Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

The Three Views of Existence (Edited)

March 7, 2017

[This is an old post that was originally in three installments. I’ve edited them together and am reposting them. I’m surprised at how much of what I wrote then I still stand by.]

Five years ago, down with the flu and having to spend all day in bed, I found myself thinking about the three fundamental views of existence, which are the creator god view, the scientific/materialist view, and the pantheistic, or everything-is-god, view.

To elaborate a little, the creator god, or monotheistic, view is what most people in this culture think of when they hear the word “religion.” It’s the belief in a god who exists apart from his creation. There are many different schools of thought within the fundamental view, ranging from followers of intellectuals like Augustine to populist evangelicals. The scientific/materialist view maintains that there is no spiritual realm whatsoever. There is only the material plane, and consciousness arises out of the workings of chemistry and physics. These first two views are currently duking it out. They barely recognize the existence of the third view, the pantheistic view, which says that the entire universe is god. (I once thought pantheism meant “nature religion,” that the “pan” referred to the Greek god Pan—or something. But “pan” means “all,” as in “Pan American.” So Pan-theism is “everything is god.”) We are god. The rocks are god. The trees are god. It says that the material realm arises from the spiritual, that everything is mind. It includes schools of thought and tribes that range from serious, committed Buddhists to frivolous New Agers. (While Jesus is seen as representing the creator god view, I believe he was actually teaching the pantheist view. But more on that later.)

Each of these views, even if we’re not all that serious about them, affect how we live and respond to events. If you believe in the scientific/materialist view, which is probably the most popular and widespread view, there is no such thing as “wisdom.” There is only knowledge. A people that sees knowledge as the be-all and end-all of life also sees material and scientific progress as essential to our growth as a species. We are currently entering an era when we are hitting the limits to material progress—the end of growth. Whenever this idea is brought up, the materialists become either angry or despairing. There will be no reason to live! But it’s not like that. We will never truly start living until we get past our present-day obsession with money, possessions, and scientific progress. We’re committed to an enormous misunderstanding of what the material plane is. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Wherever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars that you see. You are still one with everything. That is more true than I can say, and more true that you can hear.

Shunryu Suzuki

Of the three fundamental views of existence—creator god, scientific/materialist, and pantheist—I subscribe to the third. (I should add that “pantheism” is short hand for me. It’s a Western term, that is, from the world of Western philosophical speculation, and has a lot of attached baggage that is not real.) I don’t see myself as having sought out this view. At one point in my life I was reading a lot of Taoism and Buddhism in order stay afloat. I was doing a lot meditation, too, but, again, simply to survive an extraordinarily rough time. (I write about this in my work-in-progress Street Song.) In the midst of my reading I kept coming across the idea that everything is god, or mind. For a long time I assumed that this was just a metaphor. Eventually I saw that the people advocating this idea really meant it. It’s difficult to see the material plane as “merely” mind. If you cut me, I will bleed. If I kick a boulder with all my might, it will hurt like hell. The turning point for me came when someone I was reading, someone whose opinion I trusted and valued, stated that the material plane is an illusion, albeit a very thick one. His statement tied together a bunch of others I had floating around in my head. Suddenly I understood how the material plane, while having laws, is one with the spiritual background from which it arises.

I don’t read a lot of science. I try, but I can’t hack the attitude that a lot of scientists adopt. They want to be the go-to guys, the great explainers. But science can never explain existence. It can only probe one layer of it—the material plane. I’ve read enough science to know that as scientists delve deeper into matter, they find that, essentially, it disappears. It’s a big mystery! But scientists insist that there is a rational order to reality, that through experimentation and research we can eventually understand everything—soberly. But that’s not what the sages say, and I take their word—the word of the real ones—over that of the scientists. The sages say that when you take the journey that leads to an understanding of what existence really is, it astonishes you. It blows your mind. If what you saw didn’t blow your mind, then you didn’t see fundamental reality. And fundamental reality is ineffable, that is, it cannot be put into words. You have to see it for yourself. (There is more on this in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, in the chapter called “Consciousness Explained”.) I’m not asserting here that I’ve had this vision. I haven’t. Just bits and pieces. So, in a sense, this is a statement of faith. But my journey isn’t over.

Our present-day understanding of religion is poor. When people discuss religion they are usually arguing about some doctrine they read in a book somewhere. Most of today’s religious institutions and organizations are led by people who’ve had no direct experience of the spiritual, but have ideas about what it. You can’t get religion from a book or from speculative thought.

In real religion a person sets out on a path that takes him, or her, to the very edge of what can be understood with the thinking mind. At the point he can go no farther, he has to let go of his ego and take a leap into the unknown where he has a vision of the oneness of all existence (and nonexistence). To most people this sounds like some kind of Eastern religious trip. But I contend that Jesus took the same journey. If you read the Gospel of Thomas, one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, it’s easy to recognize. One of the good things about the Gospel of Thomas is that it’s all sayings and aphorisms. There isn’t any mythology attached. It’s simply religious instruction. And religious instruction is mostly about how to safely manage the spiritual journey, which is incredibly dangerous.

Maybe it’s pointless to try to talk about this. To most ears, the journey I’m referring to sounds mythical rather than real. But that’s because of the time we live in, which is mundane and materialistic. In any case, for the moment, the door to the journey is closed. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that the door was open, and thousands, if not millions, went in pursuit. Even then, it was difficult to get people to understand. For many years, I was one of those who refused to hear of it. I contend that real religion is simply the search for the truth about existence, about reality. There is only one true religion, and it doesn’t have a name. It is simply the laws of existence—an existence that goes beyond physical reality. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, and others are all examples of individuals who  made that journey, and then came back to tell the rest of us how to go there. In each case, only a handful of the original hearers had any real understanding of what Buddha, Jesus, or Lao Tse were talking about. But they were impressed by the power of the speakers, who had been completely changed by the experience. That’s where the big churches came from—from the mass of people who didn’t really understand what they were hearing, as well as from those who heard it second and third hand. In the first group I would include most of Jesus’ disciples; in the second, people like Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, and so on. (I’m being critical of Christianity here, but I see Buddhism as having identical problems. One of the problems is to think that there is a “Buddhism” or a “Christianity.”)

It’s not easy to get people to understand what’s true. It’s easier to give them a jealous god who sits on his throne, sees all, and crushes his enemies. They can understand that much more easily than the idea that everything is god, that everything is mind. We all have, at the very least, an unconscious awareness of the spiritual roots of existence. That’s why the churches became so powerful. But as the churches—Buddhist included—have grown ever more distant from the source, their doctrines have become more at odds with observable reality. A few centuries ago it got to be too much for the well-educated, and they began to question what they knew as religion, that is, the creator god religion they’d inherited from Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther et al. Eventually they created science and philosophical materialism as a replacement. Today those two sides are duking it out, making headlines, trying to win converts. I can’t take either one of them seriously. There is that third way, which is quieter and more intelligent than either the creator god or philosophical materialism. It has the added advantage of being true. But, as I say, the door to understanding it directly is not open right now. That will change, however. Sometimes I feel that that’s all I live for—for that door to open again. When it does open, everything changes for everybody everywhere.

gpnf_trail

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Quote from Suzuki Roshi

May 14, 2015

The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transcendence or change. Everything changes is the basic teaching and this truth is eternal truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth. All the teaching of Buddhism can be condensed into this teaching. This is the teaching for all of us and wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also interpreted as the teaching of selflessness because our self nature, that of each existence is nothing but the self nature of all existence.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Thanks to David Chadwick who puts these up regularly on the What’s New page of his site, cuke.com. I want to add only that you could replace “teaching of Buddhism” with “teaching of Christ” or “teaching of Taoism” or several others. There is only one religion, and it doesn’t have a name.

Spiritual Books I Recommend

October 19, 2012

A reader, Lynn B., asked me to post a list of spiritual books that I recommend. In the last decade or two a lot of the really valuable works have been obscured by new translations of the classics as well as newly written books, both with the “modern-day seeker” in mind. In short, they’re New Age, and from what I’ve seen, most of them are useless. What follows are the books that I’ve actually read and value most. There are certainly many others worth reading; but these are the ones I actually know:

Tao Te Ching: The fundamental text of Taoism. There are many, many translations. I have two favorites. One is the version by Richard Wilhelm and the other—my current favorite—is by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo. The original work is extremely terse. Most English translations have a lot of added verbiage in order to help the Western reader better understand the ideas. The Addis/Lombardo version retains the simplicity of the original text. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with the lengthier translations, but I find this book clearer and easier to understand than any other version. It’s also more enjoyable.

I Ching: In some sense a Taoist text with heavy Confucian influences, the I Ching is really its own thing, that is, it has its own tradition. This is the book I know best. I’ve been studying it for nearly 40 years. To my mind, the only translation worth getting is the Wilhelm/Baynes version. One note of caution: A lot of people approach the I Ching with the hope that it will help them get what they want. It doesn’t do that. The I Ching is a book of wisdom. It’s a good idea to treat the oracular aspect with much caution.

Cold Mountain Poems: Han Shan (or Cold Mountain) was a Chinese religious hermit who wrote poems on the rock walls around his cave, 300 of which were collected after he disappeared. He spoke the language of both the Taoists and the Buddhists. I love this book. He can be very funny! My favorite version is by Red Pine.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind; Not Always So; Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Three books by the Japanese Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki. I love these. They are tidied-up versions of talks he gave and are especially useful because he knew that the people he was talking to were new to the subject. This doesn’t mean that they’re easy to understand. They’re not. It took me many years to even begin to understand any of Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. But they speak to a level that most Westerners can attain if we try.

Crooked Cucumber: This biography of Shunryu Suzuki, or Suzuki Roshi, was written by David Chadwick, a former student. It’s a wonderful book—humorous and well-written—and I recommend it highly.

Monday Night Class, The Caravan, and Amazing Dope Tales (aka Haight Ashbury Flashbacks): Stephen Gaskin was one of the hippies who, back in the 1960s, used LSD as a tool for spiritual exploration. He helped to develop the groundwork for what might be called Acid Religion, which is virtually identical to Taoism, Buddhism and true Christianity. (I’m not sure that “virtually” is actually necessary. But I’ll let it stand.) I like all of Gaskin’s books, but only a few of them are available today. Monday Night Class and The Caravan are currently out in annotated versions (done by him). He’s one of us and he’s talking to us.

The Gospel of Thomas: One of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, this is the only Christian text I bother with nowadays. One reason I like it is that it lacks the usual Christian mythologizing. It consists solely of the sayings of Jesus, many of which don’t exist in the standard Bible. It presents a Jesus who speaks with the voice of a sage. I only have the version by Marvin Meyer (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus). For all I know, there may be better versions. But this one seems fine.

Finally, three books  I haven’t yet gotten into deeply, but know that I will get into deeply in the future: The Diamond Sutra, The Platform Sutra, and The Heart Sutra. Red Pine has done translations of all three. I don’t speak or read Chinese, so I can’t say how good he is at that level. But I like his work. He studied for years in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. I’ve never read any negative comments about him.

The Road to Heaven

October 10, 2012

While my primary interest is spiritual, I don’t consider myself part of any particular religion. I always say, “There is only one true religion and it doesn’t have a name.” There are religious traditions, however, that grow out of a time and place where people tried to connect with the one true, nameless religion, and those efforts have names: Taoism, Buddhism and so on. Most of my own study has grown out of the tradition known as Taoism.

I’m reading a book called Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits by Bill Porter, also known as Red Pine. China has an ancient tradition of religious seekers going off to the mountains to live solitary lives. Porter is fluent in Chinese and in the 1990s he went to mainland China to see if there were still religious hermits living in the mountains. At one point he meets the abbot of a Taoist monastery who lived briefly as a hermit. I am particularly interested in the Abbot’s response to these two questions.

Porter: Do you have problems in teaching people Taoism nowadays?

Abbot:  To find people who truly believe is the biggest problem we have. Taoism teaches us to reduce our desires and to lead quiet lives. People willing to reduce their desires or cultivate tranquility in this modern age are very few. This is the age of desire. Also, people learn much more slowly now. Their minds aren’t as simple. They’re too complicated.

Porter: What’s the goal of Taoist practice?

Abbot: Man’s nature is the same as the nature of heaven. Heaven gives birth to all creatures, and they all go different directions. But sooner or later they return to the same place. The goal of this universe, its highest goal, is nothingness. Nothingness means return. Nothingness is the body of the Tao. Not only man, but plants and animals and all living things are part of this body, are made of this body, this body of nothingness. Everything is one with nothingness. There aren’t two things in this universe. To realize this is the goal not only of Taoism but also of Buddhism. Everything in this world changes. Taoists and Buddhists seek that which doesn’t change. This is why they don’t seek fame or fortune. They seek only the Tao, which is the nothingness of which we are all created and to which we all return. Our goal is to be one with his natural process.

Science Meets Pantheism

February 5, 2012

As I wrote in my recent series on the Three Fundamental Views of Existence, the materialist/scientific view and the creator god view have very little awareness of the third view, which I’m provisionally calling the pantheistic view. Science deals with it most often in fields that deal with the mind. This is primarily because Buddhism has developed some very sophisticated ideas about the mind, and some scientists seem to feel obliged to respond to them.

I recently read an interview with Shimon Edelman, a professor of psychology who has a book out called The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life. My attention was drawn to this particular exchange.

You talk about the default human mind as constantly wandering in order to avoid the present moment, what you call “the tyranny of the here and now.” What about practices like Buddhist meditation, which aim to quiet the mind into a state of contentment?

That’s a really good question. I set out to write the book because I wanted to find out why I was restless in situations where I supposedly should have been perfectly content. You know, literally sitting on a mountaintop, seeing the countryside, I would still feel restless. And I think I found a kind of answer. To put it very bluntly, if you are successful in following the Buddhist precepts, you cease to be human. In fact, I think one can find support for this view in the Buddhist sources themselves. If you succeed to cease desiring, you are no longer human. Of course, the Buddha himself supposedly remained enmeshed with humanity to teach others. But if you do succeed in obtaining the state that you’re supposed to obtain, then you’re no longer human. And that kind of invalidates the questions because a psychology would need to be developed for understanding those kinds of minds—they are not regular human minds.

I find his answer revealing. First of all, the guy’s understanding of Buddhism is poor. Buddhism would say that the reason he feels restless sitting on a mountain top is because he hasn’t disciplined his ego, which is inherently restless. Buddhism—all true religion actually—says that there are two levels to human nature, the higher and lower. (Suzuki Roshi called it big mind and small mind.) The lower nature is the one with all the restless biological drives. Unfortunately, that’s the only side to our nature that out-and-out materialists recognize: our lower nature. The higher nature, which we don’t see much of these days, is also our better nature, and it is very much a part of what makes us human. But science can’t measure it, so it doesn’t recognize its existence. This is where science consistently fails. It oversteps its bounds by insisting on being the explainer of everything. But science and scientists are reliable only when dealing with the limited confines of the material plane. Scientists are human beings, and as human beings they have an obligation to seek out their higher natures. To do that, they have to go beyond their field. Science cannot deal with this kind of issue.

You can find the entire interview by clicking here.

I intend to write something someday about a crazy idea I have about physics—a crazy idea that I happen to think is true.

One other thing, I’m leaving Tuesday for Santa Barbara Island and staying a week. I’ll have limited access to the Internet during that time. If anybody has a comment that demands a response, I may not be able to get to it for awhile.

The Three Views of Existence Part 3

December 22, 2011

Our present-day understanding of religion is poor. When people discuss religion they are usually arguing about some doctrine they read in a book somewhere. Most of today’s religious institutions and organizations are led by people who have had no direct experience  of the spiritual, but who have ideas about what  it is. But you can’t get religion from a book or from speculative thought.

Here’s what real religion is: A person sets out on a path that takes him, or her, to the very edge of what can be understood with the thinking mind. At the point he can go no farther, he drops his ego and takes a leap into the unknown where he has a vision of the oneness of existence. To most people this sounds like some kind of Eastern religious trip. But I contend that Jesus took the same journey. If you read the Gospel of Thomas, one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, it’s easy to recognize. One of the good things about the Gospel of Thomas is that it’s all sayings and aphorisms. There isn’t any mythology attached. It’s simply religious instruction. And religious instruction is mostly about how to manage safely the spiritual journey, which is incredibly dangerous.

Maybe it’s pointless to try to talk about this. To most ears, the journey I’m referring to sounds mythical rather than real. But that’s because of the time we live in, which is mundane and materialistic. In any case, for the moment, the door to the journey is closed. But it wasn’t so long ago that the door was open, and thousands, if not millions, were in pursuit. Even then, it was difficult to get people to understand. For many years, I was one of those who refused to hear of it. Futile or not, I want to try and make the point that in my mind I’ve been wanting to make for several months.

My contention is that real religion is simply the search for the truth about existence, about reality. There is one true religion, and it doesn’t have a name. It is simply the laws of existence—an existence that goes beyond physical reality. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, and others are all examples of individuals who  made that journey, and then came back to tell the rest of us how to go there. In each case, only a handful of the original hearers had any real idea of what Buddha, Jesus, and Lao Tse were talking about. But they were impressed by the power of the speakers, who had been completely changed by their experiences. That’s where the big churches came from—from the mass of people who didn’t really understand what they were hearing, as well as from those who heard it second and third hand. In the first group I would include most of Jesus’ disciples; in the second, people like Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, and so on. (I’m being critical of Christianity here, but I see Buddhism as having identical problems. One of the problems is to think that there is a “Buddhism” or a “Christianity.”)

It’s not easy to get people to understand what’s true. It’s easier to give them a jealous god who sits on his throne, sees all, and crushes his enemies. They can understand that much more easily than the idea that everything is god, that everything is mind. We all have, at the very least, an unconscious awareness of the spiritual roots of existence. That’s why the churches became so powerful. But as the churches have grown ever distant from the source, their doctrines have become more at odds with observable reality. A few centuries ago it got to be too much for the well-educated, and they began to question what they knew as religion, which was the creator god religion they’d inherited from Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther et al. Eventually they created science and philosophical materialism as a replacement. Today those two sides are duking it out, making headlines, trying to win converts. I can’t take either one of them seriously. There is that third way, which is quieter and more intelligent than either the creator god or philosophical materialism. It has the added advantage of being true. But, as I say, the door to understanding it directly is not open right now. That will change, however. Sometimes I feel that that’s all I live for—for that door to open again. When it does open, everything changes for everybody everywhere.

The Three Views of Existence (Part 2)

December 4, 2011

Wherever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars that you see. You are still one with everything. That is more true than I can say, and more true that you can hear.

Shunryu Suzuki

Of the three fundamental views of existence that I laid out in part 1—creator god, scientific/materialist, and pantheist—I subscribe to the third. (I should add that “pantheism” is short hand for me. It’s a Western term, that is, from the world of Western philosophical speculation, and it undoubtedly has a lot of baggage attached to it that is not real.) I don’t see myself as having sought out this view. At one point in my life I was reading a lot of Taoism and Buddhism to try and stay afloat. I was doing a lot meditation, too, but, again, just to survive. In the midst of this I kept coming across the idea that everything is god, or mind. For a long time I assumed that this was merely a metaphor. Eventually I saw that the people advocating this idea really meant it. The difficult aspect is seeing the material plane as “merely” mind. If you cut me, I will bleed. If I kick a boulder with all my might, it will hurt like hell. The turning point for me came when someone I was reading, someone whose opinion I trusted and valued, stated that the material plane is an illusion, albeit a very thick one. That one statement tied a bunch of others together. The material plane has its own laws, but those laws are one with the spiritual background from which the material plane arises.

I don’t read a lot of science. I try, but I can’t hack the attitude that a lot of scientists adopt. They want to be the go-to guys, the great explainers. But science can never explain existence. It can only probe one layer of it—the material plane. I’ve read enough science to know that as scientists delve deeper into matter, they find that essentially it disappears. It’s a big mystery! But scientists insist that there is a rational order to reality, that through experimentation and research we can eventually understand everything—soberly. But that’s not what the sages say, and I take their word—the word of the real ones—over that of the scientists. The sages say that when you take the journey that leads to an understanding of what existence really is, it astonishes you. It blows your mind. If what you saw didn’t blow your mind, then you didn’t see fundamental reality. And fundamental reality is ineffable, that is, it cannot be put into words. You have to see it for yourself.

I’m not asserting here that I’ve had this vision. I haven’t. Just bits and pieces. So, in a sense, this is a statement of faith. But my journey isn’t over. I think I’m going to continue writing on this subject for some time. There will be a lot more parts. Right now I’m just trying to open up the subject. (There is more on this in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, in the chapter called “Consciousness Explained”.)

In part 3, I’ll write about the differences between the pantheistic and creator god schools of thought, and how scientific materialism, especially Western science is, in a sense, the outcome of those differences.

By the way, I welcome any comments on this particular subject. Even contentious ones.

The Three Views of Existence (Part 1)

November 20, 2011

During my recent bout with the flu, I spent a good deal of time lying in bed, thinking. At one point, my thoughts landed on the subject of the three fundamental views of existence, which are 1) the creator god view, 2) the scientific/materialist view, and 3) the pantheistic, or everything-is-god, view.

To elaborate a little, the creator god, or monotheistic, view is what most people in this culture think of when they hear the word “religion.” It’s the idea that there is a god who exists apart from his creation. There are many different schools of thought within the fundamental view, ranging from followers of intellectuals like Augustine to populist evangelicals. The scientific/materialist view maintains that there is no spiritual realm whatsoever. There is only the material plane, and consciousness arises out of the workings of chemistry and physics. These first two views are currently duking it out. They barely recognize the existence of the third view, the pantheistic view, which says that the entire universe is god. (I used to assume pantheism meant “nature religion,” that the “pan” referred to the Greek god Pan—or something. But “pan” means “all,” as in “Pan American.” So Pan-theism is “everything is god.”) We are god. The rocks are god. The trees are god. It says that the material realm arises from the spiritual, that everything is mind. It includes schools of thought and tribes that range from serious, committed Buddhists to frivolous New Agers. (While Jesus is seen as representing the creator god view, I believe he was actually teaching the pantheist view. But more on that later.)

Each of these views affect how we live and respond to events—even if we’re not very serious in them. For example, if you believe in the scientific/materialist view, which I think is currently the most popular and widespread view, then there is no such thing as “wisdom.” There is only knowledge. A people that sees knowledge as the be-all and end-all of life also sees material and scientific progress as essential to our growth as a species. We are currently entering an era where we are hitting the limits to material progress—the end of growth. I’m seeing constantly that whenever this idea is brought up in public, the materialists become angry or despairing. There will be no reason to live! But it’s not like that—not at all. We will never truly start living until we get past our present-day obsession with money, possessions, and scientific progress. We’ve committed ourselves to an enormous misunderstanding of what the material plane is. And I’ll get into that in part 2.

Defining My Terms #1

October 25, 2010

I’ve been putting up a lot of posts that many people will consider “doom and gloom.” (See my previous post, for instance.) And I completely agree that it’s no good just to lay back and criticize without having something positive to offer. I do, in fact, believe there is hope. There isn’t any hope for our current way of doing things—that has quite nearly run its course now—but there is a path we can move to that does work. I believe we’re going to have one more chance to set things right. It may well be our last chance. I’ve been reluctant to get into these positive possibilities because of a problem with language. Words trigger automatic reactions in people’s minds—words like “terrorist,” “conservative,” “liberal,” “evil,” “socialist,” “pacifist.” They create images that are seldom useful for arriving at an understanding.

I keep seeing that one word I will have to use in any discussion of possibilities is “God.” The idea of God that most Americans argue over is the anthropomorphic idea of God, the creator God, the sometimes loving, sometimes angry guy in the robes and white beard who lives outside his creation and passes judgment on us all. This is the God that atheists love to ridicule and Christians feel compelled to promote and defend. As far as I can tell, it’s been a completely useless debate. Nobody is talking about anything real. God is, first of all, a word, a word that we use to discuss something that’s nearly impossible to discuss. The word really refers to the massive intelligence of the universe, the intelligence that is beyond physics and beyond intellectual comprehension. It doesn’t have a personality. It’s of a different order than that. I don’t believe that Jesus believed in this creator God. Those who surrounded him and who followed him did, but they never really understood what Jesus was talking about. And I don’t believe that Buddha was an atheist. Buddhists who say he was are either pointing out that he didn’t have a belief in a creator God, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. I find that there are just as many Buddhists who don’t understand their own religion as there are Christians who don’t understand theirs. Actually, there is no Christianity and there is no Buddhism. There is only one religion, and it has no name. Both Buddha and Christ saw and believed the same thing. (I use these two examples because, other than Lao Tzu, who is less known, they are the ones whom I’ve studied in greatest depth.)

Having said all that, my experience in conversation is that I can explain what I intend when I say “God,” and the next time I use the word, the person I’m talking to will immediately conjure up the image of the creator God. The image is so deeply imbedded. I could use terms like “the Great Spirit,” and I undoubtedly will. But “Great Spirit” often sounds affected to me. “God” is the word I almost always want to use. It’s simple and to the point—I wish. For those unfamiliar with this idea of God, I will add that it’s not of my own making. It’s ancient. There’s a more detailed exposition of my view in my book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, in the chapter called “Consciousness Explained.”