Monday, July 22, 2013

Do Buddhists Believe in God?

Most often, when people ask me this question, they are referring to the god of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The short answer to this is no, they don't.

By its design, Buddhism is a non-theistic spiritual practice. In fact, one doesn't have to follow the religion of Buddhism in order to adopt its philosophy in daily life.

However, having said that, Shakyamuni Buddha was silent on the topic of belief in gods. There are Buddhists who do venerate deities, a list of some of these can be found here.  A Hindu friend once pointed out that some Hindus see the Buddha as an incarnation of the god Krishna. There are those of other faiths who view the Buddha's teachings as philosophical principles that slot in with their religion and enhance their spiritual experience. (I know one Christian and three pagans who have incorporated Buddhist teachings into their own faiths). Essentially, you don't have to be a Buddhist to adopt the Buddhist prinicples and you don't have to discard the god idea to be a Buddhist.

What it boils down to, at the end of the day, is the personal philosophy and interpretation of the individual Buddhist. Some believe in gods, others don't.

I am of the belief that being atheist or agnostic does not make a person 'evil' or incapable of telling right from wrong, or removes from them the ability to live a moral life.

Do I, personally believe in god? Not in the Abrahamic sense, no. My personal belief is that we are all born of a single divine source, to which we return. We are not separate from this source, neither are we separate from each other. We are one. Each of us is a part of a much greater whole. We are connected to each other just as the limbs and fingers and organs are connected to our own bodies. We may see these things as separate, but they all make up one whole.

Do Buddhists Worship The Buddha as Their God?

Buddha was a man. He was born Siddharta Gautama, left his life of wealth and opulance and achieved enlightenment. From then on he was known as The Buddha, or Shakyamuni Buddha and he began to teach. He was born. He lived. He taught. He died. He was not a supernatural being - he was human. Buddhists honour and venerate the Buddha and his teachings, but he is not a god.

Some Buddhists feel they should keep a shrine or a statue of the Buddha in their homes to show respect to the Buddha and the path he introduced to the world. No doubt there are those Buddhists who do see him as a divine being and wish to dedicate offerings to him. However, the Buddha himself did not wish to be raised high as a god or divine teacher. All he wished to do was impart what he had learned to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Are those Buddhists who elevate Buddha to god status wrong? No. Are those who do not elevate the Buddha wrong? No. It boils down to an individual choice.

I personally have a statue of Buddha as well as a painted likeness of his face in my home. I do not view Buddha as a god, however, I choose to see him as a teacher whom I love. I have his likeness in my home as a reminder of his teachings and what I am striving to create in my life each day.

(I also have a photo of my Ouma, which reminds me that life is fun and not to be taken too seriously. The Buddha statue and painting, to me, are the same as having that photo of my Ouma)
If You Don't Believe In God, How Can You Be Saved From Sin?

The concept of another making a blood sacrifice for the redemption of others is, again, an Abrahamic concept. In Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the idea of atonement by blood sacrifice exists. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, but later substituted a lamb for the offering. Doves and lambs were used in the Judaic traditions and, the most famous blood sacrifice appears in the Christian tradition with Jesus being crucified.

In Buddhism, it is up to the individual to take responsiblity for his own life and therefore his own 'salvation'. The concept of Karma aids in this. Every action we perform creates a cause. This cause is either helpful or unhelpful. I have written more about Karma here. Buddhists are encouraged to create helpful causes. In taking responsibility for our own lives, we cannot rely on others to 'save' us from ourselves or from the unhelpful causes we have created. We can only create better causes for ourselves and our lives.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mid Life Crisis (Part One): A (Not so) Buddhist Perspective

My well meaning, thirty year old chiropractor was rather glib as she announced, "How wonderful! The mid life crisis is an excellent time for spiritual growth." She exclaimed all of this rather gleefully as I sat in my near-to-tears-end-of-the-tether state in her office. I'd poured my heart out about the aches and pains and emotional craziness and the feeling of losing control. And she was like: "Ooh. Yay. Half your life is over." I wanted to smack her.

Clearly, she still has a way to go to enjoy the mid life experience in all its technicolour, volume turned up glory. I was as smug as she was glib: wait till she gets to forty. Ha. Ha.

And that's the other thing. I think that turning forty has turned me snarky. I'm not forty. I am snarky. Next year I'll be snarky one. It's as though the snark setting in my DNA has shifted from "optional" to "default". Pah.

I have not gone out and got myself any of the following traditional mid-life crisis toys and bells and whistles:

Young blonde arm candy
A mohawk
An age inappropriate wardrobe
Plastic Surgery

What I have got is:

A sense that I wasted my entire life up to this point
Life cover
A retirement fund
A gym membership
Severe anxiety attacks that pounce at any given moment without warning
The crushing disappointment that my life didn't turn out the way I had envisioned it when I was ten years old (which I realize is completely ridiculous and I was never going to be the one to solve the mystery of the face on Mars anyway)

Experiencing the mid life transformation is no joking matter, regardless of how many jokes are actually made about it. And yes, it IS a real thing.

Typically, mid-lifers examine their lives and start doing some (what others may think is) very weird shit. Like buying a Ferrari, changing career, dressing differently, going to gym.

For me, there is a bit of that. And a lot of questioning and confusion. And the panic attacks, of course. It is a vastly unpleasant experience. Everything is chaotic. And, it seems, not uncommon. Career, spiritual life, leisure, goals, regrets, anxiety, lack of purpose, life in general. It all seems very much up in the air. Things are changing, beliefs are coming under the spotlight. It's a lot like going through puberty again, but this time knowing better. I can understand why people go for the Ferrari and Plastic Surgery. It would be easy to make the mistake that these things would dispell the uncertainty and craziness.

I've developed an aversion to beige. I have begun wearing more make up. I want to radically change my career and do something "meaningful" with my life. Even though I am not entirely sure what "meaningful" would actually look like if it walked right past me on a bright sunny day.

And since this particular phase echoes the rebellious madness of puberty, there is a strong desire to show the world my middle finger, dust off my Doc Martens and listen to loud music whilst I pout in a darkened room all day.

Which is something that responsible adults at the age of 40 do not do. And, if I am honest, I didn't actually do as a teenager either.

I'll settle with showing the world the middle finger and not wearing beige. Oh. And living my days spouting the following, as it rather nicely sums up just how I feel: