20150107

The Many Faces of God (satire)

"God is like three-in-one oil." — Eldridge Cleaver

Unlike trinitarianism, modalism is a complex way of saying that the Godhead has three faces (guises?): God, the Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Consider God to be an actor.

As a deity, He is. As the Christ, he is Messiah and all that implies. Yet as the Holy Spirit, we get into the supernatural since he is also known as the Holy Ghost.

After much thought on this topic, I asked myself: "What is God when he's not acting as a deity or as the Christ or as the Holy Spirit, remote from humanity?" To me the answer is obviously: God is the Absolute.

It serves no purpose for God to exist as a physical being in the physical world when the supernatural world is his domain.

Yet God is on the minds of his believers since it is through belief of his existence that he exists. Outside of that context, and for most people who don't believe in him, he does not exist.

As for his pre-existence, that is a wholly monotheistic supposition and may lead to endless debate on his existence.

If God exists as a belief, then the Buddha exists as fact. For the Buddha's existence is verifiable while God's existence is based on faith in the Bible alone. In contrast, the Buddha's existence is not only based on the sutras but also on historical records.

Though, no one can compare a man known as the Buddha, formerly the prince Siddhartha Gotama, to God, a monotheistic deity, since the Buddha is not a deity.

Yet Amida Buddha is almost a deity, though he exists as a metaphor for the boundless life of compassion and the boundless light of wisdom. In this context "boundless" means "transcending human limitations" and especially, "beyond mere sentience."

Because of the limitations that monotheism places on such philosophy, the discussion of God becomes moot in light of Buddhism. In some ways it is like comparing apples to oranges. For the Buddha is not another face of God. Rather, Buddhism is outside the realm of monotheism.

Even so, there are elements of modalism in the many Buddhas and bodhisattvas in Buddhism. In the example of Amida Buddha, it is said there was a prince named Dharmakara who meditated for a long time and envisioned the Pure Land. After making a series of 48 vows, he fulfilled them all and was reborn in the Pure Land of Bliss as Amida Buddha.

In the case of Amida, the Absolute is the refined essence of Buddha Nature. Indeed, the Pure Land is a reflection of the Absolute. As well, Dharmakara might be considered the incarnate form of the Absolute as a human of high standing (a bodhisattva) who was reborn as Amida Buddha.

Such an interpretation regarding Amida Buddha stretches the truth that Buddhism cannot be seen through the filter of Christian philosophy because the divine is viewed differently within Buddhist philosophy. For the deities of the God Realm are limited beings who live long lives but eventually die.

Indeed, the God Realm is one of the Six Realms of Desire. Thus the gods of Buddhism suffer.

Hence the birth of Siddhartha was the birth of the future Buddha who even the Hindu gods and goddesses would adore because he transcended the cycle of rebirth and became the Buddha.

My interpretation of the Christ story is that the Absolute relieves the sufferings of a Hellenized Jewish people subject to the laws of Judaism by having the deity known as God reborn as a mortal named Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph. This is revealed to her in a vision in which an angel named Gabriel tells her she shall conceive the Messiah through action of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus is born, he exposes Jewish ritualism as a fraud, makes enemies among the Jewish leaders, and is betrayed by one of the twelve of his beloved disciples. Then he is crucified, only to "die" and awaken as the Christ. Later he show himself to his disciples, and ascends to Heaven.

Thus, the story of the Christ is of God begetting the Christ in human form who is born to an unmarried woman named Mary as Jesus with his mortal father Joseph marrying her to legitimize his birth as "Son of Man". After his Crucifixion he arises as the Christ and eventually rises to Heaven. Thus he fulfills prophecy about himself.

In contrast, the Buddha's story begins with the dream by his mother of an elephant entering her womb. She dies shortly after childbirth, and Siddhartha is raised by his aunt. He is born into royalty. His father the King consults soothsayers, one of whom predicts that Siddhartha will either be a great king or a great wise man. Although his father tries to raise him as a prince, he learns all about suffering, abandons his royal status, and becomes the Buddha.

After his Enlightenment, he teaches not only his fellow seekers about the Four Noble Truths of Suffering, but also forms a religious order that challenges the ritualism of early Hinduism. He helps change Indian life in the process, and lives a long life, only to die due to an unspecified illness. After his death, the blooming of flowers on a tree out of season in the midst of the winter monsoons leads to other stories of miracles. However, the evolution of the Buddhist society that follows helps transform Indian society in a positive way.

Thus the story of the Buddha only vaguely echoes the Christ story. The ritual of law in Hebrew society of Jesus' time contrasts with the ritualism in Hindu society where the priestly caste has become intercessor between the people and the Indian gods.

Additionally the Hindu gods and goddesses may be seen as a complex form of modalism. In the case of Hinduism, each and every god and goddess represents the different faces of God but are aspects of the Godhead so complex making a single deity the only god to worship seem restrictive and thus oppressive to freedom of worship. Thus, the gods and goddesses of Hinduism might be considered as a gem with many facets, each one representing the bright and shining qualities of their worshipers in their perfect form.

In this way are the many faces of God revealed as aspects of human qualities of good called virtues. When I compare this to the qualities often ascribed to God, it becomes apparent to me that it is the good of humanity that is reflected in God. Though, it could also be said that it is the good qualities of a patriarchal society is emphasized by God. This is also true of the Hinduism but Buddhism critiques this truth while acknowledging that for that period of time, speculation about God was moot.

Indeed, the legacy of monotheism is a history of warfare by his chosen ones. Great suffering came at the cost of plagues and other miseries, as depicted in the Bible. in contrast, the story of Hinduism is not all peace and love for one's fellow man either.

It is not until the Indian king Ashoka that we see Hinduism being given sway to Buddhism. Ashoka wins a great battle but sees the truth about suffering revealed to him after being advised by a Buddhist monk about his responsibility regarding the war in which he lost friends. In response, he becomes a Buddhist king who spreads the message of Buddhism far and wide.  As a Buddhist, he spread peace throughout India.

It isn't until the modern era that organized religion caused Buddhism to affect Sri Lanka and Burma, although in different ways. This is due to organized religion not Buddhism and it is not restricted to Buddhism either. It is because of organized religion that warfare has been the legacy of monotheism, be it Christian, Judaism or Islam.

Perhaps few people are patient enough to reflect on the deep spiritual meaning of their faith due to their belief in a higher power than themselves. Such humility has lost the respect of many people in the face of the distractions of every day life in the postmodern world. So many people have no time to consider the many faces of God for many reasons, be it a matter of convenience or an overall disbelief in God.

I as a Buddhist know that the belief in God and the associated faith in his existence should be tempered by knowledge. However, the limited knowledge of Christians is focused on the Bible. Thus the faces of God are limited to God, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  In a way, each part of the Trinity are merely the many faces of God, limited and simplified by Christian dogma.

It's simpler to consider three aspects of God than a handful of gods and goddesses of Hinduism, even though the Godhead of both Christianity and Hinduism are roughly the same.

Though the Christian will dispute this, the Hindu might agree.

As a Buddhist, I lean towards a nondual concept of God as the Absolute, the closest of which is the Pure Land of Bliss. In my eyes, Heaven and the Pure Land are similar in that they are ideals of their respective faiths. However, I prefer Buddhism over Christianity mainly because I prefer not to stay ignorant about other faiths.

For knowledge is only dangerous when the little that you know leads you to ignore the consequences of your ignorance.

YMMV

Originally posted on February 28, 2014 at 02:02 AM

References:

Modalism - Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modalism

The Absolute - Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_(philosophy)

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