All Buddhists Are Atheists

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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby SangyePhuntsok » Tue Oct 30, 2012 4:09 am

Dear all,

Hi, I am new to this forum, I am Sakyapa Buddhist from Mexico; well I find this discussion very interesting, I would like to quote the view of HH Sakya Trizin about this issue, it may come in handy:
" QUESTION: Buddhism is sometimes said to be atheistic because it holds that there is no God.
ANSWER: Buddhism does not believe in God as the creator of the world, and in that sense, you might say it is atheistic. If, however, God is something else, a divine compassion or a divine wisdom, manifest in the form of a deity, you might say that Buddhism is not atheistic but polytheistic."

So if by the term "god" we mean a sort of truly existent external eternal creator or Ishvara according to the Indian philosophical terminology, then I think that Buddhism can be labelled as atheist since we do not acept the existence of such being and actually such belief is a wrong view; but if by "god" or "gods" as ishtadevatas we mean symbols or visual metaphors of one s own enlightened mind and its qualities, then we could say that Vajrayana Buddhism is polytheistic, but it would be a sort of "psychological" polytheism and not a system of beliefs based in the worship of many external gods as the word polytheism is often understood, then this would be a very sui generis use of the word polytheism and I think this is what HH is talking about; besides, there is the fact of the existence of the devas, asuras, etc, and other beings from other realms of existence, they are really not like the gods of the polytheistic religions since those beings are not immortal, they are just particular types of sentient beings born in such samsaric states because of their karma.
Regarding those whom say that the god of the Abrahamic or Semitic religions is an Asura, I would like to say that such view is actually stated in some Buddhist scriptures:

Verse I.154 from The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra (Tib. bsDus-rgyud, Skt. Laghu Kalacakra Tantra) reads:
"Adam, Noah, Abraham, and five others – Moses, Jesus, the White-Clad One, Muhammad, and Mahdi – with tamas, are in the asura-naga caste. The eighth will be the blinded one. The seventh will manifestly come to the city of Baghdad in the land of Mecca, (the place) in this world where a portion of the asura (caste) will have the form of the powerful, merciless mlecchas.”

There are five types of asuras(deva typa, naga type, yaksha type, mara type and rakshasa type), so this verse very clearly says that Jesus, Muhammad,et al are beings which belong to the asura naga type. Besides, there is also this other scriptural reference:
The Essence of the Further Tantra of the Glorious Kalachakra Tantra (dPal dus-kyi ‘khor-lo’i rgyud phyi-ma rgyud-kyi snying-po, Skt. Shri-kalachakra- tantrottaratantra-hridaya) “In keeping with the teachings of those whose women wear veils… the hordes of Tayi horsemen destroy in battle any statues of gods there may be, without exception. They have one caste, do not steal, and speak the truth. They keep clean, avoid others’ wives, follow definite ascetic practices, and remain faithful to their own wives. (First) having washed themselves, then, at an individually desired time during the pitch-black night and at noon, twilight, mid-afternoon, and when the sun rises over the mountains, the Tayi non-Buddhists (Skt. tirthika) pay homage five times (each day), prostrating on the ground facing their holy land and taking singular refuge in the ‘Lord of Those with Tamas’ in the heavenly realm above the earth.”

So the god of the semitic religions is called the Lord of those with Tamas, and according to the commentary of Mipham Rinpoche the word "tamas" in this context means "ignorance" or "spiritual blindness", and if we study the Bible we can see clearly how this god describes himself as a "jealous god" and "lord of the armies" so this pretty much sounds like an Asurendra or an Asura Lord. So according to an analysis of both Buddhist scriptures and semitic scriptures one can conclude that this particular samsaric being exists and it is an asura, this is the plain fact, but of course there is a heavy accumulation of theological and philosophical speculations made over the centuries by Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians and philosophers about the nature of this being and this is how very different subtle ideas and doctrines about the nature of this particular asura have evolved, and they have turned him into a sort of "ishvara" in their minds and imagination, that is what they call theology. I think that when ancient rabbis and christian priests became experts in greek speculative thinking and adopted ideas mainly from Neoplatonism, they mixed up their devotion to this asura which in the beginning was justa tribal semitic god and then they evolved the complex systems of beliefs that nowadays we call abrahamic faiths, and when the new revelation of Muhammad appeared, for a while the simple tribal cult of this being returned, but then Muslim theologians followed the steps of the Christians and Jews and became also experts in speculative thinking and their own theology called kalam arose in this way. That is my personal view.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Tue Oct 30, 2012 9:02 pm

pueraeternus wrote:
Not at all. In fact, the problem with your whole argument is "believe". The Buddha did not have to believe, since he could interact with them as easily as we interact with the person next to us. Do you have to "believe" in your neighbour in order to talk to him? Do you have to "believe" in the existence of your cat before you could see or pet him? You are asking the wrong question and have the wrong premise in your questioning.


The term "believe" came over with the quote from Huseng's blog. To wit:
It begs the question what would the “Atheist Buddhists” say if the Buddha really did believe deities like Indra had a significant role to play in maintaining the cosmic order?


So I think it's pretty clear that both Huseng and I are currently using the term "believe" in the sense that you see a keyboard before you and you believe it exists, rather than in the sense of religious adoration.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Tue Oct 30, 2012 9:40 pm

Sorry about taking so long to reply. Please refer complaints about the delay to Blizzard Entertainment. :smile:

pueraeternus wrote:
catmoon wrote:The other is to think, "It is not possible for a situation to be so dire that it would be beyond the powers of a Buddha to walk in and settle matters peacefully."
If this is so, then tales containing such situations must be untrue.


Well, then I would say in this case, then one is not following what the sutras record what the Buddha taught and what happened back then. Now, the only way we know what the Buddha taught (and the situation involving those lessons) is via the sutras. Any other way, we are just imagining what we think the Buddha ought to have taught. There is a main difference between those who are termed "traditionalist" and those who might be termed "modernist or revisionist".

If we look at the sutras, we know that the Buddha clearly didn't object when Vajrapani threatened to split Ambattha's head into pieces if he persist to refuse to answer the Buddha's questions (Ambattha was so terrified that he promptly asked the Buddha what was the question again and answered quickly). So there are indeed situations where such "persuasions" are necessary. In fact, there are situations where the Buddha could not "settle matters peacefully", such as stopping the massacre of his Sakya clan - so there are some things that are indeed "beyond the powers of a Buddha".


If you look at the sutras, how do you know that they do not record a revisionist view themselves? I can think of no other other way to sort the question out than to operate on the assumption that what the Buddha taught would have been both coherent and not self-contradicting. Now the Dalai Lama has pointed out that the sutras do self-contradict.

Dalai Lama wrote:
Each of these teachings are based on the words of the Buddha which means that one and the same teacher taught divergent - in some cases, in fact, contradictory - views of reality to his followers.
Towards a True Kinship of Faiths, p. 152


He goes on to argue that there are different teachings for different times and so on. However I do not find contradictions, whether between sutras or between logic and sutras, to be so easily dismissable. Sure we'd all like to have an absolutely pure and reliable canon but I don't think it's valid to putty over the cracks just to satisfy that desire. Though I will admit it's standard practice in most religions.

I'll have to think a bit about your example about the Sakya clan.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:05 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
pueraeternus wrote:Not at all. In fact, the problem with your whole argument is "believe". The Buddha did not have to believe, since he could interact with them as easily as we interact with the person next to us. Do you have to "believe" in your neighbour in order to talk to him? Do you have to "believe" in the existence of your cat before you could see or pet him? You are asking the wrong question and have the wrong premise in your questioning.
I think "believe" may be the correct term, not for the Buddhas, but for our conceptions of reality. In reality human beings are just as real as gods. We "believe" that we exist in a certain way, we do not actually exist in that certain way. The same thing can be said of all samsaric beings. So the Buddhas, when looking at sentient beings, do not see sentient beings us as we "believe" we are.

Back to the original discussion, I reiterate for the third time: the point (or problem) is not whether Buddhists are atheists, polytheists or even monotheists. The point is that the term theism (as defined by popular perception, dictionaries and encyclopedias) is not applicable to Buddhism since theism is always defined in relation to a creator (or a number of creator) god(s) cf here http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f= ... 60#p133642 and Buddhism does not accept the concept of creator god(s). Dependent origination places Buddhism outside of the confines of the (poly/mono)theism-atheism argument.

If we do not realise this then this silly argument will just wage back and forth ad nauseum!
:namaste:


I think right from the second post, most participants in this thread have acknowledged that Buddhism is not theist in the Abrahamic sense. We then moved on to polytheism, with Huseng flatly asserting that Buddhism is polytheist.

What's been happening since then is I have been working up a form of argument that goes something like:

Buddhism is not Abrahamically Theist;
Certain forms of polytheism, including that found in Buddhism, are not logically consistent;
Buddhism must be logically consistent;
Therefore Buddhism is not polytheistic;
Therefore, having eliminated theism and polytheism, Buddhism must be atheistic.

Most of the discussion revolves around trying to demonstrate or disprove the second of these statements. It may go nowhere, but I'm still quite keen to see if the argument can sustain itself. And new ideas keep on popping up...
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:24 pm

Sherlock wrote:Catmoon seems to imply that worship follows belief. In the first place the way the Buddha "believes" in the existence of devas is more like how one "believes" in the existence of humans. He can interact with them just as we do with humans. This is not the "belief" of theists who can't see their gods. Even if Buddhists today believe devas exist it does not mean we need to worship them. Actually we can honour them with gifts and incense and you might call that worship but we do not take refuge in them as beings who can lead us to enlightenment. We can also honour enlightened beings.


Worship follows belief? I believe you exist, and I don't worship you. No that won't fly at all.

As one half of an argument, I posited that Indra was superior to Buddha. (In the other half I assumed the opposite, to show that neither works).
So IF Indra is a kinder, more enlightened, more capable being than Buddha THEN it follows that we should drop Buddha like a hot coal and become Indrists.

Since most people are not going to accept the premise or its logical consequence, it can be regarded a disproven at least from a Buddhist POV.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:28 pm

Jnana wrote:
catmoon wrote:
Huseng wrote:Having respect for and venerating such deities is likely not going to eat up all your time. Where do you even get that idea?


From observing two of my friends, one in Karma Kagyu and the other in GKG's organization. Each is spending from two to four hours daily in formal practice busily propitiating protectors, devas and dakinis of all kinds. Both have full time jobs. It leaves little time for meditation, a problem that afflicts even the Dalai Lama.

Liturgical prayers and praises are forms of meditation, and can induce the bliss of samādhi more effectively than other types of śamatha meditation.


Interesting. I would point out that Buddha attained enlightenment during meditation, not while doing a puja.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby greentara » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:53 pm

Catmoon, "Interesting. I would point out that Buddha attained enlightenment during meditation, not while doing a puja." Puja is just fine when needed, as one matures the need may become less or naturally drop off. Please note that many seekers have strong devotional tendencies and that cannot be ignored.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:57 pm

greentara wrote:Catmoon, "Interesting. I would point out that Buddha attained enlightenment during meditation, not while doing a puja." Puja is just fine when needed, as one matures the need may become less or naturally drop off. Please note that many seekers have strong devotional tendencies and that cannot be ignored.


Yep. I do pujas myself. Very common practice and beneficial too. But there was this assertion that it is superior to meditation practice, and I thought it needed some counterbalance.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby pueraeternus » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:22 am

catmoon wrote:
The term "believe" came over with the quote from Huseng's blog. To wit:
It begs the question what would the “Atheist Buddhists” say if the Buddha really did believe deities like Indra had a significant role to play in maintaining the cosmic order?


So I think it's pretty clear that both Huseng and I are currently using the term "believe" in the sense that you see a keyboard before you and you believe it exists, rather than in the sense of religious adoration.


Not so in your case, since later on you wrote this:

In that article he raised the example (possibly hypothetical) of Buddha believing in Indra's existence, which led to the current line of discussion


So you were writing from the angle of belief in existence. Huseng was rather writing from the angle of the Buddha believed that Indra had a significant role in maintaining the cosmic order. So his "believe" was in reference in Indra's role, not his existence.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby pueraeternus » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:38 am

catmoon wrote:
If you look at the sutras, how do you know that they do not record a revisionist view themselves? I can think of no other other way to sort the question out than to operate on the assumption that what the Buddha taught would have been both coherent and not self-contradicting.


A few points:
1. There is nothing illogical or contradictory about the Buddha's teachings on gods. It is pretty simple: they are sentient beings, have glorious lives, can help sentient beings on wordly matters.
2. The teachings on gods are all over the Agamas and very widespread. They are also tied to his teachings on karma and cosmology. If one find the whole thing revisionist, then one must come to the conclusion that the entire Canon is suspect. So why should one continue being a Buddhist?
3. The Buddha is all wise and powerful, but it doesn't mean he can do everything himself, or should. According to your
reasoning, then he would have no need of donors like Anathapindika to stress himself to fund the viharas the Sangha needs. He just have to use his abhijna and create the gold or the vihara.

[/quote]
When I set out to lead humanity along my Golden Path I promised a lesson their bones would remember. I know a profound pattern humans deny with words even while their actions affirm it. They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence.

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Re: Do Buddhist believe in a god, and what branch to start.

Postby lowlydog » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:18 am

Hi all,

Could we think of consciousness as "God" or our "life force" it is permanent after all?
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:46 am

pueraeternus wrote:
catmoon wrote:
The term "believe" came over with the quote from Huseng's blog. To wit:
It begs the question what would the “Atheist Buddhists” say if the Buddha really did believe deities like Indra had a significant role to play in maintaining the cosmic order?


So I think it's pretty clear that both Huseng and I are currently using the term "believe" in the sense that you see a keyboard before you and you believe it exists, rather than in the sense of religious adoration.


Not so in your case, since later on you wrote this:

In that article he raised the example (possibly hypothetical) of Buddha believing in Indra's existence, which led to the current line of discussion


So you were writing from the angle of belief in existence. Huseng was rather writing from the angle of the Buddha believed that Indra had a significant role in maintaining the cosmic order. So his "believe" was in reference in Indra's role, not his existence.


Its pretty hard to believe in Indra having a role if he doesn't exist in the first place. So one implies the other.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Wed Oct 31, 2012 3:09 am

pueraeternus wrote:
catmoon wrote:
If you look at the sutras, how do you know that they do not record a revisionist view themselves? I can think of no other other way to sort the question out than to operate on the assumption that what the Buddha taught would have been both coherent and not self-contradicting.


A few points:
1. There is nothing illogical or contradictory about the Buddha's teachings on gods. It is pretty simple: they are sentient beings, have glorious lives, can help sentient beings on wordly matters.


This seems highly improbable to me. I can laud you on your faith, but it does not strike me as a reasoned statement.
2. The teachings on gods are all over the Agamas and very widespread. They are also tied to his teachings on karma and cosmology. If one find the whole thing revisionist, then one must come to the conclusion that the entire Canon is suspect. So why should one continue being a Buddhist?

There exists in Buddhism a body of teaching, having to do with the 4NT, 8FP, dependent origination, compassion, and meditative technique that is cogent, consistent, useful and is said to lead to enlightenment.
3. The Buddha is all wise and powerful, but it doesn't mean he can do everything himself, or should. According to your
reasoning, then he would have no need of donors like Anathapindika to stress himself to fund the viharas the Sangha needs. He just have to use his abhijna and create the gold or the vihara.

Hm. If Buddha is "all wise and powerful" you'll have to show me why he can't do everything himself. If he was all wise and powerful, then he would indeed have funded the sangha as you suggest. This sounds like a series of arguments to prove Buddha is NOT all wise and powerful.
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Re: Do Buddhist believe in a god, and what branch to start.

Postby catmoon » Wed Oct 31, 2012 3:48 am

But consciousness isn't permanent. It changes into a different consciousness with every passing second, and our usual waking consciousness stops every time we sleep, go under anesthetic, get bopped on the head or die.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Jnana » Wed Oct 31, 2012 4:34 am

catmoon wrote:
Jnana wrote:
catmoon wrote:From observing two of my friends, one in Karma Kagyu and the other in GKG's organization. Each is spending from two to four hours daily in formal practice busily propitiating protectors, devas and dakinis of all kinds. Both have full time jobs. It leaves little time for meditation, a problem that afflicts even the Dalai Lama.

Liturgical prayers and praises are forms of meditation, and can induce the bliss of samādhi more effectively than other types of śamatha meditation.

Interesting. I would point out that Buddha attained enlightenment during meditation, not while doing a puja.

And I would point out that I was referring to the development of śamatha, which is a prerequisite for vipaśyanā. And as already mentioned, even in the Āgamas/Nikāyas there are devotional practices recommended for the development of śamatha.

catmoon wrote:Therefore, having eliminated theism and polytheism, Buddhism must be atheistic.

Can you provide a definition of atheism that explicitly asserts the existence of gods, heaven realms, and post-mortem continuums?
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Sherlock » Wed Oct 31, 2012 5:45 am

Indra is a powerful worldly being who can provide help if you have a relationship with him. You don't have to, but you can if you want to. In the Nikayas/Agamas, you can't do the same with the Buddha. However, the Buddha provides a way to get you out of samsara while Indra doesn't. How does any of this disprove that gods (devas) exist in Buddhism and how is it logically inconsistent? It gets more complicated later with Mahayana and the tantric movements of course, but that's the core of it.

Buddhas are not omnipotent in Vajrayana either, otherwise they would just liberate all beings automatically, however they are omniscient. In Vajrayana, AFAIK, mundane siddhis "granted" by enlightened beings still arise on the basis of the practitioner attaining the union of shamatha and vipashyana just as the abhijnas are developed in early Buddhism. So in that sense, the Buddhas technically don't "grant" prayers. Jnana or anyone else more knowledgeable about this, please correct me if I'm worng.
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Re: Do Buddhist believe in a god, and what branch to start.

Postby lowlydog » Wed Oct 31, 2012 11:41 am

catmoon wrote:But consciousness isn't permanent. It changes into a different consciousness with every passing second, and our usual waking consciousness stops every time we sleep, go under anesthetic, get bopped on the head or die.


I agree consciousness is part of many different forms, and those forms change from moment to moment, but when you go to sleep or die, does my consciousness stop?
Consciousness is permanent.
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Re: Do Buddhist believe in a god, and what branch to start.

Postby Sherlock » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:01 pm

lowlydog wrote:
catmoon wrote:But consciousness isn't permanent. It changes into a different consciousness with every passing second, and our usual waking consciousness stops every time we sleep, go under anesthetic, get bopped on the head or die.


I agree consciousness is part of many different forms, and those forms change from moment to moment, but when you go to sleep or die, does my consciousness stop?
Consciousness is permanent.


From a Buddhist point of view, it is not.
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Re: Do Buddhist believe in a god, and what branch to start.

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:14 pm

Sherlock wrote:
lowlydog wrote:
catmoon wrote:But consciousness isn't permanent. It changes into a different consciousness with every passing second, and our usual waking consciousness stops every time we sleep, go under anesthetic, get bopped on the head or die.


I agree consciousness is part of many different forms, and those forms change from moment to moment, but when you go to sleep or die, does my consciousness stop?
Consciousness is permanent.


From a Buddhist point of view, it is not.
Depends on how you define consciousness.
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Do Buddhist believe in a god, and what branch to start.

Postby lowlydog » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:18 pm

Sherlock wrote:
lowlydog wrote:
catmoon wrote:But consciousness isn't permanent. It changes into a different consciousness with every passing second, and our usual waking consciousness stops every time we sleep, go under anesthetic, get bopped on the head or die.


I agree consciousness is part of many different forms, and those forms change from moment to moment, but when you go to sleep or die, does my consciousness stop?
Consciousness is permanent.


From a Buddhist point of view, it is not.


Consciousness is not a thing(it), and is permanent. :consoling:
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