Friday, April 1, 2016

The Story of God: National Geographic (video)

Eds., Wisdom Quarterly; Ven. Nyanaponika (; Morgan Freeman (Nat Geo/YouTube)
  • "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman," premiering Sunday, April 3 at 9:00 pm (8:00 pm central time), will take viewers on a trip around the world to explore different cultures and religions on the ultimate quest to uncover the meaning of life, God, and all the questions in between. More + VIDEOS

      Buddhism and the God Idea
      Ven. Nyanaponika (Buddhist Publication Society,

      Quite contradictory views have been expressed in Western literature on the attitude of Buddhism toward the concept of God and gods.

      From a study of the discourses (sutras) of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon [the accepted sacred texts retained in the exclusively-Buddhist Pali language, a cognate of Sanskrit], it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings.

      On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead [a kind of source or Brahman, rather than a personality called Brahma] of any description, such as world-soul, and so on, are excluded by the Buddha’s teaching on anattā, "not-self" or unsubstantiality.

      In Buddhist literature, the belief [or teaching, vada] in a creator god (issara nimmāna -vāda) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world, as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, and so on.

      God-belief, however, is not placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the karmic results of actions, assume a fortuitous origin of humans and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.

      Theism, however, is regarded as a kind of karma-teaching in so far as it upholds the moral efficacy of actions. Hence a theist who leads a moral life may, like any one else doing so [such as an atheist], expect a favorable rebirth.
      One may possibly even be reborn in a heavenly world that resembles one's own conception of it, though it will not be of eternal duration as we may have expected. If, however, fanaticism induces one to persecute those who do not share our beliefs, this will have grave consequences for one's future destiny. For fanatical attitudes, intolerance, and violence against others all create unwholesome karma leading to moral degeneration and an unhappy rebirth.

      Although belief in God does not exclude a favorable rebirth, it is a variety of eternalism, a false affirmation of permanence rooted in the craving for [eternal] existence, and as such an obstacle to final deliverance [complete liberation from all suffering, known as enlightenment (bodhi) and nirvana].

      Among the fetters (samyojana) that bind to existence, theism is particularly subject to those of personality-belief, attachment to rites and rituals, and desire for fine-material existence or for a “heaven of the sense sphere,” as the case may be.

      As an attempt at explaining the universe, its origin, and a hu man’s situation in t his world, the God-idea was found entirely unconvincing by the Buddhist thinkers of old. Through the centuries, Buddhist philosophers have formulated detailed arguments refuting the doctrine of a creator god. It should be of interest to compare these with the ways in which Western philosophers have refuted the theological proofs of the existence of God.

      But for an earnest believer, the God-idea is more than a mere device for explaining external facts like the origin of the world. For one it is an object of faith that can bestow a strong feeling of certainty, not only as to God’s existence “somewhere out there,” but as to God’s consoling presence and closeness to oneself.

      This feeling of certainty requires close scrutiny. Such scrutiny will reveal that in most cases the God-idea is only the devotee’s projection of this ideal -- generally a noble one -- and of t his fervent wish and deeply felt need to believe.

      These projections are largely conditioned by external influences, such as childhood impressions, education, tradition, and social environment. Charged with a strong emotional emphasis, brought to life by a human’s powerful capacity for image-formation, visualization and the creation of myth, they then come to be identified with the images and concepts of whatever religion the devotee follows. In the case of many of the most sincere believers, a searching... More

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