Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gods Forsaken, Paradise Lost

Posted 22nd of March, 2008 @ Vraja Journal.


Being a Buddhist means I no longer believe in god. Right? Well, let's be a bit more nuanced here.

Buddhism doesn't deny the existence of a diversity of gods. In fact, some accounts portray even a broader array of levels of existence than we find in the classical Puranic models. You have the hot and the cold hells, you have the realms of the ghosts, you have the Tavatimsa heavens with Sakra, also known as Devanam Indra or the king of the gods, in charge. You have the Yama-worlds, the Tusita-worlds, the Brahma-worlds, and the immaterial worlds. (Refer to The 31 Planes of Existence by Suvanno Mahathera for some further details on Buddhist cosmology.) I do live in the same mythic universe with my old Hindu bretheren, albeit in a slightly modified and expanded form: I have gained extra dimesions.

Over the millennia, Buddhism has been amicably accommodating of other pantheons. For example, many Hindu and Bon deities have been painlessly absorbed into Tibetan Buddhism, and none other than Vishnu has taken the place of the patron deity of the ancient Theravada tradition of Sri Lanka. Since many of the god-conceptions are remarkably similar, it wouldn't be sensible to only accept a certain culture's depictions of the gods. After all, these beings are quite beyond the ordinary human description ability, so a certain level of artistic freedom must be allowed. The deities are regarded as protectors of the dharma of the ancient path leading to final emancipation, and as such included in the merit sharing prayers following great dharmic undertakings.

Buddhism doesn't however admit to the existence of any supreme or original deity on whom all of creation or existence would depend. It does recognize some devatas laying claim to such, Maha Brahma or the greatest of the many Brahmas being a famous example, and regards such claims as a form of delusion born of ignorance. This of course implies that, to not make Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita, culpable of the same (assuming we take the work as his direct words), we must turn to more Advaitic interpretations of the text, of which there are of course many.

Nay, let's have the origin of the worlds from the most ancient of our sruti sources — straight from the roots:
"Then was not non-existence nor existence: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water? Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's and night's divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever. Darkness there was at first concealed in darkness this. All was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit. Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit. Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.

Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it? There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder. Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation? The devas are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being? He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not." - (Rig Veda 10.129.1-7)
The above, so it seems to me anyway, is in spirit more proximate to the Buddhist doctrine of Pratitya-samutpada or Dependent Arising with the mass of the universe vaguely anthropomorphized than it is to the later Hindu creation mythos featuring a personal deity pulling the strings. In general, the Upanishadic versions of creation are worth a study for people who haven't familiarized themselves with anything beyond the Puranic version.

As for concerns over atheism, even astika philosophical systems such as Sankhya managed to feature the unfolding of the elements, the turning of the Prakriti, without a need for a personal original creator god to run the errands. Of course, this early non-theistic Sankhya was preached by the infamous imposter Kapila, not the real incarnation of Vishnu who was a straight theist. (Many scholars suspect that the true Kapila's presentation may have been slanted by underlying personal motives.)

On a personal level, have I forsaken my gods? Have those whom I worshiped and meditated on for years vanished into nothingness? No, they certainly haven't — even if admittedly I'm still in the midst of inner transitions with many pieces yet to fall to their proper places, revisiting, revising and recontextualizing elements from my past practices and understandings.

Radha, the goddess of Hladini, Karunamayi, this embodiment of compassion, was the primary object of my worship for a good many years. I sought my level best to cultivate the internal spirit-body, a ray of her being, and I sought a deep union of hearts with her. This cultivation with all of its internal responses is unlikely to vanish from my consciousness even with the shifted focus. The powerful energetic connection once forged is a support I gladly and gratefully maintain, even if partaking in her cosmic drama of emotions with Krishna was a bit much for me to handle.

As for Krishna, I honestly don't know what to make of him, and I never really did. It was the fair lady besides him that drew my attention. Owing to his well-documented history of crooked behavior and the establishment of the ethics of "love me when I kick you", I have little interest in investing much in him, even if I've kept my avenues unclogged and given an open invitation to get in touch anytime, should we have unfinished business.

I believe these two, along with the rest of the personal divine manifestations out there, share of a level of consciousness far greater than their sectarian worshipers do, and as such are supportive of the spirit of my quest for final enlightenment, rather than peeved by my revised priorities from desires from their personal adoration to a withdrawal of desires supportive of the attainment of final beatitude beyond worlds of names and forms.

Looking at deities beyond their humane manifestations in terms of energies, principles, symbols and so forth is a whole other elaborate theme, rather beyond the scope of today's text.

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