Tuesday, November 27, 2012


In fact, I don't necessarily agree with the Buddha's religion.

By "the Buddha's religion," I don't mean Buddhism - that certainly wasn't his religion and no one called anything "Buddhism" until many, many years after his death.  I sometimes imagine that he wouldn't have wanted his teaching to be so closely aligned with his own identity.

Gautama Buddha lived in a society that practiced an early Vedic form of Hinduism, and the Buddha often spoke of gods and deities in his sutras and lectures.  During his meditation under the Bodhi Tree, he says he was visited by the god Mara.  The Buddhist cosmology speaks of heavenly realms and of gods, and even supposes that humans might be reincarnated as gods themselves (surprisingly, not considered to be a happy rebirth, as existence as a god is so fulfilling that one has no incentive to seek nirvana and escape the wheel of samsara until an eventual rebirth back into the lower realms).

Today, we modern Westerners tend to consider gods like Mara to be psychological states, not actual deities, and we look at discussion of the supernatural realms as parts of colorful but not literal lessons.  Which is fine, but is not what the early Buddhists believed or what Gautama taught.  

It doesn't matter what metaphysical concepts he may or may not have believed in, however, or what we may or may not believe today.  What matters are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  If, while on that path, you believe in a God in heaven, or many gods in many heavens, or no gods anywhere at all, it matters no more than if Gautama believed that Mara was a state of mind, an allegory, or a god.  

It's like if you want to study and learn the music of Mozart, it doesn't matter whether you believe in astrology or not - the music of Mozart has nothing to do with whether or not astrology is true (by the way, it isn't).  The buddha-dharma as I understand it is about this life, here and now, and it doesn't matter what ideas you hold in your head about the supernatural.

Buddhism is like water, in that it can take the shape and form of whatever vessel into which it is poured.

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