Tag Archives: agnostic thoughts on God

God: The Human Creation

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

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Can A Buddhist Ask “Does God Exist?”

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

For some time now I have wanted to talk about the subject of whether or not God exist.  You can imagine that as a Buddhist teacher I get asked if I believe in a God frequently by those unfamiliar with Buddhist thought.  You see, our culture is confused about what Buddhists believe, and the role Siddhartha, the Buddha, expresses in the Buddhist faith.  The word “faith” goes along with the word “God” when the question is ask most of the time, that is why I am using it here. Considering this question, Buddhism generally takes a more pragmatic and agnostic approach, rather then get involved in theological dogma, preferring neither to say yes or no, and thus taking the Middle Way.  The Buddha himself did not deny or confirm the existence of a Creator God, but taught that there is no need to have an answer to this question because it did not achieve awareness of how we are that can lead to an enlightened state of body-mind.  Theism is not a central component of Siddhartha’s path to enlightenment, and the notion of a God was one of those questions he refused to speculate about because he was more intent on individuals seeking a way from their unsatisfactoriness through their own experiences, and thus to human flourishing.

But many of our Buddhist legacy teachers did speak about this question in either direct or indirect ways.  I will stick my neck out here and say that many of our enlightened Buddhist masters may have spoken about the “Does God Exist” question because they considered the answer to be in the question.  For myself, I believe the question is more complex than a simple yes or no answer, or even taking an agnostic worldview.  That is why I refer to myself as a reluctant agnostic.  I think the answer to this hard question requires a more nuanced consideration, as my spiritual practice works to seek an answer that expresses something more then a simple dismissal of what reality may be.  Much of my adult life has been seeking the quest for an answer to this question, and unsatisfactory answers was the major reason I left my Christian monastic practice.  Now that I am walking the Buddhist path, the quest is still a driving force in my recognition of how I am.  But my view of how the word “God” has transformed into a wider concept then just creation being a noun has dramatically changed how I approach the subject now, taking into consideration my understanding of the principles of mutual-causality, impermanence and the reality of a non-dual state of being.  When I am ask the question now, I generally ask, “What do you mean by God?”  This delays the obvious perhaps, but it gets the questioner a chance to think about their own way of expressing a question that has no absolute response.  I think an answer is incomprehensible if it is a good one anyway.

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