Thursday, October 26, 2006

Buddhism and the Idea of God

After replying to an interesting post on Evolution Considered over at Bhikkhu's Blog, I noticed a link he provided to an essay at Access to Insight on Buddhism and the God-idea by Nyanaponika Thera.

I found this essay to clearly describe Buddhist views on theism. The author draws a nice distinction between theism and belief in a creator god, noting how the former can be seen as a type of skillful means in certain circumstances, while the latter is rejected.

I especially like the way in which the author explains that Buddhism does not deny the existence of higher planes that may, in some ways, be superior to our world and type of consciousness. These planes may be populated by beings that are, in some ways, more powerful than human beings--we may call them God, gods, deities, angels, or spirits. But of course that does not imply that they are any wiser than we. These planes probably have their rulers, as we do on our plane. As the author writes, "But like any human ruler, a divine ruler too might be inclined to misjudge his own status and power, until a greater one comes along and points out to him his error, as our texts report of the Buddha."

The end of essay is worth quoting here, verbatim:
These, however, are largely matters beyond the range and concern of average human experience. They have been mentioned here chiefly for the purpose of defining the Buddhist position, and not to serve as a topic of speculation and argument. Such involvement can only divert attention and effort from what ought to be our principal object: the overcoming of greed, hatred and delusion where they are found in the here and now.

An ancient verse ascribed to the Buddha in the Questions of King Milinda says:
Not far from here do you need to look!
Highest existence — what can it avail?
Here in this present aggregate,
In your own body overcome the world!