God Is Nothing

The Buddha was a very practical man.  He disliked questions for which there were no answers, calling them a waste of time.  In one of his teachings, the Buddha described a man who had been shot with a poisoned arrow.  His family retrieved a doctor, but the man wouldn’t accept any help until learning the name, height, weight, and economic class of his attacker.  As a result, the man died, without ever learning what he wanted to know.

According to Buddha, people who want to know about a God, or about an afterlife, are the same.  Instead of focusing upon this life, this day, this moment, which is the only place life truly exists, we concern ourselves with hopeful dreams of unknowable things, distracted from all that really matters.  Far from bestowing enlightenment, beliefs about God keep us from becoming awake.

You have to respect a religion that rejects the importance of God.  For most Westerners, the idea seems absurd.  Western religions are all about God, and what God demands, and what God is going to do, and where you fit in God’s plan.  Buddhism, by contrast, is about you. There is no God to please or displease.  There is only learning to be fully aware, a task for which a God is useless.

To drive the point home, Buddhists refer to the source of all creation as Nothingness.  What existed before creation?  Nothing.  What will exist after all the stars die?  Nothing.  Nothing can be said about before and after, and honesty requires truth in labeling.  Who are we to think we understand anything beyond the confines of our brief and temporary world?

In Buddhism, the universe is truly a void.  There is no spirit anywhere.  People have no souls, since there is no God, because God is the source of the soul.  It’s like having heaven replaced by a black hole.  When this life ends, your karma generates another life of some kind, but your fleeting consciousness evaporates into the Emptiness.

It’s not that Buddhists are pessimists; they only say what can be truthfully said.  And that is nothing.  Anything else is speculation, and the Buddha abhorred speculation.  He saw people wrapped up in endless circles of speculation.  Why not learn to live with reality?  Nothing is what we know.

The Bible is not so different.  Gods ways are not our ways, Isaiah said.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are the ways of God higher than ours.  The biblical God is a Holy God, set apart, wholly other, who dwells in unapproachable light, in the midst of a whirlwind, inscrutable, unsearchable, unfathomable, and before whom the world should keep silence.  The Buddha did just that.

There are certainly people who claim to know God and to speak with “Him” everyday.  In return, they seem to hear a wide variety of things.  Some are sure they know what God dislikes, or likes, or wants, or demands, or suggests, or plans, or has in mind down the road.  Some are sure they’re going to live with God.  Some are sure God likes their group best.  Some regard God as a pal.  I remember one woman who told me God helped her cakes rise.  Judging by their televised genuflections, many football players seem to think God helps them score touchdowns.  Some are sure God wants them to kill people, and some are sure God wants them to kill those other people back.  And I’m not sure any of them hear God at all.  They’re a good example of why Buddha avoided the issue entirely.

We can’t know anything about what we cannot fathom.  There are many people in the world who claim to understand God through the cross of Christ, but what is it they understand?  On the cross, God crucified his own son, which meant killing part of himself, in order to avoid killing us.  It’s an astonishing image because it is also incomprehensible.

Despite all the public drama associated with the crucifixion, the cross is something that took place inside of God.  It has nothing to do with crosses plunked along roadsides, or affixed to cars and business cards, or worn around necks, or exploited by movies, or reenacted at the Holy Land Experience theme park.  Advance sale tickets are available.

The meaning of the cross, if you believe in it, is hidden from view, inside the light and the whirlwind.  The cross is a mystery, a riddle, a koan, to be beheld, not understood.  The cross, like all of God, demands silence from those who see.  The cross is Nothing, in the truest sense of the word.

When pressed to explain why he remained silent when asked about God, the Buddha said he wanted people to drop their God ideas.  God ideas are borrowed from others.  A person with God ideas has not experienced.  A person who has experienced no longer needs the ideas, or a need to ask.  Be silent and know.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

2 Responses to “God Is Nothing”

  1. You know Bucky, I spent a month in an ashram in India in 2003….changed my live forever, and certainly changed my perspective on the GOD we’ve been fed for years. What you have presented here is TRUTH…and the truth is none of us should be so bold as to even begin to put a label on the unknown…..Form me the most revealing words in the Bible are “none are righteous, no not one”….I apprecaiate your words here, and feel you’ve “nailed it”….oh, how I’d love to sit in the park and visit with you about all this…”Spirituality”: I mean……take care HKate

  2. Bucky, I agree with you about the people who claim to know God and to speak with “Him” everyday, particularly the evangelists living their rich lifestyles supported by their followers and how people credit God with daily “miracles” (cakes and TDs) as if that’s all with which “He” would have to busy himself.
    Having been raised in the Catholic church mainly by a mother who was raised Methodist, our ‘take’ on religion wasn’t so much that you’ll burn in hell if you don’t fear God or follow all the archaic rules. Rather, it was being a good moral person, doing what is right, accepting differences, being kind to others, helping those less fortunate, etc. Yes, we went to mass, received the sacraments but in our house “church” sometimes took the form of driving to Corning to visit Grandma in the nursing home on Sunday instead of sitting in a pew.
    I like the Eastern focus on becoming aware, becoming the best person you can become, contributing to the world, the NOW. And I do understand their idea of karma and coming back in another life. However, I believe in and have felt the presence of dear ones who have passed, (their souls?) and find comfort in knowing they are with me in spirit at certain times in my life.

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