David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei
Let me say right-off-the-bat I do not wish to offend anyone with a strong spiritual practice based on the belief in a superior being. I respect a pluralistic worldview and one’s own freedom to find what makes us human as we all walk the path “up the mountain” together. In fact, taking an agnostic worldview is more difficult to explain in our Western culture. Even for some Buddhist that have taken the scriptures/suttas as referring to the Buddha as a divine-like figure may also be challenged by a discourse on the topic of God (or the little god’s) when considering the topic of Creation. As a former Christian monk, I too come to this subject with a great deal of “soul” searching, contemplation, and philosophical study. But I am glad I did because my eyes have been opened to the wonder of this Universe and my expression in it; one no longer inhibited by limitations imposed by accepting the notion of a god, and all that that encompasses. I prefer to consider “creation” as a verb not a noun. And that verb is unknowable, as Siddhartha said many times.
The word “God” has a powerful effect because as soon as we hear the word meaning comes into our minds. How we consider the word depends on our conditioning that we have experienced through a lifetime of association with the culture we live in and religious affiliation of our “tribe”. It is a word that begs not to be questioned. When we hear the word “God”, if we are honest with ourselves, we sense an immediate emotional effect, and we display the personal preferences we have come to accept as representing what we believe. I think very few individuals really question the authenticity of a Creator. It is something that just isn’t questioned. The typical response when ask if we believe in God is, “Of course I believe in God, are you crazy?” That is the first problem with the word, because our minds are already closed. Our culture, our families, our communities, our social justice system is based on a superior being setting guidelines of what is moral and ethical. Without that we would experience chaos.
As a Western Buddhists, I think it is important to take an interest in this notion of God because we are living amongst a predominantly theistic culture, many being Christian, and as a Buddhists teacher I am ask this question often. It is something I have had to work out because of my interest in inter-spiritual community dialogue. Even those new to Buddhism almost always ask the question early on in their studies. As our studies become more complex and advanced this idea of universal-creation often is perplexing and unresolved as to where Creator/God fits into the picture. As Westerners this is a normal reaction, not because we want God to somehow fit in, but it is due to our past conditioning, and the power of the word that needs resolution. Interesting enough, my own teacher seemed to be very reluctant to bring the subject up. Continue reading