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SOUL Is A Vague Idea...Karma Elucidates Nature Of Life

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Posted by Glenn on November 11, 2004 07:14:44 UTC

All religions offers theories on life and on life after death.Before responding to this let us examine both the western religion, represented by Judeo-Christian religion and eartern religions represented by Buddhism.

Buddhist afterlife theories. According to western belief, God creates a new soul that becomes a human being which lives its life and then dies. After death the soul will go to eternal heaven if it believed in God or Jesus, or to eternal hell if it did not.

According to Buddhism, it is impossible to fathom the ultimate beginning of existence. Each being lives its life, dies and then is reborn into a new existence. This process of dying and being reborn is a natural one and can go on forever unless the being attains Nirvana. When a being does attain Nirvana their understanding, and consequently their behaviour, alters and this changes the process which causes rebirth. So instead of being reborn into a new existence the being attains Nirvana. Nirvana is not existence (to exist means to respond to stimuli, to grow and decay, to move in time and space, to experience oneself as a separate etc.) and it is not non-existence in that it is not annihilation. In other words each being's existence is beginningless and endless unless Nirvana is attained and until that time existence has no other purpose than to exist.

There is little evidence for either of these two theories. However, there are several logical and moral problems with the Judeo-Christian theory which are absent from the Buddhist theory and which make the latter more acceptable. Christianity sees existence as having a beginning but no end whereas Buddhism sees it as cyclic. Nature offers no examples of processes which have a beginning but no end. Rather, all the natural processes we can observe are cyclic. The seasons go and return again next year. Rain falls, flows to the sea, evaporates, and forms clouds which again fall as rain. The body is made up of the elements we ingest as food; when we die the body breaks down and releases its elements into the soil, where they are absorbed by plants and animals which we again eat to build the body. The planets circle the sun and even the galaxy containing our solar system slowly revolves. The Buddhist theory of rebirth is in harmony with the cyclic processes we see throughout nature whereas the Judeo-Christian theory is not.

Judeo-Christians claim that God created us for a purpose - so we can believe in him, obey him and be saved. if this is so it is very difficult to explain why, each year, millions of foetuses naturally abort, and millions of babies are born dead or die within the first two years of their lives. Further, millions of people are born and live their whole lives with severe mental retardation, unable to think even the most simple thoughts. How do all these people fit into God's supposed plan? What purpose can God have in creating a new life and then letting it die even before it is born or soon after its birth? And what happens to all these beings? Do they go to heaven or hell? If God really created us with a plan in mind, that plan is certainly not very obvious. Also, as the majority of the world's people are non-Christian and as not even all Christians will be saved, this means that a good percentage of all the souls that God creates will go to hell. God's plan to save everyone seems to have gone terribly wrong. So although we can't prove either the Judeo-Christian or the Buddhist afterlife theory, the Buddhist doctrine is more appealing and acceptable.

The existence that passes from life to another life like the concept of soul is somewhat vague idea on the very of nature life. What does this thing all about and what's nature of its existence. Buddhism elucidates this thing and expound more fully and accurately.

The Buddhist teaching of the nine consciousnesses offers the basis for a comprehensive understanding of who we are, our true identity. It also helps explain how Buddhism sees the eternal continuity of our lives over cycles of birth and death. This perspective on the human being is the fruit of thousands of years of intense introspective investigation into the nature of consciousness. Historically, it is grounded in efforts to experience and explain the essence of Shakyamuni¹s enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree some 2,500 years ago.

The nine consciousnesses can be thought of as different layers of consciousness which are constantly operating together to create our lives. The Sanskrit word vijnãna, which is translated as consciousness, includes a wide range of activities, including sensation, cognition and conscious thought. The first five of these consciousnesses are the familiar senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The sixth consciousness is the function that integrates and processes the various sensory data to form an overall picture or thought, identifying what it is that our five senses are communicating to us. It is primarily with these six functions of life that we perform our daily activities.

Below this level of consciousness is the seventh consciousness. Unlike those layers of consciousness that are directed toward the outer world, the seventh consciousness is directed toward our inner life and is largely independent of sensory input. The seventh consciousness is the basis for our sense of individual identity; attachment to a self distinct to and separate from others has its basis in this consciousness, as does our sense of right and wrong.
Below the seventh consciousness, Buddhism elucidates a deeper layer, the eighth or ãlaya consciousness, also known as the never-perishing or storehouse consciousness. It is here that the energy of our karma resides. Whereas the first seven consciousnesses disappear on death, the eighth consciousness persists through the cycles of active life and the latency of death. It can be thought of as the life-flow that supports the activities of the other consciousnesses. The experiences described by those who have undergone clinical death and been revived could be said to be occurrences at the borderline of the seventh and eighth consciousnesses.

An understanding of these levels of consciousness and the interaction between them can offer valuable insights into the nature of life and the self, as well as pointing to the resolution of the fundamental problems that humanity confronts.
According to Buddhist teachings, there are specific deep-seated delusions in the seventh consciousness regarding the nature of self. These delusions arise from the relationship between the seventh and eighth levels of consciousness and manifest as fundamental egotism.

Buddhist teachings describe the seventh layer as emerging from the eighth consciousness: it is always focused on the eighth consciousness of the individual, which it perceives as something fixed, unique and isolated from other things. In reality, the eighth consciousness is in a state of continual flux. At this level our lives constantly interact, exerting a profound influence on each other. The perception of a fixed and isolated self(i.e. Soul) that the seventh consciousness generates is thus FALSE.

The seventh consciousness is also the seat of the fear of death. Being unable to perceive the true nature of the eighth consciousness as an enduring flow of life energy, it imagines that upon death, the eighth consciousness will become permanently extinct. Fear of death thus has roots in the deep layers of the subconscious.

The delusion that the eighth consciousness is one's true self is also termed fundamental ignorance, a turning away from the interconnectedness of all being. It is this sense of one¹s self as separate and isolated from others that gives rise to discrimination, to destructive arrogance and unbridled acquisitiveness. Humanity¹s ravaging of the natural environment is another obvious result.

Buddhism posits that our thoughts, words and deeds invariably create an imprint in the deep layers of the eighth consciousness. This is what Buddhists refer to as karma. The eighth consciousness is therefore sometimes referred to as the karmic storehouse--the place where these karmic "seeds" are "stored." These seeds or latent energy can be either positive or negative; the eighth consciousness remains neutral and equally receptive to either type of karmic imprinting. The energy becomes manifest when conditions are ripe. Positive latent causes can become manifest as both positive effects in one's life and as positive psychological functions such as trust, nonviolence, self-control, compassion and wisdom. Negative latent causes can manifest as various forms of delusion and destructive behavior and give rise to suffering for ourselves and others.

While the image of a storehouse is helpful, a truer image may be that of a raging torrent of karmic energy. This energy is constantly moving through and shaping our lives and experience. Our resultant thoughts and actions are then fed back into this karmic flow. The quality of the karmic flow is what makes each of us distinct beings--our unique selves. The flow of energy is constantly changing, but, like a river, it maintains an identity and consistency even through successive cycles of life and death. It is this aspect of fluidity, this lack of fixity, that opens the possibility to transforming the content of the eighth consciousness. This is why karma, properly understood, is different from an unchanging or unavoidable destiny.

The question, therefore, is how we increase the balance of positive karma. This is the basis for various forms of Buddhist practice that seek to imprint positive causes in our lives. When caught up in a cycle of negative cause and effect, however, it is difficult to avoid making further negative causes, and it is here that we turn to the most fundamental layer of consciousness, the ninth or amala consciousness.

This can be thought of as the life of the cosmos itself; it is also referred to as the fundamentally pure consciousness. Unstained by the workings of karma, this consciousness represents our true, eternal self.

Just what takes place when a living entity makes the transition from 'life' to 'death'? Buddhism views the physical and spiritual functions of a living entity as a ,temporary union'.
This is what Buddhism referred to as the 'temporary union of the five components'. Of the five components, form indicates the physical dimension of life. And perception, conception, volition and consciousness indicate life's spiritual functions.
[Perception is the spiritual function that enables one to take in stimuli from the external world via the 'six sense organs' - the five sense organs plus mind, which integrates the impressions of the five senses. Conception is the function of creating mental ideas about what has been perceived. Volition is the spiritual function to take some action based on conception. And consciousness is the fundamental spiritual activity that integrates the functions of perception, conception and volition.]

Life has the power to harmoniously fuse these physical and spiritual functions. It harmonizes them, unifies them, and enables proactive engagement with respect to the external world. Certainly, viewed strictly in terms of the physical aspect, our bodies are an amalgam of materials existing in the universe.

According to one source, the cells of the human body number sixty trillion. As they age, old cells are constantly being replaced by new ones. In other words, life and death is taking place constantly on the cellular level. Here we see once again the laws of birth and death at work.
At the same time, a single living entity strictly integrates and governs these cells allowing itself to carry out activity. When death approaches, the integrative power of life is lost and the five components, which have hitherto been held in a state of temporary union, disintegrate. Life's physical and spiritual functions subsequently recede into latency, and the union of the five elements is also lost.

Now, the question of what it is that continues after death. Specifically, Buddhism explains the concept of 'selflessness', denying the existence of a fixed and independent enity(like soul) after death. It teaches that there is no 'self' that lives as an eternally unchanging entity. At the same time, it teaches that life continues after death, and in a qualified sense recognizes the concept of transmigration. We need to consider whether these two views are contradictory.

This is a very old question that has been posed since the dawn of Buddhism. I would just like to note that the concept of non-substantiality and the investigations of the Consciousness-Only school involve a close awareness of this issue.
What continues after death?

Shakyamuni's conclusion is that KARMA continues. Our circumstances in our present life are the effect of our past actions (karma), and our actions in the present determine the circumstances of our lives in the future. In other words, the influence of our actions is carried on from one existence to the next transcending life and death.

Karma, as indicated by the concept of the three categories of action - namely thoughts, words and deeds - means both physical and spiritual activity. What we have done, what we have said, what we have thought - the consequences of all these actions continue into the future unabated. When you think about it, this is an extremely strict perspective on causality. Essentially, it is the energy of karma that continues beyond birth and death. The mention of energy calls to mind the principle of the conservation of energy, a law of physics which holds that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. While thermal energy may change into kinetic energy, and potential energy may turn into electrical energy, energy cannot suddenly be produced from nothing. Nor can existing energy simply disappear. It only changes from.Even matter is nothing more than a stable form of energy. From that standpoint, some claim that energy is the ultimate reality.
French Scholar Rene Huyghe discusses this in his important work Formes et forces (Forms and Forces).` According to Huyghe, there is a dynamic of form and energy operating on all levels of existence. from the atomic to the universal. And the high-level spiritual activity of artistic creation is no exception.

He proposes that, through some function, force produces a stable form. Should the energy contained in the form remain active, it will eventually take another form or will return to a state of 'pure' force. In terms of the three truths of Buddhism, 'force' represents the "truth of nonsubstantiality", and 'form' the "truth of temporary existence".

So with respect to life and death, we can say that 'life' is when the energy of karma temporarily assumes a fixed form, and 'death' is when the form breaks down and becomes one with the life-current of the universe as a flow of pure energy.

Generally speaking, that comparison is probably an apt one. Of course, 'form' changes continually from moment to moment.Along the lines of the principle of conservation of energy, we might be able to speak loosely of a 'principle of conservation of karma'. I find it deeply intriguing that Huyghe identifies wave motion as an important factor in energy's transformation into form. He postulates that form is determined by the various wave, vibratory and rhythmic attributes of force. This is based on well-known experiments in cymatics [sound therapy].
Cymatics experiments involve imparting a fixed vibration to liquids, or to dust or metal shavings spread over a disc-shaped surface. When a certain frequency is reached, the particles describe a particular pattern on the surface. The patterns include those of helices, snails, dendriforms or tree-like patterns, hexagons and scales.

They also often manifest the shapes of such organic substances as sprigs of coral, broad beans, shells, fish skeletons, turtle shells, and the hexagonal loculi of a beehive. Based on these experiments, Huyghe speculates that all matter is made up of energy and a particular vibration or rhythm. His insight is that each living entity may have a particular 'vibratory reality'."
Of course, the energy of karma is different from physical energy. It is latent life-energy that influences both physical and spiritual aspects of our being. So we should always remember that this is merely an analogy for helping us understand the true nature of life and death.

This karmic energy is said to continue, transcending life and death. Since there is both positive karma and negative karma, the circumstances of each living entity's present existence is determined by its karmic energy of both good and evil from previous existences.
The present 'form' of our life is determined by an equilibrium of positive and negative energies. As an effect of this karmic energy a person might, for example, be born with superior intelligence or good looks. Because this is an effect that appears in the subject, it is termed a 'life effect'. By contrast, to be born, for example, in a home that is the scene of constant fighting is an ,environmental effect'.
The karmic energy that sustains our lives does not all become manifest at once in the present. But sooner or later that energy will produce some kind of effect, though it may not be until a future lifetime. In terms of the the question is how this karmic energy continues after death.
I think the doctrine of the nine consciousnesses as explain above speaks most aptly to this subject.

The Consciousness-Only doctrine clarifies the interior dimension of human life to such an extent that it has had an important influence on modern psychology. In the first place, it resolves the seeming contradiction between the view of the self as empty(Ku or shunyata) and the concept of transmigration.

Of the nine consciousnesses, the first five, which are based on the so-called 'five stems' (of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body) correspond to the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. These are functions of perception and awareness. The sixth consciousness integrates these five consciousnesses into coherent images; it is the function of intelligence to make inferences and judgments about things. It is primarily with this sixth consciousness that we perform our daily activities.

Going further, we come to the seventh or nano-consciousness and the eighth or alaya-consciousness, which corresponds to the realm of the so-called subconscious. The eighth consciousness ensures the continuity of karma from one lifetime to the next.
The functions of all the consciousnesses up through the seventh consciousness cease upon death. But the alaya-consciousness continues to function over the three existences of past, present and future. The original meaning of the Sanskrit term alaya is 'storehouse' or ,repository'. Since it is where karma is stored, it is also known as the ,storehouse consciousness'.Incidentally, it is said that the word Himalaya is a combination of hima or snow, and alaya or storehouse. All of our karma accumulates in the alaya-consciousness as though in a storehouse. Both good karma and bad karma are stored there like seeds in a granary. The term 'storehouse' conjures up the image of an actual structure into which things of substance can be placed. But in fact it may be more accurate to say that the life-current of karmic energy itself constitutes the eighth consciousness. A Buddhist text likens the eighth consciousness to a 'rushing stream'.

Moreover, the eighth consciousness transcends the boundaries of the individual and interacts with the karmic energy of others. On the inner dimension of life, this latent karmic energy merges with the latent energy of one's family, one's ethnic group, and humankind, and also with that of animals and plants. That's why the human revolution(or inner transformation) of one person also changes the destiny of the person's family and society. A positive change in the karmic energy in the depths of one person's life becomes a cogwheel for change in the karma in the lives of others.

There are methods for changing the karmic energy in one's life from 'negative' to 'positive' through steadily accumulating good causes. But in reality that is not practical; sooner or later we are liable to do something that erases the good causes we have made, just as in piling up stones we can only get so high before we upset what we have worked to create. That is particularly so in an age when society, to its very depths, is swirling with negative energy.

By contrast, the Lotus Sutra, the highest Buddha's teaching and the core of Mahayana philosophy, teaches how by activating the ninth consciousness, which lies at the utmost depths of our being and is fundamentally free of impurity, we can at once change both the negative and positive karmic energy in our life into ,supremely positive' energy. The ninth consciousness is the universal life that underlies the eighth consciousness and every other facet of our being.

The concept of 'eternal Buddha'[Buddha's manifested in the life of Shakyamuni is non-perishing expound inthe 'Life Span'(sixteenth) chapter Lotus sutra] could be called an expression in human form of this fundamentally pure consciousness that is without beginning or end. When we activate this fundamentally pure consciousness, the energy of good and evil karma in our life is all directed towards value creation; and the mind or consciousness of our ethnic group and of humankind is infused with the life-current of compassion and wisdom.

So, 'life after death' means that the life-current of karma, in a state of non-substantiality(ku), merges with the universal life. Since it is nonsubstantial, it is neither existence nor non-existence. Nor can it be said to exist in one particular place in the universe or another. Rather, it becomes one with the life of the universe in its entirety.
Our Late President Toda put it this way: 'The life of your grandfather and your grandmother exist in the universe. But that doesn't mean that they are out there somewhere holding hands. They're there, it's just that there's no way of pinpointing a single location for them'.
Since they are in no particular place in the universe, you cannot say simply that they exist. On the other hand, they will be born again in response to the appropriate causes; so you cannot say that they do not exist either. Life after death transcends the concepts of both existence and nonexistence'.

This might seem to defy common sense, but we in fact find similar concepts in areas of physics such as quantum mechanics. The fact that light has properties both of a wave and of a particle seems to fly in the face of our ordinary way of thinking. This is because it's contradictory to say that something is both a wave and a particle. It confounds logic that light has properties of both, sometimes displaying properties of a wave and sometimes those of a particle.

President Toda used the analogy of radio waves to explain life in the state of non-substantiality In this day and age, it may make more sense to use the example of televisions.

Radio waves of various wavelengths from broadcast stations in many different countries crisscross the world. When you take a television receiver and tune it to the wavelength of the broadcast you want to receive, you are able to hear sound and see images. Through the 'relation' or 'external cause' of the receiver, the silent and invisible waves become audible sounds and visible images. It could be said that this represents the transformation of the wavelengths from 'death' to 'life'.

The broadcaster breaks down sounds and images into various streams of data and transmits them as radio waves. Through the television receiver they are reconstituted and the original sounds and images reappear. Although the sound and image are broken down into unintelligible signals, the original composite is later reconstituted and reappears. This seems analogous to the temporary union of the five components.
We are born with a body and mind (a 'life effect') and in an environment (an 'environmental effect') that matches our own karmic energy. Of course, life and environment are in fact inseparable. For they both are manifestations (effects) of our own karmic energy.

President Toda often used the example of the Japanese board game 'Go' to explain the transition from death to life. In an important title match between two masters, a single game can take as long as two days to complete. If on the first day there is no winner, the play is suspended. This corresponds to the moment of death. But on the following day, the match is resumed with the stones laid out exactly as they had been at the end of play the day before. This corresponds to the 'next life'. There is continuity. We aren't born with a blank slate; rather, we continue where we left off. That's why the expression 'to be born anew` is something of a misnomer.

President Toda emphasized this point, saying, 'We don't say that a stick of incense or a cigarette is 'reborn' when we relight them. They simply resume burning from the point where they had stopped before. When we die and are reborn, our life, just as it is, continues'. 'This very body continues on', he added, thumping his chest for emphasis. In other words, he was saying that the continuity of our life, consisting of an entity of body and mind, is not impeded by our going through death and rebirth.

At any given moment our life is in one of the Ten Worlds(emotional or mental kaleidoscope of one's basic life-condtion from hell(mental suffering), the lowest life-state to the highest called Buddhahood(absolute happiness or complete freedom/enlightenment). President Toda compared the differences between the Ten Worlds to the differences between various wavelengths, calling them differences in 'life wavelength'.

The Ten Worlds also exist in the great life of the universe. If a person's state of life at the last moment is that of the world of Hell, then the person's life fuses with the world of Hell in the universal life; if they are in Rapture, their life fuses with the world of Rapture (Heaven).
In other words, it merges with the world in the universal life whose wavelength matches that of our own life wavelength. Life wavelength - that reminds me of Huyghe's comment, introduced earlier/above, that all matter ultimately is composed of energy and a particular rhythm.
As to the manner in which our lives fuse with the universe, even though we speak of the Ten Worlds inherent in the universal life, they do not, as we have discussed previously, exist as actual places somewhere in the universe. It's not the case, for example, that the eight cold hells lie beyond Pluto, or that the world of Rapture is next to Venus. Rather, they permeate the entirety of the universal life.Whether we are speaking of the world(or states of life) of Hell, or the world of Rapture, or the world of Buddhahood, each pervades the entire universe. This is a point we covered in discussing the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds.
When our being becomes one with the world corresponding to our state of life at the moment of death, we become one with the entire universe. For precisely this reason, as long as the appropriate external cause exists. there is no restriction on when and where in the universe we can reappear. And we are reborn with the body and mind and in the environment that is most suited to us.
President Toda said of this life that pervades the entire universe, 'At some stage, life comes to concentrate in one part of the universe. It is then that it is born as a living being'. Isn't he saying that when the proper external cause is present, our life, which pervades the universe, instantaneously becomes concentrated in one particular place and manifests as a discrete living entity?

At the same time, we should bear in mind that 'pervading the entire universe' does not indicate that life is expansive, and existing in a life-form as tiny as the head of a pin does not mean that life is small and narrow.

In the Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist writings:, 'On the Ultimate Teaching Affirmed by All Buddhas of Past, Present and Future' (Sanze Shobutsu Sokanmon Kyoso Hairyu), the Daishonin says, 'Although it [the true entity of life] can fit inside a mustard seed, the seed does not expand, nor does life contract. Although it fills the vastness of space, space is not too wide, nor is life too small'.
In other words, it's not a matter of something widely spread out over infinite space suddenly becoming concentrated in a discrete location. After death and before rebirth, life is in a state of latency; it is not dispersed. Since the entire universe is one living entity, a life that is one with the universe is never distant and can manifest anywhere in an instant.

You seem to be adopting one particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, that only eigenfunctions or waves exist, and claiming that such thinking is believed by scientists. That is actually what I believe. But it is contrary to the predominant thinking of most high energy physicists who say that the two most accurate theories in physicis, QED and General Relativity (GR) are based entirely on only space, matter and particles existing.

In continuation, by the three truths expounded in Buddhism that state of "neither existence nor nonexistence" as Nagarjuna described in this concept expressed the true nature of all things, this was his philosophical view of the Middle Way,the ultimate perspective on life.

Working within the framework established by Nagarjuna, Great Teacher Tientai of China reprised it as the doctrine of the "unity of three truths", Nichiren stated that: “Life is indeed an elusive reality that transcends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is neither existence nor nonexistence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality.” In other words, according to Nichiren, because a correct understanding of the Middle Way that although a person’s life manifests both impermanence and non-substantiality, [the ultimate reality] equally manifests the unchanging reality of all existence but both are indivisible and should be completely viewed as one. This was the philosopical Lotus school [sutra]teaching.

Nichiren Daishonin says:
The countless entities in the three thousand worlds(means all phenomena) which are undergoing the process of birth, duration, change and extinction are all in themselves embodiments of [the Thus Come One's] transcendental powers.

In other words, all phenomena, ever-changing, appearing and disappearing, are themselves manifestations of the Thus Come One's(universal life) transcendental powers. Ceaselessly changing though they are, all things in the universe are in fact constantly abiding; are the Middle Way; are the true entity; are the Thus Come One.In this, Mr. Toda remarked:

...." Ultimately, each instant of existence should be called "Thus Come One." Not only our own lives but all things in the universe never cease to change for the briefest instant. They are transformed and transformed again from one moment to the next. Since every single thing is constantly changing its form, a house as a house, the very house itself, is constantly changing what it is. Time passes and it turns into clods and dust. The clods as clods, the clods themselves, become dust, and the dust continues to disintegrate as well........When we see all things for what they are, this is called the principle of temporary existence. And since these phenomena are temporary, they are not real. In that respect, they are nonsubstantial--this is the principle of nonsubstantiality. If we look at each moment as existing just as it is, that is the Middle Way. So the appearance and nature of all things, in their moment-by-moment existence, are the true entity. Our moment-by-moment existences and lives are also the true entity, and in that momentary true entity, all life from the beginningless past is included, as well as all life into the infinite future. This single instant of life contains the effects of all our past lives and the causes for all our future lives. This is the Law of the Lotus, the law of cause and effect. This single instant of life is the activity of the universe itself, our own life, and actual existence. The activity of the universe from moment to moment is constantly changing and manifests itself as various phenomena, all of which are undergoing a transformation within that activity. This is what we call "transcendental powers." It is not a matter of someone bestowing some kind of power on us. What it means is that the free and unrestricted transformation of all universal phenomena, in response to all other activity therein, represents the true entity of the universe......"

This was Mr. Toda's view of the true entity[ultimate reality] of all phenomena. I know that "all phenomena" includes both matter or particle and life(space) , but we usually think of the two as entirely distinct. As the term "all phenomena" indicates, Buddhism's view of matter, too, is not as some fixed and unchanging object but as a dynamic phenomenon that goes through a cycle of generation and disintegration. In other words, Buddhism views matter from the dimension of the phenomenal, as opposed to the purely material. It regards life, too, as a dynamic phenomenon that undergoes a cycle of birth and death.

Usually, it would be thought a mistake to view a phenomenon in the same way we do a material object, that is, as a static and fixed existence. But we cannot say that a phenomenon does not exist, either. It neither exists nor doesn't exist. Yet there are times when it is fair to describe a phenomenon as existing, and times when it is just as appropriate to describe a phenomenon as non-existing. This way of looking at things is called the Middle Way, because it takes a middle path without adhering either to existence or non-existence. This is the same as "the true entity" when it is correctly understood just as it is.

It's easy to understand when we look at reality in terms of its phenomenal and material dimensions. We could probably apply this to the three truths of nonsubstantiality, temporary existence and the Middle Way that Mr. Toda mentions. For example, to look at matter not as something fixed or static (material) but dynamic (phenomenal) in nature would correspond to the truth of nonsubstantiality. Yet, it is also possible to temporarily view matter as static, so this would correspond to the truth of temporary existence. To refrain from adhering to either view, meanwhile, would represent the truth of the Middle Way. T'ien-t'ai described a perfect and fully integrated understanding of the true entity of all phenomena from all three of these perspectives as the "unification of the three truths." This was the true entity of all phenomena of which Mr. Toda spoke, or the ultimate reality that is taught in [Lotus]Buddhism.

There is much greater difference in the Buddhist regard of god and gods, claiming that they do not exist. But even here some Buddhists admit that the Lord of Great Compassion available to all for salvation does exist. This is very close to Hindu and even Christian thinking.

Who is God? What is He like? And what does He want from us? These are the questions that people in our culture often wonder about. These are the questions that strike at the heart of our hopes and our fears. I, at least, grew up wondering about these questions, and now that I have embraced the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, I have found a very different perspective from those I had growing up.

Who is God? Those who grew up in a Judeo-Christian or Islamic environment understand that this is a question about the Creator, the one who brought all of this into existence and who, to one extent or another, directs our lives in fulfillment of His divine plan. I say “He” deliberately by the way, because our culture is still very patriarchal and of course masculinity is considered the privileged, powerful, normative and authoritative sex and these are the qualities that Western theology attributes to God. God, in Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures is the powerful creator and ruler of the universe, the father of us all. He is the dignified and stern gentleman with the gray beard of wisdom and the spotless toga of the Roman emperors as portrayed on the Sistine Chapel. Now, I will point out here that this is not the God of Thomas Aquinas, Moses Maimonides, or Averrhoes, the greatest theologians of Christianity, Judaeism, and Islam respectively. But it is the image that most people have because it is the image they grew up with since childhood and the one that is reinforced by the arts, TV and the movies. Isn’t this the God whose deep voice bellows at Charleton Heston in the Ten Commandments and whose fiery fingers inscribed the laws of Western civilization in stone?

Now, again, I am not concerned with what the Bible or the theologians actually teach. What I am concerned about here is the God that most people seem to believe in and the God that I grew up believing. This God was a person like my father or grandfather. But unlike my own father, God seemed to be much more stern and aloof. God demanded and expected perfection and the best behavior at all times -- no excuses. He was always ready to forgive, but only providing we were very sorry and would agree to play by the rules and accept the deal that He offered for our salvation. No questions asked and no reading the fine print! To question or have doubts is to show a lack of respect and acceptance of that deal. So this was a God who demanded perfection knowing we could not live up to it, and who expected our unthinking obedience and belief in His religion if we were to be saved. On top of that, this was a God who would only save those who were fortunate enough to be able to believe in the religion that He revealed. Consequently, I spent a good part of my life trying to figure out exactly what God wanted me to believe so that I could get on His good side.

But this image of God is one that I have long since abandoned. It took me a little longer to grow out of this Hollywood and Sunday School image of God, but eventually this God joined Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and other childhood ideas and fantasies. In the meantime, I had embraced the Buddha Dharma -- the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha who had awakened from delusion to the ultimate truth about our lives.

What does Buddhism tell us about God then? What did it tell me about God? Did becoming a Buddhist leave me in a universe without a God? In a way, yes, but in another way not at all. I say yes, because if God is the Creator, then there can not be a God in Buddhism because there is no such thing as a one-time creation or a final apocalyptic end. The universe is an open-ended and interdependent process, and so are our lives. The idea that there are definitive beginnings and endings or absolute boundaries between things or beings is viewed by Buddhism as part of the delusion that reinforces our selfishness and sense of alienation from all that exists. So we can not talk of a supreme creator in Buddhism because there is no creation -- there is only reality just as it is, beyond words or concepts. This reality we must see for ourselves and deal with directly and not through a fog of creation myths or metaphysical speculations.

So is this reality an impersonal absolute? Is it a mystic void? Or perhaps it is like the Force in Star Wars? But these are also speculations and cold abstractions. None of them can describe the living reality which Buddhism helps us to awaken to. I think, however, that the best way of putting it is that while Buddhism does not view the ultimate reality as a person, it nevertheless views it as very personal. In other words, the ultimate reality is not a cosmic grandfather with a flowing beard, a toga and the proper genitalia, but is something that defies any category while still being the source of loving-kindness, compassion, joy and the peace that surpasses understanding. One who awakens to this reality (which is what the word Buddha means: “Awakened One”) awakens to that which is the pure, blissful, eternal and true nature of all life.

This reality becomes known, or makes itself known, through the lives and teachings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. In other words, those who awaken to this reality realize that they are this reality and they are the ones who embody this reality in a way that allows others to awaken to it. Ultimate reality may be the source of compassion and wisdom, but it only becomes actual compassion and wisdom in the lives of those who awaken to it. Buddhas are the ones who are fully enlightened to this and they invite us to come and learn from them. The bodhisattvas, on the other hand, are the more active aspect of this awakening. Motivated by compassion, the bodhisattvas remain involved in the world over innumerable lifetimes to help lead people to the buddhas and to their own buddhahood.

One of these is what some Buddhists call Lord Great Compassion or the one we have all seen many times -- Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, whose name means Regarder of the Cries of the World. She is the graceful figure I am sure many of you have seen decorating some restaurants or being sold in tourist shops in Chinatown. She is the one who is dressed in simple robes and is either holding a vase or sometimes a child. She almost seems to be the Asian equivalent of the Virgin Mary and in some ways she is. But she is actually more than that. In the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, she is shown to be one of the most exalted of all the bodhisattvas, whose compassion reaches throughout the universe and whose assists all those who call on her name. The 25th chapter also tells us that she is not really a “she” at all, or a “he” either. Kuan Yin is formless but able to take on any form that will best help others. Of the 33 forms that chapter 25 lists, one of those is Isvara, the Indian name for the personal God who is the creator and savior of humankind. The Lotus Sutra is actually saying that God is our perception of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, the Regarder of the Cries of the World.

Now let’s be sure we understand what the sutra is really trying to tell us. It is not saying that God is actually a Chinese goddess or a Buddhist bodhisattva. It is saying that our image or concept of God rests upon a deeper reality, and that deeper reality is compassion and wisdom which is formless but which can take on any form to inspire and assist us. In order to teach us this, the sutra describes Kuan Yin Bodhisattva(or like Lord Great Compassion) who personifies the true nature of reality and embodies the compassion which springs from it. This universal and compassionate activity is perceived as the presence of God. In other words, according to Buddhism, what we call the presence of God is actually the universally compassionate activity of the true nature of reality.

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