Believers in God
Resolution of Suffering
Final Word for Mindfulness Practitioners/Meditators
The Buddha described loving parents as the first two Gods of their children, which reflected a sense of God as a loving and caring parent towards all God’s children.
He named the path to Nirvana as Godly conduct (Brahma cariya). He emphasised the practice of God faring to end suffering.” Many people who believe in God would find much comfort in the Buddha’s support of the language of God
The Buddha took the concept cariya, meaning conduct, and explored at length its importance. Far too many Buddhists imagine that observation of the five precepts ensures the necessary conduct for an enlightened life. This commonly held view bears little relationship in the text to the extensive exploration of ethics in the Buddha’s teachings around attitudes, livelihood, the field of pleasure and action.
He exhorted us to live a Godly life. He rejected the view that we are tied down as human beings or that we must rely upon ourselves to work out our own salvation. We need to support each other. This is the function of the Sangha. A self-reliant human being reveals a confined, limited form, who is bound to a production of his or her personal views.
Our institutions and society would benefit immensely if we gave priority to Brahma Cariya instead of the current method of the pursuit of self-interest within the law. Such conduct brings an end to corruptions, exploitation and violence.
Brahmins and yogis offered four stages of life. These four stages were related to age. Brahmins referred to studentship/disciples/purity (brahamacriya), householder (grhastha), forest-entry (vanaprastha) and renunciation (sannyasi). Citizens then considered Brahma-cariya as the time of being a celibate student to a Brahmin while the Buddha redefined the concept to include men and women of all ages who followed the Dharma way of life or Brahma-cariya.
He also encouraged the other stages throughout life as householders, intimacy with the nature and renunciation of selfish desires, clinging and inflaming situations.
Believers in God
An authentic liberation from suffering and wisdom in the face of the circumstances of life took priority for the Buddha. He did not approve of giving God a metaphysical definition. His refreshing approach attracted widespread interest for atheists and theists alike.
Believers had adopted their view of God from their parents, their religious teachers, their experiences and interpretations of their faith. Brahmins and yogis viewed God as the ‘Overlord, Infallible, the Creator, Master and Father of everything of the past present and future.’
Believers told themselves and each other that they should not overstep the word of God otherwise they ‘would slip into a deep chasm.’
The Buddha said those who clung to God in such a way ‘were seized upon by force of self-deception (Mara).’ The Buddha warned about holding to such views of God as Eternal and Fully Complete, as well as self and the world in the same way. He said it ‘would reveal weariness and disappointment.’
The Buddha boldly made the statement that he (as an embodiment of the Dharma) does “not stand at the same level as God, oneness of the self with God because ‘I know more than you.”
The Buddha did not believe in hiding his light under the bushes. He also refused to take upon himself any identity that sound God-like. Some Brahmins and gurus referred to the pervasive presence of God. The Buddha responded:
“I do not claim to be all. I do not claim to be in all. I do not claim to be apart from all. I do not claim all to be mine. I do not affirm all. ”
Then concluded that he knew more than this. He could not be clearer than that about the perception of his experience and understanding.
He did not regard a separate self and knowing a non-separate self as the purpose of spiritual practices and realisations. He said that fear influenced all these experiences that desired a permanent non-separate self, a permanence of the elements and a permanent God. The Buddha said his teachings do not affirm any mode of being including oneness with everything else. He made it extremely clear that these experiences of a separate self and a non-separate self were transitory, insubstantial and not worth taking up.
He showed that those who lived in self-deception (mara) could take up the view of ‘a pleasant abiding here and now.’ as living in Eternity. Once again, the Buddha refuted such a view of the reification of the Now as eternal
He then offered a ruthless critique. He added: “It is not out of compassion for people’s welfare that you speak thus about God, oneness of the self with God and being in the Now.
He turned to those listening and said of the questioners: ‘It is without compassion for their welfare that they speak thus.
“Such views show that they are not fully enlightened. A full enlightenment brings about an end to taking up a position on permanence and eternity through continuity of the self.
“Such views give trouble and ripens suffering.”
The Buddha did not deny the experience of heaven, of a genuine sense of being with God. He reiterated that these experiences simply could not last. The experiencer had no right therefore to claim that that the God experience was permanent and eternal. One can enjoy the radiance and happiness of such a heavenly state of being, but the experiencer can never hold onto this experience so that it endures for eternity.
In the Connected Discourses of the Buddha (SN), readers will find a whole section dealing with the Buddha’s meetings with men of God. The Buddha famously hesitated to teach the Dharma. He said to Sahampati, a man of God (SN. 1.6).
“If I were to teach the Dharma and if others would not understand me, that would be troublesome.
This Dharma is not easily understood by those oppressed with desire for pleasure and negativity.
Open to them with little dust in their eyes are the doors to the Deathless.
Let those who have ears release trust.”
Sahampati strongly encouraged Gautama to teach. He said to him:
“The Buddhas of the past, the future Buddhas, and the one who is the Buddha now remove the sorrow of many.”
After listening to the man of God, the Buddha walked on from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath to share what he realised with his friends.
Resolution of Suffering
There is the common desire to believe in God as an all-powerful figure to provide comfort and support in the face of terror, pain and death. Human beings reflect on the vulnerability of his or her existence and looks to something larger for comfort and consolation. In times of crisis, sacred books, devotion and prayer can offer support in making any transition through a dark period in life. The Buddha never adopted such a view of God. Millions of Buddhist worldwide devotees have turned the Buddha into such a God.
Wisely, Buddhist teachers and practitioners will often give authority to experience, appreciate communication with the wise ones found in the Sangha and acknowledge the collective support to overcome most difficult of circumstances.
Buddhists also reject the notion of God who created the world at the beginning of time. The Buddha refused to engage in speculation is about how the world or the universe began. He gave the priority to the exploration of the human experience in this very life. He emphasised mindfulness of the recent and immediate conditions that contribute to the human experience along with the ways and means to resolve suffering. He endorsed the exploration of ethics, mindfulness/concentration/ meditation with insight and wisdom rather than seeking for God.
The Buddha’s highest priority pointed to the resolution of suffering and changing the conditions for its arising. He offered a variety of skilful means to resolve these problematic issues of human existence and human behaviour.
Millions of people who believe in God, have faith in God draw their spiritual, religious and spiritual upliftment from their love and appreciation of God. God provides a direct reminder of the transcendent element. Psychology and science relies far too much upon conventional states of mind and thought. The spell of reason gets in the way of deep experiences and transcendent realisations.
The proponents of atheism and religionism often tend to come across to each other as self-righteous, arrogant and superior.
The Buddha realised the emptiness of holding to an identity such as atheist, agnostic or theist.
His teachings simply do not fit into any of these boxes. This becomes clear in any extensive research and enquiry in the Buddha’s approach to the relationship to existence.
Brahmins claimed they were formed from the mouth of Brahma who ordained their role as priests in the caste system. The Buddha made every effort to teach the Dharma without becoming embroiled in a polarisation of Dharma and Brahma. He regularly substituted the word Dharma with the word Brahma.
The Buddha referred to the turning of the wheel, namely Dharma Chakra used in the sense of starting up horses and carriage to move along the path. He set rolling the Dharma to make it universally available to all those ‘willing to lend an ear.” The Buddha also used the term Brahma chakra to show it meant the same to him as Dharma chakra – the supreme instrument to get the Dharma/Brahma rolling. His approach enabled widespread interest in his teachings since he made them available to theists, gnostics and atheists alike. He did not demand a belief in atheism or disbelief in God in order to explore his teachings and practices.
In Sn 285, the Buddha reminded the Brahmans that in the past they did not accumulate wealth, lead an austere life and regarded religious knowledge as their wealth. They saw themselves as the ones who protected God. (A ii 41). The Buddha expressed concern about those who exclude the Dharma or ignores the correct application which brings harm and suffering to others. The misinterpretation of the Dharma will cause the Dharma to disappear you, he warned.
He added that a harmonious assembly contributes to concord, freedom from disputes and blends like milk and water with the capacity to view others with the eye of affection. The emphasis on kindness, affection and respect for those who believe in God and for those who disbelieve in God matters more than the belief. This thoughtful viewpoint is often forgotten between the rival sects of a religion or between a religion and secular/scientific institutions.
Conflict also arises out of the proliferation of views around God, incarnations of God, saints, prophets, revelations and holy books. There are those who hold to such views and those who dismiss such views. The Buddha sought to draw upon the strengths and weaknesses of religious and secular culture rather than rubbish both.
Final Word for Mindfulness Practitioners/Meditators
Beginners to mindfulness/meditation appreciate Dharma teachers who offer clear guidance in their meditation instructions. These meditations include the four postures of sitting, walking, standing and reclining (horizontal), eating, preparing food, washing and going to the toilet. The instructions contribute to the application of mindfulness/concentration/meditation on such forms to develop calmness, insight and clarity.
Some meditators realise they need to give much time to such practices. They devote themselves to cultivate the methods and techniques that give support to their Dharma practice. The discourses of the teachers have a further important part to play. The meditator engages in regular meditation, shorts retreats for a weekend, week-long retreats, 10 days or weeks, months and years. The ongoing formal practice can contribute to a depth of experience and wisdom around forms, methods and techniques. The person develops the skills to apply mindfulness/concentration/meditation in a variety of circumstances in daily life. Such practitioners experience depths of kindness, non-violence, no-exploitive ethics, equanimity and a clear way of being.
Some will cling to the forms, methods, teacher and tradition. The self identifies with the language and techniques leaving a person stuck in a single approach. The form ceases to be a contribution to an enlightened and liberated life but an enclosure in the box of the form. The ego finds satisfaction in repetition of the same methods and perhaps gets more attention from the teacher or sits in the front row of a retreat as a senior meditator. The ego loves the feeling of self-importance.
Others will come to the same depth without any clinging. This keeps the depth of mindfulness and insight open to a real interest in the formless. One has spent much time in the form but the time has come to embrace a formless approach. The Buddha has addressed the importance of form and formlessness in his teachings. He acknowledged the differences and recognises that the path to liberation often starts with the forms and evolves into the meditation on the formless – such as space, consciousness, no-thing ness, neither perceptions nor non-perceptions, silence, stillness, love, God, compassion, happiness, wisdom, reality and truth.
A minority begin their spiritual exploration with the formless and then move into the exploration of a form. The deepest truths are formless. A meditator who makes the transition from form/techniques/methods does not have to reject form, nor cease going to retreats. A person has a different priority to developing mindfulness and concentration.
The person has turned their attention to liberation, to a freedom of being. Some meditators may find the language of God suitable for their deep experiences and reflection.
The Buddha offered his fullest support for those who love the capacity to know God and know the resolution of suffering. He offered equal support for those who preferred other concepts or no concepts to describe their deep experiences.
If your Buddhist teachers cannot support your feelings, and any yearnings, for God, then find a teacher in any spiritual/religious tradition who knows God.
Expand your love until it is immeasurable.
Finally, make a liberated and enlightened way of life your top priority.