Buddhists Believe in God? --
(A talk given at a high school in Los Angeles.)
Photo - Bob Heide
is it... The Buddha never talked about the One God of the desert,
the Judeo-Christian God? Does this mean that all Buddhists are
atheists and dont believe in God? Did the Buddha believe
These are some of the questions I would like to try and answer
The Buddha was born 500 years before Christ, in what is now
Nepal. His dad was a king, his mom was a queen,
over the family business (the kingdom) when he got older.
The kind of world the Buddha was born into was magical. Everything
seemed to be alive. The trees, mountains, lakes, and sky were
living and breathing with a variety of gods in charge. If you
needed rain you asked one god, if you needed it to stop raining
you asked another. The priests of India did all the religious
work, and got paid for it.
In India at the time of the Buddha you became a priest if you
were born into the right family, and not because of the school
you went to, or the grades you got.
There were other kinds of religious people as well.
were men who left their family, friends, and jobs to find the
answers to life. They did not live in homes or apartments, but
lived under trees and in caves, and would practice meditation
all day long. They wanted to really be uncomfortable, so they
could understand what suffering was all about.
Many kinds of meditation were practiced by these mendicants.
In Tranquility Meditation for instance, you think about just
one thing, like looking at a candle or saying a word over and
over. When the mind becomes focused in oneness, you experience
a great peacefulness.
if the mendicants were sitting in the rain on a cold day, they
were still content. They found in their meditation practice
the essence of happiness.
Renunciation is when you give up all the things that make your
life pleasant. Sometimes the people with money and power in
India would buy a lot of stuff to make themselves happy and
their lives more comfortable, thinking that happiness and comfort
depended on what they owned.
the mendicants could see their own suffering clearly, after
many years of renunciation, they understood that happiness was
not dependent on the things they owned, but the kind of life
Even all the gods in India could not end the suffering of one
the age of 29, the Buddha stopped praying to the gods to end
his suffering and the suffering of others. He left his family
and friends, went to the edge of the forest, took off all his
clothes and jewelry, covered his naked body with rags of cloth,
cut off his hair and started to meditate.
became a mendicant, and It took him six years of hard work and
much suffering, but in the end he was able to stop his suffering
forever (Nirvana) and help others stop their suffering as well.
Did the Buddha believe in God, the One God of the desert, the
God of the Christians, Jews and Muslims?
Well... No... He didn't... Monotheism (only one God) was a foreign
concept to the Buddha, his world was filled with many gods.
The creator god Brahma being the most important one.
At the time of the Buddha, the only people practicing the religion
of the One God of the desert, were the Jews. Remember, it was
still 500 years before Christ came into the world.
Buddha never left India. The Buddha walked from village to village...
In his entire lifetime he never went any further than 200 miles
from his birthplace.
Buddha never met a Jew... And because of this, he never
said anything about the One God of the desert.
There is also nothing in the teachings of the Buddha that suggest
how to find God or worship the god's of India, although the
Buddha himself was a theist (believed in gods), his teachings
Buddha was more concerned with the human condition: Birth, Sickness,
Old age, and Death. The Buddhist path is about coming to a place
of acceptance with these painful aspects of life, and not suffering
be clear on this point... The Buddha is not thought of as a
god in Buddhism and is not prayed to. He is looked up to and
respected as a great teacher, in the same way we respect Abraham
Lincoln as a great president.
was a human being who found his perfection in Nirvana. Because
of his Nirvana, the Buddha was perfectly moral, perfectly ethical,
and ended his suffering forever.
Does that mean that every Buddhist in the world is an atheist?
I have met a lot of Buddhists who believe in God. I have met
a lot of Buddhists who dont believe in God... And a lot
of Buddhists just dont know.
three points of view are OK if youre Buddhist because
the end of suffering is more important than God in Buddhism.
Sometimes a student will ask me how everything in this world
got started... "If you dont have God in Buddhism
then who or what caused the universe?"
When the Buddha was asked how the world started, he kept silent.
In the religion of Buddhism we dont have a first cause,
instead we have a never ending circle of birth and death. In
this world and in all worlds, there are many beginnings and
ends. The model of life used in Buddhism has no starting place...
It just keeps going and going.
Now having said that... If youre a Buddhist its
OK to believe God was the first cause... It really doesn't go
against the teachings of the Buddha, his focus was on suffering...
It's also OK to believe science has the answer
big bang theory, etc... Some Buddhists dont even
care how it all started, and thats fine too. Knowing how
the world started is not going to end your suffering, its
just going to give you more stuff to think about.
I hope you can see that God is not what Buddhism is about...
Suffering is... And if you want to believe in God, as some Buddhists
do, I suppose it's OK. But, Buddhist's don't believe God can
end suffering. Only the teaching's of the Buddha can help us
end suffering through wisdom and the activity of compassion.
In his whole life and in all his teachings the Buddha never
said anything about the One God of the desert.
A wise man once said:
1. I do not take it to be true; 2. I do not take it to be false; 3. I do not say you're wrong;
4. I do not not say you're right; 5. I do not say it is true or false; 6. It is both wrong and right, true and false at the same time.
Such is the dilemma of relative truth. It is just the finger pointing.
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