Thursday, May 27, 2010

What does Zen teach about God?

I get asked this question a LOT, along with "Do you believe in God?"

Zen is the art of being totally immersed in the moment. This second, this breath is all we have. Everything else is illusion. In Zen we attempt to strip away all the fluff, all the unnecessary wrappings that hold us back from full awakening. So what many will call my overly simplistic response is: "We don't worry about things like that." If you knew for a matter of fact, with every cell of your body that God did not exist, would you change the way you live? So far everyone I have asked have said no. Then? The Buddha taught that all sentient beings have everything they need within them. When we seek externally, we hold ourselves back.

Developing compassion to the point where all our thoughts, deeds, actions, our very essence are ruled by compassion and wisdom is the utmost expression of our buddha nature. So I would say if someone's answer to the question above was "Yes," they have more work for the cushion, and that it is more important than the other existential questions we can become bogged down with.

Ishu Kinshu


  1. An interesting post, not just philosophically, but culturally too, as over here (England) God's just not an issue.

  2. I have also had my share of people asking about Zen God. From those who want to find God as well as those who want to get away from God. Many who would call themselves Christians, are wondering if practicing Zen would cause them to be disenfranchised from God, while others wonder if meditation is a doorway to the divine revelation.

    I used to try and answer their questions, but after a while I gave up on that. Now I quite honestly say that I have no answers for them and instead offer them the opportunity to practice. Rarely do they take me up on my offer. There have been a few who have come back to me and said that they tried to meditate on their own and got nothing out of it, to which I usually reply “Me too!” followed by “The more nothing I get, the better I like it!”

    Most recently, I was asked about God by the Evangelical Chaplain at the prison where I volunteer. We spoke as we walked and his question was asked in a particular way “If Buddhists don’t believe in God, what are all those statues about? “
    “Attachment” I answered.
    He looked at me with a puzzled look and asked “So is meditation like; praying?”
    “No, meditation is more like; not praying.”
    “So, if you don’t believe in God… and you don’t pray, what is it you do?”
    “And …so what happens?”
    “Nothing” I answered “How about when you pray?”

    We walked the way in silence.


  3. Nice one. Being raised as a catholic in a catholic country, God it's a big question to me. I don't believe in a personal God (like a Krsna or Shiva or Jehova) so some days I think that God should be the whole network of causes and effects, the whole universe. But then, if God is the whole universe it's not an inteligent being to which you would pray or thank, and so there is no sense in believe that there is a God.

    My life wouldn't change if God exists or not, but it's certainly an interesting question to think about.

  4. Attachment causes suffering.

    If God exists, does he want us to be attached to him?

  5. I always say that if God exists, then I'll know him when I die. And then, if he sends me to Hell for not believing in him, that's because he has issues to solve!

    Anyway, it's just what you said: my life would'nt be different with or without God. Then, why bother? This can be extended to aliens, paranormal activities, and a long et cetera...

  6. If God appeared (in some convincing form!) and told me that eating pork would cause me billions of years of torture, I would stop having sausages for Sunday breakfast.

    "My Way" is my favourite song - but I stop singing it when there's a police car behind me!

  7. If God told me to stop eating pork, I'd say "Sorry!". Anyways, I don't eat that much pork, and besides, ham (jamón) is national food here in Spain, so...

    By the way, I loved Miles' anecdote :)

  8. So if God's called Allah or Jehova, there's not much Spanish spoken in Heaven!

    But I was making a serious point - if only from a practical point of view, the existence of a god, if it could be demonstrated, would affect the behaviour of everyone except the clinically insane.

    Wise people seek their own best interests. Very wise people seek everyone's best interests, including their own. If someone omnipotent turns up and says, "If you do X, I will give you perpetual agony; if you do Y, I will give you perpetual bliss," then there's something wrong with the reasoning power of anyone who does do X or doesn't do Y.

    Of course most Christians (fortunately) don't do everything the Bible tells them to do or the place would be in an even worse mess than it already is. The ones who favour the Old Testament don't go murdering homosexuals, despite it being their clear duty, and the ones who favour the New Testament don't let all criminals go free, as is the duty of all sinners. They don't do this because they are not 100% convinced that (a) there's a god who (b) really, really insists on such behaviour and will (c) provide everlasting torture for those who fail to obey. History is filled with unusual people who did believe such things - and it is the blood-soaked consequences which got them their place in the history books.

    So when Hernan says, "My life wouldn't change if God exists or not," I think he is assuming a civilized god, maybe a cosmic Buddha. If, however, it turned out that he really was one of those maniacs described in ancient books then I believe everyone's behaviour would adapt, just as our behaviour adapts when approaching a traffic camera at a sensible, but illegal, speed.

  9. Humm...If God were a maniac and he assured me that by doing X I would go to hell, but I felt that X was inherently good, then I would keep on doing X. At least until I saw what Heel looks like and I regretted my decision.

    Good or bad exist only within ourselves, I believe. I live my life doing (or trying to do) what I feel is best. If God thinks otherwise, then I'm sorry, I must disagree with him.

    PS: by the way, I think Christian texts should be interpreted liberally as we do with Buddhist ones (I have a Sutta in which the Buddha says that a wife should be like a slave or something like that...).

  10. Hi Michael,
    yes, you're right. I was assuming a civilized and loving God.
    If God were one of those maniacs Gods and we could prove that it exist I would be certanly scared and it would change my life, but I'm pretty sure that I would be worshipping his oposite just to make him fall!