The Buddha taught the Way to God. Part One of Two

The second edition of The Buddha of Love has an additional chapter.

Title of chapter is:
THE BUDDHA TAUGHT THE WAY TO GOD

Chapter Two
“Filled with love and compassion, one dwells suffusing the whole world everywhere.” (DN i 252)

The Buddha deeply respected the religious faith of his contemporaries in India. He did not limit his teachings and practices to a strictly secular view of life. The Buddha responded in supportive ways to those who believed in God and wanted to know a way to be with God. He also supported those who did not believe in God but were profoundly interested in exploring the profundity of human experience.

He showed the way to finding God in the heart – namely a profound depth of:

  • Metta (Love – including friendship and kindness)
  • Karuna (Compassion – action to end suffering)
  • Mudita (Appreciative Joy – the heart’s receptivity to precious experiences)
  • Upekkhà (Equanimity – the capacity to stay steady in storms from within or without).

Brahma in the Hindu tradition has a similar meaning as the term God has in the Christian, Islamic and Jewish tradition.

The Buddha placed emphasis on divine heartfelt experience rather than adopting a belief in a metaphysical entity called God, who creates, rewards and punishes us.

He trusted in the God (Brahma), who reveals himself/herself in the depths of the heart. His teachings do not postpone the Kingdom of God/Abode of God (Brahma Vihara) to an afterlife but aim to establish it on Earth.

Some Buddhist scholars translate Brahma Vihara as Divine Abiding, a term which sits more comfortably with those who have no connection with the word ‘God.’

The Buddha gave much value to friendship, kindness and love over and above worship, devotion and religious beliefs. He emphasized the importance of friendship in the Sangha. He regarded the Sangha as his friends, and he regarded himself as a friend of others. He made clear that every aspect of the spiritual life involves acts of friendship.

The Buddha said he gave teachings for the “welfare of the many, out of empathy for the many, for the welfare and happiness of Gods (those who were one with God, plus kings, leaders, rich, powerful, gurus, Brahmins, saints and those people looked up to) and everybody else. He emphasised the significance of empathy (anukampa) as a basic condition to support others. The presence of a clear heart and mind then has the support of empathy without being bound to empathy (S i 206) in order to respond to a situation.

He regarded spiritual practices to reach God to enable actions to express an unwavering connection and support for the happiness and welfare of others.

He strongly encouraged seasoned practitioners to “teach the Dharma that is beneficial in the beginning, beneficial in the middle and beneficial in the end.” Full liberation from any stress with life and full awakening bring the teachings to a closure.

The teachings also emphasise the importance of giving in a variety of ways. “One who gives pleasing things receives pleasing things,” he commented (A iii 49).

He saw the relationship between teachers/practitioners/yogis, householders and non-householders/non-ordained as mutually supportive due to acts of generosity and presence of empathy.

The selfless acts of generosity contribute to the happiness of the giver in the future. This aspect of the teachings, known as ‘making of merit’ in the Buddhist tradition, has touched a deep place in the hearts of Buddhists in Asian countries for the past 2600 years. Asian Buddhist frequently make merit through providing the necessary provisions for monks, nuns and monasteries

Few Western Buddhists engage in the deliberate practice of merit-making through gifts, money, skills, energy and service. Many offer much to support the development of the Dharma in the West even though the concept of merit making barely strikes a chord.

In the teachings, there is a recognition of the benefits for the giver as well as the receiver. People asked the Buddha to accept their gifts out of empathy for them, knowing the future benefits in terms of happiness and contentment. Ethics, merit making, generosity and empathy contribute to the path towards knowing and being with God.

The Buddha’s Discourse on Love

Some of those in the Sangha, who lived a nomadic way of life, dwelt in the forest near Savatthi during the monsoon. They were experiencing a hard time with the conditions. In his Discourse on Love, the Buddha told them to reflect on his words on abiding in an upright way, unswayed by negative emotions around them and to develop kindness toward all sentient beings.

His poetic reflection to apply showed the way to put an end to problematic views and problematic desires.

Let him be able, and upright and straight,

Easy to speak to, gentle, and not proud,

Contented too, supported easily,

With few tasks, and living very lightly;

His faculties serene, prudent, and modest,

Unswayed by the emotions of the clans (family, society);

And let him never do the slightest thing

That other wise men might hold blameable.

 

(And let him respond:) “In safety and in bliss

May creatures all be of a blissful heart.

Whatever breathing beings there may be.

No matter whether they are frail or firm,

With none excepted, be they long or big

Or middle-sized, or be they short or small

Or thick, as well as those seen or unseen,

Or whether they are dwelling far or near,

Existing or yet seeking to exist.

 

May creatures all be of a blissful heart.

Let no one work another one’s undoing

Or even slight him at all anywhere:

And never let them wish each other ill

Through provocation or resentful thought.”

And just as might a mother with her life

Protect the son that was her only child,

So, let him then for every living thing

Maintain unbounded consciousness in being;

 

And let him too with love for all the world

Maintain unbounded consciousness in being

Above, below, and all round in between,

Untroubled, with no enemy or foe.

And while he stands or walks or while he sits

Or while he lies down, free from drowsiness,

Let him resolve upon this mindfulness:

This is Abiding with God (Divine Abiding) here, they say.

 

But when he has no trafficking with views,

Is virtuous, and has perfected seeing,

And purges greed for sensual desires,

The ego comes no more to land in this world. (KP 8-9)

These beautiful verses on the approach and attitude towards love have served as an inspiration and source of clarity for generations of practitioners, whether of a religious disposition or not. “One develops in the soil of meditative concern for others until full awakening, so that love and compassion come naturally and effortlessly daily.” (A i 181-184)

Furthermore, love/friendship/kindness also give sustains oneself while giving support to others. He gives the example of an acrobat and his apprentice. Both watch out for themselves and thereby give support to the other through the establishment of mindfulness. The example shows that:

  • One who protects himself through mindfulness protects others.
  • One protects himself through the practice of mindfulness/meditation
  • One who protects others protects oneself.
  • How does one protect others? By patience, non-harm, love and tenderness.

These responses recognise that the power of loving kindness for others can help sustain our lives as well.

The Application of the Divine Heart

God finds also finds expression through compassion (karuna) and tenderness (anudhaya). The Buddha praised those who support others.

The Buddha looked at the vulnerability of the lives of citizens due to internal, external and environmental forces. He listed eight areas of concern for families.

  1. Rulers
  2. Theft
  3. Fire
  4. Flood
  5. Mismanagement, being misguided
  6. Not working, loss of livelihood
  7. Squanderers of money in the family
  8. Impermanence

He said he experienced empathy while living a solitary life in the forest. He told the Brahmin Janussoni that he lives his austere life in the forest out of empathy for people in the future, not because of the pleasant experience of such a way of life.

Brahmins considered themselves the representatives of Brahma, of God. The Buddha regularly challenged this claim. He regularly reminded Brahmins that God abides in the heart, not in belief systems.

The Buddha also added that the deepest teachings/practices included the Four Truths of the Noble Ones and the Four Applications of Mindfulness, namely breath/body, feelings, states of mind and application of the Dharma Such teachings show the way to liberation and waking up. He encouraged teachers to ensure their practitioners reached stream entry, a term for those who have tasted liberation, which includes an unwavering commitment to exhaust all issues of heart/mind. One practices out of ‘compassion for the world,’ (Dii119), he emphasised.

The Buddha referred to himself as an example of dedication to others. “Whatever should be done by a compassionate teacher out of compassion his practitioners, seeking their welfare, that I have done for you. Meditate. Do not be heedless. Do not have cause to regret it later. This is our instruction to you.” (A iv 140). He called for others to adopt the same approach of ongoing dedication.

The willingness to live apart from society provided the Buddha and his practitioners with an inner space and non-attachment to goods and consumerism. He said that a non-materialistic lifestyle, free from the pursuit of money and pleasure, gives access to spiritual experiences when it is accompanied with teachings and practices.  These practices included pointing the way to find God, being with God and being one with God.

Wisdom resolves suffering partly due to the application of empathy. It is empathy which enables the wise to think, speak and act in ways that are true and beneficial, whether what is stated is pleasant or unpleasant to hear. The teachings and practises enabled them to understand the truth of suffering, its causes, its resolution and the way.

Prince Abhaya asked the Buddha whether he would say anything disagreeable to others. The Prince added in a provocative way that only an ordinary person would say what is disagreeable, (M i 394) hinting that the Buddha might have an ordinary mind. The Buddha replied that that there was no categorical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to such a question. Instead, he asked Prince Abhaya: “If your son put a pebble in his mouth, what would you do?

The Prince replied: “I would extract it, even though it was painful and caused his mouth to bleed. Why is that? Because I have compassion for the child.”

The Buddha responded that he “utters speech which is true, correct and beneficial out of compassion for beings.” He then turned to the Prince and asked him: “Are you skilled in the way of the chariot?

The Prince replied that he was a charioteer skilled in all the parts of a chariot. which he could speak about to others.  The Buddha said he trained himself in the knowing all the elements of things and so could answer questions from the powerful, Brahmins, householders and yogis ‘on the spot.’

Renunciation of Harmful Actions

Clarity of mind and empathy in the heart point the way to abiding with God through deep experiences of love, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. Dedicated followers of the Buddha renounce all weapons for the welfare of all living and breathing beings. (Di63 and Di71 250). Experiencing God requires the renunciation of abuse, anger and blame.

The teachings directly encourage householders and yogis to find God through turning away from/dissolve harmful actions of body, speech and mind. They encourage supportive practices for insights, empathy and kindness. The Buddha emphasised listening to teachings of “what has not been heard before” and “reflecting on teachings of what has been heard.”

Ethics, mindfulness, making merit and trust show the way to Kingdom of God.

General Siha, the leader of an army, asked the Buddha to name the benefits of acts of generosity (A iv 79-81). The Buddha told him to imagine two kinds of people. One is selfish, hard and abusive. The other is generous and delights in acts of generosity. Who would receive first the compassion of another? Siha said his experience confirmed the words of the Buddha. Generous people in fact are met more often with compassion by their fellow beings. He added that while he had no experience of life after death, he had enough trust in the Buddha to follow his advice on embracing generous action.

In a well-known one-liner, the Buddha commented that showing a loving mind even for a duration of a snap of finger confirms a true follower of the teaching (Ai10). Such a person contributes to fulfilling the teachings (A I 110). If the practices benefit you, others or both, you should apply the necessary effort (A iv 124-35).

One develops an ending to negativity and blame with a heart full of love and free from corruption of the mind. One dwells liberated through wisdom and insight offering teachings in the spirit and the letter. There is nothing more perfect.

A practitioner who pervades the world with love, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity cannot engage in harmful actions (karma) (A v 300).

The Buddha did not offer methods or techniques to find God but simply stated to engage fully in the above four expressions of the heart until they were totally established in the being. He made clear in various ways the benefit for one and all. For example, he said: “Those who have reverence for awakening, the Dharma and the Sangha of the wise along with the training of meditation and heedfulness also have reverence for hospitality.” (A iv 125).

Abiding in love, one destroys the harmful influences (asavas) of desire, becoming of the ego, not seeing and harmful views. The Buddha described such a person as true Brahmin, a true person of God. He added: “People of practice get along with each other like a ‘mixture of milk and water’ and know the deep benefit of giving and receiving metta through body (actions), speech and mind.”(M i 31) The conditions that lead to collective happiness consist of kindness, sharing, non-harmful, non-exploitive values and knowing a wise view that leads to the end of suffering.

The Buddha’s knows the importance of finding God.  He told the practitioners that he knows of no other phenomena comparable to liberation of the heart (metta ceto-vimutti), when one wishes to stop anger/blame/negativity arising and to remove such aversion once arisen. (A i 17). He strongly encouraged the liberation of love. He applied the same principle to compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity.

He said the path to God comes through pervading all directions with these experiences (M ii 76) so that the mind is “imbued” with these four expressions of the heart. God consists of the mind imbued in such a way.

The practitioner finds ways every single day to express, love/friendship, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. With an unwavering daily commitment, this practice leads to abiding in the Kingdom of God. Regular meditations on these themes support the practice. One dedicates oneself wholeheartedly to such an approach regardless of surrounding circumstances.

Manibhadda said to the Buddha that a mindful person, who finds happiness today, will be released from negativity in the near future.

The Buddha dismissed the view. Such a person does not have to postpone the end of negativity to the future, he said.  “One who delights in non-violence and non-harming all day and night, and loves all beings has no negativity towards anyone” (SN 10iIV). “We will continue to relate to the entire world with minds endowed with love – untroubled, free from negativity, vast, expansive and immeasurable (Mi127).

The Expansive Heart and Communion with God

Abiding with God, one generates love, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity in all directions due to the liberation of mind. He compared such a mind with a strong conch shell blower, who blows the conch hard, so its sound goes in all directions. This expansive outreach confirms communion with God (D. i. 250-51).

Those who find the way to God need to guard against confusing love with attachment/clinging to a person(s) or things, confusing compassion with pity, appreciative joy with grasping onto the pleasant and equanimity with indifference.

The Buddha said that the path of getting close to God is not equal to the complete cessation of the ego, a fully liberating knowledge, the total end of suffering or an awakened life (Dii251). Sariputta, one of senior teachers of the Buddha’s community told the Buddha that he gave teachings to a Brahmin searching to find God. He stated that this search was of utmost importance for the Brahmin. Even more important than finding Nirvana – cessation of suffering (M ii 195-196).

Yet, some Brahmins speak to others of the search for God but have not found God themselves.

“It is like seeking out the most beautiful girl in the country, yet not knowing her name, age or family or what she looks like, “the Buddha commented.

The Buddha accepted Sariputta’ s approach but encouraged him to remind seekers of their capacity to understand the four noble truths. While giving emphasis to the importance of wisdom and understanding, the Buddha also recognised that some people find in their abiding with God full realisation of awakening and liberation. (A ii 129).

Listening to the Buddha, Jivaka came to regard the Buddha as a manifestation of God (M I 369). The Buddha offered him a different view. He said that the sublime equanimity which if Jivaka perceived as being divine, is due to the absence of any problematic desire, blame and confusion. Such notions have been uprooted in the mind of a liberated being and are unable to arise in the future. If Jivaka’s viewpoints to equanimity in such sense, the Buddha stated that he would accept the title given to him.

Authentic liberation for the Buddha means eradication of all harmful influences and patterns.

What God did not know

Religious people for numerous centuries, including before the time of the Buddha, believe God is all-knowing and all powerful. Those devoted to God have sincerely believe that if they find God on Earth, they will go direct to the God’s world (Brahma loka) upon their death. The Buddha did not reject such religious aspirations to be united with God upon death. He made clear though that the supreme goal took place on Earth, namely the complete cessation of suffering through a threefold training embracing ethics, meditation and wisdom.

The Buddha did not hold on to a view of the omniscience of God.  He took the opportunity to show the limits of what God knows. A person may appeal to God for an answer to their deepest questions, but God may not have the capacity to respond. Devotion, prayer and personal sacrifice may not elicit a response to his or her question.

A devotee of God may easily assume that God does not reply due to the failings or sins of the devotee. The Buddha took a different view. God does not have an answer to everything. This is why the ‘voice’ of God remained silent.

In a discourse (D i 123) titled What God Did Not Know, the Buddha said the real miracle is found in the teachings that bring about such profound realisations to end suffering. He said he rejected yogi claims to miraculous powers since it generates scepticism and doubts.

A practitioner asked God, who he regarded as all-seeing, all-powerful, the Creator and Father of all: “Where do all the four great elements (earth, air, heat and water) cease without remainder?”  No answer came from God. God did not seem to know.

The inquirer approached the Buddha with the same question.  The Buddha responded with a story of a seafaring merchant, who took a bird to release at sea, which would fly in various directions to try to see land and then might have to return to the ship. In the same way, God looked in all directions but had to come back to the ship and the seafaring merchant.

The seeker asked the same question to the Buddha. Instead, the Buddha suggested a different question.

“Where do earth, air, heat and water no footing find?

“Where are name and form (mind/matter, subject/object/psychology/physicality cease?

The Buddha replied

“Where consciousness is signless, boundless and luminous

That’s where earth, air, heat and water find no footing.

(Such a consciousness has no footing when it does not grasp onto signs or marks of the elements).

The Buddha pointed the way to God but did not regard finding God as the highest attainment open to humanity.

The long-standing conflict of whether God exists or does not exist has little relevance in the Buddha’s teachings. He showed an expansive exploration, which embraces notions of the existence of God and the non-existence of God. This approach enabled theists and atheists, as well as the undecided, to explore the Dharma according to their religious, spiritual or secular sensitivities.

The Buddha always gave priority to a liberating wisdom free from clinging to standpoints.

The Buddha of Love

Published 2015

Christopher Titmuss

ISBN 978-1-326-14689-4

230 pages £9.95

Available on Kindle. £4.95.

Part Two. 

Meditation on Love/Friendship/Kindness

Meditation on Compassion

Meditation on Appreciative Joy

Meditation on Equanimity

 

 




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