Primary menu

A Buddhist perspective on GOD

Amaranatho's picture

Tags Associated with article

Traditional views about Buddhism and God are that Buddhists do not believe in God and it is often quoted that the Buddha would not answer questions about the subject.


I am going to reflect on the subject in the light of my own personal development, using both the Buddhist framework and the integral approach of Ken Wilber.[1] 


In my tradition everything is up for reflection: see how it works for you; it is not a proclamation and it's not a thinking process.


Buddhists don't shy away from the God-centred religions

I live in a Buddhist monastery near Hemel Hempstead called Amaravati. It consists of a multicultural/multi-ethnic community of 40 monks and nuns and another 30/40 guests, and has an attached retreat centre for 60 people. We have about 13 different nationalities resident with not one home-grown Buddhist amongst us. On the whole we are Westerners brought up in mainly Christian and atheist backgrounds but with a disproportionate amount of Jews, of whom I am one. The monastery in this country is about thirty years old with roots in the Thai Theravadin form of Buddhism, in particular the Forest Tradition.


Over the years - and it is still in process - the tradition has adapted to Western culture and attitudes, and some Westerners have taken on the attitudes of their Asian counterparts. In the beginning quite a lot of effort was put into understanding what was Thai, what was Buddhist, what was cultural, what is appropriate for this country, and so on. In the early 80s, a very successful interfaith event was run at the monastery and this led to some very important connections. About two years ago, the Christian seminary in Yorkshire called Mirfield ran a Buddhist-Christian inter-monastic conference. We held different prayers/meditation and discussions. I think it just blew the minds of all that attended. It was outstanding that there were monastics on both sides that could translate their religion and experience into language that everybody could understand. What I think most of us drew from this was how much we have in common in terms of daily structure, practice and religious experience.


Amaravati regularly runs Buddhist-Christian retreats on-site and Christian-Buddhist retreats at a local nunnery. We have regularly had Christian nuns and monks stay with us, sometimes for long periods. At Christmas time, the local church has had more Buddhists than Christians at its midnight mass. We have even blessed a Franciscan monk for his lifetime vows and Christian monks and nuns have come to our ordinations. Similar interactions have occurred with the other religions. So what I'm pointing to with all this is that Buddhism does not shy away from the God-centred religions, or discourage the practices.





God is oneness

I would like to offer my own personal reflections on the God thing. Firstly, God is a Western word: it's not the word used originally in the religions. Secondly, all the major religions that use the word ‘God' in this context say there is only one God.  For me, God is then the label that we can attribute to oneness.


In the Buddhist scheme of things we are asked to investigate what experience is and we have various tools and practices to try to help us. What does one mean? In my understanding it means not to be split, to be undivided; as soon as we try to think about one we have already become divided. We have a thought and thinker. When we have this we always have conflict, there is a ‘you' and a ‘me'. We turn the world into subject and object. Conflict or suffering arises because this subject wants something and can't get it, or wants to get rid of something and can't. It wants to define and then understand what ‘one' is. What the Buddha suggests is that, if you stay undivided in the one, there is no conflict.


The attitude that can best describe this is acceptance of everything: the good and bad, right and wrong. It's not an agreement about the way things are. It's a recognition of the way things are. It's not that from this point you don't change anything: that you just accept that somebody is going to hit you and allow him. Staying in pure subjectivity, undivided, knowing ... gives access to what my teacher Ajahn Sumedho calls intuitive awareness.


Intuitive Awareness is a way to respond to the situation (responsibility - the ability to respond) which frees you from cultural/social/political/religious views that you may have taken in as part of the process of maturing as an identity. It's not that these views are wrong, but they may have never been questioned. They are taken for granted and, hence, could limit your experience. I can hear in my head the ‘ifs', the ‘buts' and possibilities with all this, so I would like to frame all this within a context.


Attempting some understanding of God

The way God has been seen is very much based on the cognitive, emotional and spiritual development of a person. For me, Ken Wilber champions this view with what he calls integral spirituality. The development of the world so far can be split into three road areas: pre-modern, modern and post-modern, which has an overall effect on our view of what God could be. Pre-modern includes archaic, animistic/magical, power gods, mythic gods. Modern includes scientific/rational and pluralistic. Post-modern includes integral and maybe holistic.  In his scheme of things, we go through each of these stages as we unfold/develop as persons/identities.


Ken Wilber does not deny that you can have a very deep and powerful experience of oneness at any one of these stages, but your interpretations in relation to it and actions will be based on how you have personally developed. Another three areas go with this to make what he calls the four-quadrant approach. Simplified they can be called ‘I', ‘we', and ‘it', or ‘the beautiful' ‘the good' and ‘the true'- which Ken Wilber calls our validity claims. So there is - my experience, the experience when we are together and the experience of things - ‘its'. Both the ‘I' and ‘it' experience has an interior and exterior, giving you four quadrants. This is not a reductionistic framework, it is a sort of correlative one - that when something is happening in one quadrant, the other three quadrants will have an effect on the overall outlook.[2]


In this way it just about allows for everything: your interior world, the reasons for that interior world, the cultural and world-view and social systems.


I will leave you with a paragraph from Ken Wilber's The Simple Feeling of Being.


God, for Augustine, is what you know before you know anything else, and upon which everything else depends, and something that can never actually be doubted. God as ground, not just of all beings, but of our own immediate and primordial awareness - this is the call of Augustine. How similar to the Eastern traditions! ... If you think you have not found or seen the primordial Self, the awareness of that lack is itself the supposedly lacking self.


In summary, I've defined God as the label that we use for oneness and reflected on it from a personal Buddhist perspective and put it in the context of Ken Wilber's Integral Approach.  As with all the teachings of the Buddha, just take what you like, or nothing. If any of this has offended you, I ask your forgiveness.

[1] http:/ or Ken Wilber's book The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the RevolutionaryIntegral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything

[2] or Ken Wilber's book The Integral Vision: A Very Short   Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything  

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Glossary terms will be automatically marked with links to their descriptions. If there are certain phrases or sections of text that should be excluded from glossary marking and linking, use the special markup, [no-glossary] ... [/no-glossary]. Additionally, these HTML elements will not be scanned: a, abbr, acronym, code, pre.
  • Insert Flickr images: [flickr-photo:id=230452326,size=s] or [flickr-photoset:id=72157594262419167,size=m].

More information about formatting options