is this: Look carefully at the house of your beliefs. You will see that like all houses your house of beliefs rest on the foundation of a few key doctrines or a central vision of what this life really is. Once you identify what those foundation beliefs are, then start asking the toughest questions you can about whether those foundation beliefs are true.

It is not that I am suggesting that a person only become a questioner, or dis-mantler, of beliefs. There comes a time to stop asking questions and to stop seeking answers to tough questions and simply allow the word and concept building functions of the mind to take a holiday.

It is just that this process of investigation of core beliefs, and finding the contradictions and unanswered questions of your core beliefs is very helpful. It will become easier to see how important it is to be less rigidly attached to the notion that your belief system is somehow perfectly consistent. This process will also highlight how important it is to develop the skill in meditation of a simple pure awareness, at least in some sessions, without the clutter of words and concepts.

From this process you will also gain some humility. You will stop being so cock-sure that the beliefs of your tribe, or the beliefs of the tribe you have moved to, are the only true beliefs. You will be able to see that the profound truths of the tribe you are running with are interlaced with as many foolish and dangerously dysfunctional tendencies and errors as all the core beliefs of all the other tribes.

When this insight is gained the shell of your vanity and conceit and false-self will crack open. What is revealed, the pure awareness and being that remains, will be of real importance to your journey.

What I find to be disturbing about western Buddhists, in general, is that they are not asking the tough questions about their new faith that they ask of the Christian or Jewish religion they were raised in.

Before continuing next week, let me offer a couple of quotes from the Dalai Lama as another indication that high profile Buddhist teachers claim Buddhism is an atheist culture.

By the way, whatever critiques I make of some of the teachings in this book, I still believe it is an excellent work with many high quality insights and interesting research ideas.

“In Buddhism, there is no recognition of the presence of something like the “soul” that is unique to humans.”

The Universe in a Single Atom The Convergence of Science and Spirituality Three Rivers Press 2005 New York by His Holiness the Dalai Lama 2005 page 107

Regarding Karma certainly one of the foundation beliefs of Buddhism there is this comment:

“In Buddhism, this Karmic causality is seen as a fundamental natural process and not as any kind of divine mechanism or working out of a preordained design.”

The Universe in a Single Atom The Convergence of Science and Spirituality Three Rivers Press 2005 New York by His Holiness the Dalai Lama 2005 page 109

Here are two examples of questions that Buddhists and others tend to not ask about Buddhism:

Is karma a true description of a “fundamental natural process” or is it just a system of probabilities but not an iron clad law of nature?

If karma is a “fundamental natural process”  (and I am not conceding it is), then who or what created it and why?

Please let me know what you are thinking or studying in these matters. All constructive comments will be posted and responded to.

More next week.



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God and Buddhism
Part 2

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Last week I started this Series “God and Buddhism.” If you have a moment please see last week’s post for a general orientation on the series.

Over the past two centuries Buddhism has migrated to the West along with other religions of Asia.

Yet very few westerners, even those that purport to be Buddhists, know much about Buddhist culture or how many different cultures and variations of Buddhism have developed since the founding of the religion 2500 years ago.

My own studies of Buddhism, which have spanned the past 25 years, has been primarily in the Theravada tradition, which is also known as Vipassana.

Other than a relatively small handful of dedicated students, most people who talk about Buddhism, even many who say they are Buddhists, are not aware that Theravada Buddhist teachers clearly assert there is no God of any kind.

The purpose of this series is not to say that those who are committed atheists should somehow realize they are mistaken and that they should convert to a God centered path. Neither am I wishing to “take the side” of conservative Christians who engage in polemical debate trying to prove that Christianity is a better and a truer tradition. But without a nuanced review of this series, I can understand why anyone might still think this is my agenda.

To address this point I wish to be very clear. If you feel one of the traditions of Buddhism is the right path to explore or commit your life to then by all means do so. The bottom-line is that the errors of Buddhism are fewer in number, as a general rule, than the errors of Christianity or Judaism, or Islam. And, despite the errors of any one of these traditions, I strongly believe each of them also teaches doctrines of profound value.

My point is to encourage people who are studying Buddhism, or any other religion to ask good, honest, and searching questions about the foundations of Buddhist culture. Two good sources which will give rise to plenty of questions are the ancient texts themselves. The following are two collections of the foundation texts of Theravada Buddhism.

The Long Discourses of The Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya  translated by Maurice Walsh, Wisdom Books Somerville, MA 2012

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya translated by two Buddhist monks Bhikku Nanamoli and Bhikku Bodhi Wisdom Books Somerville, MA 2009

Given what I have been told by Theravada Buddhist monks and lay teachers about the tradition being a firmly atheist culture I was surprised to find how many passages sounded like those from a God centered, or polytheistic, faith tradition.

Here are three good examples spoken by the Buddha.

“Then that a disciplined monk, after death, at the break-up of the body, should attain to union with Brahma-that is possible.” The Long Discourses of The Buddha A Translation of the Digha Nikaya  (Sutta 13 page 195) translated by Maurice Walsh, Wisdom Books Somerville, MA 2012

“And at that time Sakka, lord of the Gods, felt a strong desire to see the Lord (Buddha).”

“Sakka, surrounded by the thirty-three Gods…vanished from the heaven of the thirty-three and appeared in Magada (a town in ancient India)”

bid Sutta 21 page 321

It is true that in Sutta 21 Sakka, (once again who is entitled the Lord of the Gods) then bows down to the Buddha three times and designates him as the supremely enlightened one. It is true one could see this as a transfer of authority from the Gods to humans.

But still in these phrases “Lord of the Gods” and “….”the heaven of the thirty-three Gods,” is it really so hard to see these as early images of God and heaven?

Are these really the words and images of an atheist culture?

All that I am trying to say is that the Buddhist texts contain many, many images of God and heaven and devas (angels). To say the only conclusion from studying the Buddhist texts is that there is no God, or even that Buddha taught there is no God, is far from the only valid conclusion possible.

More next week.



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God and Buddhism
Part 1

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In most societies, at least in the developed world, people are free to choose their own views as to whether God exists or not. They are also free to decide what religion to follow or to ignore the whole subject completely. It would be easy to underestimate how important and how different this development is from the social environment of previous centuries. It is also easy to underestimate how much more difficult, in some ways, is this complete freedom to choose.

Please let me be very clear. In this matter I have no interest in trying to prove that atheists should become Christians or that Christians should become atheists or that Buddhists should become Christians or that anyone should change their beliefs unless they freely choose to do so.

What I feel is a far more creative approach is to ask, “What do you believe?” and, “How did you come to believe what you believe is the truth of this life?”  And, “What foundation assumptions have you made, and how hazy are these assumptions, upon which you built your beliefs?”

I feel this is beneficial because a careful study of any person’s beliefs will reveal the fact that there are one or two foundation ideas or teachings upon which the rest of their beliefs are based on. I believe that excavating these foundation ideas or teachings, and asking relevant questions, is a very useful way to practice mindfulness and introspection.

From this process, one can then look carefully to see what hazy assumptions or contradictions may exist in the core beliefs upon which they have built much of their inner life. One can also uncover the serious doubts and unanswered questions they have about the beliefs they, or others, have.

The fact of the matter is that many people, regardless of where they reside on the intelligence spectrum, do not give much thought at all to what they believe.

Significant other portions of the human family hold their beliefs very rigidly and refuse to ask themselves any searching questions about possible contradictions in the foundation beliefs they have chosen to follow. In this regard Jewish, Christian, Hindu, & Muslim fundamentalists have much in common.

It may surprise people to consider there are also Buddhist fundamentalists who tend to overlook, or gloss over, glaring contradictions in the core teachings and sacred texts of their tradition.

In particular, in this series, I am highlighting what I feel is are primary contradictions in Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, or the Way of the Elders, is also referred to as Vipassana or Insight Meditation.

There are two examples of Theravada Buddhist dogma that I feel are ripe for serious review, especially the 2nd one. Both senior monks and lay Theravada teachers emphatically and repeatedly assert there is no permanent self or soul. Along with this is the less frequently emphasized dogma that there is no such thing as God, or an eternal substance of any kind in the universe.

To buttress my assertion about the 2nd of these two dogmas I cite:

“Mindfulness practice….is incompatible with a belief in…a saving divine grace.” The Heart of Buddhist Meditation  Nyanaponika Thera: Samuel Weiser Inc. York Beach, ME 1965 : page 83

It is not just that I personally think the Buddhist teachers generally are mistaken in their belief that there is no God. I think that anyone who reads their core texts will find it is far from clear that Buddhism really is an atheist culture regardless of what many of their leading teachers assert.

In fact if you read the Theravada texts you find a very steady stream of comments about Brahma, the Gods, and many varieties of Devas and celestial beings. Devas are viewed in Buddhist culture roughly the way Christians envision the nature and role of angels.

For an excellent example of this please see one of the most important Theravada texts # 15 from, The Long Discourses of The Buddha, which is entitled, The Great Discourse on Origination – translated by Maurice Walsh, Wisdom Books Somerville, MA 2012 page 228 paragraph 33)

In this passage the Buddha refers to seven types of Devas who dwell in Brahma’s retinue.  What exactly are these devas? What is Brahma’s retinue? Who is this Brahma if not God? Who created these Devas?

Is there not a significant contradiction between Theravada Buddhists saying they are atheists when their own central texts talk openly about devas, and Gods, and celestial beings?

Are most people who study Buddhism even aware of this contradiction?

In reality whatever decision you make in such matters, I strongly support your right to choose for yourself. What I do encourage is that you closely examine the beliefs you are hearing and the books you are reading.

Do not gloss over or deny serious contradictions in whatever tradition you are exploring.

Ask the most searching questions you can about any hazy assumptions that are the underlying foundations of your current beliefs or those you are studying.

Take the time to allow any serious doubts or unanswered questions about your beliefs to surface in your mind.

Great teachers such as Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and the authors of the Upanishads were willing to challenge the religious teachings of the dominant culture of their society. From their struggles and rethinking each of these spiritual leaders affirmed what they felt was the best of their culture and fearlessly opened new avenues of practice and beliefs for their society.

If we wish to imitate their life, can we do any less?

More next week.



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The Art of Loving God
Part 2

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Both those who believe in God, or who are trying to believe, and atheists can begin any meditation with offering love and forgiveness to themselves. They can do this for poor or terrible choices they made that hurt their lives or the lives of others. Believers of any faith tradition and atheists of any stripe can then proceed in their meditation to offer love and best wishes to those they love the most. They can proceed over time by degree to offer love to wider and wider circles of people whether by ordinary reckoning such people deserve love and forgiveness or not. This is a shared path that anyone can walk and from which everyone will benefit.

For those who believe in God, and those who are wondering if they can find a way to believe, they can simply stay in this place of offering love in silence to all who live. If they wish to they can let the practice develop further by learning what it means to offer love in silence and stillness to God. For those who hold dear the witness and memory of Jesus of Nazareth I offer the following prayer poem. I was fortunate to be able to write this over the past few weeks. People of different faiths can adapt this language to their chosen images of divine life. Understandably this poem may not be too relevant to atheists other than as an example of literature to appreciate the way they might admire the architecture of a beautiful church but which they would not actually attend.

The general idea is to recite all or a portion of this prayer by reading it aloud or to memorize it and recite in silently within yourself as you begin to meditate. You can focus on one brief passage, or the stanza, or the entire piece.

You can simply recite the entire piece during meditation or you can narrow your focus down to a couple of lines or a single word as the mind calms and the breath slows. If you wish to, in deeper states of peace, you can simply let the words fall away and be present to the experience of being alone with God in the silence of your deepest heart.

You can adapt these words or use them as a starting point to craft your own divine poem.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                         in acts of repentance and contrition                                                                                that my soul may be washed clean in your mercy.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in acts of atonement and the completeness of my acceptance                                        of your gracious absolution.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in acts of simple remembrance of your life and name                                                during times of stillness and silence                                                                              and throughout the active hours of my days.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                         in the care I take to study the essential role humility plays                                                in attaining the fullness of union with you.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in the careful efforts I make to refine                                                                              the quality of love, respect, and charity I offer to others                                                  and in the openness with which I seek to receive                                                           the love that you and others offer to me

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in times of joy and laughter                                                                                               in family and community gatherings,                                                                                 and in the solemn sacraments that mark the passages                                                and seasons of this life.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in the confusing and draining struggles of faith and doubt                                           when I seek to discern your living presence                                                                      in the midst of the suffering and violent injustice                                                            that scars so much of life in this world.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in my prayers and petitions to be free                                                                              from all passions and desires which conflict                                                                  with the way of life I feel called to follow and honor.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in the stumbling acts of renunciation                                                                            where I seek to turn my heart and mind to you alone.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in the silent embrace of divine union                                                                            when our lives touch and then intermingle and are softly joined                                       in the secret chambers of my deepest heart.

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                        in deepening acts of surrender                                                                                         to your gift of eternal life                                                                                                   in the refuge of your sacred grace and perfect love.


For those who wish to simplify this to a couple of lines, especially after reciting it once or twice here are two of my suggestions:

I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                     from the center of my heart to yours.


I give my love to you O Lord Jesus Christ                                                                     now and forever amen.

Please let me know what you think or send in a prayer poem that you have written. My only request is that it be a poem or sacred phrase you use regularly during meditation rather than a poem you relate to as a fine literary selection.



will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)



The Art of Loving God
Part 1

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The most common issue modern people face with meditation is how to quiet the mind and attain the calm and repose they have heard daily meditation can provide. There are a variety of ways to approach this challenge.

I do like the Soto Zen practice wherein the practitioner does not bother with trying to quiet the mind or attain deep states of peace. Rather the practice is to attain a good posture and to focus on “just sitting” and then being attentive to whatever is happening. If the mind is peaceful, than focus on that. If the mind is jumping all over the place then let that be OK too and be fully present to the experience of “monkey mind.”

For other approaches, in the Vipassana Buddhist tradition there are 3 primary modes of practice to choose from that will help quiet the mind: the path of loving kindness, the path of insight, and the Jhana concentration exercises.

It is the first path of loving kindness that I want to focus on in this talk. In the west many refer to this practice of as the way of unconditional love.

In this mode of practice the person spends their time in meditation offering love to all that they know and then to all they know of, whether they deserve love and forgiveness or not. It takes a while to be able to offer love and best wishes to those who are really nasty and evil. Consequently, one needs to approach this practice at a reasonable pace. It may take months. It may take years. But gaining the ability to simply focus the mind on offering love and kindness to all living beings is an excellent way to concentrate the mind. This is an important point to grasp. By concentrating the mind on a single wholesome focus, the mind will grow steadily more quiet, calm and clear.  Also, the body will relax, the breathing will slow, and people will experience more of the peace and refreshment of spirit they are seeking.

A great advantage of this practice is that it can be engaged by anyone whether they are a fully committed atheist or they have a God centered faith in divine love.

As a digression, oddly enough it is this practice of unconditional love, which I learned from atheist Vipassana teachers many years ago, that inspired me to develop the “Art of Loving God.”

This development occurred while I was writing the sixth chapter in my book, “The Simple Path of Holiness.” As I outlined the process of developing skills with unconditional love to all beings, I realized something. After one went through the list of all people they know or know of, and then broadened the circle of those they were offering love to include all living creatures, another realization came to me.

One could proceed with this process by then offering their love to the saints they have been inspired by and then to angels (assuming people believe such beings exist).

Incidentally, it is worth noting that the senior North American Vipassana teacher Joseph Goldstein tells a story of one of his seminal teachers Munindra-ji of India. Munindra-ji would tell his students of experiences he had with, “light beings.” He would say, and I paraphrase, “You do not need to believe in such things to achieve liberation, but these stories about ‘light beings’ are true nonetheless.”

The term “light beings” is close enough to angels that it is hardly worth quibbling over whatever differences may exist in the minds of teachers. The fact that at least certain atheist Vipassana teachers believe in angels (or “light beings”) is an interesting point I will return to at another time.

For me the insight came that I could complete the process by turning the focus of my mind and intentions of my heart to offering love to God.

Given my further exposure to Greek Orthodox teachings after Christmas, I was inspired to fine tune this focus to offer love to Jesus Christ. Somewhat to my surprise this has become a central theme of my meditation practice. Those following other God centered traditions are welcome to adapt this practice to the God or Goddess or their understanding and faith. Those who really are atheists can simply proceed with offering love to all living creatures, all who ever have lived, and all who ever will live. No harm now foul.

Over the past few weeks, in my daily meditations, I developed the opening prayer I call the “Chaplet of Divine Love.” I will post this next week as I am trying to keep these posts a bit shorter if I can.

If in the meantime you wish to have a free copy of the “Chaplet of Divine Love” please send me an email or call and I will send a copy to you.

What is important to remember in “The Art of Loving God” is that the suggestion is made to clear the mind of any images of God that are punishing, harshly judgmental, or violently rigid. Rather, see if you can simply use your creative imagination to craft an image of God as being perfectly kind, loving, and luminously radiant. It will be much easier to gain the sense of wonder and awe that will naturally inspire a desire to silently love God in this description.



will   at meditation      practice    dot     com ( spelled out to limit spam)







Brother Lawrence
of the Resurrection Pt 8

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Seven weeks ago I began a series on Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite monk who lived and served in the 17th century at a monastery near Paris.

At present it is time to conclude this series. I hope you will have time to read the posts of the past week or two, or if possible the entire series. When time permits I will present material of this kind as a complete course. I think it is more likely more people will review the material if it is presented as a course rather than as a long series of blog posts.

But for now let me sum up the salient points.

I began this series with a general comment on the Vipassana Buddhist teachings on mindful awareness.  In this meditation tradition the student is encouraged to cultivate a simple clear awareness of what is happening moment by moment both in the formal times of silent meditation as well as during the active hours of life.

When I talk about meditation for atheists, this is one of the primary practices I have in mind. This practice does not call for any belief in God, yet it still can be very beneficial if practiced diligently. But I do have one general concern as these teachings become better known in western culture.

My general concern is that many people who take these meditation classes still retain a belief in God even if they have little or no involvement with organized religion.

In my experience neither they nor the atheist teachers of this form of meditation stop to think about how very different meditation practice is for those who retain a traditional, or at least a general, belief in God or universal spirit.

This is where I believe Brother Lawrence’s teachings “Practicing the Presence of God” are important. In the same way that Buddhist teachers encourage people to maintain a meditative awareness throughout the day and night, Brother Lawrence also encourages people to maintain a constant awareness of God’s life and ways throughout the day. The fact that he was able to maintain his meditative awareness while working in a busy monastery kitchen for many years makes his story all the more relevant for those of us who have busy 21st century work and family responsibilities.

It is true that I feel the Buddhist approach of mindful attention throughout the day is simpler in that it does not need to involve words or concepts of any kind. Neither does it need to find an explanation of where God may be found in the midst of suffering and devastation.

But for me, I believe the God centered practice to be fundamentally more correct. I believe this because I believe the universe is not some big dead place. The universe is not some random phenomena without life or consciousness of any kind other than the complex neural delusions arising in the mind-organ of a few scraggly creatures such as ourselves.

But admittedly following a God centered practice of seeking God’s life and grace a hundred times or more a day has the great disadvantage of seeming to be utterly ridiculous at times.

In an age of incredible sophistication in science and technology, how can one say to highly intelligent people that they should “practice the Presence of God” even in those times, especially in those times, when there is no felt experience of any God’s presence of any kind?

Who could blame atheists for their scathing critiques of people who seek God’s love in the midst of the nightmares of suffering that erupt all too frequently in human and animal life?

All I can say is this.

As you progress in the ways of humility, sacrifice, charity and the trials and joys of a life devoted to unconditional love for all beings, there will be times when the doors of wisdom and experience open wide for you.

Even when they appear to slam shut again, even if you can’t explain how your heart has awakened to these mysteries, or what these mysteries and graces are, even when you still find yourself from time to time moaning in pain or numb with despair; you will know what hundreds of millions of others have known down through the ages.

There is much more to life than stars and planets and galaxies.

And you will be able to make contact with this “something” more and more frequently.

If you feel the atheist approach is more correct than choose that way.

But if you too feel there is “something” more to the fields of nature in April and May and the night sky when viewed far from the lights of cities and towns, then explore this idea..

Spirituality is about a relationship between you and the mysterious life that permeates all reality and every moment including the reality of your body and mind. Meditation can be cultivated as a way to deepen your experience of this relationship. As you make meaningful progress with your love, charity, faith, and surrender see if this relationship does not become more accessible to you moment by moment.

See if you can find ways to make contact with the hidden reservoirs of spirit and light. See if you can draw upon the resources of the hidden reservoirs of life to find ever more creative ways to diminish suffering in your life and in the lives of others.

See if you can find ever more effective ways to teach others to experience more meaningful experiences of this relationship with less of the confusion and struggle that so many of us go through on this most uncertain of journeys.

In this general effort, despite some of the confusing or highly dysfunctional passages in Brother Lawrence’s writing, I have learned a great deal from the simple notes others saved about his teachings. For that I am grateful to him and to those who preserved his writings.


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