Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween: Is there a "devil' or a "God"?

Dhr. Seven, Maya, Pat Macpherson, Amber Larson Wisdom Quarterly HALLOWEEN SERIES
Is the Devil "Death" (Mara) personified? (Patrick Woodroffe/
Why do we carve pumpkin jack o' lanterns for Halloween? (
Does Wisdom Quarterly believe in the Christian "devil"? 
Sakka (St. Michael) conquers the titan Vepacitti
No, not as such. Just as we do not believe in a "God" as Christians say. But there is something, and we think that would surprise most readers.
There is little reason to believe in an "all evil" entity motivating unwholesome karma. This would take away the agency of individuals, of ordinary beings to engage in unskillful conduct on their own. By ourselves is "good" and "evil" done or left undone. We often cite the quote, "No one saves us but ourselves; no one can and no one may; we ourselves must walk the path; buddhas only point the way." 
The devil "made" me do it
"Simpsons Bloody Simpsons" with evil Moe Sizlak, Homer, and famous bar patron
There are supernatural agencies. There is the famous case of Maha Moggallana recounting a discussion with Mara Namuci ("the Evil One," the onerous tempter figure who tried to dissuade Siddhartha from liberation during his time under the Bodhi tree and constantly harassed him to stop teaching).

In that sutra (MN 50), a previous mara, Mara Dusi (or Mara "the Corrupter"), incites Brahmins to unduly rebuke enlightened Buddhist monastics then later incites other Brahmins to unduly praise them, each time in the hopes of revealing a defilement Mara Dusi might exploit, each time unsuccessful, but each time leading to heavy karmic results for the Brahmins involved: The first are mostly reborn in miserable destinations, the second are mostly reborn in desirable destinations. How could this be if it were Mara Dusi's karma, not the Brahmin's intentional deeds?
Happy what? - Grumpy Cat (Huffington Post)
 The Commentary goes to great lengths to explain how; it was, in fact, both Mara Dusi's and the Brahmin's doings: Mara Dusi did not "make" them do what they did. He merely filled their heads with blameworthy or praiseworthy visions of the monastics through his supernatural power to influence their minds.
They reacted in a predictable manner as he hoped they would. Seeing visions of hypocrisy, for example, they reviled and cursed the arhat monastics. Mara Dusi met with his karmic results, a dreadful rebirth in Avici, the "waveless" or "unrelenting" infernal waste, a hell of the most horrific torments. The Brahmins went on to meet with their just deserts, which may not sound "fair" to us, but that is mainly because we do not normally realize that the magnitude of our karma does not merely depend on the doer and intention; it also has a great deal to do with the virtue of the recipient. What we do toward enlightened beings -- whether they be stream enterers, once returners, non-returners, arhats -- bears the greatest results.
We got power!
Wonder Women and Super Men
We can be affected by others, both seen and unseen beings. The "devil" can sort of make one do something, sort of. Even we have that power: we can discourage or encourage, lead or mislead, help or ruin others. How difficult is it? But to say that we "make" anyone do anything is not quite correct. We inspire or incite. We can do it for good or ill. 
God, the judge of all deeds? Or is it karma?
That is not to say that these monolithic polar opposite figures, the devil and God, can take all the credit. We are involved. We are co-creators. We are "GOD" (Brahman, the ALL, not to be confused with a personal Brahma), just as Jesus (both the mythical Christ and the historical Jewish radical from Nazareth who bears the mantle of so many Church legends and popular misconceptions) is reputed to have said. We have the potential for "divinity" -- to be reborn as devas ("shining ones," light beings, celestial citizens in superior albeit impermanent space worlds, and even in rarefied immaterial planes of existence, all of which are referred to as "heavens" (sagga). 
"Teacher of gods and humans," the Buddha, Himalayas (Michael Foley/
Buddhist jack o lantern (Tracy Lee/flickr)
As humans we can even reach much higher than that -- to the end of all rebirth and suffering. This goes beyond Maha Brahma, other brahmas, as well as sensual-sphere devas, rupa-devas (fine-material-sphere light beings), and arupa-devas (immaterial-sphere beings). We are capable of enlightenment, be it final knowledge in this very life, or stream entry, which ensures that we are reborn here or elsewhere no more than a maximum of seven times. We would never again be susceptible to falling into births in worlds of deprivation lower than the human plane. One might live for millions of years, even for aeons, in superior worlds before final knowledge and complete liberation. That is more than any ordinary deva or brahma, any angel or god, can claim. It is a "change of lineage" (gotrabhu) from mundane to noble.
The devil in me
What motivates unskillful behavior? Asavas
We are often agents of good, but WE are the Ahriman, the antithesis, members of "Mara's Army" (subject to asavas or "defilements" of the heart/mind, the taints, the fetters), who could be called the Devil. There are demons, asuras (titans), yakkhas (ogres), narakas (denizens of hell), nagas (reptilians), pretas (spirits, ghosts, general shapeshifting troublemakers).
God: angry, sexist, and racist
God (Maha Brahma, YHWH, Allah, the Alpha and the Omega) is not really the "God" adherents think -- an all-good, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent  creator or uncaused first cause of everything in the universe. Those beings (yes, there are many gods of all kinds) may claim or believe themselves to be all that, but they are not. It is hyperbole and overestimation, a deceptive and deluded reputation. They can be so grand and glorious that it seems like they are -- dazzling, long lived, judgmental, humble, vengeful, exalted, arrogant, angry, loving, compassionate, beneficent, equanimous...
Sexism, racism, slavery, war, genocide by and for God? (See the Bible's Book of Judges for murder, mayhem, and human suffering ordered by the angry jealous tribal Jewish God. Who follows a character like this? The world much prefers the peaceful son and the Marys.)
The many visitors from space who manipulated human DNA to make these physical forms as they are did not thereby create the "being" (gandhabba, atman) reborn in this form on this planet. Various theologies attribute this kind of "creation" to the God of their conception of reality. It is as if something (an eternal soul) came out of nothing (dust and breath, materiality and prana). But "we" have gone on and on -- as have all living beings -- in this cycling samsara (the "continued wandering on") or Wheel of Rebirth and Death.
Devils are real
There are "devils," inimical spirits, of all kinds as in China (Greal-Wall-Hikers/flickr)
If, then, there is no devil as Christians say, Is there a being like him? Yes, we think so. This belief of ours comes from a shaman mentioned in the anthropological research of Michael J. Harner (The Sound of Rushing Water, 1968):
"Many times the Christian missionary had told [the shaman medicine man] Mashu of the devil feared by white men. But since he had never seen the spirit, Mashu remained skeptical. Some time later, after drinking natema [the local variety of ayahuasca], Mashu was confronted by this figure of the "white man's devil." Since that time, Mashu has remained convinced of this spirit's reality."
There are many divine goddesses or devis
So we think something exists, some quite scary beings -- devils (maras), serpents/dragons/seamonsters (nagas), demons (yakkhas, asuras), shapeshifters (petas, politicians), avians (garudas), and so on. But one all-inclusive "devil" who is the epitome of evil, the source of everything bad, the defiler of all humankind, who ruined the first Adam and the first Eve? No, these are all oversimplifications based on things that may have actually happened. Early genetic synthetic experiments, a kind of "creationism," led to the Adama, a race of humans, "modern humans" millions of years ago. (See Michael Cremo for the real age of Homo sapien sapiens, modern humans, who are in fact very ancient). This did not happen once, but happens again and again, for samsara is cyclical in staggering stretches of time (kalpas) too big to conceive of. The truth is much stranger than myth and fiction.

"When the dust has settled, and you're born again, maybe as a [Martian], maybe then you'll see that your reality was squashed into banality, was squashed into banality!" - Nick Blinko

"The God-idea"
Ven. Nyanaponika (BPS,, ATI)
Buddhism has sometimes been called an atheistic teaching, either in an approving sense by freethinkers and rationalists or in a derogatory sense by people of theistic persuasion. Only in one way can Buddhism be described as atheistic, namely, in so far as it denies the existence of an eternal, omnipotent God or godhead who is the creator and ordainer of the world.
The word "atheism" -- however, like the word "godless" -- frequently carries a number of disparaging overtones or implications, which in no way apply to the Buddha's teaching. Those who use the word "atheism" often associate it with a materialistic doctrine that knows nothing higher than this world of the senses and the slight happiness it can bestow. Buddhism is nothing of that sort. In this respect it agrees with the teachings of other religions... More

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