Amida Sutra

Part 3 - Buddhism and G(g)od(s)
The fact that Buddhism is not centered around a Creator Diety meant that it was highly transportable. It could move from culture without desrtoying the indigenous G(g)od(s) o r their places of worship. It also gave the indivudual believer maximum freedom to explore the divine and his/her experiences. At the same time atheists and agnostics, as well as those not particularly religious, had a Way that led to liberation.

Shakyamuni appeared at a time when the old ways were being transformed into city cultures with rigid class lines, a civil service, and formulaic sacrifices. These new rice kingdoms were centered on the Brahmins, a priestly aristocracy. One of the criticisms leveled against the new Buddhist movement was that they did not show respect to the Brahamins. Many of the early converts to Buddhism were from the warrior classes. There was growing antagonism between these two groups as they represented the old, democratic elder based republics on one hand and the emerging centralized state based on the cultivation of rice. It is quite possible, by the way, that Shakyamuni was poisoned to death when tainted pork was dropped into his begging bowl by a resentful Brahmin.

Many elements of this conflict still exist in India today. The Brahmins emphasized that vegetarianism was spiriutally superior to meat eating. Those who ate meat were seen as socially and religiously inferior. This created an indelible line that still runs through Asian society today. Shakyamuni would eat meat, however, if it had not been specially prepared for him and if it were placed in his begging bowl as an offering. This was his way of expressing solidarity with those being rapidly displaced and relagated to lower classes. He was also questioning the mere outward show of religion. Women in vegetarian cultures, for example, spend hours daily cutting and preparing food. Western women surely do not want to iimport this feature of Asian vegetarianism into thier lives. Buddha taught that the newly created 'lower classes' were actually not lower at all but they were all Sharers and Hearers, spiritually equal in every way.

In the emerging centralized states, it became an accepted 'fact' that civilization demanded that everyone act the same, think the same and worship the same G(g)od(s). The vision quest was discouraged in these cookie cutter societies. The priests, furthermore, placed themselves above the G(g)od(s) because their rituals made it possible for the G(g)od(s) to act. Reform movements emerged in reaction to this situation. The Buddha Dharma was one of these successful of these reforms. Attachment to one single way to experience the Sacred became a keystone in the rationale for the centralized, hierarchical state. It was supported by a parallel deity who was Judge, Prosecurot and Executioner. In such situations obedience and submission became the primary experience in both the religious and social spheres. When these developments are coupled with race, gender and language, the spiriutal vice is drawn even tighter. This change in our relationship to the Sacred had profound consequences for human history.

Believing in an Ultimate Absolute who is the Ultimate Ego-logical Pwer Centre forced out religoius thinking in directions from which we have yet to recover. Religion has been secuced away from authentic experience by confusing spiritual experience with political, legal, gender and economic expereinces. Hatred for 'the other' became a necesary part of religion in order to express undying loyality with ones faith group. Any wavering was seen as a threat to civilization. Fanaticism and the desire to forceably convert others became a fixed feature of many religious communities. In fact, the more attractive another religion seemed the more it had to be repressed because its attractiveness was proof that it was a threat to civilization and the faith that held it together. A positive feeling towards another faith was a threat, evidence that one was falling under its evil spell. It is widely known that some faiths teach that those who do not beieve properly are destined for Hell. Still, some go even futher and teach that the eternal soul comes at the moment of true belief. Until then one is regarded as merely a souless animal. Killing such animals could hardly be wrong, could it? Thus many cultures were exterminated not because they were insufficient, but just because they were beautiful in their wisdom. Their very presence posed a threat on so many levels.

Great Storehouses of ancient wisdom have been lost through violence against 'the other', or the imperative to convert this other in to the familiar dominate system. Faith cleansing ranks along with ethnic cleansing as one of the great crimes against humanity. We may well weep over the lost wisdom. The loss of a rich gene pool that comes with exterminating 'the other' is also a frightening possibiity. We must be reminded here that we are still discussing only the four lines of he sutra in question, the lines that mention the presence of the G(g)od(s) at one of Shamyamuni's visions. They require even more discussion, so important are they to the reception of Buddhism in the West. The Buddha Dharma is the Middle Way between some of the more negative aspects of monotheism and the total absence of spirituality.( We can not use the words atheist and agnostic here because even they are transformed into paths towards enlightenment by the Buddhas. )

Much more needs to be said on this subject before we can turn to the vision proper. We will be adding to this discussion of Buddhims and G(g)od(s) in our next several installments. Be it said here that the answer, "G(g)od(s) does not exist." is a bad answer; but the question, "Does G(g)od(s) exist?" is a bad question.

Blessings be,
Sensei Ulrich

November 5, 1999

Next: Part 4 -The Occurrence of G(g)od(s) in Buddhist Sutras