Category Archives: panentheism

“The Unhindered Path” – a “must-read”

Buddhist writer and pastor  John Paraskevopoulos has done it again in this new book about Shin (Jodo Shinshu) Buddhism, in which he elucidates basic Shin teaching and links it to global panentheistic and mystical traditions. He makes a credible case not only for “belief-in” the Spiritual Transcendent; he explains how It can be immediately experienced, even in our “Samsaric” lives in this troubled world. Paraskevopoulos cites numerous sources, some scholarly, others poetic/mystical, in delineating the sacred mystery at the core of Jodo Shinshu, and he describes why and how it is meaningful for us today – and timelessly for all generations. These portions bookend his own profound insights from his pastoral counseling and interviews.

The book has recently come to Amazon:

… and it is the perfect companion volume to his earlier Fragrance of Light:

… which this blog reviewed here:

If you would like to experience an exciting spiritual adventure that leads straight into the heart of divine compassion through the understanding and practice of Shin Buddhism – which culminates in the experience of Amida Buddha’s unimpeded, unhindered Light – you have only to pick this book up and let it sweep you away.



Shin and “Magical Thinking”

The term, “magical thinking”, has recently become a buzzword which illusrates more the biases of its users than it does the subject. Especially in “new atheist” circles, the term has become a club which fundamentalist materialists use to bludgeon non-materialists.

No doubt magical thinking is present in both organized and personal religion. And it even sometimes occurs in the daily lives of the non-religious. It connotes the so-called “pathetic fallacy” which holds that the external world falls, or at least ought to fall, into place with human desires and dreamings. Its religious form substitutes “external world” with God, Providence, or the Holy Spirit. Both meanings connote that wishing, praying, and/or strong desire toward particular ends will be met with a positive response from existence. Hence: “magical” is to have a complex, powerful world – or an omniscient, omnipotent God – at our fingertips, sensitively responsive to our will.

Of course, magical thinking is false when viewed coldly through evidence-oriented eyes. Clearly, life is not sacred, if judged by life’s treatment and ultimate fate in the world / or nature / or the universe. The present writer is convinced of humankind’s uniqueness for reasons too numerous to list in this post. However, human uniqueness does not, at least on this planet, equate to specialness and privilege.

Human beings are far from unique regarding the particular problem at hand. If life is really sacred, then this proposition ought to be supported by evidence from life (nature, existence, world, universe) itself. However, not only does no such evidence exist, but the majority of evidence is against the proposition. Simply, nakedly, put: if life is sacred, then life would not suffer, become injured and ill, would not age and die – the “real, external world” would grant a special, privileged immunity to life. However,  plainly, we do suffer, become injured and ill, we age, and we die (a species for whom none of these negatives apply would indeed be a cosmic wonder, but we are earthbound and can only view our predicament from our terrestrial perspective). Hence, our uniqueness does not carry with it specialness or privilege, those two additional benisons being reserved for the angels alone.

Jodo Shinshu, or Shin Buddhism, avoids magical thinking entirely. One can only assert “magic” to Shin if one denies the transcendent realities affirmed in Mahayanist and other forms of Buddhism – which is not a problem for the present writer, who is neither a reductionist nor a materialist. If one denies Spirit in its entirety, then of course Shin’s major principle of Amida as cosmic Buddha and bestower of shinjin will appear “magical” to such a person. But granting Mahayanist claims about transcendence, Shin, as an expression of the Mahayana, contains no “other kind” of magical thinking (beyond its basic premise as it would be viewed by materialists) –

First, because Amida Buddha is not a deity, and especially for the purposes of this article, Amida is not a creator-deity. This simple fact dispenses Amida from any responsibility for the creation, maintenance, and ultimate fate of the universe. Unlike the Abrahamic God, Amida does not intervene in the physical world, and cannot logically be asked to do so. And this is not because the Buddha is impotent or indifferent: it is simply because it is not in Amida’s nature to create and/or to intervene. Therefore, somewhat ironically, “the Shin universe” is as free from supernatural manipulation as is the materialist universe.

Second, Shin practicers have abandoned jiriki (self-power) for Amida’s gift of tariki (Other-power), which means they acknowledge that ultimate spiritual transformation is completely reliant on Amida’s grace, not on any meditative or charitable practices on the adherent’s part. The Shin practicer can no more “win a ‘sanctity award’ from Amida” than s/he can petition Amida for a miracle.

Again, as these things indicate, there is no place for magical thinking in Shin. The external world goes its way, buffeting, sickening, and finally killing us, and karma, too, works its inevitable way in our lives … without the slightest interference, positive or negative, from Amida Buddha. As relates to Amida as Creator and Miracle-Worker, the Shin devotee is an atheist – for the simple reason that Amida is not God and is not an intervener in the material world. Nor is Amida Buddha a king, a judge, a punisher or a rewarder … and certainly not the raging Sky Father that is, with some justice, associated with the Abrahamic faiths.

Third, having established that Shin does not claim that Amida created, maintains, or intervenes in the samsaric world (the suffering “world below” where sentient beings are mired by spiritual ignorance and wrong desire), and therefore that Shin is not guilty of religious magical thinking, one important question does arise: If Amida’s activity is negative or at least passive toward the world – that is, since Amida does not partake in world processes – then exactly what does Amida do? In what does his “work” consist? Shin’s answer to this question immediately pulls the inquirer into the transcendent realm, as mentioned earlier.

As has been stated, Amida Buddha is not involved in the material universe. However, Amida is involved in that non-material aspect of reality termed in the West, “the human soul”. This claim is problematic and/or “magical” only for materialists who identify the soul as “the brain delusionally defined”. But of course, Mahayana is far from being materialistic, especially in the sense of modernity.

The Western ideas, “God’s special province is the soul”, “God is seen/known in the soul” are somewhat applicable to Amida’s “working”, which takes place not on any material realm, but rather in the adherent’s subjectivity. In Shin,  no magical claim is made that the Buddha is manipulating natural or bodily (including brain) processes. Rather, the Buddha is offering himself “heart to heart” in a subjective inner chamber so recessed that most of us are probably not very much aware of its existence in the first place. At any rate, Amida’s working does not affect matter or body, but rather psyche and spirit. This is not a magical, but rather a transcendent, process. Mysterious, not boundaried, a transcendent “Raft from the Other Shore”, it is called by Jodo Shinshu founders, “non-rational” and “inconceivable”. And they are not describing magic, but a silent, fructifying working that takes place in the adherent’s soul that is described as ineffable, bright, peaceful, loving, wise, and compassionate. No magic is involved – “only” the power of the Dharma as expressed in Amida’s Call and its echo in ourselves.

The present writer has found that the idea of an ultimate reality that is conceived neither as a deity nor a creator is not readily accepted by many. Toward the end of greater understanding of this seemingly odd or radical idea, I would recommend the following sites.

For a discussion of different approaches to God, and an appreciation of the basic “God-levels”:

IS THERE A GOD? – Big Questions Series – Question #1


And finally a quote from the Apocryphon of John, which describes  an Ultimate Reality which is unbound by creator-intervener limitations:

And I asked to know it, and he said to me, “The Monad is a monarchy with nothing above it. It is he who exists as God and Father of everything, the invisible One who is above everything, who exists as incorruption, which is in the pure light into which no eye can look.

“He is the invisible Spirit, of whom it is not right to think of him as a god, or something similar. For he is more than a god, since there is nothing above him, for no one lords it over him. For he does not exist in something inferior to him, since everything exists in him. For it is he who establishes himself. He is eternal, since he does not need anything. For he is total perfection. He did not lack anything, that he might be completed by it; rather he is always completely perfect in light. He is illimitable, since there is no one prior to him to set limits to him. He is unsearchable, since there exists no one prior to him to examine him. He is immeasurable, since there was no one prior to him to measure him. He is invisible, since no one saw him. He is eternal, since he exists eternally. He is ineffable, since no one was able to comprehend him to speak about him. He is unnameable, since there is no one prior to him to give him a name.

“He is immeasurable light, which is pure, holy (and) immaculate. He is ineffable, being perfect in incorruptibility. (He is) not in perfection, nor in blessedness, nor in divinity, but he is far superior. He is not corporeal nor is he incorporeal. He is neither large nor is he small. There is no way to say, ‘What is his quantity?’ or, ‘What is his quality?’, for no one can know him. He is not someone among (other) beings, rather he is far superior. Not that he is (simply) superior, but his essence does not partake in … in time. … Time was not apportioned to him, since he does not receive anything from another, for it would be received on loan. For he who precedes someone does not lack, that he may receive from him. For rather, it is the latter that looks expectantly at him in his light.

“For the perfection is majestic. He is pure, immeasurable mind. He is an aeon-giving aeon. He is life-giving life. He is a blessedness-giving blessed one. He is knowledge-giving knowledge. He is goodness-giving goodness. He is mercy and redemption-giving mercy. He is grace-giving grace, not because he possesses it, but because he gives the immeasurable, incomprehensible light.

– – cited from:

Science vs. the Creator

A recent news flap concerns the issue of science “doing away with God”. Unfortunately, the God to be done away with is just the same old Judeo-Christian creating-god, and the current debate suffers from the limitations of that definition.

The whole question, issue, and idea that science can do away with God is predicated on the precarious assumption that, for God to exist at all, God must be a creator. This notion is a Western prejudice forced on us by our Judeo-Christian cultural background.

It is possible that God does not exist.

Alternatively, it is equally possible that God does exist, but is not a creator. This is the simple consideration that virtually no one, and no debate, takes into their view and into their God-talk.

“God is real, but is not, has never been, and will never be, a creator” states my position. Those who insist that God must be a creator are like someone saying, “Either the moon is made of green cheese, or it doesn’t exist”. But of course, God can exist,  but all the while not being a creator. Non-believers, as much as believers, have permitted this Western image of a creating sky-father to dominate, even permeate, their thinking.

Hence comes the idea that science can dispense, is dispensing, or soon will dispense with God … God as a creator of matter, that is.

First, science has never needed the creator hypothesis. The recent news flap on which this thread is based is really old news. Science does not posit or deal with the supernatural in any way. God was never a useful hypothesis for modern science. (And how could God, by most definitions a supernatural, non-material entity, be the object of science to begin with?)

It’s not a matter of science disposing with the idea of a creator.
It’s a matter of science never having needed the hypothesis to begin with.

Second, any claim that the universe issues from a supernatural deity is doomed from the start, because the claim inextricably entangles God-as-creator with the existence, function, and maintenance of the physical universe. Past experience shows the stupidity of that, as the fate of “the God of the Gaps” has shown.

As long as any material thing or process in, or about, the universe, is claimed to be tied to a deity, that deity is automatically threatened with extinction based on the next scientific discovery that eliminates any supposed divine connection to the universe. Any few remaining claims of a universe-spawning deity are wholly dependent on scientific developments which in time may, and probably will, decimate such claims.

To insist that God is a creator is at the same time to insist that God is bound up with material functions, a claim which at the same time risks the eventuality that God may be kicked out of cosmological speculation entirely. “Creatorists” – i.e.,  those who claim that God is a creator – run the risk of the utter annihilation of their God-concept, pending ever-increasing scientific progress. What a stupid – even an unkind – thing to do to the “Being” they claim to love and worship: to expose “Him” to annihilation by binding “Him” to material processes which are entirely within the domain of science.

Hence, as a non-creatorist panentheist (not to be confused with pantheist), my God-definition omits any notion of God-as-creator (and hence of intervener), and I predict that the God-debate would move to a more intelligible level if only the “God is a creator by definition” thesis could be eliminated from the discussion.

God Particle, Panentheism, Creator-Faith

Questions are being bandied about concerning the discovery of the “God Particle” and its potential relation to theistic faith.  I would like to state that this doesn’t affect my God-definition, because I am a panentheist (not to be confused with pantheist), and the God-image which I conceive is neither a creator nor an intervener. “God” in my view is a transcendent being utterly unconnected to the creation and/or existence of the material universe – and therefore cannot be praised for the world’s goodness, nor blamed for its evils.

Following Fred Hoyle’s idea, stated in his sci-fi novel, The Black Cloud, I speculate that the notion of a divine creator may be derived from the making of artifacts by human beings, that is:  since we are born into a world of pre-made “stuff”;  and since we ourselves make or “create” artifacts; therefore our surrounding world of pre-made stuff must, by implication, be the artifact of a divine maker. At least that’s how I think the creator idea may have evolved in ancient times.

While I am glad whenever science discovers new data like the “God Particle” about the world and/or about the universe’s origins, this has no real impact on my God-conception, for the following reasons.

The issue as a religious proposition really only affects those who think of God as a creator. As already mentioned, I believe that God is real, but is not now, never was, and never will be, a creator or an intervener, so the issue does not impact my god-beliefs. If a particle or some other physical thing or process, for example, is proven to be the “glue” that binds all things together, this only means that those who formerly assigned this “binding function” to a creator are further marginalized, forced to watch as their “creator” is edged out of the cosmic big picture by one more increment of scientific knowledge. If memory serves, it was Julian Huxley who said, “operationally, God is becoming more and more to resemble the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat”.

Those who insist that a deity created the universe are risking the God of the Gaps gambit. More and more it looks as if the universe is, or is the result of, eternally extant quantum fluctuations. If that is the case, then we have met the creator, and “He” turns out to be a kind of eternally extant quantum field behavior, not some kind of sentient entity.

The picture gets much worse, however, if we ever actually do discover a creator, and that creator turns out to be a sentient deity. In view of the utter indifference of the universe to sentient life and to human needs, the creator – if such a deity exists – must be by turns indifferent, hostile, capricious, insane, cruel, and/or incompetent – Tennessee Williams’ “senile delinquent”.

I would much rather believe that the creator – if one exists – is quantum fluctuation than that it is a deity. Human suffering is far more explicable by invocation of mindless, indifferent quantum forces, than it is by invocation of a compassionate but apparently impotent creator-deity. The naturalistic creation story, though spiritually comfortless, is far more theologically sensible, and it accounts for much more, than the supernaturalist creation story.

That is, we would expect that the universe would be indifferent to, and unaware of, the fate of all the sentient beings who live within it. In that case, we would simply accept, and expect, the fact that we must suffer and die, with no hint of concern from the material universe.

But, if we posit a compassionate creator-intervener, then we would expect that “His” universe would be sensitively responsive to our physical and emotional welfare, our plans, our dreams. However, since this is so obviously not the case, the “Creator-Faithful” must jump through hoops and perform intellectual acrobatics, in order to somehow justifiy “God’s universe’s” non-friendly treatment of sentient beings.

Hence, for me, it is much easier and less frought with intellectual difficulty, to conceive of God as a non-creating, non-intervening transcendent entity, rather than as a “compassionate Creator” who has made such a botch of “His” creation that “He” can only repair it by all-too-infrequent, wildly inconsistent, and logically problematic interventions.

God’s Absence and Faith

I’m a theist, a panentheist (not a pantheist). I feel that my particular god-definition explains God’s absence and non-intervention in the material world in a way that creator-religion does not and cannot: it posits that God is not now, never was, and never will be, a creator or an intervener.

God’s interventionary and functional absence from the material world is no mystery, because, since God is not a creator or intervener, there is no logical reason to expect God to be responsible for the world’s creation and its maintenance. It simply does not come under God’s purview, and it’s not God’s “job description”. This is not a matter of an almighty creator messing up his creation, and then refusing to intervene to correct at least some of the mess. It’s a matter of a transcendent kind of being whose “business” is infinite love and compassion, to which there are paths of contemplative/meditative means of immediate, intituitive, “gnostic” experiencing.

Put simply: God is real; God is not a creator or an intervener.  God is therefore not absent for some atheistic claim that God doesn’t exist; rather, it’s more an issue of God being absent because God is real but nonmaterial, and therefore is not part of wordly existence and processes. Obviously, this kind of theology does not require a theodicy – a rationale which tries to explain why evil exists – and much worse – why it persists in a purportedly “good” creation of a “good” creator.

But a creator-religion does call for an explanation as to why a compassionate God who created and maintains “His” universe is so apparently absent. No evidence for such a creating and intervening God exists – quite the opposite, in fact, at least judging by the world’s randomness and the precarious and doomed position of sentient life within this “scheme”.

The absence of the Creator from his creation is one of the several insurmountable objections to creator-religion, and very few of “His” apologists admit to this brute fact. In this, the “Creator-Faithful” resemble an abused partner caught in a violent co-dependendent relationship. Like an abused wife, creator-religionists feel coerced to defend their abusive “spouse”, with all the excuses found in co-dependent relationships: “I’m not good enough”, “I misbehaved and deserve my punishment”; “I will try harder next time”; and “it’s not all bad, because sometimes He brings me gifts”. A pathetic view, which only carries meaningless suffering down through generations of the creator-faithful.

Some will criticise my God-definition by saying, “Well, what good is a God who is infinite compassion and infinite wisdom, but who does nothing?” This utilitarian question depends on what one regards as “good”. If we remove the Divine Good from the material world, we are left at least in theory with Divine Good as applies to the inner, spiritual sphere. And this is where the non-creator God performs the Good; this is where God does something rather than nothing.  That is, the purview of the God whose definition I have presented lies within the psyche of sentient beings.

As Meister Eckhart is claimed to have said, “God is known in the soul”. Eckhart is also said to have taught that “the eye by which we see God is the eye by which God sees us”. The shared “eye” is the soul. It is “the eye of contemplation” or “the eye of Spirit”. Unlike the physical eye, the eye of contemplation must be opened through various contemplative and meditative practices and processes. The theory is that once the spiritual eye is opened, the soul can perceive and unite with God, its object.

Perhaps strangely, this kind of faith – belief in a non-creating, non-intervening transendent God who can be known directly by, and in, the soul – is a much easier faith than a faith that clings to the notion of a creator-intervener God, to whom one must be utterly loyal  – in spite of all the wordly, daily-living evidence against the soundness of such a faith.

Fundamentalist Objections to Buddhism

In critiquing any subject, it is essential to know what one is criticising.  That is, one must not attack straw men: one must critique a subject for what it is, rather than what one imagines it to be. Most fundamentalist criticisms of Buddhism usually fall into this fallacy of misidentification.  The misidentification is frequently fueled by ignorance and by preconceived biases learned from particular demoninational statements and creeds. In this article I would like to refute some commonly-held misidentifications and misconceptions by which many biblical literalists attempt to condemn Buddhism.

1. True religion is based on revelation. Buddhism has no revelation and is therefore a false religion.

My first response begins with an objection to the notion of divine revelation. One’s personal revelation(s) may be invaluable to oneself, but of little use and meaning to others (unless of course revelation can somehow be a shared experience). The issue centers around the question, How can one test another’s private revelation? How do we decide between a true, valid revelation and the rantings of a hallucinating, delusional person? How can we tell a real revelation from an outright, manipulative lie? How do we know that God has revealed truth to one person, while another person is making an equally sincere claim to divine inspiration?

Moreover, in Buddhism’s favor, the Buddha taught that the experience of religious truth is open to all, not merely to selected “favorite children” of a particular deity. The experience of truth in Buddhism is not the result of accepting anyone’s revelation nor is it a consequence of belief in a set of doctrines based on a revelation. Instead, Buddhism claims that spiritual truth is based on the seeker’s own experiences, which are gained through a variety of contemplative/meditative methods. Faith is not a requirement in Buddhism. Rather, Buddhism invites the seeker to “try this”: complete the spiritual injunction, perform the meditative experiment, and share the conclusions with others who have also adequately  performed these steps. Since faith is not a spiritual requirement for Buddhism, Buddhism does not depend on anyone’s belief-claims, or on anyone’s puported revelations, or on any divinely-inspired texts.

Therefore, the objection that Buddhism is a false system because it does not depend on revelation is really something of a back-handed compliment: “belief-in” has been supplanted with direct experience and hands-on testing.

2. True religion claims the reality of an Absolute and offers a means of connecting with that Absolute. Buddhism claims no Absolute and therefore is not a true religion.

This objection is simply false, and a misidentification of what Buddhism really claims. There is Buddhist Absolute, namely, the Dharma. Buddha conceived of the Dharma as a universal law, the understanding of which is the highest spiritual goal.  Under this law are subsumed all other Buddhist truth claims. Moreover, especially in Mahayana Buddhism, the Absolute goes by many names and descriptions, such as the Buddha Nature, Sunyata, the Plenum-Void, the Buddha Mind, the Dharmakaya, etc.

Buddhism claims that correct action and meditation lead to direct experience of the Ultimate within oneself. Further, Buddhism claims that correct understanding and practice actually result in the observable and experiencable embodiment of the Absolute in people and therefore in the world. Like the Christian Kingdom of God, the Buddhist Absolute is “here, but more than here”, it is “within us”, and the arhats, Boddhisattvas, and Buddhas “incarnate” the Ultimate in a way not dissimilar from the way that Christianity claims that Jesus embodied God and the Spirit. Therefore the claim that Buddhism has no Absolute, and no means of reaching the Absolute, is false.

3. The Buddha was a sinful human being who left his wife and family for the sake of his own spiritual benefit, and later, his missionary career.

My main objection here is that Christianity – even fundamentalist Christianity – claims that experience of God or the Spirit is “the pearl of great price” for which many sacrifices are called for and many social expectations are overturned. Did Buddha leave his family? So did Jesus, who also said that his followers must “hate” their families, and who expanded the definition of family to include anyone who obeys God (“Who are my mother and my brothers? Those who obey God,” Jesus said… in the presence of his mother and his brothers). Did Buddha recommend celibacy? So did Jesus, who said that the highest service to God’s Kingdom is to make a eunuch of oneself. Saint Paul in an important sense echoes this sentiment when he damns marriage with the faint praise: “It is better to marry than to burn [with lust].”

Fundamentalistists who condemn Buddhist celibacy and monasticism do so without reference to their own Christian tradition’s counsels along the same lines.  Here a fatal lack of self-inquiry, if not hypocrisy, raises its ugly head.

4. True religion must claim universality. However, Buddhism does not claim that it is for all people. Therefore, Buddhism is a false religion.

It is true that the Buddha limited his own experience of the Dharma to his own teaching and meditative practices, yet he never denied that the Dharma is available to all. After all, the Dharma is an absolute and would not be likely to be limited to a single human being or religious order or contemplative practice. What Buddha claimed was that the spiritual injunctions worked for him – and for his followers who successfully performed them. The experimental nature of Buddha’s injunctions can be summarized, as previously mentioned, “Try this. If ‘this’ doesn’t work, then try something else, and test your own experience against what I am teaching.”

The injunction’s experimental nature therefore makes the Buddha’s attitude relativistic toward method, but not toward the absolute Dharma underlying his – and all authentic teachers’ – methods. Therefore the objection that Buddhism’s claims are not universal is a partial truth at best, because while the methodology may be relativistic, the truth-claim is universal, just as the Dharma is universal.

5. Buddhism claims that the universe is eternal, and is therefore an atheistic system.

Simply illogical:

Atheism is the denial of God’s existence or reality, not simply the denial of a Creator-deity.

Theism is the affirmation of God’s existence or reality, not limited to statements about a Creator-deity: that depends on the religious system invoked.

Along with many “new” atheists, fundamentalists’ view of God is narrowly focused on God as a Creator. If God as a Creator is refuted or denied (they think), then God generally defined is also denied. This limited “God must be a Creator or God is unreal” view makes colorful, if grotesque, bedfellows of fundamentalists and atheists.

The problem is that “God” has many more definitions and functions than “His” narrow fundamentalistic, “biblical” consignment to the role of Creator. Granted, if God as a Creator is refuted or denied, then obviously, “God” is deleted. That is, God’s definition as a Creator is deleted. God’s other definitions and functions, however, remain untouched. Therefore, to claim that the universe is eternal, is probably to deny the existence of a Creator. But it is not to deny the existence of God.

Moreover, it should be noted that several of the interpretations and meanings applied in Buddhism to Nirvana, the state of Bodhi, Buddha Nature and Buddha Mind, etc., are actually functionally equivalent to several important (“non-Creatorist”) God-definitions in Western faith and mysticism.

That fundamentalist critics of Buddhism seem mostly unaware of these two major God-issues speaks volumes about the bias and ignorance with which they approach the subject.

6. Buddhism is negative and fatalistic because the Buddha claimed that life is suffering.

This objection is simply a result of laziness. The briefest exposure to Buddhism exhibits the fact that the Buddha said, “I teach suffering, and the end of suffering.” Fundamentalist critics’ inability or unwillingness to read the rest of the sentence beyond the comma is as baffling as it is intellectually suspect.

7.  Buddhist prayer is illogical because it attempts to change fatalistic karma.

Fundamentalists may see Buddhists standing or kneeling with their malas in hand, chanting and/or reciting verses, and they come to the conclusion that Buddhists pray. This is mostly a false conclusion. Only a relatively little-educate minority of Buddhists pray to Buddha, or his manifold manifestations, as to a g0d. There is no Creator in Buddhism, so even this petitionary, supplicative form of prayer is usually a request for merit, not for miracles. It approximates the type of prayer that devotees in some Catholic countries direct to their saints.

Instead of prayer,, Buddhists practice meditation, some of which takes the outward appearance of Western, theistic prayer. But instead of attempting to engage the will of a sky-father-Creator, Buddhist meditators seek to focus their mind; to cultivate peacefulness, compassion, and calm; to better understand the teachings; and to accumulate merit, which is said to impact their karmic “debt”.  Common sense dictates that a dept that can be modified, influenced, worked off or shortened cannot at the same time be termed absolute and defined fatalistically or  deterministically. Therefore the claim that a belief in karma is necessarily fatalistic is false when objectively observed in its actual Buddhistic philosophy, interpretation, and practice.

8. Buddhism is a religion of despair and negativity because its highest goal is Nirvana, the extinction of the self in nothingness.

The Buddha did not describe Bodhi as a zombie-like state of living death. On the contrary, he invoked it as a living, calm, alert, witnessing kind of consciousness, a kind of still center of perception at the “hub” of the bodily/egoic/samsaric “wheel”. The Buddha taught a life centered in this non-egoic awareness.

Moreover, Jesus himself taught the death of self and described the path to godliness as a daily taking up of one’s cross. He also said that to find oneself, one must lose oneself.  And, to cite New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, Jesus taught a life centered in this spiritual mode of dying-to-self –  for the purpose of rooting oneself in Spirit rather than in culture (or in any other “samsaric” set of values).

So again in this case we can observe that  fundamentalist objections to Buddhism are based on a combination of ignorance and a definite, sometimes glaring, lack of self-questioning.

Finally, Jesus said that we are to remove the log from our own eye before we dare to remove the speck from another’s eye. Fundamentalist condemners of Buddhism would do well to follow their Lord’s injunction.

Human Divinization: a Little-Considered Bit of the “Good News”

“Gospel” means “good news”.  Most are familiar with the Gospel’s standard benisons, for example that the Christian Messiah has come in Jesus;  Jesus taught a new life in God by example; about a hidden but widespread Kingdom of God on earth; he preached the Beatitudes, love of neighbor, forgiveness, charity, etc.

But one New Testament teaching, preserved in both Latin and Greek churches, has a strange, even exotic, aroma.  This teaching treats of the believer’s merging into God. More than a merely adoptive filial relationship or a purely juridical incorporation into the Kingdom, this doctrine conveys the idea that the believer unites with God: unites with God, that is, to the extent of partaking in God’s own nature. The Latin church calls this transformation Deificatio, and the Greek church terms it Theosis.

John 17:21-23 has Jesus telling his disciples:

“That they may all be one, as you, Father are in me, and I am in you, that they also may be one in us

And the glory you gave me I have given them, so that they may be one, even as we are one;

I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one…”

Alan Watts commented on these verses in words to this effect: “Jesus envisaged us becoming one with God in just the same way and to the same degree as himself.”

At first blush, “divinization” of the believer might seem an Eastern or even  a New Age concept. But there it is, in the heart of Christian scripture. And John’s instance is not its only occurrance.  In addition, there are:

John 15: 1-8  “I am the true vine… Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except that it abides in the vine; no more can you, except that you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in them, brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask what you will, and it will be done for you.”

2 Peter 1: 1-4: “…accordingly, His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through evil desire.”

1 Corinthians 15:49  “Just as we bear an earthy image, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”

(Or:  “Just as we  are like the one who was made out of earth [Adam] , we will be like the One who came from heaven [Jesus].”)

2 Corinthians 3:18 “[w]e are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”

Romans 8:29  “For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

1 John 3:2  We “shall know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

For the New Testament, union with Jesus is said to be union with God, participation in God’s nature, and a transformation into a state of “being like” the glorified Christ.  “Deification” is the Christian’s ultimate goal. Strange how seldom this essential doctrine, with its glorious claims,  is taught in Christian congregations.