using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : September 2013
For Warner, there is a God that does not exist and a God that exists. “Whatever you think of as God does not exist,” he writes. Whatever idea you have of God is an imaginary construct. But, he says, “there is something powerful and ineffable that is the ultimate ground of all being and nonbeing and it created you.” For Warner, that “ineffable substratum of reality” is “just another way of saying God.” Catholic theologian Michael Himes says something very sim- ilar, suggesting that the word God is “a bit of shorthand, a stand- in which functions in Christian theology almost as x functions in algebra.” Just as in algebra x is the stand-in for the thing one doesn’t know, God “is the name of the Mystery that lies at the root of all that exists.” Warner is quite right that people who believe in God have all sorts of false notions about who and what God is (although I think some of his characterizations of Christian beliefs are inac- curate for significant numbers of Christians). He is also right that we can only know God by direct experience—that we cannot answer the question of God’s existence through reasoned analysis. I still remember my frustration with a college theology course in which we stud- ied different “proofs” for the existence of God. I thought then, as I do now, that such proofs are utterly unnecessary for someone who already believes in God, and utterly unpersuasive for anyone who doesn’t. We know God exists by experiencing God. The strength of my own conviction of this truth owes much to my years as a Buddhist. It was not until after returning to Christianity that I learned that this emphasis on experience—and on experienc- ing God in this lifetime—is very much a part of the Catholic tradition (as anyone familiar with Ignatian Spirituality, the teachings of Karl Ranher, or the writings of the Christian mys- tics knows). The difference between Warner’s view of the God that exists and the Christian view is that Warner believes there is noth- ing we can say about this God—that attempting to say anything other than that God is the “ground of being,” or is our direct experience of life, creates a God that does not exist. I agree that God transcends any attributes we can give God. But rather than say, as Warner does, that placing attributes on something inher- ently places a limit on it, I think it is more accurate to say that any description we give of God is incomplete. As Michael Himes says, all we can aspire to is the “least wrong way” to talk about God. Because God is Mystery, we use images and metaphors to express our understanding of God and our relationship to God. There is nothing wrong with images and metaphors— even those that make God sound like a person—so long as we remember that is what they are and don’t start believing that God is (to use one of Warner’s examples of the God that doesn’t exist) a white man with a beard in the sky. There are ways to talk about God that are helpful for a Chris- tian. I am less certain there is anything we can say about the God that is the ground of our being that is helpful for a Buddhist. In this I think Warner does a better job of explaining the God that is not helpful to Buddhists (or to many Christians for that matter), such as God as ultimate arbiter of moral behavior, or God who makes certain cities more sacred than oth- ers than in explaining why his (or any) under- standing of God is meaningful for a Buddhist. The central aim of Buddhist practice is the elimination of suffering. Based on his experi- ence, the Buddha taught the path to elimination of suffering—the abandonment of craving and attachment. And whether you call the state at the end of suffering “enlightenment” or “God,” attaining it is the product of our individual practice. For a Christian, the state sought is realization of our full and complete union with God—a realization we can get tastes of in this lifetime, but won’t experience fully until death. The important difference is that, to attain “salvation,” Christians believe individual effort is necessary but not sufficient. The first of the Beatitudes taught by Jesus, poverty of spirit, is all about recognizing our need for the grace of God to sup- plement our own efforts. There is an enormous difference between believing I am the sole agent of own sal- vation (or enlightenment) and believing in my need for God’s grace. If God has no role in the elimination of suf- fering and is merely a way of expressing ultimate reality, it is difficult to see of what consequence it is whether we label this state “the elimination of suffering,” “enlightenment,” or “God.” What does it mat- ter whether a Buddhist speaks of glimpsing enlightenment or, as Warner describes his religious experiences, “encountering a glimpse of God”? Warner suggests that “we need a word that’s bigger than enlightenment, that’s bigger than satori... a word that points to something grander,” but why he thinks that is not clear to me. If God has no role in the attainment of enlightenment/union with God, then is there any role for God for a Buddhist? Is God anything other than the label a Buddhist might give to ultimate reality or the elimination of suffering? Whether you call the state at the end of suffering “enlightenment” or “God,” attaining it is the product of our individual practice. SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2013 75