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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #120)

Sat Mar 23, 2013, 08:53 AM

152. You and I have gotten into such debates in the past.

You appear to always have an agenda which you rarely deviate from nor make perfectly clear. You do not demonstrate to me that you read posts in response to you or to others clearly. You often speak of things with a quote that make it sound like you may have understanding, and yet you do not apparently have enough knowledge to speak authoritatively on these things.

And once more, it appears that this is the case again.

FreeState quoted religionfacts.com which said the Theravadin's are atheists and Mahayanins (which Tantric Tibetan Buddhism is a subset of) worship gods and goddesses. Therefore, since there are more Mahayanins by population, then most Buddhists worship gods and goddesses.

That is not an accurate statement about Buddhism and is a logical fail. Even www.religionfacts.com clearly states that it is a one person operation that does its best to source information but to always rely on other books and sources for clarifications and elucidations.

I offered a correction by stating Mahayanins, particular Tibetan Vajrayanins, do not 'worship' personal deities like we would consider them in the West. They are archetypes. They are concepts that make up our psychic consciousness. The Buddha and the Buddhism which followed historically is so unconcerned with 'theisms' as the West understands it in any form that saying it is atheistic, which most Westerners might understand, is most accurate.

Now let me address your quote. First of all I will state up front that I am in a Zen Order whose teacher is a Dharma heir of Master Soyen Shoku. Therefore, I have more than a passing understanding of his writings and further still have an experiential understanding of them by virtue of the Zen training I have received.

There is the original teachings of the Buddha which is elucidated in the Pali Canon. Then there is the Theravadin interpretations of those teachings, and there is the Mahayanin interpretations. Finally there is the subset of Mahayanist called Vajrayna, Tantrics or Esoteric Buddhists, which includes Tibetan but also Japanese schools like Shingon. All of the Mahayana sutras, while profoundly inspirational and of great Dharmic value, are not the original sayings or teachings of the Buddha. They are further elucidations of those original teachings often based on the Canon but not entirely. In the particular case of Tantra, there is the further addition of Indian Tantra to the original Buddha's teachings. So yes, there are the original teachings (the Pali Canon) and then there are the later expressions and interpretations (the various Sutras and Tantras). It is your choice of words not mine, to call them polluted or to suggest that I am imagining something which I am not, however, the Buddha was completely unconcerned with God, deities, or any discussion of metaphysical or supernatural forms of reality. I would recommend you read Smith & Novak's Buddhism: A Concise Introduction. It is a short yet excellent scholarly overview of Buddhism that will go into more details on what I share here. Smith is also in the same Zen order so he will confirm what I say as well.

Second, what Master Shoku is discussing here is another elucidation of the conception of nibbana albeit from a Mahayanin Zen perspective. For the Theravadin, nibbana, or enlightenment, is a state of mind and stands in opposition to samsara, another state of mind. For the Mahayanin this is still true but nibbana and samsara while appearing to be opposites are in actuality two sides of a greater ground of being. This is the Dharmakaya that is mentioned in a section you did not quote here. Another way of saying it is 'suchness', ultimate ground of being, Buddha nature, or if you must 'God'. Yet, Buddhists generally avoid the term God for just such reasons as he states. Westerners, including yourself, obviously have a set way of understanding the term and concept. God in the West is a personal singular deity if it is of the Abrahamic religions and multiple personal deities if it is of a pagan religion. God, Jesus, Thor, Hecate, Brigid, etc. all 'exist' as separate from us. To those in the West who do not believe in deities or deity, they are a-theistic. They accept the proposition of god or gods but deny the proof of it or their existence. Mystics in the Western tradition often transcend the limited dualistic view of yes or no and are closer to understanding what Buddhist mean by a 'suchness' described as 'emptiness'. It is beyond intellectualization. It is described in 'is not' rather than 'is' ways and terms. This is God as a Godhead. It is a concept without a personality. It is a metaphor that symbolizes among other things stability, permanence, unborn, unbecoming, ageless, and deathless. It is often called the Good. "The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love." -- Meister Eckhart

That Godhead is close enough that Mahayana Buddhists like Master Shoku when addressing Westerners will simply call it God as he has done in this particular Dharma teaching so that we may begin to understand and transcend the Western conception of God as personal creator. So, as I stated, but here more clearly and with greater elucidation, if atheism is the absence of a creator God, then yes, Buddhism as a whole (including all schools and traditions) is atheistic. If you understand God to be a term to describe the ultimate Reality, then yes, God can be talked about within Mahanyanic & Tantric Buddhism. These Buddhists have many other terms depending upon the school and the country of origin to describe this 'God' and don't use the term 'God' except when speaking in English to Westerners. But it is still important to recognize that this conception of God as an eternal, all-pervading, all-knowing, immaculate, uncreated and deathless Ground of Being or ultimate reality was a part of Hinduism at the time of the Buddha. This was and is still an important metaphysical component of the Upanishads. It is called 'being', atman, Brahman, or simply God. The Pali Canon makes clear that he rejected this fully and completely as the doctrine of anatta clearly demonstrates. Atta is the Pali word for the Sanskrit term atman. Anatta means then 'no self' or 'no atman', 'no Brahman' and 'no God'. Later Mahayanins attribute the Buddha's actions such that they suggest a Godhead in their Sutras and Tantras but that is an interpretation and not an exact quoting of his original verbal teachings.

Finally, with regards to the gods and goddesses which are a part of certain schools of Buddhism, they are not personal deities that have independent 'real' existence like a Western deist or polytheist might mean. I will speak of Tibetan Tantra only here as this thread is about H.H. the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism. Medicine Buddha, Green Tara, White Tara, Yamantaka, etc. are all symbolic expressions of that Godhead. They are human conceptions that assist us in understanding and realizing the true state of our minds and are merely archetypes of psychic reality. I present a link to a teaching preceding the White Tara Empowerment given at Garchen in Arizona in 2012.

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/21168136

Skip ahead to 25:00 minutes in and the Lama discusses very succinctly this idea. He even bluntly states that it takes greater intelligence to realize this distinction on the Tantric path. This is why it is not for everyone and is psychologically dangerous. Let me give a small example with Medicine Buddha. An individual receives the Empowerment and the Teachings and then attends a Medicine Buddha retreats. Medicine Buddha, however, is not objectively real yet is 100% a real experience. It is not a deity outside of oneself that offerings are made to or worship given. It is an archetype that one visualizes and experiences in order to understand the conceptions that he symbolizes. One major aspect of the Medicine Buddha is the duality of healing and disease. Medicine and cure versus poison and pestilence. It is both the capacity to be healing in approaches to life and destructive in other approaches. Sometimes medicine must be strong in order to cure. A higher Tantric teaching is that strong medicine cures the greatest disease which is ignorance of reality as it is. So real life expressions of this might be when a scientist corrects a 'creationists' on evolution. That is an expression of the Medicine Buddha's strong medicine. When a psychologist helps a client to realize that they in the present are using their cognitive faculties to create emotional discomfort, that is an expression of Medicine Buddha's strong medicine. When a parent lovingly stops an unaware child from dashing in front of car by physically holding them back, that is yet another expression of Medicine Buddha's strong medicine. But there is no supernatural intervention from a cosmic Medicine Buddha deity. There is just human agency and action expressing that compassionate love as a strong curing medicine.

I hope this clears up some of the ignorance and misunderstandings in this thread with regards to 'gods & goddesses' within Buddhism, and the uniqueness of Buddhism as a world religion that is atheistic as it lacks a concept of a creator god or gods that have independent existence.

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