Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What God Do You Want With That?

An actual post about Buddhism.  Will wonders never cease.  Yeah, okay, I've been a little remiss in the whole point of this blog's existence.  So here's my latest little sermonette.  It focuses on the existence of God, something which I, as a Twelve-Step person, am not supposed to be questioning.  But I do, all the time.  The brain doesn't turn off just because it's supposedly vital to my continued survival.

I heard Buddhism described once as "a religion without a god," assuming that Buddhists don't believe in God.  Well, you'd have to ask a Buddhist.  Actually, you'd have to ask ten Buddhists, and then you'd get twenty answers and forty deep discussions.  Yes, I know I've said that before, but it doesn't make it any less true.  Still, to call Buddhism "a religion without a god" is kind of a misnomer.  Buddhism, like Christianity, spread over a large area in a relatively short period of time, and like Christianity, it basically overlaid the religious practices that were already in existence and sort of absorbed them.  When Christianity showed up (relatively late) in Ireland, many of the local Celtic and pagan gods became part of the new faith.  "Oh, you have a god named Bridget? Well, you must mean Saint Bridget!  Let me tell you all about Saint Bridget..."  Oh, and the Horned One/Forest God?  He kinda didn't fare so well.  You see a horned being in Christianity, he's probably not good news.  I'm just saying.

In the same way, Buddhism has a slew of higher beings called bodhisattvas and arhats and other
weird-sounding Sanskrit names.  One of these guys is named Skandha, the Buddhist guardian against temptation to overindulgent behavior.  I kid you not, Buddhism created an entire being to ward off the mad urge to have more than one cookie with dinner.  I happen to know about him because my therapist, who was perhaps becoming exasperated as to how often this God thing kept coming up, said, "Why don't you just look up some of those bodhisattvas and pick one?"  I picked Skandha because he looked like the leader of a motorcycle gang.  Seriously, doesn't he?  It's something about the helmet.  And maybe the chestplate.  
But I feel really stupid trying to pretend Skandha's following me around, eternally on the lookout for extra cookies.  It just feels kind of silly, like having an imaginary friend.  The truth is, I didn't believe in God well before I became a Buddhist.  I told my Lutheran pastor that I didn't believe in God right before the big Christmas service.  He said, "What God don't you believe in?" and I was kind of stuck for an answer for a minute there, but then I said, "The Old Testament God."  He said, "Well, I don't believe in that God either."  Which was reassuring, especially for a Lutheran pastor, but then he ruined it by saying, "That's why we have a New Testament."

I asked my Buddhist monk friend ChiSing if there was a God and he said it didn't matter if there was one or not.  When I pressed him on it, he said that if there is a God, he needs to be enlightened, and if he's enlightened already, well, then that's just grand, isn't it?  Which is just irritating in the extreme, but then, conversations with Buddhist monks often are.  Still, I would say most Buddhists probably believe in God.  At least, the ones that I know seem to.  Some of them actually mention God from time to time.  Others talk about "the Universe" taking care of things, and something like the Universe is so exponentially huge and beyond human comprehension that it might as well be God.  I also meet Buddhists who think that the whole question of whether or not there's a god just isn't one that's worth spending a lot of mental energy on.  There either is one, or there isn't one, and (tossing up the hands in dramatic fashion) we have no control over it anyway.  Buddhists are big on not having any control over things.  So are Twelve-Step people.

Lately I've been thinking of taking on Google as my Higher Power.  Google has all the answers.  It doesn't necessarily have correct answers, but answers--it's got 'em.  If you want correct answers, forget Google and go talk to your friendly local librarian.  She'll help you find them.  Hm, maybe the librarian should be my Higher Power.  I live with a librarian already, so it'll be a short trip to church.

Anyway, I still don't believe in God.  And if the question is, what God don't I believe in, then the answer is, I don't believe in the god of Abraham or the god of Peter and Paul.  I don't believe in Thor, either (but I kind of wish I did).  I believe that the Bible is basically a history of a people who decided to use their religion as an excuse not to get along with their neighbors.  We're still using that excuse today, every day, all over the world.  We may have all these neato technical advances and we may have extended the boundaries of science catrillions of times farther than our forefathers ever thought possible, but as far as becoming better people, we have evolved exactly zero points since the Bronze Age, and I think religion has a lot to do with that.

What I  do believe in, is fate.  I believe in signs and portents, miracles and wonders.  I believe that there are certain threads of space and time that are meant to come out a certain way, and that eventually they will get there no matter what steps in front of them.  I believe that there's a  kind of cosmic force, if you will, that makes us all alive, and that force is inside every being that lives or has ever been alive or ever will be alive everywhere in the universe.  I believe that if an energy force can have an intention (and I believe it can), it wants us all to do the right thing, and maybe be a little nicer to each other.  I believe if you get in touch with this intention, then your life and the lives of everyone around you will become infinitely easier.  And I believe that one of the ways to get in touch with this intention is Buddhism.

Though, to be honest, the I Ching coins and the Tarot cards don't hurt.

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