Category Archives: panentheism

My Journey into Shin Buddhism

Even as I was leaving Christianity I still knew that I would always be religious by nature, so that I would probably always “believe” in the Sacred Transcendent in one way or another. So quite naturally I read comparative religion, Eastern religion, New Testament scholarship, and the ideas of “modern” sages like Krishnamurti, Osho (yes, I know he’s controversial), Ramana Maharshi, Ken Wilber, Alan B. Wallace, Adyashanti, some Ram Dass, etc. I also had the privilege of having been taught by the late New Testament scholar Marcus Borg who had a great influence on my thinking. I also delved deeply into Carl Jung and “depth” psychology.

During that process I discovered that I was a panentheist (not pantheist). I found that I could “have a deity” Who did not need to be a creator, intervener, or judge in order to be real, and Whose real “power” and “activity” functioned as a transforming Presence in the soul/my deepest subjectivity. A God who is both “here” (immanent) and “more than here” (transcendent). That is, the Absolute of the mystics, of the Gnostics, of divine union and communion. Not a acting as manipulator of matter, but rather as an “invitational” (not coercive) activity within me.

And during that process I came across a wise, compassionate article about “good Christians” whom the media and the general culture have a tendency to despise. It was written by the Buddhist sensei Jose Tirado, who is of the Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhist school. I then looked into Shin and found that it fit like a glove. Its Amida Buddha, although not a deity, nonetheless shares several functions in common with the panentheistic notion of a non-creating sacred Source, and also with the mystical notion of a sacred Ultimate working with us “from inside”.

So I converted to Shin about 9 years or so ago. I am a solitary practitioner and attend no Hondo or local Sangha. I just keep up with the practice of Nembutsu recitation – Shin’s only official practice, which is simply a prayer of thanksgiving: “Namo Amida Butsu” / “I take refuge in Amida Buddha”. Other than that, I keep reading Shin books and visit Shin-related websites – that’s my “church” these days. One of the most helpful teachers in the Shin universe is John Paraskevopoulos –…

– whose work has been most beneficial to my journey in Shin.

While Shin practitioners remain “bombus” – samsaric beings led by blind passions and spiritual ignorance – and who do not become Enlightened in this life – they have also received Amida’s unearned gift of perfect faith called “Shinjin”. Shinjin is Buddha Nature that will be sparked, vivified, and caused to blossom at death when we take birth in the Pure Land.

So that is my personal story of my path from Christianity to Jodo Shinshu.


“God”: Immanent and Transcendent

From my Western/philosophical Panentheist point of view, “God” (the ultimate infinite compassionate Reality) is both “here” (immanent) and “more than here” (transcendent), which to me simply means that everything unfolds in God’s presence.

It doesn’t mean that God is a spy, a judge, a bedroom-or-bathroom invader.
It doesn’t mean that God is a creator who is morally obligated to intervene in material processes for reasons known only to “Himself”.

What it does mean is that the universe is in God, and God is in the universe. Hence, “pan” (everything) is “en” (in) “theos” (God). If memory serves, it was St. Augustine who made the illustration of Panentheism wherein the world is represented as a water-soaked (“God-soaked”) sponge, floating in an infinite sea (which is also God). God is in the world, the world is in God.

However, the current God-debate is more often than not constricted to the theology of supernatural theism, which posits a kind of sky-father deity “out there”, who, as a creator, maintains and intervenes in the world. That, however, is an arbitrary view. Saying that God – in order to be real, to BE God – must be a creator, is as inept as saying that the moon must be made of green cheese, or it doesn’t exist.

One application of this concept is Jesus’s teaching about the fall of sparrows, “birds of the air”, which happens naturally without any intervention by God. The point is that the fall of sparrows and humans does not happen without context, in a vacuum. Rather, it occurs in the loving presence and awareness of God, the God who, precisely because “He” is not the creator or maintainer of the world, and does not intervene in its processes. Spying and miraculous intervention are simply not part of God’s “job description”.

So in actuality, it can be said that God does absolutely nothing as relates to the construction and maintenance of the world, for the simple reason that such activity is not in God’s nature to do so. Against the traditional view, God is neither “mighty” nor “All-Mighty”.

God is not “Doing”. God is “Being”.

But this does not mean that God is impotent or powerless. It only means that  God does not materially relate to or act upon the world.

However, that does not mean that God is inactive – because the presence of God does act in our deep subjectivity as a catalyst toward spiritual growth and enlightenment. This is the God-experience of mystical union and communion  which is not about miraculous physical intervention in the world or in the human body, but rather about the manifestation of God’s presence in the souls of sentient beings.

Once one becomes aware of the inner presence of God in oneself, one no longer has to entertain the idea of, or has a need for, a creator deity “out there” who supernaturally intervenes in the material universe. Because one already “has” God in the only place it really counts – the human soul, the human heart. God conceived as a transformative inner presence trumps God conceived as a mechanistic, intervening creator deity. The person him or herself is the locus of God’s activity. The material world spins on, following its own self-directed laws without divine intervention.

An additional comment from a Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhist framework, from which this blog hopes to operate:

Jodo Shinshu’s “Ultimate” – Amida Buddha – is not a creator deity, but rather the highest celestial primordial Buddha. Just as with the non-creating God conception, Amida does not intervene in the material world – first because he did not create it and bears no personal responsibility for it, and second because his effulgent grace causes the salvific reality of Shinjin – “perfect faith” – to arise in the deep subjectivity of sentient beings.

Shinjin is a free gift from the Sacred Transcendent. That is why Shin calls it “a raft from the Other Shore” – a vehicle that makes landfall softly and unbidden and that carries us across the ocean of samsara, all without any effort and self-power practice on our part. Our own Amazing Grace. Not a God, but rather the Buddha whose grace ensures the vivifying sparking of our own aspiration toward Buddhahood. Where, in his Pure Land, our own Buddha Nature finally blossoms and we begin to do the selfless work that enlightened Beings do.

“Prove God!” as an Inept Question

(Cross-posted from a Disqus Forum discussion. This has been touched upon here earlier, but might legitimately bear repeating:)


Atheist Gore Vidal:

“God or what have you, is not to be found at the far end of a syllogism, no matter how brilliantly phrased.”

Philosophy, therefore, can’t disclose God (except perhaps intellectually, but then we are only left with the God or the non-God of the intellect, which is not “the real God”).

Science cannot disclose God because science only deals with matter whereas God by most standard definitions and connotations (except perhaps pantheism) is non material spirit.

This leaves personal experience, the direct apprehension of the divine or the Spirit, as happens in “gnosis”, intuition, and/or the specialized perception that occurs in mystical states and/or as a result of contemplation, prayer, and meditation.

Note that all of these latter things are private, non material, and completely subjective. Neither science, doctrine, the “rational intellect” nor philosophy can enter into this most intimate experiential field. Its contents, like the qualia, are not communicable and cannot be brought out into the external material world. For that reason, it is simply erroneous to think that they can be externalized or publicly shared and quantified.

“Prove to me that God is real!” is one of those inept questions. It’s like asking, “Prove that you love the pursuit of the good/the true/the beautiful”. At most, such things can only be suggested or hinted at. They cannot be shared. However, they are “invitational” and hinge on attainment of personal experience.

There are three steps in knowledge-acquisition:

1. The Injunction: If you want to know “X”, then DO “Y”.

If you want to know if it’s raining, then look out a window. If you want to find God, then look through the “windows” and “lenses” designed for that purpose.

2. The Experiment: Apply the Injunction; proceed along established lines; take notes.

3. The Conclusion and Peer Review: share the process and your conclusion with those who have previously, adequately performed steps 1. thru 3. This happens, for example, in the Zendo, where students submit their experiments and conclusions with those (the senseis) who have previously, adequately performed the process.

God-experience is open to all for confirmation or disconfirmation. It is not a matter of someone else being capable of, or obligated to, “prove God”.

THAT is only up to the individual who is willing to perform the three steps of knowledge-acquisition – and with the awareness that the knowledge so acquired is private, and can only be publicly “circumambulated”, not “proved”, with those who have already done the three step process.

Which makes the Conclusion in one sense open to being shared, but not to public confirmation, as with scientific/material quantification. The confirmation only comes individually, privately, and subjectively.

Thus is disclosed the folly of asking someone or anyone to “prove God”. The “proof” either comes spontaneously, or it comes at the Conclusion of the three step process. It cannot come from some other person, or from any other external source. “Only YOU can do it for yourself alone.”

Best to stop asking the question altogether.


A short coda from the Jodo Shinshu point of view:

For Shin Buddhists, Amida Buddha has saved us from the three step process as surely as He has saved us from our samsaric plight. The three step process is perhaps important to those who are still seeking. But Shin people are no longer on the seeking path. Amida has found them.

Spending A Day With God

This is posted from the Disqus discussion boards, with a few modifications, in answer to a thread inquiring about what spending a day with God would be like.  I wrote:

= = = = = = = = = =

From the Eastern/mystical perspective, I don’t have or believe in a creator-deity. I do have certain functional equivalents of God, as defined in the global mystical literature, i.e., God as Ultimate, Absolute, Bodhi, the Tao, the Sacred, the Ground of Being, the Dharmakaya, Buddha-Mind, Nirvana, the Unborn-the Unconditioned, Peace, Silence, etc.

From a more Western-philosophical perspective, I am a Panentheist (not Pantheist) – for whom “God” or “the Spirit” is real but is not a creator. The universe has its existence IN (“EN”) the God – or the Divinity in Which/Whom we move and live and have our being (as Luke-Acts portrays St. Paul’s panentheistic preaching).

Because my God-definition excludes the notion of God as a creator, I do not have a theological bone to pick with God for the simple, primary reason that God is not responsible for the existence, behavior, and maintenance of a universe that “He” did not create to begin with.

That is: God does not intervene with miraculous manipulations, God does not judge or condemn, God does not apologize for a universe that God had no hand in creating.

That is, I have no complaints to make, no gripes to air, but only gratefulness and gratitude.

Gratitude, but for what? For God’s unimpeded light, infinite compassion and infinite wisdom, based not on philosophy or doctrine, but rather upon personal experience.

My personal faith is that of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (Shin Buddhism). For we “Shinners”, “God” as ultimate reality, the Unborn, the Unconditioned is expressed in-and-as Amida Buddha.

Not a creator, a judge, or an intervenor, Amida Buddha rather represents our own Buddha-Nature realized and dwelling in a perfect state called “the Pure Land”. What Amida is, we shall become, through His freely-granted gift of Shinjin, or perfect faith. A faith which is deemed “perfect” for the simple, crucial reason that we ourselves did not design it. It is the transcendent gift of Amida – “the Raft from the Other Shore” – whose sudden sharp arrival is redolent of otherworldly “fragrances of Light”, unlike the earthly light with which our physical eyes are familiar.

Moreover, there is not much of an adherent-Amida “wall of separation”. The only real difference is that while I am a deluded being led by blind passions (a “bombu”), Amida is already a celestial, primal Buddha, whose earthly adherents are – as of now, temporarily – only on the Path. But once we pass into the Pure Land state, our own Buddha-Nature will come to fruition and we ourselves will become Buddhas. We become like Amida Himself. This may sound spectacular, but it is “merely” the fulfillment of the basic Mahayanist “aspiration toward Buddhahood”.

Because of this blessed situation, I don’t really feel an insecure, pressing, or desperate need to “walk and talk” with my Absolute/”God”, for the simple reason that the Buddha and I are already united, and because ultimately I will become a Buddha myself. The walking and talking come naturally. We Shin people do not worship what we already are in potential, and we do not worship what we will become. We revere Amida Buddha for His grace and his role as life-vivifying Savior.

In this sense, Shin adherents are Amida’s “little brothers and sisters”, walking the Path set by Amida himself eons ago when he was the wandering, Dharma-seeking monk Dharmakara in a dimension that was perhaps far removed and probably quite different from our own.

Walking with my “older brother” Amida Buddha every day, I can only repeat Jodo Shinshu’s primary recitation of sheer gratitude:

“Namo Amida Buddha.”

“I take refuge in Amida Buddha.”

In that phrase resides my entire, daily interrelation on the Enlightenment Path with my Absolute,my  inspiration, my salvation and my fully-realized “elder brother”.

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“God” as Real, but not as a Creator

It seems to me that one major problem with the modern God-conversation is that God is constantly being defined as some kind of responsible world-agent – a creator. Of course, a creator – especially one who is held to be all-knowing and all-good – is ultimately responsible for “His” creation. No excuses can be offered for the putative creator’s misbehavior. And I’m not even (yet) talking about the depredations of the Biblical deity. No, the creator – as we now have “Him” – is sufficiently evil, indifferent, inept, mute and incompetent to be existentially and morally condemned under the Epicurean mandate.

However, I personally believe that “God” is real, but is not a creator, intervener, or judge.
For me – a panentheist (not pantheist) – God is much less a creator and much more the being Who and Which is spoken about in Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and by the mystics of all traditions. A silent Presence, the Tao, the Absolute, the Dharmakaya, Bodhi, the Unconditioned/the Unborn, Salvation, Light, Wisdom, etc. … a being and/or a category, that is, whose only “doing-ness” or activity is limited, and natural, to its transformative effects in sentient beings, but which is non-functional and irrelevant vis-a-vis the creation and maintenance of physical worlds, universes, things and processes.

Thus, as pertains to the world/cosmos/”life”, God is not all-mighty; in fact, God is not “mighty” at all,  the word “might” being a crude projection of gross material, physical “power” onto a spirit being.

This type of God is immune from both the Epicurean critique and the normative Western theistic view, because both base themselves on the idea of an all-powerful creator deity. They assume that, for God to be real – “for God to BE God” – God must be a creator – or “He” isn’t God , and “He” does not, or cannot, exist. But that is as silly and inept as saying that either the moon is made of green cheese, or it does not, or cannot, exist.

The conception of a non-creating God immediately releases one’s God-definition from the burden of creating a theodicy. A theodicy is an argument that claims to explain evil – and more importantly, the persistence of evil – in a cosmos that was supposedly created and is currently being maintained by an all-good, all-powerful creator deity. If we remove from our theological perspective the conception of an all-good/all-powerful creator deity, we also remove the conception of divine intervention, as well as the embarrassing necessity of needing to account for “God’s” obviously neglectful behavior.

The non-creating, non-almighty God thus cannot be blamed for the world’s evils, nor can this God be praised for the world’s goodness. There is no one – “no One” – to praise or to blame. The universe goes its own “samsaric” way without deity-influence, interference, or manipulation, while God simply, deeply, remains as the silent Presence within the depths not of matter, but rather in the perceiving souls of the sentient beings who seek divine union.

In one narrow sense, Jodo Shinshu’s Amida Buddha can be seen as a kind of functional equivalent to the non-creating but spiritually-transformative God. Buddhas are not gods or creator deities, and neither is Amida Buddha. However, if by “God” is meant an all-compassionate, all-wise, luminous, transcendent Being who saves and enlightens not by physical intervention but by sheer grace – in the form of Shinjin in Jodo Shinshu – then, surely, Amida “fits the bill”. Not a creator, not a physical intervener, not a judge, not a divine warrior or apocalyptic vengeful destroyer, not a dying-and-rising savior, Amida can be seen as the compassionate, transforming, transcendent spiritual Ultimate – a “God” for all sentient beings, who at the same time is source and spark of their future Buddhahood in Amida’s Pure Land, where those beings recognize and realize their own “godness” as Buddhas in their own right.

“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: