Of all the things that gave me trouble with buddhism, the number one was the idea of God. I have lived the majority of my life as a staunch atheist and humanist. I didnt believe in God because I saw it as the fairy tale-esque construction of Pre-millennial tribes, as something that can and was used to justify all sorts of murder and persecution, and as something that required its believers to surrender their personal responsibility.
And if we are talking about the Judeo-Christian version of god i still believe those things.
As I began exploring Buddhism, however the idea of god kept cropping up. Every teaching i heard or read from otherwise amazingly rational people talked about a belief in god as matter of factly as you talk about the weather. i just didnt get it. how could you be so dedicated to reality and Truth and still believe int his fantasy santa in the sky? Eventually I came to an impasse, I was either going to give up on buddhism or give up on my rationalism, I simply couldnt reconcile the one with the other. At that moment a great realization came to me, and it resolved not only my confusion about god, but a lot of my other confusions about buddhism as well.
I had always had trouble understanding what buddhists meant by saying “we are all one” or ” we are all aspects of the universe”. I had spent so long believing that I was “me” and you were “them” that i really thought all this talk of unity was jargon or metaphor for some kind of giant love hug or another way of saying “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. But if I have learned anything from my practice its that Buiddhists usually mean exactly what they say, it want a metaphor any more than saying Buddhists believe in god is a metaphor. it is quite literally the truth as we see it. But how?
It turns out that the average conception of god is too small, too based on our own little experience, on our. . .conceptions basically to be understood in reality. To a Buddhist god isnt some other being (because there arent “other beings”, get it?) it’s simply another word for “everything”. And i dont mean everything in the sense of “everything in this room is covered with chihuahua hair” I mean it in the sense of everything that is anywhere at anytime is god. the universe is god, the totality of all that is and isnt is god. God is limitless and unlimited in a way that makes BOTh atheism and religion ridiculously inadequate to the task of trying to put it into a conceptual framework. God, in short is because everything is god. You, me, dog poop, the pope, the dalai lama, hitler, pol pot, the starving turtle in a drying pond and the mud its resting in, the stars and the dust inside the stars, the space between the stars is , for lack of a better word, god.
The problem i had was that the word god carried so many christian connotations that I just started calling it ‘the universe’ and i think in a way that describes the totality of the thing better than such a loaded word. Some religious folk will say that a definition fo god like this broadens the term to the point that its meaningless and in a way they are correct, because to try to make god/universe “have meaning’ is to try to capture the sea in a thimble. It’s like looking at one atom of an elephant and trying to decide what the whole creature looks like. Many people want god to be easy to understand because they want him to be on their team, but god doesnt have a team, he is the team and all the members (on both sides).
Which leads me to how understanding this helped me understand the ‘we are all one’ thing that i kept hearing over and over. Because where we usually see individual people and things, I began to see simply aspects of the universe. As Brad Warner pointed out in “Hardcore Zen’ the universe wants to see itself through the eyes of Jason and so Jason is formed in the same way that the universe wanted to experience itself as a rock and so the rock was formed. To conceive of god as somehow separate and above everything wasnt just doing a disservice to god, it was doing a disservice to everything int he universe. We are here as part of the whole and every atom is as important as a galaxy.
I mean that. Even a dog turd is as important the sun. The worst person on earth is as important as my mother. The fact that the vast majority of us do not understand this is the very reason there is intolerance, hate, war, and violence. No one can be on the side of ‘god’ if they hold something separate and apart from that whole. The universe isnt hiding this fact either, its very clear that the moment we accept this fact that suffering ceases, we do god will be treating all of the universe as sacred.
So now i believe in god because I see it everywhere.