LionelChen wrote:To my limited understanding of things, Buddhism in all of its three forms explicitly rejects the notion of a First Cause, however so conceived whether this comes in the form of a Platonic/Aristotlean Demiurge or from those religious traditions which trace their origins back to Abraham.
I am a long-time student of comparative religions, self-directed 'Western Buddhist' but with strong Christian/Platonist leanings, so am very interested in these questions.
First - the 'first cause' ideas of Greek philosophy were never, in the first place, given in terms of the 'Creator-God' of the Hebrew scriptures. Plato and his successors are still categorised as pagan (albeit 'virtuous pagans') in the Catholic religion, but many ideas from the Platonic tradition were assimilated into Christianity over the early centuries of the Christian era. But in so doing, their meanings were changed in ways that might not have been countenanced by their originators.
Plotinus, 'the last great sage of antiquity', became a major influence in Christian theology, mainly via St Augustine but also by the elusive figure now known to scholars as the 'pseudo=Dionysius' (who in had been falsely identified as a direct disciple of the Apostle Paul, but who, it became clear, actually lived centures later.) The neo-platonist teachings of Plotinus, which were part of these schools, became part of Christian theology.
In W Y Evans-Wentz edition of The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation
, there are many quotes from Plotinus, mainly in the footnotes, which illustrate parallels between Plotinus and Mahayana Buddhism.
Such ideas are elaborated in more detail in The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies
, by Thomas McEvilly, published in around 2002. It is not a mainstream work and I don't think it is widely recognized in academic Buddhist studies, but many of the essays in that book comparing aspects of Platonist and Mahayana philosophy are highly insightful (i.e. Chapter 23 Plotinus and Vijñānavāda Buddhism, 24 Neoplatonism and Tantra).
I have also always rather liked Soyen Shaku's lecture on The God Concept of Buddhism
As for 'God' or 'the first cause', there is an approach that says that 'God' is not 'an existing thing' or 'one type of being amongst many', no matter how nobly conceived. The apophatic approach of the Platonic Christianity is to approach God through negation, which is very similar to the neti, neti
approach of the Vedanta and the negative dialectics of the Madhyamika. This gives rise to the counte-intuitive doctrine of God wherein God does not exist
, being completely beyond existence. Paul Tillich explored similar ideas:
The religious element of consciousness, Tillich concluded, consisted in the immediate and “unconditioned” meeting of our thinking mind with Being. This meeting with Being is the absolute limit of thinking. Being can only be apprehended through a mystical experience, in other words through intuition.
Such ideas were also explored by the Kyoto School philosophers, notably Masao Abe, who studied Heidegger and other Western philosophers in depth.
I had better stop at that point, although could keep going indefinitely. But if there's anything of particular interest, I am happy to discuss it further.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas