Saturday, December 09, 2006

Buddhism and God

God in Buddhism
Definition of GodHow do you define God? 'Define' means place limits on, so maybe it's blasphemous even to try to define God, if this implies that the creature is attempting to place limits on its Creator.
But this certainly hasn't stopped people from trying to define God in the past. In fact, disagreements about the definition of the Indefinable have been one of the major causes of wars, persecution and terrorism during the past two millenia.
To quote Revel and Ricard [REF1]:'Intolerance is something that arose with monotheism. As soon as human beings allowed themselves to say, 'There's only one true God, and that's mine, so I have the right to annihilate anyone who doesn't believe in him', the cycle of intolerance and religious wars began. [This was written before Sept 11!]
God the CreatorGod is usually held to be the creator of the universe. Pantheists hold that God is still present within and throughout His creation. Deists believe that God is totally separate from His creation - a watchmaker who constructed the mechanism, wound it up, and then let it run down according to the laws of thermodynamics, with no further intervention.
A Personal GodGod is anthropomorphic, at least to the extent of being sexually differentiated as male rather than female (why?).
God the JudgeIn all religions (apart from Buddhism) God is the Judge of the Dead. Good people and/or true believers go up to heaven. Bad people and/or atheists and heretics (who disbelieve in God or believe in the wrong definition of God) go to hell, where they are subjected to sadistic tortures for all eternity. The actual criteria for sorting out who goes to which destination is a matter of debate within the the various denominations. Some favor salvation by works, others salvation by faith, and yet others salvation by a bit of both.
Salvation by WorksSalvation by works consists of collecting Brownie points. Good deeds earn positive points, bad deeds negative ones. When you die your points are counted, and if you've got more positive than negative you go to heaven, if more negative than positive it's eternity in hell. If you've got exactly the same number of each, they flip a coin.
Salvation by FaithSalvation by faith places more emphasis on what you believe than what you actually do. So if your religion has, say, 39 Articles of Faith and you believe 20 and disbelieve 19, then up you go. But if you only believe 19 then you go down. The coin-flipping situation can be completely avoided by having an odd number of articles of faith.
CompassionGod is often stated to be omniscient, omnipotent and compassionate, but this is where the trouble starts, as these qualities are mutually exclusive. You can have any two but not all three.
There is a contradiction in the idea of a supreme being who is omniscient, compassionate and yet creates souls in the knowledge that they are damned to eternal agony in hell. If God is omniscient then he knows all events both past and future, including how people will behave, and their ultimate fate in hell or heaven. He knows this before they are even born. God has already condemned newborn babes to eternal fire.
Within time or outside time?If God exists within time, and is subject to the uncertainties of Time just like the rest of us, then Time is ultimately more powerful than God. Hail Chronos, Lord and Devourer of All!
If God is omniscient and exists outside time, then he can never make a decision or choose a course of action, because he knows in advance exactly what his future actions will be for all eternity. The entire history and future of the universe will be laid out before him like the frames of a movie. He cannot decide to change his mind because he knows in advance when and how he will decide to change his mind, so his mind will already be made up. Such a God would be totally paralysed by His own pre-ordained future.
The Abrahamic theologians have overspecified God with various power attributes to such an extent that he has become a logically impossible being. For example:
OmnipotenceIf he is omnipotent, can he produce a truly indestructible object? If he can't then he's not omnipotent. If he can then he's not omnipotent either because now there's one action he cannot do (destroy the truly indestructible).
God and SatanIf God is good then why is there so much human and animal suffering in His creation? If suffering and other evils result from Satan rather than God, then why doesn't God get rid of Satan - after all, God is omnipotent and Satan is limited? In any case, if God is omniscient he knows what Satan is going to do in advance, so God could always outwit Satan and spoil his devious plots if he wanted to.
Free will and changelessness.Can God create autonomous beings, whose wishes and intentions he can't control? Most Buddhists and neo-pagans claim that humans have free will. Most materialists and some Christians (especially Calvinists) claim that free will does not exist. Materialists reject free will on the basis of physicalist determinism. Calvinist Christians reject free-will because in creating autonomous beings God would lose his omnipotence (he couldn't control their actions). Which implies that by creating such beings he would have changed in his ultimate nature from a perfect being to a limited being. Thus God would be seen as inconstant, changing and indeed diminishing over time. This is regarded by Christians as a theological non-starter.
Perfection and PredestinationIf God is perfect then he is sufficient in Himself. So why bother to create a world at all? The Abrahamic regions claim that the purpose of the universe is to act as a soul-sorting machine to sort good souls from bad. But if God is omniscient, he already knows which are the rejects before they're loaded onto the conveyor belt, so why construct such a huge, wasteful and extravagant mechanism in the first place?
BUDDHISM AND GODBuddhism is sometimes said to be an agnostic religion. Certainly there is no concept of God as the vindictive, judgemental, time-subservient warlord of the Old Testament, or the infantile bogeyman of the Koran.
Buddhism has ethical objections to the idea of a God who throws infidels and sinners into everlasting torment. The Buddhist ideal is that of the Enlightened Being, who has vowed to save all sentient beings from their suffering.
What also causes problems is that Buddhism is as much a philosophy as it is a religion, and does not adopt logically inconsistent doctrines. The concept of an 'inherently-existent' God is fraught with difficulties:
Buddhist philosophy regards all phenomena as being 'dependently-related' , that is existing contingently upon three relationships.(1) In relation to their causes(2) In relation to their parts.(3) In relation to the mind of the observer.(see Sunyata for further discussion)
The opposite of being 'dependently-related' is to be 'inherently-existent', ie existing from its own side. An inherently existent thing contains the reason for its existence within itself.
The standard Christian idea of God is that He is self-defined and not dependently-related to anything else. God is an uncaused monad with no constituent parts who exists even in the absence of any other observer. But the fact that he is not dependently-related to anything else means that no external event can change his state, so he cannot, for example, become angry if someone blasphemes against him. Neither can he forgive someone against whom he has a grudge.
An inherently-existent God can never change nor be other than what He has always been, and can in no way make any reference to Time. Nor can he in any other way interact with, or receive information from dependently-related entities. He resides in splendid isolation for all eternity.
Neither can he be bipolar, having an inherently-existent 'end' embedded in the Platonic Realm and a dependently-related 'end' reaching into the contingent universe It is logically impossible to have an interface between the two ends.
For in Him we live, and move, and have our being.Having described the Buddhist objections to the overspecified inherently-existent God, it should be pointed out that Buddhism is not purposely atheistic, and certainly does not deny the existence of a God in the sense of that in which 'we live and move and have our being' [ACTS 17, 28].
Perhaps we can shed some light on this concept of God by considering Buddhist views on the 'Participatory Anthropic Principle' of cosmology, whereby God provides the possibilities, but sentient beings choose the actualities. To quote from the article on the Participatory Anthropic Principle:
'In the absence of an observer, the evolving universe remained as a 'multiverse' - a coherant quantum superposition of all logically possible states. Throughout its early history the universe continued to develop as an immense superposition of probabilities. Not only was the structure of the universe superposed, but all logically possible states of matter, physical constants, properties and laws were simultaneously present and evolving into ever increasing diversity.Quantum theory states that any physical system remains in a superposed state of all possibilities until it interacts with the mind of an observer. Both quantum theory and Buddhist teachings on sunyata suggest that as soon as an observer's mind makes contact with a superposed system, all the numerous possibilities collapse into one actuality. At some instant one of these possible alternative universes produced an observing lifeform - an animal with a nervous system which was sufficiently evolved to form a symbiotic association with a primordial mind. The first act of observation by this mind caused the entire superposed multiverse to collapse immediately into one of its numerous alternatives.That one alternative version of the multiverse was not just the first configuration to be inhabitable by mind. The fact that it was the first configuration also guaranteed that it was the only configuration. All uninhabited alternative universes, ranging from the nearly-but-not-quite habitable few, to the anarchic and unstructured vast majority, were instantly excluded from potential existence. According to the participatory anthopic principle, the evolving multiverse was thus always destined to resolve itself into a sufficiently ordered state to allow itself to be observed.'
Now the sentient being who collapsed the superposition determined the actualisation of the laws of physics. But a myriad other strands of potential existence remained unactualised, and still remain unactualised and will forever remain unactualised. The difference between potential and actuality has, does, and will result from the choices (including ethical choices) of sentient beings.
The strand was never actualised in which the young Adolf Hitler, motivated by his love of military uniform, chose to join the Salvation Army and devote his organisational genius to making it the greatest force for the relief of poverty and the eradication of disease that the world has ever seen.
The strand was never actualised in which Joseph Stalin realised that absolute power caused absolute corruption, and decided to continue his studies at Tiflis theological seminary and lead the Orthodox Church through the turbulent times ahead.
God provides the options in vast profusion. We make the choices.
This view of God accords with the grandeur of the Mahayana conception of humanity's place in the cosmos. God is indefinable (in the sense that limits cannot be set on Her potential). She is pregnant with all possibilities (see Sanskrit root of sunyata), and She is the source of freedom whereby the choices of sentient beings dictate the actualisation of their myriad potentials.
But how does this view of God correspond to traditional Christian views, and in particular can it resolve the conflict between omnisicience, omnipotence and compassion?
Omniscient - Yes, all that ever was, ever will be, ever could have been, and ever might still be - are included within God. Their actualisation as experiences depends upon the choices made by sentient beings.
Omnipotent. -Yes, in the sense that all potentials are present. The driving power to make anything that could logically occur actually occur ('breathe fire into the equations') is available.
Compassionate Yes, the samsaric universe, for all its apparent faults, provides a path for deluded primordial mind to achieve enlightenment. Thus from the viewpoint of an Awakened Being, the universe is a perfect ground for advanced beings to rescue other migrators and bring them to enlightenment.
Judgemental - No, all beings will eventually be saved (Bodhisatva vow)
God within time or outside time? Neither - time operates within God - She is pregnant with possibility, and time consists of a series of instances of actualisation of those possibilities.
See also:
Buddhist Teachingson the mind, personal relationships, meditation and the spiritual path.
Islam and BuddhismResponses to a Muslim intellectual's critique of Buddhism.Anthropology of religion'...Among many anthropologists it has recently become fashionable to dismiss all religions as memes - parasitic mental processes which propagate in the same manner as chain letters...'
Anti-Buddhist argumentsThe usual arguments against Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)'...Computationalism or philosophical AI, (sometimes also known as Strong AI), which is the view that all human mental activities are reducible to algorithms, and could therefore be implemented on a computer...'
Bardo'... To the western materialist, the state of a 'dead' mind is OFF / Non-Existent / No Activity. It is the ultimate Quietus - no experience whatsoever. To the Buddhist it is impossible to envisage 'no mind'. The state of a disembodied mind is active, hallucinatory and, depending on its karmic imprints, sometimes nightmarish...' Buddha '..all sentient beings, human and animal, are regarded as having Buddha seed..'Compassion'...compassion is the root of a Buddha because all Buddhas arise fom the mind of compassion, it is the root of Dharma because Buddhas give Dharma teachings out of compassion for others, and it is the root of the Sangha because it is impossible to become Sangha without practising compassion.'Cosmology'It has often been remarked by physicists and chemists that the universe is very sensitively tuned to allow life to exist. If certain physical and chemical constants were just a fraction out from their observed values, life could never have arisen.'Creationism'Bible-believing creationists claim that the world and all its species were created in six days of a single week around 4004 BC . In contrast, Buddhist philosophy is evolutionary. Buddha taught that all things are impermanent, constantly arising, becoming, changing and fading.'Darwinism 'The theological objection is that evolution states that there is a continuum between ape and man, ie human and animal.. This is not a problem for Buddhists, who believe that both humans and animals possess sentient minds which survive death. However it is a major problem for theologians. The church has always taught that only humans have immortal souls, whereas animals are automata whose minds cease at death'Dharma and dogma'Buddha Shakyamuni never claimed to have any higher authority for his teachings than his own experience.'Dualism'The western response to materialism is dualism, which claims that there are two kinds of things in the universe - material objects and souls. The major exponent of dualism was Descartes. Dualism implies that mental experience is a radically new feature that only humans possess, and a late optional extra slipped into an already well-defined, functional, physical universe.'Dukkha'Dukkha is sometimes translated as suffering but in actual fact encompasses all senses of unsatisfactoriness, even including pleasure (which evolution has contrived will always be a transient sensation - lest it detract too much from the grim business of survival).'
ExclusivismMost religions teach that they are the one true path to salvation and all unbelievers are cast into hell. This is a doctrine known as exclusivism. Buddhism is not exclusivist. Any person guided in their activities by compassion is regarded as following a beneficial spiritual path.Feminine spirituality, philosophy and science'Why is God male rather than female? Gender is required to allow DNA to recombine and evolve in different and potentially novel combinations. Patriarchal religions preach that God is a single unborn, uncreated, unevolved, non-biological entity who does not reproduce and will endure for all eternity. He hasn't undergone evolution Himself, so why does He need to be sexually differentiated at all?.Feud between Science and Religion'Many (most?) scientists believe religions to be irrational, obscurantist and anti-scientific The problem goes back to Galileo, who discovered that the earth goes round the sun, rather than vice-versa as stated in the Bible.'Formless mind'The description of the root mind as 'formless' doesn't just refer to its non-material nature, but it emphasises that it is unlimited, non-mechanistic and totally free from any structure or topology. . In Buddhist psychology the root mind is non-physical and non-algorithmic. The mind cannot be understood in terms of circuit diagrams and flowcharts. It is pure awareness.'
InterfaithInterfaith conference ends in homophobic riot!Karma'Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.' Mahayana'The Mahayana practitioner's objective is to achieve advanced spiritual states (culminating after many lifetimes in Buddhahood), in order to guide, teach and ultimately rescue all unhappy sentient beings from their suffering. To do this she needs to develop a number of attributes including great compassion (bodhicitta). 'Marxism'In Marxist countries most religions were suppressed to a greater or lesser extent, Buddhism being a particular object of persecution. The reason for this is fairly clear, for unlike the other belief-systems that Marxism encountered, Buddhism was the only one which offered a rational, logically coherent philosophy, and thus presented a real ideological threat to the Marxist materialist worldview'.Materialism'...The version of materialism prevalent nowadays is more accurately known as physicalism. Physicalism has grown out of advances during the second half of the twentieth century in the fields of genetics, evolution and computer technology. Modern physicalism takes as its subject matter DNA codes, computer instruction sets and datastructures, rather than the bouncing billiard balls of the nineteenth and early twentieth century materialists..'
Mathematics - Its unreasonable effectiveness in science and engineeringSo we are left with something of a mystery. According to the physicalist worldview, the mind (including mathematicians' minds) is an epiphenomenon of matter which has evolved solely to ensure the survival of the selfish genes which code for it. Why should this 'top-level' phenomenon have such intimate access to the 'bottom level' phenomena such as quantum physics? After all, the two levels are supposedly separated by less well-understood (in some cases) explanatory layers such as evolutionary psychology, neurology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry.Meditation'There can be a number of objectives of meditation from simple relief of stress, through improving the long-term peace of mind in this life, up to stabilising and clarifying the subtle (permanent) mind that goes on to future lives.'
Metaphysics'Metaphysics means, literally, 'beyond physics'. Metaphysics deals with phenomena which are either more basic than physics, or beyond the reach of physical methods of analysis and understanding.'Mind - experiencing its non-physical natureOne of the quickest ways to convince yourself that the root mind is not physical, (and is not therefore limited by one birth and one death), is to meditate on the formless nature of the mind.Mind over matterCan the mind directly affect sensitive machines?Obscurantism'At present the creationist/young earth view is winning within the US educational system, as more and more boards of education outlaw the teaching of evolution. The creationists' victory is being won not by the strength of their arguments, but by imposition of censorship. It is likely that soon many young Americans will simply never come into contact with the concepts of evolution either in their lessons or libraries.'
Parietal Lobe and Mystical ExperienceTo the average Westerner, deliberately cultivating the idea that your ego doesn't exist as a fixed entity may seem weird and scary, but in fact it can be immensely liberating. As one of the researcher/meditators taking part in the study said "It feels like a loss of boundary. It's as if the film of your life broke and you were seeing the light that allowed the film to be projected"Particle physicsBasically, what quantum theory says is that fundamental particles are empty of inherent existence and exist in an undefined state of potentialities. They have no existence 'from their own side' and do not become 'real' until a mind interacts with them and gives them meaning. Qualia'The Buddhist does not doubt that the brain does some very sophisticated ordering of its incoming nerve impulses into the datastructures which are the objects of knowledge. But when all is said and done, those datastructures remain as objects. They are not themselves knowledge, neither are they that which performs the function of knowing.'
Rebirth - reincarnationThe belief in rebirth is not confined to Buddhism..... few Christians realised the importance of the concept of reincarnation or rebirth in Judaism, where it is known as 'gilgul' or 'ibur'. This has raised the question: 'If belief in rebirth occurs in Judaism, why was it not carried forward into Christianity?' The Buddhist and Jewish beliefs are similar in that it is the very subtle, non-material mind which survives death. Since this is the only thing that we can take with us to the future, we need to make the best use of our present life to improve its state. Science of the mind?Science will never be able to analyse such phenomena... because these 'things' do not have any structure - they do not have any nuts and bolts for the dismantling tools of science to get a grip on. The phrase 'Science of Consciousness' is thus a self-contradiction.Sentient beingsWhat make a sentient being different from an automaton?
Soul...'The entity which survives death is known as 'The Soul' by Christians and as 'The Very Subtle Mind' by Buddhists . The terms 'Soul' and 'Mind' are not equivalent. There are a number of minor distinctions between the concepts which, taken by themselves, could be regarded simply as trivial doctrinal differences. However, there are also two major philosophical differences which separate the concepts of mind and soul into different ontological categories..' Spooky action at a distance (EPR Paradox)'One of the most vivid illustrations of the interactions of the mind of the observer with a quantum system is given by EPR - the 'Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox', or 'Spooky action at a distance' as it is sometimes known. The experimental evidence seems to show that the observer's mind goes to its object unobstructedly and instantaneously.'Sunyata (shunyata)The ultimate unfindability of the real nature of all phenomena - their lack inherent existence, is usually referred to by English-speaking Buddhists as 'emptiness', which is a translation of the Sanskrit word Sunyata (sometimes spelled Shunyata). According to David Loy the English word emptiness has a more nihilistic connotation than the original Sanskrit. The Sanskrit root su also conveys the concept of being swollen with possibility [LOY 1996]. It is therefore most important not to confuse emptiness with total nothingness. Emptiness implies the potential for existence and change. Symbiotic mindAnimals above a certain level of development require more than automatic reflexes in order to survive. Advanced organisms need motivation and intention in order to function in complex environments. Motivation and intention are chiefly driven by dukkha - the need to avoid suffering or unsatisfactoriness and the restless but futile search for lasting happiness. It is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals.Tantra and Tantric Meditation All phenomena are free from inherent existence, that is they are not definable in terms of themselves, but are dependently related to other phenomena. The same line of reasoning can be applied to our own identities, for if we search hard enough for our Self or Ego - we find it isn't there!
Tat Tvam Asi - That Thou ArtIs the mind of God separate from the minds of His creatures? Do we all have a spark of universal mind?
Tibetan Death Chart
Transpersonal PsychologyTranspersonal Psychology grew out of the rejection of the mechanistic or behaviorist model of the mind which was the orthodoxy of the mid-twentieth century academic establishment . Charles T. Tart refers to this orthodoxy when describing his college experience in the 1960's: 'As to things like mystical experiences, if they were mentioned at all, which was rare, they were relegated to the fringes of psychiatry as being undoubtedly schizophrenic in nature and just showed how sick religions were to be associated with superstitious nonsense like that'Wicca - an intuitive reaction against materialism?'As both Tibetan Buddhism and Wicca are growing rapidly in the English-speaking countries, there will come a time when there will need to be an interfaith dialogue between the two paths. The purpose of this article is to examine the similarities and differences between Wicca and Tibetan Buddhism.'Young Earth'The 'young-earth' viewpoint is similar to creationism. The theological motivation is identical - to defend Biblical chronology by proving that the world is only a few thousand years old. The challenge facing the 'young-earthers' is that all dating mechanisms which use the decay of naturally radioactive atoms in minerals agree that many of the earth's rocks were formed hundreds of millions of years ago. To get round this objection the 'young earthers' have either to invoke more conspiracy theories, or postulate that somehow the rate of radioactive decay was very much faster on the early earth than it is now. '
[REF 1] 'The Monk and the Philosopher' Revel, J-F and Ricard, M. Tr. Canti, J. Publ. Thorsons/HarperCollins, London, 1998. ISBN 0 7225 3649 6, Page 115.

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