View Full Version : I've been thinking...

27 May 19, 11:23
I've often heard it said that we, all people, need to believe in something greater than ourselves. A higher power, a god, a creator or some omniscient being.

Look around the world, you'll find social groups, communities, tribes, races each with their own belief system, their own religion, their own god(s). These groups have independently developed, each ending up with a different form of the same concept -a god. It seems that the human condition includes a vacancy for a spiritual leader which must be filled. The French writer Voltaire expressed the same idea with "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him".

That doesn't means to say there has to be a higher power somewhere, to whom we all must answer. Buddhism doesn't require belief in any kind of godhead. I'm always saddened when I see Buddhist writings attributing magical powers to the Buddha, because I suspect these have been created in the mind of the writer or are the product of centuries of story-telling with embellishments.

The natural predisposition to believe in something leads to religion and sometimes (often times?) high priests and social leaders have used that to control their population. Either by creating and implementing a rule-book or moral behaviour based on religious imperatives, or by inciting the suppression of "other" religious groups.

Unfortunately, animals have an inbuilt tendency to fight each other, individually or in groups. That's related to an instinct for survival, and the same is true for the human animal. It's all too easy for leaders to incite populations to war based on religious grouping. I need not give examples, they are all too common in history and in the present day.

It could be comforting to reassure ourselves that our own approach to Buddhism is free from belief in mythical gods, free from being controlled by misguided leaders, that we are treading the path of the middle way, towards freedom from suffering through following the teachings of the historical Buddha.

But what are the chances that 'enlightenment' is just as imaginary as 'Our Father God, creator of the Universe'? That it's just a concept created in our mind by acceptance of the teachings? If nibbana did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

28 May 19, 11:12
Very interesting and thoughtful commentary Woodscooter, and I might add also very refreshing to read in these days of extremism in all things all the time. Thanks for your perspective.
Two thoughts come to mind.

One is related to what has always drawn me to Buddhism - the lack of religious dogma prescribing behavior and beliefs by some human interpreting the wishes and direction of some all powerful creator godhead who “...has a plan for all of us...”. We are instead encouraged to seek, analyze, and comprehend the events in life ourselves through our own experience, and we are provided meaningful tools and practices like Buddhist meditation to aid us in that process.

The other thought relates to the existence of higher powers and enlightenment. Regarding higher powers, it seems mathematically probable that we as humans are not the most advanced life form in all the universe, and there are almost certainly much higher forms of life out there (let’s hope so!!!). Whether they are higher powers or simply much more advanced life forms remains to be seen. And then maybe, regarding enlightenment, it does exist at least to the extent that we as humans might actually become at least enlightened enough to begin to understand all of this. For me, I find that thought encouraging enough to continue on the path. ?

Cheers and peace to all....

28 May 19, 11:14
p.s. the ? at the end of my response was supposed to be a smile :-)

28 May 19, 11:39
I hold the view that enlightenment isn't something bigger than ourselves, but something we can and should experience as part of being human. Somewhere along the line of human history we lost the ability to do this, probably as a result of having to buy into the world view of societies we started to inhabit. Much later the Buddha came along and showed us how we can let go of our assumptions about the world and get back to those experiences. More importantly, for our understanding, he set up the context within which we can understand the experiences as 'enlightened' people.

However, such a simple solution to our problem of the human condition is difficult to put over in the face of competing patterns of understanding which use magic and higher powers as their basis for belief, as their authority for convincing people of their view of reality. We can only wonder at how the Buddha cut through this by himself, but then start to understand how appeals to higher powers and magic crept into a lot of Buddhism over the years since the Buddha's enlightenment.

Luckily for us we have a path which gradually brings us to understand how enlightenment can exist, as we get flashes of insight along the way. We experience for ourselves the changes that practice and being on the path bring, so we don't need to believe in anything supernatural.

28 May 19, 12:14
Well said!

28 May 19, 16:57
Hi Woodscooter

Interesting musings, another take on this is to look at humans as part of the great animal kingdom, the super ape, evolution has been kind to us but left us with all the detritus of our ape ancestry

We are basically a pack animal, to survive we need to be part of a society, we have instincts that produce pack behaviours hardwired, they manifest as emotions, we are only comfortable in a hierarchical structure where we instinctively conform to belong, even at the height of my teenage rebellion I rebelled in strict accordance with my peer group.

We have a built in negative bias, very handy on the Savannah when knowing where and how danger presented was a key to survival

We developed a mind that does learn, it learns by seeing, hearing, figuring out a problem and lately by reading, in all these ways of learning we are copying some one who has learnt before, modifying and improving

From the prospective of the above, it is easy to see how the concept of a higher all seeing deity arose, if you are part of a hierarchical structure then you have to accept that there are people who are more powerful than you, that you have to conform to, that conformation is driven by our fear of consequence if the power is used against us.

It is not too big a leap to then use the idea of a great power that the hierarchy is in communion with as the source of this power you should fear and not upset.

This paradigm has been used as a way to control large groups of people for millennia, in times where science was in it's infancy much of what was not understood was attributed to the all powerful deity, hence a ubiquitous belief in magic.

The Buddha was an exceptional genius, he by stint of his own intellect swam against the stream and saw for himself the way humans create a complete myth out of reality, the whole of metaphysics is just a story made up to create power and explain the seemingly unexplained

What if Nibbana or "enlightenment" is just following the Buddha's directions into seeing reality free of Greed, Hatred and Delusion, and in so doing becoming truly free of the limiting, stressful baggage we all hump around with us.

We do not have to invent this, we could take the Buddha's advice and go the way he pointed too and as we walk the path use the fuel of kindness, compassion, wisdom, stillness and peace that naturally arise if you follow his advice, as these positive experiences become your default go to state of being I think you no longer need the concept of enlightenment to fuel your path

28 May 19, 20:41
Woodscooter: "It could be comforting to reassure ourselves that our own approach to Buddhism is free from belief in mythical gods, free from being controlled by misguided leaders, that we are treading the path of the middle way, towards freedom from suffering through following the teachings of the historical Buddha."

Middle Way a.k.a. The Noble Eight Fold Path is the means by which we are assured by The Buddha of a means to achieve unbinding and release from the samsaric realms. However, we are not free of mythical creatures, given Naggas, Devas, all sorts and varieties of gods and Great Brahmas. And then there are politicians. :P

28 May 19, 23:51
I have read those reflective and reasoned comments on my thoughts.

I broadly agree with all of you. It's up to each of us to find our own way forward. If we do so in harmony with the Buddha's teachings, it's no-one's choice but our own.

My experience so far leads me to continue on the path. It's still my choice, my direction.

Thanks for posting. I would welcome anyone else's musings, too.

31 May 19, 11:08
Hello everyone,
I have nothing profound to say about these posts but just want to say thank you.
Everytime I come here, I learn something new or gain another perspective.
Hope you have a lovely day and weekend.
Kind regards

01 Jun 19, 11:50
(...If there wasn't enlightenment that we would invent it? )

From my experience, the chances are not too good. For hundreds of thousands of years we haven't been intellectually smart enough, nor wealthy enough to think of it. Instead, we have invented evil spirits to explain our suffering, rather than placing blame where it belongs on our superstitious minds.

The appropriate conclusion in this regard: "If you can't bedazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bull droppings".