Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Gods and Devils: A Gift from an Ancient Buddhist Text.
When and where I lost my belief in God remains a mystery. One catalyst for my loss in belief was undoubtedly my liberal arts education. Through my studies of psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and religious studies (et al), I came to view God more as a concept of human creation than as an actual separate entity that exists among the starry heavens. God became a relative concept. Mind you, I never became an atheist. I never denied God’s existence… belief was simply replaced with doubt. I doubted God’s existence, but I hoped that He did and continued my search as an agnostic.
Now, my doubt was never really a balanced doubt. It was a doubt towards the negative. It was what is known in Buddhist psychological literature as a “doubt not tending to the object” (don mi ‘gyur gyi the tshom). In other words, while I doubted Gods existence, I tended to lean towards the notion that He probably did not. It was certainly not a “doubt tending towards the object” (don ‘gyur gyi the tshom) where I doubted the existence of God yet fostered the notion that He probably did nor was it a balanced doubt (cha mnyam pa’i the tshom), a mediating doubt that had no additional perspective attached. I would continue my search as a negatively doubting agnostic.*
I continued for many years as a negatively doubting agnostic until one day I happened to be translating a Buddhist text in which Brahma(?) is rebuked for his ignorant assumption that he was the creator of all existence. The narrator of the text informs Brahma that he is merely one Brahma out of an endless line of Brahmas (this text takes the position that the gods are more like eternal archetypes that living beings participate in through reincarnation). It is pointed out that even though Brahma has the eyes of a god, there are some things that he does not see (like all the Brahmas before him) and thus comes to have a partial or incorrect view of reality. Now at first, this text simply demonstrated to me the relative nature of reality. It all depends upon perspective and perception. But later, the text gave me a gift that other disciplines failed to deliver. Brahma, even with his eyes, was incapable of seeing certain things. These things simply existed beyond what his eyes where capable of seeing. While he could not see them, they existed nonetheless. Like Brahma, my eyes are limited. They see only certain colors and shapes. They only perceive a spectrum of reality to which they are attuned. I came to see that, I may not have experienced God in the past simply because my senses were limited in their scope of operation. In fact, a whole host of gods and devils (NPEs) might exist just beyond the range of my senses. I had come to the conclusion that God may indeed exist after all. My negative doubt in God had been whisked away by this Buddhist text and replaced with a doubt that is more balanced in nature. Thanks to an ancient Buddhist text, God had become a real possibility again.
•(Those interested parties will find Lati Rinbochay and Elizabeth Napper’s Mind in Tibetan Buddhism a readable introduction to Buddhist psychological models of the mind.)