GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast

EPISODE THIRTY-TWO: Where God sets me straight about the Buddha.

June 15, 2021 Jerry L. Martin Season 2 Episode 17
GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast
EPISODE THIRTY-TWO: Where God sets me straight about the Buddha.
Show Notes Transcript

"Compassion is not the same thing as love."

Season 3 will premiere on July 22nd! 

JLM (NARRATOR)              ----  Jerry Martin

JERRY                       ----  Jerry, a human

GOD                         ----  A mystery


JLM

He was to become the Buddha, the Awakened or Enlightened One, but he was born Siddhartha Gautama, a prince and member of the warrior class. In the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures, the Pali Canon, he tells his story.

 

"I was tenderly cared for, supremely so, infinitely so. At my father's home lotus pools were made for me--in one place for the blue lotus flowers, in one place for white lotus flowers, and in one place for red lotus flowers--blossoming for my sake. Of Benares fabric were my three robes. Day and night a white umbrella was held over me, so that I might not be troubled by cold, heat, dust, chaff, or dew. I dwelt in three palaces: in one for the cold, in one for the summer, and in one for the rainy season."

JLM

Eventually, the pampered Gautama ventured beyond the palace gates and was shocked by what he saw: an aged man with twisted body, another afflicted by illness, and finally a corpse surrounded by mourners. He asked his driver to explain what he had seen and learned, to his horror, that we all are subject to age, illness, and death.

 

"And he, going to his rooms, sat brooding sorrowful and depressed thinking: Shame then verily be upon this thing called birth, since to one born the decay of life . . . shows itself like that!"

 

The next time Gautama went out, he saw "a shaven-headed man, a recluse, wearing the yellow robe and was told, 'He is one who has gone forth.' What does this mean?

 

"To have gone forth, my lord, means being thorough in the religious life, thorough in the peaceful life, thorough in good actions, thorough in meritorious conduct, thorough in harmlessness, thorough in kindness to all creatures."

 

The prince returned to his rooms and, "there and then cutting off his hair and donning the yellow robe, went forth from the house into the homeless state."

In an intense effort to achieve spiritual illumination, he engaged in increasingly severe ascetic practices.

 

"I determined to take food only in small amounts, as much as my hollowed palm would hold. My body became extremely lean. The mark of my seat was like a camel's footprint. The bones of my spine when bent and straightened were like a row of spindles. . . . But by this severe mortification I do not attain superhuman, truly noble knowledge and insight. Perhaps there is another way. . . ."

 

In this frame of mind, Gautama came upon "a delightful spot with a pleasant grove" and sat down under a sacred tree and meditated for days. Finally, enlightenment came. He promptly went to the holy city of Varanasi (Banaras) and preached his first sermon, "The Four Noble Truths," to five fellow ascetics.

 

"There are two ends not to be served," he explained. "The pursuit of desires and of the pleasure that springs from desire, which is base, common, leading to rebirth, ignoble, and unprofitable; and the pursuit of pain and hardship, which is grievous, ignoble, and unprofitable." 

 

Avoiding both indulgence and extreme asceticism "brings clear vision, it makes for wisdom, and leads to peace, insight, enlightenment, and Nirvana [escape from the chains of existence]." He preached "the Noble Eightfold Path--Right Views, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood,

Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. This is the Middle Way."

GOD

Buddha is a special case. Not so much a big revelation or development of Myself, but more a perceptive distillation of one part of what it is to be human, of kindness. That is precious, delightful, but not a major spiritual step. It has given rise to more error than truth.

JERRY

Perhaps the error is found, not so much in Buddha, as in later doctrines in the Buddhist tradition.

GOD

Yes.

 

(MUSIC)

 

JLM

India, like Israel, is a birthplace of religions. Abigail and I went to northern India to visit major sites of Hindu, Moslem, and Buddhist culture. Since these prayers began, I have found myself spiritually sensitive. 

 

As I travel, I sometimes stop in places of worship, either to pray or just to take a look. On one occasion, I was in downtown Seattle and stopped in at a mainline Protestant church--I don't remember the denomination. 

 

Almost immediately, I felt I was suffocating and raced to escape from the building. At the opposite extreme, I attended a bar mitzvah at a Conservative Jewish temple. As soon as I stepped into the sanctuary, it was like coming in from the cold and being hit in the face by a wall of hot air. Except, in this case, it was the dense presence of God. So palpable that I looked around, expecting others to be reeling as I was. But, no, they were just chatting.

 

As we visited the sacred sites of India, I expected my inner seismograph to be way up on the spiritual Richter scale. We saw Hindu temples with figures of Vishnu and other gods, a Moslem mosque as the men were gathering for prayer, evening rituals conducted by young Brahmins, funeral fires on the banks of the sacred river Ganges, the revered cows wandering in the middle of traffic, even a holy man walking the streets naked. But my spiritual sensors registered only once--at the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon. 

 

We approached the monument marking the site amidst a crowd of devotees and tourists. We could hear the chants of Buddhist priests in the distance. We had not yet seen anything, just stepped onto the grounds, when the deepest sadness came over me. 

 

It was not my sadness, but the sadness of the Enlightened One, as if he were feeling, "Oh, no, no, they are coming here to worship me. I am not a god. That was not message at all. I was a complete failure.

 

According to the Buddhist scriptures, the Enlightened One now understood the "chain of causation" that results in suffering. He saw that, "from the organs of sense comes contact; from contact comes feeling; from feeling, craving; from craving, clinging to existence; from clinging to existence, the desire of becoming; from the desire of becoming, rebirth; from rebirth, old age and death, grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair."

 

"Such," he concluded, "is the origin of the whole mass of suffering."

 

That seemed extreme to me. 

JERRY

Wasn't Buddha overreacting? Giving up all desires to avoid suffering seems like putting out your eyes to avoid ever seeing anything ugly.

GOD

Don't dismiss him on that account. There is wisdom here.

JERRY

Is his reaction to suffering less central than it seems, or what?

GOD

The main theme is his compassion. It is not that he will grow old, get sick, and such, but he is a very sensitive soul who reacts very strongly to, feels, the suffering of others.

JERRY

But we suffer and You suffer for a reason, don't we?

GOD

Yes, but the first step is to fully acknowledge the horror of suffering, not just to dismiss it as "shit happens" or transmute it into "growth." Suffering is the pits. It has all the "evil" that those who turn against God on account of it believe it has.

 

As Buddha's story goes on, death is described as permanent separation from family. 

JERRY

But, if there is reincarnation, that is not the real story of death, is it, Lord?

GOD

Yes, in a sense, it is. Something goes on and is reincarnated, but it is not Fred and Jane. Death is final in that respect. So the loss of death is ultimate.

JLM

As I read more, I could see Buddha's virtues. 

JERRY

Lord, Buddha is impressive for his boundless compassion as well as his reasonableness and moderation.

GOD

Buddha was an extraordinary person. There was such sensitivity to his nature--no membrane (no filter)--that he felt the sufferings of others to an extraordinary extent. He almost literally felt their pain, sometimes more than they did in the midst of their own deflections.

 

It is not so much that he listened to Me--hence, there is no God in his preaching--as that I was present in and permeated his sensorium, his sensitivity to others. That is how I relate to human suffering, as does Jesus. 

 

I both hold my own suffering - disappointments, anger, and so forth - but also everyone else's. Buddha was like that with regard to those with whom he came into contact.

JERRY

But isn't Buddha's message very limited?

GOD

All messages are limited. There is nothing wrong with his message. It is the pure truth on those things he spoke about.

JERRY

But Buddha sees life only as a trail of tears. He does not seem to appreciate the joy of existence, the gift of life.

GOD

Yes and no. You have had a good life so far; many have not. Nothing guarantees that your life will continue to be good. Look at most people in human history.

Don't cover up the horror of death, the burden of life.

JERRY

So Your communication with Buddha was successful?

GOD

Yes, this was the only case of pure, total communication. Culture did not interfere, since the Hindu culture is an appropriate context for these revelations.

JERRY

Does Buddha eclipse the Vedic tradition?

GOD

Of course not.

JERRY

Life is a wonderful gift. Isn't it a mistake to want to escape rebirth?

GOD

No, not in the way he meant it. "Birth" really means "attachment to life." You are right that there is nothing wrong with being born. If there were, why would Buddha and Jesus be born? It is indeed a blessing. 

 

Buddha's comments were taken literally and he was not unhappy with this rendering, since it helped communicate the truth he was trying to get across.

JERRY

But if birth and rebirth really just mean attachment to life, then the whole idea of giving up attachment in order to prevent rebirth no longer makes sense.

GOD

No. The chain of causation is still a logical pyramid. Buddha was correct. This literalism has done little or no harm.

JERRY

Oh, I see, one does not so much eliminate birth and death as transcend them.

GOD

Yes.

JLM

I was told to quiet myself and become receptive. I felt God merging into me, then me into God, and was told not to think but just linger there without thinking. It was like the Brahman or God beyond God perhaps. 

 

It didn't feel personal but not impersonal either, and it seemed to have a magnetic pull as an object of desire. It felt encompassing not just of me but of everything, not like a matrix, but like a nest or envelope, perhaps something similar to the Void of the Buddhists--I thought I heard a "yes" but then "not quite that"--a place that offered rest and integrity in the literal sense of having one's disparate aspects settle into a coherent unity.

GOD

Buddha went directly to the heart of the spiritual life. He understood that that is a life of personal fulfillment - bliss - that overflows to others.

 

Notice the extent to which love runs through so much of My revelation to mankind. Without love, the normative is useless. No one always does right. We are all in need of grace, which is to say, love.

 

(MUSIC)

 

 

CHAPTER 48

 

 

JLM

Release from this travail of woes requires spiritual enlightenment. So Buddhism teaches. Transcending all desires and beliefs takes many lifetimes. Only then does one enter Nirvana, the blessed Void in which the chains of birth and rebirth are broken. Avalokites´vara achieved the ultimate goal. He was a Buddhist saint or Bodhisattva, a Buddha-in-becoming. He was ready for Nirvana. But, hearing the sounds of a suffering world, he returned to the world, and will return again and again until every last person has been released.

JERRY

Lord, with the ideal of the Bodhisattva, were You trying to communicate something special to mankind?

GOD

Yes, I love every individual "infinitely." That unbounded love that popular religion often attributes to God is exactly right. It is like a mother for a child. It is not enough that I relate one-on-one to individuals. That is truncated. 

 

Human beings need not just individual friends, but families, social groups, and communities. You relate to individual friends in the context of these social groups--not just with them in the background, but they help define and produce the concepts and values reflected in the particular friendship.

 

In the Buddhist mode, this is reflected in the sacrificial life of the Bodhisattva. It is obviously relevant to Jesus as well. Love for Me, love for one's wife, family, friends, love for mankind, love for nature, for Being are all intimately related to one another. 

JLM

The Bodhisattva's vow is sometimes described as world-redemptive.

JERRY

What does that mean, Lord?

GOD

Not like the Jewish repairing the world, as in the Kabbalistic text - the Zohar- which is repairing an ontological rift, but more like saving everyone from a burning building--getting each person out of the illusions of maya and into an enlightened state.

The Buddhist goal is Nirvana, pure emptiness.

The doctrine of the Void is without merit. 

 

Later elaborations of Buddhism that emphasize the illusory nature or nonreality of the world are metaphysical nonsense. They are not helpful; are indeed harmful. 

 

The world is quite real, even though it is not the most important thing, and there is more to it certainly than natural science or common sense reveals.

JLM

According to Heinrich Zimmer, "The Bodhisattva assumes the various forms in which he appears for the salvation of beings in the phenomenal realm. He assumes, for example, the divine forms of Vishnu for those who worship Vishnu and of Shiva for those who worship Shiva.

JERRY

Buddha is called the Compassionate One, but You have said that Jesus is the essence of love.

GOD

Compassion is not the same thing as love. Don't rush to boil everything down to a single principle. Love is important, but so is compassion. No human being loves everyone, but can feel compassion--fellow-feeling--with all human suffering.

JERRY

You have put Jesus at the top. He is the only one who is the ontological essence of love--love that continues today and is available to everyone who 'believes in him.'

GOD

Yes, he has that special niche, but that is not to say that his role is more important than the other religions.

 

You relate to Me personally, and see the other revelations as glosses on that experience. But they could just as "well see your relation to a personal God as a gloss on Brahman or Buddha or the Tao.

JERRY

Let's see if I understand that. The Hindu could say the Brahman is the fundamental reality and God is a manifestation of that divine reality. They already have avatars, which would fit Jesus, and he could be a unique avatar. Buddha is not providing an inventory of the divine reality, and his message would stand regardless of whether there is a God. 

 

If there are gods, they would need to become enlightened. The Taoist could say that one way to tune in to the Tao is to hear it as the voice of a divine Person, but it would be one who went with the flow, not much like the Old Testament God. We started with love, but I felt You wanted me to pray about the big picture.

GOD

You have been. But take a step back and look at it all--the whole story, My story.

JERRY

One part of the big picture is the revelation of various aspects of Your nature.

GOD

No, not that.

JERRY

Oh, You mean Your story, the story of Your development?

GOD

Yes, that. What do you see?

JERRY

I see a God emerging, struggling, ordering, interacting with nature, animals, people, revealing Himself and aspects of divine reality to various peoples, each with their own particular concepts and types of receptivity.

GOD

And then . . .

JERRY

You are suffering through it all, out of love, and moving everything forward toward some unspecified purpose. Is that the gist, Lord?

GOD

Back up again, step farther back, what do you see?

JERRY

An emerging God who orders and guides the world and urges humans along as partners in that effort.

GOD

Now step really far back.

JERRY

I see a God who goes from incarnation to incarnation, world to world, doing the same task or whatever in each . . . to whatever end.

GOD

Look at that.

 

(MUSIC)