Co-Dependence, Casuality and God from a Buddhist Perspective

17 Aug

Observer by H. Koppdelaney

Observer by H. Koppdelaney

 
The nontheistic aspect of Buddhism intrigues me because I have a hard time identifying with anything that strikes of theism.

I’ll grant you that the idea of God existing, an omnipotent creator of all that is, is at least an interesting explanation worth pursuing. This theory might not be right, but it’s not a totally crazy idea to start with and pursue. (Intelligent design does have that “common-sense” feel to it, right?)

But many people (billions, actually) believe not only the above bit about God existing, but that we humans have the ability to know and understand the mind of God and carry out God’s wishes! (This is, actually, a damn good working definition of religion, one that I heard at an athiest/Christian debate earlier this year.)

Furthermore, God wishes to be worshipped and in fact, commands it.

This perspective completely alludes me. (I have struggled on how to elaborate on this point without sounding like a pompous ass so I will leave it at that.)

However, I tend to walk the line on using the label athiest – I prefer (perhaps weakly) the term nontheist instead of atheist, because I do feel what you could call the “spiritual impulse” (thank you evolution!) because, well, I’m in awe of everything that is. Exploring questions & answers about the nature of reality, quantum mechanics, string theory, consciousness, artificial intelligence, how we (and all of this) came to be… this is what I live for, really.

A few weeks ago I saw a semi-famous Buddhist nun speak at a local Buddhist center. Overall the experience was unfortunately negative, but the best thing about hearing Robina Courtin speak was learning more about the Buddhist perspective on God and casuality, and the inherent nature of God’s existence, if God does exists.

In a nutshell, she said Buddha taught something like this:

  • Everything exists in relation to everything else, literally. (casuality, co-dependence)
  • God cannot exist outside of the universe, without cause.
  • Therefore, if God exists, God must be included within this co-dependent framework of existence.

I don’t claim to have a deep understanding of Buddhist thought, but I find this bit of thinking fascinating and even logical when coming from the perspective of an eternal, infinite, intertwined and co-dependent reality.

What I don’t get though is this:

If by God we mean a Creator, how can God exist within – completely and without seperation from, at all points in the past and future- the universe which God created, which exists infinitely?

Maybe more simply the question is this:

How can God create something infinite and exist entirely within it at the same time?
Photo by H. Koppdelaney.


8 Responses to “Co-Dependence, Casuality and God from a Buddhist Perspective”

  1. Kris August 18, 2007 at 2:33 am #

    Hi Ben,

    Alan Watts once gave a lecture in which he said something like “We’re all the Big Bang”, meaning the creation of the universe has been happening since then and is still happening, and we’re all part of that, we’re all made up of the stuff that came from the Big Bang, and the ongoing process of creation never stopped. He explained it far more eloquently than I have, but that was the gist of it. That’s the first thing that jumped into my mind when I read your question, “How can God create something infinite and exist entirely within it at the same time?”

    In a way, that question also reminds me of Taoism and the idea that the Tao is everything. Tao is not in everything or around everything or part of everything, it *is* everything and everything is it.

    –“I’m in awe of everything that is. Exploring questions & answers about the nature of reality, quantum mechanics, string theory, consciousness, artificial intelligence, how we (and all of this) came to be… this is what I live for, really.”

    I’m right there with you. You’ve basically summed up precisely what I live for. 🙂

    ~ Kris

  2. Ben August 18, 2007 at 1:20 pm #

    Kris,

    Thanks for your response. Sometimes I’m hesitant to put up these types of posts that are more like philosophical reflection on my part than anything else, so it’s great getting a real response to my thoughts.

    In that vein, you got me thinking about a bunch of stuff, so here it goes: 🙂

    The Big Bang represents a starting point (“something out of nothing”) as opposed to everything existing infinitely back into the past; this seems to dictate the need for a creator.

    So in a sense it seems the idea of a Creator God is logical if we imagine a beginning. Problem is this just moves the question around. So where did God come from? Typical answer is that God was never created, but is infinite and “self-sustaining.”

    Now we’re basically back at the idea that’s it possible for something to exist without a creator, infinitely.

    And yet the concept of INFINITY does weigh heavily on my brain and creates all sorts of weirdness when I think too much about it.

    (Side note: When exercising I often puzzle over the idea of “infinity in one direction”, like the idea that something can have existed infinitely in the past, but have a definitive ending in the future, or the other way around (the other way around is more intuitive). But how can you chop up infinity? Seems easy enough in mathematical terms, but… eh…I’m rambling!!)

    So where does all this leave me:

    1) A creator God does not exist.
    2) A personal God does not exist.
    3) Furthermore, if God exists, God exists within everything else, not outside of it.

    I don’t think this means that the “spiritual impulse” does not exist – or rather, that it should be dismissed. The search for these answers is a spiritual one, even if it leads rightly to athiesm or some sort of intellectual or abstract spiritual understanding or embrace for the universe, which does not include a God.

    Whew!

    What do you think?

  3. Kris August 19, 2007 at 1:49 am #

    Hi Ben,

    I find myself going in that same circle quite often — if this universe was created by an intelligent Creator, who or what created that Creator? And if the Creator was created by something, who/what created whatever created the Creator, and so forth, extending onward into the infinity of the past? When viewed from that perspective, it’s a neverending string of events that seemingly has no beginning, no actual point that can be labeled “the first creation”.

    When it comes to the Big Bang idea, I like to think of it as one in a series of Big Bangs, but that takes us back to the same question: How far back do we go before we reach “the first Big Bang”? And how did something — an entire universe — emerge out of an infinity of nothingness?

    I have difficulty, as I’m guessing do most people who aren’t physicists, wrapping my mind around the idea of something being created from nothing. We tend to think of creation as the process of taking a set of ingredients and manipulating it in some way to produce an end result that is the sum of its parts. But when we consider the creation of the universe, it’s not so easy to grasp because we’re suddenly trying to understand how it all emerged from nothing. We can’t relate to “nothingness” because we’ve never experienced it. (LOL, if we were in the midst of nothingness, it would no longer be nothingness. It’s a catch-22.) Yet we’re also trying to grasp the concept of a creator who either:

    1) exists outside our closed system, in that infinite nothingness, and created the closed system in which we exist, or

    2) is inside and part of everything within this closed system (LOL, in which case I wonder, is there anything outside the closed system?)

    I don’t subscribe to either idea in full, but I prefer idea #2, that the creator (either God, the Infinite Source, or whatever other terminology a person chooses to use) created this universe out of itself, that we’re all aspects of that creator and the creator experiences itself through us. I’m not sure why I prefer that idea, other than that it seems so poetic. But neither of those two ideas explain where that creator came from or how it could exist infinitely. LOL, so we’re back to square one.

    I could immerse myself in discussions like this for hours and hours. I love this stuff. 🙂

  4. Paul Martin August 20, 2007 at 10:46 pm #

    That intuitive feeling that there must be a Creator is based on analogy and was one of a number of logical proofs for God’s existence that were attempted in the Middle Ages, all of which proved to be illogical. This one’s formally known as the “telological argument” or argument from design. Briefly, it says the world is like a watch – to be so complex and functional assumes the existence of a watchmaker. But the world could just as logically be like, say, a tomato plant; and we don’t look for the little tomato plant maker in our gardens, probably not even if we were partying really hard the night before.

  5. Chris August 22, 2007 at 10:28 pm #

    Hi Ben,

    “How can God create something infinite and exist entirely within it at the same time?”

    I have a problem with this as well. But I have no problem with the idea that “our” idea of time and space is but a creation, and did not exist prior to the Big Bang. So that eliminates the dilemma of “what happened before the Big Bang”? There was no such thing as “before” the Big Bang. So “God”, or the first cause, exists both within and outside of the universe which He created. That, to me, is a bit easier to grasp.

  6. Oneironaught August 24, 2007 at 9:03 pm #

    Ben,

    Speaking as a Buddhist I thought it would be great to point out that though Buddhism is non-theistic the Buddha himself believed in and taught about the gods of Hinduism. His point was that all existent beings (including the gods) were caught in the cycle of samsara. Being a god doesn’t guarantee nirvana – in fact, the human incarnation is viewed as more conducive to enlightenment than any other.

  7. Ben August 30, 2007 at 1:07 am #

    Paul,
    I believe I’ve heard of this ““telological argument”” before but never with the wonderful additional of looking for the tomato plant maker in comparison. *L* 🙂

  8. Ben August 30, 2007 at 1:14 am #

    Chris,
    If I’m up to date with my understanding of physics, doesn’t the scientific community take it as a fact that both space and time were created at the big bang? With this in mind, it does indeed sidestep the question of what existed before the big bang, making it something I can more easily “file away” but not exactly understand.

    Oneironaught,
    I wasn’t aware of this. Funny to put the gods in the same cycle as us… does Buddha just try to piss of the monotheists or what? 😉

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