When I first started reading about the Buddha's life, I was disappointed to learn that the existence of God was one of the subjects on which he declined to make a definitive comment. At the time, this seemed to me either rather unfair or something of a cop-out – surely this was exactly the kind of topic that an awakened being should pronounce upon, for the benefit of all. However, after the last couple of years of amusing but unproductive pantomime debate ("oh yes he does, oh no he doesn't"), I am beginning to get a sense of how not answering may well have been an enlightened response.
Pressed further, the Buddha is said to have explained that dwelling on such a question is not conducive to the elimination of suffering, which was the sole purpose of his teaching. He asked whether, if we had been shot with a poisoned arrow, we would want to know who had fired it, why, and what type of bow was used, before deciding to have it removed? "If the person who was shot were to seek the answers to all these questions," he told the monk Malunkyaputta, "he would be dead before he found them." Touché.
The tussle over God is marginally more entertaining than getting shot, but the protracted diversion created by its war of words could nevertheless be more of a hindrance than a help. Not only has the stream of agitated comment brought us no closer to finding an answer, it hasn't even enabled us to formulate agreed terms for the question. Part of what makes the argument so comical is how the concept of "God" onto which atheists project is rarely the same as the one defended by believers. Part of what makes it tragic is how, at the extremes, each party insists that their denial of what they think the opposition believes is enough to make them correct, to the point of misrepresenting the traditions they seek to uphold.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
I've mentioned somewhere on here about my Buddhist Retreat. A long week-end in an atmosphere conducive to learning by instruction and learning by observation of the inmates of the Retreat centre. Being a pedant, I have problems with religion but if I were to consider changing this, I would try to be a Buddhist.
I read something today which sums it up for me. See what you think. For those who do not 'do' links, here is an extract.