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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Of Gods, Bodhisattvas and Shrines.

This post was taken from a comment about a discussion of Richard Dawkin's excellent book, "The God Delusion" and the concept of a Creator God on Buddha Space. I've written about this before but have some new insights. Ah the many facets of the diamond that is the Buddhadharma:

My "Creator God" is science. However, I do not worship at the altar of science as some atheists and others do. Attaching too much to it. I see it as an impersonal force that holds everything together. The cosmic glue. I do not believe that one needs to believe in a God to be a good person. I am my own savior or my own destructive downfall.

However, I also believe that the existence or nonexistence of any deities is unknown but not necessarily unknowable. It's hard to shut the door on anything completely in this unpredictable universe. A scientist must also leave room for unforeseen information. For me personally I'm 99.99999% certain that there is no Creator God. Yet most of the time it doesn't really have much impact on my practice one way of the other--the idea of Creator God that is. I just don't see the need for a Creator God in my life or in existence overall.

The same goes for the gods and Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. I do not believe in the literal reality of these beings. I see them more as archetypes of what I want to become and need to avoid. So I believe in them in so far as I believe that I have their same potential with me. So I keep some Bodhisattva statues around the house like Avalokiteshvara/Kwan Yin because in part, I am a visual learner. I like having a visual representations as reminders to live more compassionately, etc. It's kind of like having a note up on the door to remind you each day to "Smile more" or a post-it note on the bathroom mirror to "be nicer."

The difference being the Bodhisattva "notes" are beautiful works of art to admire and find peace in. There is something in the way these Buddha and Bodhisattvas statues' faces are carved that always bring me a feeling of serenity and as an artist I really find something valuable in that. I forget easily and having that physical, visual reminder helps a lot. I'm not attached, however, to these statues and what they do for me. I am able to remember to be what I want to be without them as well. They simply add a flair to my practice, which I admit I have a bit of a weakness for at times. I do like a touch of artistic expression in my practice.

I certainly do not believe though that one must have these statues in their houses to be motivated and encouraged to be nicer, more compassionate, etc. And for those that firmly believe in the literal reality of bodhisattvas, gods, demons and believe in praying to them I say keep on doing what works best for you in your life. It it helps you reduce suffering in your personal life and within your relationships then that's about all that matters. There are many shades of light shining through the diamond of the Dharma; purple, red, green and blue but all is light. Plus the statues are beautiful art to have around the house. I believe that all that which encourages the Dharma is to be encouraged and shared with those who wish to hear of it. I do not believe in forcing others into hearing about Buddhism or coercing people into it. That only causes more suffering.

As for shrines I see them as places where a person can visit and find great strength and empowerment. As well as being a place where one can interactively and very physically make a connection with all humanity. There is a sense of connection when visiting places that many people consider special and places of refuge. It is a site that is a physical representation of all the aspirations and dedications of countless fellow aspirants practicing for the same ideals. That can be a powerful experience affirming the stabilizing presence of oneness. Offerings at shrines, altars and temples are for me symbolic acts of affirming my willingness to sacrifice my desires for realization of ultimate liberation from suffering. That said, I do not believe that offering a few coins at the alter will ensure a god intercedes on my behalf but if it helps you be a more centered person then all the best to you. Gassho.

~Peace to all beings~

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Jamie G. said...


Shinzen Nelson said...

Good post James. My feelings and thoughts are very close to yours. Statues, artwork of Bodhisattva's, etc are wonderful mnemonics for myself as well as archetypes of inspiration.

Adam said...


elbibis said...

I think your points of view are very honest.

Mountain Humanist said...

For a long time, I rejected Buddhism (I was a freshly minted atheist who came out of the Ayn Rand tradition) because I assumed practitioners were literally worshiping the Buddha or demi-gods.

It was only after listening and reading Alan Watts, both Suzukis and Thich Naht Hahn that I realized this was a mistaken assumption (mostly..there are some Buddhists who attach theistic principles to their practice).

It's always beneficial to read another Buddhist's take on this fascinating subject.

Like you James I am 99.9999 percent certain that gods do not exist. I don't believe in the super-natural just the undiscovered. In fact, the universe will probably turn out to be 1,000-times more amazing then most super-naturalists can suppose.

If we ever discover a god, my first question will be: What created you?

They call him James Ure said...

Mountain Humanist said:

I don't believe in the super-natural just the undiscovered. In fact, the universe will probably turn out to be 1,000-times more amazing then most super-naturalists can suppose.

If we ever discover a god, my first question will be: What created you?

Very, very well said and I totally agree. Just because something is unknown doesn't mean we have to fill that "gap" with the supernatural. I feel very much at ease with some stuff still yet to be fully figured out by science.

Paul said...

Hi James, yeah, I have been reading your blog all the time Just not really responding as such.

Anyway, this is very thought provoking as I have found all your posts to be. So I put myself in the position of someone who had been asked who my creator was and indeed I would say my mum and dad.

But there is a part of me, and maybe this is the 15mg of daily Zen, but I would ask the person "What is creation? and Who am I? If I didn't exist then would there be no creator? Did this creator create some of nothing or nothing of something?"

We are all one. So I have not been created. I am part of the whole that is now. So it doesn't matter who or what created me what matters now


They call him James Ure said...


Well said. Creation is but one frame in an infinite film strip.

Marco said...

Well, for me, there really is a Creator God. The very essence of our existence is because of our Creator.

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