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