Does God exist in Burmese Buddhism?

A Buddhist altar at the Azusa Thondrarama Brahma Vihara monastery

I’ve been reading Spiro’s Buddhism and Society in my spare time because it is an interesting study on Theravada Buddhism in village Burma and its cultural significance. The following is a a short and interesting passage from the book:

“In the Theravada tradition, the Buddha is not a god in either the Hindu-Buddhist or the Judaeo-Christian sense of the term. He is superior to all the gods in the Hindu-Buddhist sense of “god”…Nor is he a god in the Judaeo-Christian sense, for the Buddha is neither a Savior–in Theravada Buddhism, as we shall see, man must save himself–nor is He alive.”

“The preponderant view concerning the Buddha in normative Buddhism (a view shared by almost all Burmese) is that, having attained nirvana, He is no longer alive, in any sense at least in which He can serve as a Savior. He shows the way to, but is not the agent of, salvation.”
-Interesting excerpts from Buddhism and Society (Melford E. Spiro)

This question has been puzzling and confusing to me all my life. Technically speaking, within Theravada Buddhism, the primary tradition practiced in Burma, there is no palpable importance attached to the notion of ‘God’ or the divinity of Buddha. Sure, there are hundreds, if not thousands of gods and goddesses, including Hindu ones like Thuyathadi (Saraswati) or spirits like nat that the Burmese worship in times of need. But one interesting point of contention is whether God figures any role in Burmese Buddhism.

I think some of my confusion arose from my being lost in translation. While growing up, I always equated the Burmese word shi-kho (ရှိခိုး) with English ‘worship,’ which I thought was its closest equivalent. When I actually looked up shi-kho recently, it is defined as “to do obeisance; to pay homage.” Whenever my parents would say Phaya shi-kho or ‘Pay homage to Buddha,’ I would inherently think I was worshiping Buddha, like Christians would to God. This may be because I grew up in the U.S. and what I saw all around me, made me want to find parallels in my own life. I probably fooled myself into thinking that Buddha chose who to punish (like the cartoons that showed God choosing who went through the pearly gates of heaven), especially when I would pray “Andaye kin, bay shin” (အန္တရာယ်ကင်းဘေးရှင်း) or literally “Be free from dangers and clear of harm’s way.” I remember in the third grade, a presumably Christian girl taunted me for being Buddhist, that “Behind Buddha is the Devil,” something I will never forget. Maybe she assumed that all Buddhists worship Buddha as God (as some Mahayana Buddhists do) or that I was idolatrous. I guess in a way, I was a naive kid. It didn’t help that a variety of Burmese phrases like “Phaya ma lo” (ဘုရားမလို့, rough equivalent “Thank God!”) or “Phaya mo gyo pyit” (ဘုရားမိုးကြိုးပစ်, rough equivalent “I swear to God”) that led me to assume Buddha is God.

But even my conception of who Buddha is and his role in Buddhism was skewed from the start. Perhaps my parents assumed that I understood what I was doing every time I put my hands together to pray because they couldn’t find a perfect way to explain to their American-born kids. I think part of my confusion stems from my own parents’ skepticism and lack of faith in the Burmese monkhood. My mom told me that as a child, her father forbade her from going to the monastery alone or without adults, because in his eyes, “monks are only people.” This general distrust of the Sangha is particularly resonant in America.

My parents, like many other Burmese Buddhists in the U.S., criticize the seemingly Americanized monks who own nice cell phones, refuse to wash their own dishes, drive brand new cars, live comfortable lives, fly first-class and loudly preach the concept that donating to the monastery as the best way to gain kutho (merit). In some ways, this is completely true. There is no sense of social obligation to help the poor or to feed the hungry in the Buddhist sermons I hear nowadays, even though those acts of kindness are just as spiritually rewarding (but I guess not financially rewarding to the monastery). Also, I think the that the reputation of Burmese monks in the U.S. has been marred by their inability to stay united (there are over 11 monasteries alone in Southern California, despite the fact that all share the same doctrine and are part of the same order–it’s mostly because of personal problems between monks that caused such splintering).

By the same token, the same reason many Burmese Buddhists reject Christianity is because of the Christian notion of God. As in the words of one of my aunts, “Christians believe that murderers and rapists can go to heaven as long as they accept Jesus Christ as their savior,” which completely defies Buddhist expectations, that heinous acts like rape and murder (which are prohibited in the Five Precepts) result in accumulation of bad karma. I think that this, along with the ubiquitous nature of Buddhism in Burma, have prevented Christianity from gaining much ground among most Burmese. However, Buddhism is not completely compatible with some Burmese beliefs either, such as the permanence of the soul, which the Burmese call a leikpya (butterfly), even though Buddhism teaches that nothing is permanent and that in Nirvana, the soul no longer exists. Nor is the Burmese belief in “luck” truly compatible with the Buddhist concept of karma (the Burmese word for both “luck” and “karma” is kan, but the Burmese use “luck” and “karma” in separate contexts).

The Burmese concept of God does not really exist, then, because Buddha does not control who is reincarnated. Burmese Buddhism teaches that each individual makes his or her own choices, accumulates his or her own merit to be reincarnated as a higher being or reach Nirvana. Buddha is only a beacon, the prime example of someone who eschewed attachment to reach Nirvana. Now that I think about it, Buddhists don’t pray to go to heaven or pray to be saved. 

I’ve been thinking much about religion these past two years in college, because some of my evangelical Christian friends who have some pretty rigid and orthodox views who asked why I was Buddhist or why I didn’t convert. Also, while studying evolutionary biology, my professor remarked that “Only in America is evolution rejected,” blatantly referring to the creationists who assert that God created all life. I wondered about what Buddhism taught on the origin of life. I felt at first, that I needed to truly understand my roots, what I believe. I was born to a Buddhist family, but I was a nominal Buddhist for much of the time, just a convenient label for who I was. For the past 19 years of my life, I’ve never had a complete grasp of what Buddhism, at least the Theravada tradition, really is, an experience mirrored among many first generation Asian Americans. To me, it’s been so detached and ceremonial, ritualized in a sense, more like a staged play than honest faith from within my heart. I’ve had so many questions and I’m only starting to get them answered.

Better late than never.

By the way, I apologize for this possibly dizzying entry. I was just sorting out what was on my mind. I’ll post a refined update later on.


32 thoughts on “Does God exist in Burmese Buddhism?

  1. Jim says:

    This to me a very interesting question. But it’s difficult when phrased simply as God. Commonly in English speaking countries due to the influence of the Bible, you have 2 varieties of deities. Upper and lower case, ie. God and gods. In the time when the judeo-christian scriptures were being written, there were many gods (lower case). These gods were all territorial gods and the countries surrounding the jews (Israelites) had their own gods that they would honor. When the God (upper case) of the Bible introduces him to the people of Israel, he communicates to them that he is different from these other gods. He tells them he is not a god of the mountains or of the valleys. He tells them that he made the whole earth and universe. You could say that lower case god could be translated ‘nat’ in Burmese. But simply saying that upper case God is the same as Paya I don’t think gets quite the picture that is described in the Bible. Early translators used the term TaWaRa Paya Thakin (excuse my romanization) to convey the idea of an eternal lord and master. This term is quite apart from anything that could be Theravada Buddhist. So I would agree with you that the idea of an Eternal or Creator God doesn’t exist in Burmese Buddhism. However I would submit that many people whether they say they are Buddhist or Christian don’t have a clue about the origin or history of their respective faiths, so I applaud your search for the truth. Thado Thado Thado.

    Regarding the origin of life, I heard a story that the 31 layers of existence were destroyed by fire and only one was left. And there were several Brahma (I think 4) that survived. They came to earth and when they came here, they ate the soil and when they did that, they became attached to earth. From there they reproduced and the 31 levels were repopulated again. However I couldn’t tell you where this story comes from in a book. Only that I heard it from a friend who studied Pali and was a monk for some time.

  2. Myat Thura says:

    This really is a very interesting article. Since we were born, we were led into believing Lord Buddha exist, in heaven. I was reading a lot about Buddhism when I was learn and realize a few things that we were told were not according to the ideas of Buddhism. Many of my friends and family think Nirvana is a place like “heaven”. Many people also believe in the existence of spirit (which is not true in Buddhism). Even for us growing up in Myanmar are taught like that, no wonder those growing up in US have confusion in the true meaning of Buddhism. It really is a very delicate and difficult to understand religion. Your article really leaves me with many thoughts.

    By the way, I have written a follow up article on your article at A Thought on Myanmar Buddhism. Hope you won’t mind referencing your article.

  3. Andi says:

    I am interested to talk to you about making available Buddhism in America.. I have some ideas I would like your opinion on.


  4. Theodore Martland says:

    A very clear introduction to the Theravada Monastic Tradition in Myanmar is presented in Dhamma Dana. Dhamma Dana is a documentary filmed entirely in Myanmar and features some venerable monks and nuns that clarify some topics in Burmese Buddhism. It was filmed during November 2008 on a special permission visa from the Burmese government. I encourage all readers to check it out!

    All profit from the sale of the DVD go towards a wonderful cause!

  5. AK says:

    Buddhism is a very profound religion. It is the mistake of our parents for not introducing it properly. Having said that, i am not balming them. I think, it is a much better way for the individual to put forth the question themselves to find out. As the Buddha himself said, Do not believe something just because it has been handed down for generations. Do not be led by what you are told. Do not accept anything on mere heresay. Do not accept anything by mere tradition…. One should investigate and make proper examination before one commits! (This is my personal experience, I grew up a Buddhist with lots of rituals and never really understood what is Buddhism) Until I starting questioning “What is Buddhism?” Then, I started reading! Once you understood the core message of Buddism, you can lead a meaningful and peaceful life! The Buddha, the dhamma and the sangha are very important to develope your knowledge. May you go forth in serch of the answers to your questions. May you be happy, well and peaceful. Sadhu! PS. most of the rituals we used too practice are not really necessary!

    • Aung Zeya says:

      Well said. Also agree with Myat Thura’s assessment. Unfortunately, today’s Burmese Buddhism is dominated by rituals little understood by laymen (or monks). Many monks today abuse their position and openly don’t follow vinaya. (Many examples, where does one start!)

      Most Burmese Buddhists treat the Buddha as God and think that they will be given “stuff” for their prayers. In that sense, Burmese Buddhism as practiced by many laymen and preached by the majority of monks is just like any other religion–ask the big man for stuff, donate freely to the monastery’s coffers and you shall be given/saved. Rather unenlightened, if you ask me. The individual accountability/responsibility described in the Eight-Fold Path, and the concept of karma are rarely mentioned in workaday sermons. Donate and you shall receive. Not Buddhism at all.

  6. May says:

    It’s natural to feel in this way as a traditional burmese buddhist, even most of our parents didn’t try to understand fully so that they couldn’t pass the depth of buddhism to their children. However, I find as an adult, we should take our responsibility to find out what really buddhism is all about without blaming our ancesstors.
    Although I myself went to a few vipassana meditation centres in Myanmar quite often and yet very vague about buddhism. Finally I got chance to go to S.N. Goenka 10days Vipassana meditation course in singapore ( and it made me realize how wonderful and scientific our buddhism is. And I find that there is no way as a laymen by just reading to understand the depth of buddhism without practising what buddha taught. One must practise and one will know the law of nature and our mind & matters relationship. Sayagyi Goenka also explained that “Buddha” means “enlightenment” and whoever practise and enlighten are able to be named as Buddha. There are several centres all over the world opened by him and a lot of different religions come to practise as this technique is non-sectarian and very scientific. Btw, in his centre, you don’t need to “shit kho” or paid homeage to any God, and no single cent are needed to pay for your food and accomodation, you just need to meditate every single day. All expenses are provided by purely the donation from those who finished courses and benefited from the technique. May all human beings are able to learn this technique taught by Gottama Buddha and are peaceful & harmonious in their life!
    It’s not a complete web page, but here is how I felt about my meditation experience,

    • Aung Zeya says:

      Agreed. It’s our responsibility to find out for ourselves. But it’s also our responsibility to question the prevailing norm of Burmese Buddhism where the monks simply ask for donations in exchange for giving the donors what they want to hear (to paraphrase Marx, giving people the opium). The Buddha said in a famous sutra that we’d have to find out for ourselves if the dhamma works for us; that just professing belief in him will not save anyone or get anyone anything; and that the eightfold path is the methodology by which the individual can pursue, and find out for him/herself. But what I hear preached today is mostly about the value of “dana” (charity) and little about sila, panna or samadhi. (I suspect many of you have heard the same.)

      But I truly believe that as Buddhists, we have the responsibility to question what supposed guardians of religion (the sangha) are teaching. Not questioning the sangha, history has shown, leads to corrupt monks and has led to a decline of Buddhism in many countries. (Ancient China is one big example; Korea is a modern one.) Just as Roman Catholics can question their priests, we ought to be able to do the same.

      But it’s easier said than done. Our tradition of giving respect to the sangha deters a more courageous/correct behaviour. As much as I feel I should, I don’t feel right questioning the monk when we visit our local monastery each month. (No, I don’t blame my ancestors for this timidity; it’s something I need to work on myself.)

  7. matt says:

    All very interesting. I read that at the Wat Pra Singh temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand there are Buddhist texts that say Buddha taught he was not a god or savior. But that he prophesied there would be a savior 500 years after him with marks on his hands and he would be called the Savior of Grace. Supposedly after much Christian interest in the text the monks at the temple no longer make it available. Would be interesting to know more about it. Best wishes in your searching.

  8. Khin Swe Min says:

    I am interested and happy to read all the comments on the Lord Buddha and candid thoughts on Buddhism. Interested in reading about young American Buddhists’ views and happy because I feel you all are leading the way to new strengths in Buddhism in US. I am a senior practising buddhist converted from a token one by reading and meditating. Had attended IMC the source of U Goenka’s beliefs. He has done such wonderful work in introducing Dhamma to non-Buddhists in a non-threatening way. The essence of Buddhism lies in understanding, accepting and practising so I think you all are doing well. Keep it up as a life long journey-Dhamma goes as deep as you can delve.

  9. Hein Thiha says:

    Thank u very much. Most of the part in your essay remember my childhood. When i was young i was like u too> After i read your essay, I know how to write some buddhist word in English. Now the problem i am facing is that i am going to talk about buddhist teaching with one of the people from christian. Although I studied hard about buddhism when i was in burma, i dont know how to write some of the buddhist word or say it in english. It is like a kind of problem for me. After i read your essay, I am clear now, Thank u. and also could u mail me if u post another essay about buddhism.

  10. Yoeuy says:

    I myself like you not know a lot about Buddha, but I have a lot of faith in his teaching. One day I picked up a book a small booklet that teachs a few chantings for dialy practice when one pay respect to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. So as I read and I come upon the word Buddha, which translated to mean enlightend to the four noble truths. Then I searched what are these four noble truths.. so on and so forth. After I found out about the four noble truths, i also learnt about the eightfold path. Later on I also learnt about dependent co-arising. In short, with my unmeasurable faith, work, i finaly prevail. At one point i had experienced the out of body experience and from that point on everything I read in Buddha Dharma make sense. Even the in the christian Bible make sense except the Genesis and resurrection. Well in the sense enligthenment is the fruit that ripen from the pure mind experience the conditioned/unconditional truths or dharma. Like Buddha say those who know me know the dharma vise versa.

    What Southeast Asian countrie buddhism is mostly pertaining to historical Buddha not the real one. The real Buddha is the a wakening mind. I come up with three dimensional symbold for you to understand what Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Think of Buddha as inside of the sphere which representing the nirvana state or unconditional and inside and outside the sphere is the conditional dharma/unconditional dharma and finally the surface of the sphere is Sangha. Draw the picture of the sphere you will see what I mean. Make sure the sphere contained four axis (two diameters) which represent the four noble truth and eightfold path. May all enlightend minds bless those who touch the surface of the sphere.

  11. fel says:

    Glad to find someone who thinks about Burmese Buddhism as well. I think although the word for ‘soul’ exists in Burmese vocabulary, Theravada Buddhism is probably more cannonical to the Burmese culture.
    The concept of ‘butterfly’ may have arose from earlier animism worships but nowadays, it is mostly used for a temporary displacement from one’s body. There were some folk stories of bringing back the recently died person alive by calling forth his butterfly. And they are just folk stories and my impression was that monks usually denounce the practice as rubbish. So, I would say there is no concept of soul in Burmese Buddhism, let a lone a creator of these souls.
    Some people have brought up Nirvana. It is relevant; I remember one Burmese description, which is that going to Nirvana is when the flame is extinguished. You just stop existing like a flame that was before. But even without reaching Nirvana, Buddhism has no concept of soul. In fact, it rejects self because it is Anatta.

  12. Simo says:

    I’m not trying to answer that question here. But theravada, to my eyes, is closest to the original teachings of Buddha. The shattering of ignorance with the awakening of awareness, which leads to destruction of delusion, hate and greed. Seeing the Dhamma, that is the Dependent Origination or Conditioned Genesis is among the prime principles of Buddhism.

    But all in all “Buddhism” is just “Name & Form”, a silly term that was later created to describe those that thread the Noble Eightfold Path (wikipedia it for meaning). Real teachings of Buddha always lead to peace and to the ability to see beyond “Name & Form”, right to the very core of things as they really are. Therefore it is dangerous to call oneself Buddhist without understanding that the term is only “Name & Form”.

    To me Buddha’s teachings are a path to a better life. Awareness to examine phenomena. Wisdom by which it can be examined (Dependent Origination). Non-Greed by Non-attachement. Liberation by Non-self. Compassion by the understanding and acceptance of conditions. Non-hate by seeing the conditioning of non-aware persons who see only “Name & Form”.

    Sadly many practice Buddhism as a religion, when Buddha intended them to walk the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to happiness, compassion and liberation. Not to effort, greed and doubt. Truly a christian can follow the Noble Eightfold Path, and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be much of a Christian anyway, just another person with unconditioned beliefs. For me the teachings of Jesus and Buddha are from the same tree.

    Jesus himself said: From the fruit is the tree known. Bad tree makes bad fruit, good tree good fruit, not otherwise.

    He also said: Makers of peace are the sons of God.

    I find it hard to believe anything, let alone to personalized God that interacts with people. All I see is Dependent Origination of phenomena, the Wheel of Law and Kamma. All things affecting for the good of one’s soul.

    Expecting a result against the nature of conditions is foolish, therefore it is better to understand than to believe. Only in this way can one find peace and compassion even in extreme circumstances.

    I think that if your son was inprisoned and you paid the bail/ransom, the son would be freed even if he didn’t know to believe that his father paid the ransom. I think it is more important to learn to have compassion and to transform into a better person by understanding which leads to the destruction of delusion – greed – hate.

    The Noble Eightfold Path is not about believing, trying or forced effort. Just remember Kalama Sutta. Any ritual without meaning is the end of understanding.

  13. Thiha says:

    Dear Ko Aung Kyaw,
    Theravada Buddhism denies that Almighty creator God exists.
    Moreover, believing God existence will be violation of Sammaditthi, an important point of noble 8-fold paths. With such violation, a person cannot attain even the lowest of 4 Maggas.

    Early form of Buddhism lacks of worshiping Buddha image.
    Rather Buddhists used Bodhi-tree or Dhamma-wheel to symbolize.
    People’s desire to rely on something (for their fears and wants) makes them worship and ask Buddha image for help.

    Shikho-ing/Kowtow-ing is not worshiping as we can do this to parents and all elderly people or monks.
    (Very different to Monotheism where only God worth worshiping, not even the priest can accept it)

    Having many difficulties of being a Burmese, I still think my life is much worthy just because I have Theravada as my religion.
    I would like to encourage you to explore more in Buddhism as I like to see our religion flourish in USA.
    (according to my dad, the sasana will probably move to West as people of Burma are more and more greedy, cruel and corrupted and people of West can be more worthy to practice Buddhism 🙂 )

      • Matt says:

        i don’t think there are any irrelevant questions for humans. for we are all brothers and sisters and all our truths are relevant to each other. i live in a Buddhist country and they talk about God, gods, and spirits as much as any other I’ve been.

  14. World's Worst Buddhist,....but trying. says:

    Please forgive me if some of what I say is out of context or lengthy but I simply wish to share.

    Being born in the USA and finding Buddhism by natural attraction (and no direct influence) it is indeed a steep, profound path to climb. Un-learning the generic Christian mind-set/programming takes some time but my wish is not to offend or convince, just share. Those of you who were born into a Buddhist Family and in a Buddhist country have a head start or perhaps you were too close to it. Either way, we all seem to weave in and out toward the same thing, time and time again.

    After years of reading many books on the subject, deep meditation practice and attempting to learn some of the Pali language traditions, the realization of the Religion of Buddhism and what likely occurred during The Buddha’s lifetime is different. Maybe vastly different yet retaining the core teachings and intent. I struggle like anyone else but once in awhile I get a glimpse of how it might have been during the Buddha’s lifetime. When I get mired in the complications of it all or start struggling with questions about the existence of a God or prayer or whatever it might be, I look to the time when The Buddha lived which settles many things for me.

    I have also had the great fortune of spending one-on-one time with Buddhist Monks from different countries who have come to the USA, namely from Burma and Sri Lanka. However similar, the differences were apparent. The head Burmese Monk was highly educated in the Monastic Tradition equating to a Doctorate Degree but you would never know it in his actions. I would say almost equally to his assistant monk. Both were simple monks. I felt great respect for both but especially in the presence of the senior. This being after time spent with many monks and not being impressed by appearance, tradition or ritual.

    The Sri Lanka Monks seem to be more ritualistic and less focused on meditation practice but also seem to have a genuine approach. Regardless of our station in life or where we come from, people in general deal with many of the same internal issues, worries and concerns.

    Overall it seems one important role of Buddhist Monks who immigrate to other countries is to support the lay ethnic community. This is good for them (as it should be) but not always good for an outsider who want to learn and practice while struggling with the language barrier. However challenging, the majority of Buddhists who I have encountered from other countries are more pleasant to be around then most. I miss this link to the old past and have not attended for a long while but detachment teaches just as much.

    One disturbing trend however was the lay Sangha seemed to be wanting an Americanized shift by replacing Venerable (or similar title like Sayadaw, etc.) with Reverend. Now to “revere” is not always a bad thing but I don’t believe that was the intent. Reverend to many is just a Sunday title. It feels wrong to me for a Buddhist Monk. It is the chain of tradition, even if embellished over time that allows us a link to the past. Too much embellishment and we loose the past. Do not become like the new but bring forth the origin and teach it well.

    We all like a good story with images to fill our mind but when you start to peel away all the layers built up over thousands of years, then what we find just might be close to the original. Of course no one knows for sure what it was like but there is enough of a trail to get us back to where it all began.

    Lastly, trying to practice Buddhism in the USA is not easy or conducive and there are many outside influences that will take us away from it on a daily basis. Some Buddhists will come to the USA and convert to whatever religion they choose and some will just forget their past. The ones that bring with them a great tradition from their homeland will be doing a good thing.

    I guess like all the other Buddhist traditions, I too have a mixed bag to draw from but maybe the evolution of The Buddha’s Teaching and the ongoing personal investigation is exactly what he suggested in the beginning.

    Peace and Protection to you………

  15. Hein Thiha says:

    Hi every one. I am a buddhism from burma. Now I am Studying at ELAC community college at Los angels. Due to my experience about buddhism Creator called God never exist. I had asked many great monks and discuss with them about that problem. So I tried to make my own research about does God really exist in this world. I go Christian community every Friday to find out whether there is a God or not. After a few month go there, I finally understand that there is A God. But only in their heart not in reality which mean there is no creator as a God. It is the human mind that create a God. Because in daily life, people have really stress and depression from their school, work and relationship problem. Whenever they meet any kind of problem, they always find someone to help them relieve for them rather than finding how to solve the problem. Whenever i go there, they always talk great thing about the God. They always said God save them from any kind of problem they have. God give them food or make them happy as always.Taking away their sin. So whenever they got problem they ask for God first. IF the problem solved my any chance their believe in God was high again. if not they said it was a Satan or something like that. I ask them how can you guys prove to me whether there is a God or not. They gave me 2 answer. One is it was written in the bible and second one is whenever they success in doing thing it was a God who help them. After staying them for a long time, they ask me to convert to christian because other people who came after me got converted 🙂 . I told them i want to do more research on God. After that they give so many comment and talk many bad thing about buddhism, But that is not important for me because “the door of my heart is already open for all being, no matter what they said or do to me”. But what i knowis that they dont find out whether the book said was right or wrong. They just believe it. here is website i would like all of you to try and see it. It is a western monk teaching about buddhism. “” .His name is Ajah brahm. He is a really good monk. After you hear his teaching you will find it happy and funny. He always give funny talk . Thank you 🙂

    • Curt says:

      The question about a Creator God is one of the most simple, yet one of the most profound! And unfortunately, because the formation of what is, was not observed by anyone; what you decide will ultimately be shaped by a measure of faith. If you rewind time back to the beginning, and it is generally undisputed that “matter” is not eternal and that there was a definite point in time where it first began, then you are left with but two possibilities: Either 1) Nothing, created something, out of nothing or 2) Something, created something, out of nothing!
      In my mind, logic and intellectual reasoning alone, would lead me to believe in the second option. I simply do not have the faith to believe that nothing could “randomly” create all that we see and observe, the great complexity of life, the organization of information with high specificity and low probability, genetic coding, etc…clearly, random chance must be ruled out, even scientifically.

  16. Aung Zeya says:

    Well, Matt, the question to a Buddhist is irrelevant insofar as it is unknowable, and doesn’t help with one’s awakening process. The Buddha himself side-stepped the question. To your point, many lay Buddhists (including many monks) simply treat the Buddha as God (or a god) or some other spirits or gods to get their fix. It’s an innate human yearning after all. But as you can find from this long thread, to be a practicing Buddhist doesn’t require belief in God or gods. (Might even be a hindrance.)

    Now, it’s not for everyone. If belief works for you, more power to you. May you find peace in faith.

    • Matt says:

      You say whether or not God exists doesn’t affect one’s awakening process, but at the same time you say it’s an innate human yearning. So do you think a human’s innate yearnings can lead to enlightenment? To be fair I believe deeply in God, so my position comes from there, but I also live with, care even love many Buddhists, so please don’t think I don’t understand a Buddhists perspective.

  17. Aung Zeya says:

    It’s an innate human (primal) yearning to believe that there’s a supernatural being or beings that will take care of things for us. To some of us, we can recognize that it’s a primal question but also an unknowable question; it’s better to focus on things that are within our control. Yes, it is actually a hindrance to believe and indeed rely on a supernatural being(s) in their awakening process. The essence of Buddhism, as I understand, is that one has to work for to achieve nirvana (the state of being awake). It can’t be handed to you by someone. As outlined in the Eight Fold Path, it’s hard work (at least to someone like me, who doesn’t want to do much work).

    To some of us, it’s perfectly fine (or even rational) to believe in God or gods. If you’re able to make that leap, great. I can see why some people would make that choice. (And I know many good people that have made that choice.) Likewise, perhaps you too can see that some of us aren’t able to take that leap of faith, and that there may be good reasons as to why not.


    • Sharon says:

      I don’t think believing in God is an innate yearning. This is evidenced by the growing numbers of atheists an agnostics in the world.

      I think what is innate is a desire for explanation and an uncomfortableness with uncertainty. Also people want something or someone they can rely on in a highly unpredictable and sometimes harsh world.

      I think the idea of God gives people a lot of comfort and makes them feel more secure because it means someone is looking out for them and the world is predictable. Ever notice that the most religious Christians (fundamentalists, evalangalical) are the ones most uncomfortable with uncertainty? One example of this is intolerance of differences- to be willing to accept differences (LGBT issues, gender issues, religious differences) means that your way is not the 100% only way. That can create a bit of uncertainty.

      And to add to the “God gives people comfort in a unpredictable sometimes harsh world” theory- my Grandma was a very devout Catholic in her life. She lived a very hard life and was basically abandoned by her mother and not really paid attention to by her father. So God and Jesus became her comfort and her parent instead.

      I once asked my grandma what she would feel or do if it was proven that God and Jesus didn’t exist. She said that she would want to die if that happened. She basically couldn’t imagine a world without Jesus or God in it because Jesus and God have given her so much comfort in her life. Her belief in God I what held her together.

      But I believe that just because you WANT something to be true doesn’t make it true. Even so I wouldn’t want to take the belief in God away from people like my Grandma because for some people that’s all that keeps them going.

      I think that if you can do without a belief in god that would be good but if you can’t then that’s ok too. But I do strongly believe that just because you want something to be true, doesn’t make it true.

  18. Matt says:

    I certainly can understand why seeing poor examples would keep one from investigating, as it was that way for me for over fifteen years. But I finally came to see God pursues people. And I got good advice from a stranger one time that encouraged me to investigate the Bible, not using bad experience or others negative influence to keep me from reading it. And like I tell my good Buddhist friends, if the Buddha had a chance to read what is called the word of God, wouldn’t he give it a chance? As a side, I don’t believe in Christ because I want freedom from difficulty, because sometimes God gives us just that, we become servants to God, not masters.

  19. Sharon says:

    I’m glad you are exploring your Buddhist roots. I was born Christian (I’m of European decent) but I converted to (Zen) Buddhism in college. I don’t think I could have found a richer or more beautiful religion.

    I always feel sad when I hear of second generation (American born) kids who give up on Buddhism. However if all I knew about Buddhism was the whole merit making and superstitious thing, or the idea of supporting the monks as the main practice over everything else, then I’d probably be turned off too. ( I am a very anti- superstitious person so Zen works well for me. Also you will never find anything as amazing as mediation in most Christian Churches. I believe all of the teachings spring from meditation so this is important. As far as Jesus rising from the dead or the Christian god concept that also jut doesn’t make sense to me.)

    I feel like in a lot of Asian countries even in Mahayana traditions, the real teachings and richness of Buddhism is reserved for the monks. ( meditation, for example).

    Non Asian converts like me tend to blur the line between monastic and lay much more. Hardly anyone is a monk but that’s ok because we do many of the same practices they do. Sure we don’t follow the monastic rules but we do work on letting go of our attachments.

    To me, Budhism is a path I take towards enlightenment with a spiritual teacher that includes meditation as a strong foundation. I think in coming to the west and adapting to westerners, Buddhism is finding a new life. And that’s ok because eveything changes- that Is one of the teachings of the Buddha.

    One example of this is the “engaged Buddhism” movement in where we do more work for the poor. Roshi Bernie Glassman is an excellent example of someone who does this. He’s written several books about it too.

    If you grew up with an immigrant form of Buddhism and it works for you then that’s great. But if it’s not working for you, then before you completely ditch the entire religion I suggest you check out other approaches to Buddhism including ones meant primarily for westerners. They may not be as numerous outside of California but it’s well worth it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s