Considerations for the Godbothered

So. You’re godbothered. What do you do?

  • Are you godbothered? I mean, really. Use your discernment and common sense. Is it a god who’s come to call, or is something else going on? These are the main possibilities to consider:
    • It is a god. More on this below.
    • It’s not a god, but it is some sort of entity that is not-you
      • Gods are not the only thing out there, and one can have very intense encounters with entities as seemingly humble as a tree spirit. (I have)
    • It’s not not-you
      • This one is very tricky. Only you know the inside of your head well enough to make this call. Is that numinous feeling a god’s presence, or is it the side effect of a new medication? (I’ve been there). Keep in mind the Delphic maxim and know thyself.
  • So, it is a god. What next?
    • Did you ask for this?
      • No, I mean literally. Did you ask for a god in your life? If you didn’t and one drops on you like a ton of bricks, you’ve already had your boundaries disrespected.
    • Do you want this?
      • If you didn’t ask for a divine presence in your life and suddenly find yourself with one, that is an even bigger red flag that the entity in question (god or not) has boundary issues, and possibly other issues as well.
    • Are you enjoying this?
      • This last question is actually pretty important. It’s not wrong or impious to end a relationship with a deity if it’s making you miserable.

12 Nidānas

The main point of Buddhism is escaping Samsara, though the exact means and method vary according to the school, as do explanations of what happens when you finally accomplish that goal. However, it seems pretty universally agreed upon that the mechanism for remaining in samsara comes down to the twelve nidānas, translated variously as the twelvefold chain or the twelve causal link. These begin with ignorance and progress to birth and “all the sufferings.”

A passage from The Lotus Sutra explains the Links this way:

Conditioned states are dependent on ignorance. Consciousness is dependent on conditioned states. Name and form are dependent on consciousness. The six sense fields are dependent on name and form. Contact is dependent on the six sense fields. Feelings are dependent on contact. Craving is dependent on feelings. Grasping is dependent on craving. Becoming is dependent on grasping. Birth is dependent on becoming. And old age, sickness, death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress are all dependent on birth.

However, remember that Buddhism is about escaping all that suffering. The next paragraph in The Lotus Sutra says:

When ignorance ceases, then conditioned states cease. When conditioned states cease, then consciousness ceases. When consciousness ceases, then name and form cease. When name and form cease, then the six sense fields cease. When the six sense fields cease, then contact ceases. When contact ceases, then feelings cease. When feelings cease, then craving ceases. When craving ceases, then grasping ceases. When grasping ceases, then becoming ceases. When becoming ceases, then birth ceases. When birth ceases, then old age, sickness, death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, and distress cease.

This probably sounds fairly grim to non-Buddhists; the bit about all the sufferings of life being due to birth is part of what has gained Buddhism a reputation as nihilistic. (I have been called a nihilist to my face by ill-informed and ill-mannered strangers who did not mean it as a compliment.) However, what lies beyond Samsara is not annihilation but Nirvana…whatever that means.

Maitrī

Maitrī is one of the Four Immeasurables in Tibetan Buddhist thought, and one of the Ten Perfections in Theravadin Buddhism. Maitrī can be defined as an active feeling of kindness and goodwill towards all other sentient beings.

In Pali, it is known as Metta, and it is usually translated into English as lovingkindness or benevolence. Meditation on maitrī is popular in many traditions of Buddhism, and has even gained popularity in the West as part of the mindfulness craze.

These meditations are simple but potent. Though they often consist of no more than repeating benevolent phrases such as “may you be happy” while visualizing family, friends, strangers, and even one’s enemies, the effect is very powerful.

Six Realms of Existence

According to traditional Buddhist cosmology, there are six realms of karmic existence; these are (in ascending order of “niceness”).

  • hell
  • ghosts
  • animals
  • humans
  • asura
  • heaven

Rebirth in hell, or as a ghost or an animal is considered “unfortunate,” not only due to the hardships one must endure in such incarnations, but also because it is very hard to escape the cycle of samsara in those realms, or even simply obtain a better rebirth in the future.

Although rebirth in heaven as one of the celestial beings is considered highly desirable for many people, it too has drawbacks. Despite living in luxury and ease, the celestial ones know when they will die, and are often overcome with anxiety and despair as their time of death approaches.

If you want to escape samsara, a human birth is ideal, though far from necessary. Buddhist writings often characterize those in the “lower realms” as too consumed with suffering to attend to their spirituality, while the celestial beings are too distracted to worry about anything much at all.

A Quick Reference for Buddhism

The Four Noble Truths
1. The Truth of Suffering:
2. The Truth of the Origin of Suffering
3. The Truth of Cessation of Suffering
4. The Truth of the Path of Liberation from Suffering

The Eightfold Path
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

The Four Dharma Seals*
1. Impermanence
2. Suffering
3. Emptiness
4. Nirvana

The Three Marks of Existence
1. Impermanence
2. Suffering
3. Nonself

* Sometimes (2) is omitted, thus making Three Dharma Seals.

Deities & Buddhism

Buddhism is often erroneously described as atheistic, when in fact traditional Buddhist cosmology explicitly acknowledges the existence of countless gods or devas. (And yes, the devas are in fact considered to be deities, though not always in a way that monotheistic Westerners would recognize).

It would be more accurate to say that Buddhism is untheistic. It does not have deity-worship or the cultus of gods as its central focus for the most part, though there are important exceptions to this. Devotional activity does figure into Buddhism, and it actually has a larger part in Buddhist praxis than many Westerners would like to believe.