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.