Discussion in 'Buddhism' started by moonbeam, Jun 5, 2004.
how should i begin my journey? Any suggestions? I am not sure where to begin!
go to the library and check some books out on it.
i did that last year for a buddhism/hinduism comparison paper, and was immediatley turned onto the wholething once i started reading about it. didnt really care much for hinduism though.
even if you dont become buddhits, youll stumble across some very interesting reads
It is said that in the long run, everyone is a Hindu.
Find a Rinpoche and take refuge. It's pretty easy. I don't think one even need to formally take refuge before a live representative. A statue or even a copy of something Buddha said can be enough. Make a bow before it and say. I take refuge in the Triple Gem, the Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha. I promise to never forsake the Triple Gem and to generate the altruistic intention to help all beings until enlightenment. That's pretty much it. Later, as you study you'll find that you took refuge in your own highest nature, as the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are your very own awakened state. This last thing is especially true when you study Tibetan Buddhism and the Triple Gem then is called the Three Roots of Guru, Yidam, and Dakini. Again, our own Buddha nature. What a great aspiration, to become enlightened and to serve all of suffering humanity thereby.
What religion do you currently follow, moonbeam? Are you sure it is neccesary to "convert"?
We'll, the word Hindu is not a religious word. It is secular in origin. It is derived from the word Sindhu, which is the name of a major river that flows in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. The ancient Greeks and Armenians used to refer the people living beyond the river Sindhu as Hindus and gradually the name struck. When the Muslims came to the sub continent they called the people living in the region as Hindustanis to distinguish them from the foreign Muslims. Subsequently when the British established their rule, they started calling the local religions collectively under the name of Hinduism.
It is interesting to note that the word is neither Sanskrit nor Dravidian and did not originate in India. It was not used by Indians in their descriptions or writings till the 17th century. If we go by the original definition of the word Hindu, any one who lives in the subcontinent is a Hindu and whatever religion he or she practices is Hinduism. The word Hindu is a secular word and literally translated it means Indian and the word Hinduism denotes any religion or religions that are practiced by the multitude of people living in the land beyond the river Indus.
These view seems similar the all-embracing Buddhist thought when the Nirvana sutra states: “All of the non-Buddhist scriptures and writings in society are themselves Buddhist teachings, not non-Buddhist teachings."
If someone tells you they like a cat, do you tell them that you like a Felis catus? As Fractual used the word "Hindu", replying with San?tana Dharma would be inconsistent.
Your view on the word Hindu being neither Sanskrit nor Dravidian is a common view taken by scholars but is an old one but one that is somewhat discredited in modernity. Keep in mind that the British invented many interesting stories to discredit Indo-Aryan civilization; the most famous example being the Aryan invasion theory. The Vishnupurana uses the word "Hindurithismrith?h", which is a triple conjunct which includes "Hindu".
"These view seems similar the all-embracing Buddhist thought when the Nirvana sutra states: “All of the non-Buddhist scriptures and writings in society are themselves Buddhist teachings, not non-Buddhist teachings.""
True, but Hinduism has been more survivable in history. If Buddhism hadn't passed on to Cathay, it would probably be more comparable to Jainism in size today.
Buddhism and Hinduism are not the same. Why discuss Hinduism here? In the whole world Buddhism can be considered the most unique religion, one which either denies a Creator God, or denies that such a One is important to the production of permanent awakening or to the creation of a divine world.
Discussions occur naturally and I do not see it harming anyone; why supress? Besides, the Shakyamuni was a Hindu and trying to understand a religion out of context is not very wise.
"In the whole world Buddhism can be considered the most unique religion, one which either denies a Creator God, or denies that such a One is important to the production of permanent awakening or to the creation of a divine world."
Actually it is not at all uncommon for religions/belief systems/philosophies from that time period. Heraclitus, Mahavira, Lao Tse and Confucius were all relatively atheistic (especially Mahavira and Confucius).
I'm a buddhist, but I didn't really do anything to convert to it. I just realized it made sense so I started calling myself a buddhist. I floated around to different sects for a while. Then about a year later my aunt turned me on to SGI, and I've been practicing ever since. You can pm me if you have any questions.
In my opinion, don't convert. Only add to your current faith. My religion is Bahai which means literally that I believe the faiths that all speak of a highest power are one in same (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam etc..). I started off as Christian and still am Christian, but I also am apart of Hinduism and other faiths. My spiritual path is one in which I carve from looking within, meditating, and finding truth within myself. Is the reason Buddhism doesn't envolve God directly sometimes because it is actually only a philosophy which it really began as? Buddha acknowledged God didn't he? I definitely love his views and contributions, too.
h h the dalai lama suggests that by practicing loving-kindness meditation & buddhist awareness methods, the practioner can become a better christian, or jew, or scientist, or atheist, or buddhist --- a better human... no need to "convert"
although one could attend a local "buddhist church" (often much of the congregation is asian, but most will welcome strangers...)
taking refuge is a bit more formal in most traditions, heh... entering the sangha - well, in some cultures, every young man does it for a while...
buddhism is such a diverse collection of ways making up the broad middle way...
"when you reach the other shore, you leave the raft behind"
I studied with a few teachers that I respected. One was an Enlightened American. He taught a path that was a blend of Tibetan Buddhism with a Tauntric twist. This seemed appropriate for living in America. I also studied Rinsai Zen with an Awakened Korean Monk. It was all fun and a great adventure.
Find a path and follow it- but know that the path is already beneath your feet.
Find out as much as you can, or want, about it and do whatever feels right. No one can tell you how to begin your journey, because it's yours. Not theirs. Know what I mean? Just be open and you'll know what to do.
Essentially it is this: Buddhists do not believe in a personal creator God. The idea that a supreme being made everything which consequently makes us mere puppets of his will is rejected by the Buddha.However, he didn’t just believe—he realized there were gods. When asked by a Brahmin youth if there were gods, the Buddha said in the affirmative that he knew there were gods. Let me also say that the Buddha never denied the existence of morally perfect gods such as Brahma or a hierarchy of Brahmas. But as to their being omniscient and omnipotent, the Buddha didn’t buy that.
"The God who created the world." -- Buddhists have a problem with this because we view the world as part of a larger cosmos that is at least as big as that taught by modern science, and in addition we believe that this universe includes realms that transcend the physical universe. Furthermore, this universe is believed to arise and fall in accordance with causes and conditions in a rhythmic process that takes billions of years to go through just one cycle. This is similar to the modern scientific idea of a big bang and then a big crunch, except that Buddhism teaches that the universe expands and contracts repeatedly over countless eons. The Buddha also taught that we should not concern ourselves with speculations concerning the ultimate beginning or end of this process (assuming that this process is not beginningless and endless) but rather we should focus on taking responsibility for our lives and strive to extinguish suffering by living a noble life characterized by such qualities as loving-kindness, compassion, joy, peace, generosity, virtue, and patience to name a few. To engage in fruitless cosmological speculations instead of working on the practical issue of suffering and the liberation from suffering would be like getting shot and while bleeding to death refusing to go to the hospital for treatment until you knew who shot you, why they shot you, what kind of gun they used, what kind of bullet etc... So, the priority should be on resolving our actual human condition and not speculating on the beginning or end of the universe. So from this perspective, whether God created the universe or not, we are still faced with suffering and its causes and we must do something about it through learning what constitutes a noble life and then finding a way to live such a life.
Aside from the priority of dealing with actual issues versus cosmological speculation, Buddhism also teaches that all things arise and cease depending on causes and conditions. When we say that everything is "empty," we do not mean that things do not exist. What we mean is that things are always elements in a process of change and interdependence. When we learn to see things as processes and not as isolated finite objects then we will see that to talk of something being "created" or "destroyed" is only true conventionally. The network of causes and conditions that bring any "thing" into existence is actually a never-ending process with no boundaries. So in this sense, Buddhism never speaks of "creation" or "destruction," "birth" or "death," "appearance" or "disappearance," because that way of talking about things misses the infinite open-endedness and inclusivity of the process which is the reality behind the "things" that we perceive and try to grasp. This holds true for chairs, people, planets, or universes. This is the other reason why Buddhism does not speak of a creation or a Creator, because the reality of life, the universe, and everything defies such concepts.
There is also the inherent contradiction in insisting that there must be a God who caused the universe because everything must have a cause, but then insisting that God is an exception to the rule that everything must have a cause. Either one must insist that everything has a cause, including God, or one must admit that things do not always need causes and therefore you can not insist that the world or the universe must have a cause. This logical dilemma is another reason why Buddhism does not speak of a creation or a Creator.
Having said all this however, there are two ways in which a Creator does appear in Buddhism after all. The first case is as the deity Brahma. Brahma was the all-powerful creator deity of Brahmanism (the religion that today is known as Hinduism). In Buddhism, Brahma appears when the Buddha attains enlightenment and is the one who convinces him to share his profound realization out of compassion for all suffering beings. Brahma is then viewed as the protector of the Dharma (or Truth taught by the Buddha).
Other times however, Brahma is shown to be no better than the Greek Zeus, the chief of the gods but not the actual creator of the universe. Though he tries to make others think that he is omnipotent and omniscient, he is actually just as much a part of the process of life as all other beings and not its originator. However, these less than flattering representations of Brahma are probably directed more towards the pretenses and limited conceptions of Brahma held by the priests of Brahma in the time of the Buddha than they are towards Brahma as an actual being.
This leads to the next problem. The conception of Brahma or God taught by the Brahmanist priests was very similar to that taught by most Christians today. But when you really look at the image being taught, it is not much different from the mythological Zeus. God is reduced by unreflective piety to a mere being among beings, even if he is a "Supreme Being." As a being among beings, God is no longer a transcendent reality but just another being caught up in the process. This very primitive and even idolatrous conception of God is what the Buddha was poking fun of at the expense of the priests who claimed to be God's representatives on earth who could decide who will be saved and who will be damned. In the Buddha's teachings, however, other images of Brahma come through which are much more mystical and edifying
The second way in which a Creator appears is as the Dharmakaya Buddha. The Dharmakaya Buddha is the Truth-body or Reality-body of the Buddha. We are no longer speaking about an individualized man or woman, nor are we even talking about a pantheistic concept such as "Nature" or "Being." The Dharmakaya Buddha is the unfathomable mystical reality without which there would be no true nature of reality. In this sense, it is the ground or "creator" of all beings and things. It is the basis of the process of causes and conditions, but it is also beyond the process as well. That is because causes and conditions are merely the phenomenal aspect of the Dharmakaya. In other words, it is the Dharmakaya as experienced by our finite minds and senses. Now the Dharmakaya is not a being or person, but it is not impersonal either. It defies any and all such categories, but one could say that the Dharmakaya becomes personal in and through us and our interactions with each other and the world that we live in. In this way, the Dharmakaya becomes very personal through the manifestation of individuals like Shakyamuni and also as a loving spiritual presence underlying our every experience and especially in our own awakenings and acts of compassion. In Mahayana Buddhism this is discussed in terms of the three bodies of the Buddha. Buddha-nature is another term for the Dharmakaya in terms of its presence in our lives.
Buddhist scriptures, or sutras, present a far more refined and uplifting description of the divine reality which we awaken to once we are free of our finite, materialistic, and self-centered point of view. The Buddha describes God (he called him Brahma, since he had never heard the Germanic word "God" or the Jewish "YHWH") as one who resides in the highest of the heavens and who is perfect in his love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. This God is one we can unite with if we develop those same qualities in ourselves. But even this is a limited conception of God according to Buddhism.
The experience of nirvana is spoken of as a state beyond birth and death, beyond any possible conception or description. It can not be spoken of in terms of anything that our finite minds can relate to. But it is the supreme reality that is beyond causes and conditions which we can awaken to even within this lifetime, though this awakening may be only the beginning of something even more unimaginable upon death as implied by the term parinirvana (complete nirvana). Nirvana is not a state of annihilation though it is selfless. It is spoken of in terms of being pure, blissful, eternal, and the basis of true selfhood - though even these terms are only used analogously - the truth being beyond even these. Nirvana is not a person, place, or thing but it is not nothingness either.
On some occasions the Buddha even spoke of nirvana as Brahma or God, but again only analogously. The Buddha did not want to directly identify the realization of nirvana with God realization because that term meant different things to different people depending upon their idea of God. So to prevent confusion, the Buddha spoke more in terms of what nirvana is not rather than in terms of what it is. He certainly did not want to identify it with a name like "God" which was already too loaded with all kind of misleading connotations. Just as importantly, the Brahmanist priests were using their scriptures and their alleged ability to mediate God's will to impose their power over others. The Buddha wanted to avoid this pitfall of someone presuming to be able to mediate the will of God, by avoiding such rhetoric entirely. The Buddha did not claim to speak for God, rather he simply pointed the way to a direct experience of that which others speak of as God.
Thank you Mahasattva. That was a great read. I'm always trying ineffectually to explain how one can be Buddhist and believe in God/s as well. The God/s in Buddhism become Dharma protectors. I loved my Hindu deities before becoming Buddhist, and I never had to give them up which would have been duplicitous on my part, but rather they took a subsidiary aspect to the Dharma itself. It's hard to explain but there's room for everything in the Dharma, without changing the Dharma. If one just takes their time, and takes it personally and doesn't sell out to just try to fit in. I was and am very into Shiva and Shree Mahalakshmi. I believe that they led me to Tibetan Buddhism. After all Kailas is in old Tibet, and Mahalakshmi as Sati became the first two, and unmanifest Shakti Peeths, on or near Kailas, so Tibet, a Buddhist place is the material abode of the highest Dharmic truths, of both Buddhism and Hinduism. Ah, I'm too tired after work to write well. Thanks again for a good explication of Dharma and Gods.
"This leads to the next problem. The conception of Brahma or God taught by the Brahmanist priests was very similar to that taught by most Christians today."
The early Buddhist understanding of Brahma is somewhat corrupted because of the influence of the Brahminists at that time. The whole story of "Brahma" as a creator god, is only an analogy. Brahma traces its root to Brahman, which is particularly well explained in various Upanisahds. Brahman did not create the universe, but the universe is a manifestation of Brahman. In some Upanishads they are so careful to not personify Brahman, that they never use "Him". The most common way of addressing Brahman is "Tat" (That).
The concept of Dharmakaya is an evolution of the Brahman-Atman compendium. In Hinduism, Brahman and Atman are the same; the reality of the universe and the reality of the individual. By realizing oneself as Atman, one realizes becomes "God". Just as there is a Buddha-nature in everyone, there is a god nature in everyone. Although there is the concept of anatman in Buddhism, it is still within the spirit of the Upanishads.
Remember that the Shakyamuni himself admited that what he discovered is a new dharma but it is the rediscovery of the ancient way, the Aryan path, the eternal dharma. The Shakyamuni was far less compromising than the Upanishads, which had to be "politically correct" by agreeing with the Vedas, although it is obvious that the two are worlds apart in many ways. The Shakyamuni basically rid the Upanishads of their Vedic inconsistencies and polytheistic/paganistic problem, and emphasized the transcendental side. As with the Upanishads he believed in Nirvana (though the Hindu word is usually Moskha). In essence they are quite similar, and as you said can be used as analogies to each other. You cannot really say who is using the analogy and who is using the "reality" but keep in mind the Shakyamuni was mindful of "expedient means", teaching people what they are capable of taking. When divinity approaches such an abstraction, could it not be simpler to just get rid of it as a whole as neccesary aspect of the system?
A quote from the Chandogya Upanishad:
"Brahman is life. Brahman is joy. Brahman is the Void...
Joy, verily, that is the same as the Void.
The Void, verily, that is the same as joy."
The Chandogya Upanishad is one of the earlier ones and probably one of the more prominent new developments in post-Vedic thought, shortly before the Epic Period (and thus the period of the Shakyamuni). Here we clearly see something that reminds us greatly of the concept of Shunyata.
As you can see, early Buddhism is in many ways restatement of the Upanishads, but one which no longer has to be forced into agreement with the Vedas; and replacement of bhakti tradition as the lower form of yoga with philanthropic practices.
Although, the buddha influenced some concepts in the Upanishadic philosophy in expounding his doctrines,however, there are at times that he need to explain the difference between his Dharma and the Upanishadic philosophy.
Although Buddhism and Hinduism have much in common and at first glance may even look identical, they are not the same. Despite their many similarities, there are two defining characteristics of Buddhism, which distinguish it from Hinduism. Although the Buddha, himself, never addressed these issues, Buddhism as a religion refutes the ideas of eternal self (Atman) and eternity in nature (Brahman); this refutation distinguishes it from Hinduism.
The major aspects of Hinduism are maya, karma and dharma. The concepts also play major roles in Buddhism. Maya is the belief that everything, which one sees in this world is illusion, a product of the individual's own failed interpretation and self-delusion. It is one of the foundations of the Hindu faith. Hinayana Buddhists also believe in maya. It cannot be said, however, that Buddhist doctrine (as a whole) either supports or denies maya.
The Buddhist belief that all beings perceive differently can be used to argue both for and against the concept. That no one perceives a given thing in the same way could be said to mean that is has no objective reality, only a subjective one existing solely in the mind of the perceiver. But it could also be said that because all things perceive that object differently implies it cannot be an illusion. It could be argued that if an object was illusory, it would be so for all and it would not take on a different form for different viewers. The fact that a Buddhist could conceivably remove from himself all delusion (in the obtainment of Nirvana), yet still perceive an object, would also indicate that the object is not illusory. Buddhism, unlike Hinduism, is unclear on the nature of maya. Although all Hindus believe in it, not all Buddhists do.
The two religions share the law of karma. Karma is the belief in a "law of consequences." According to this doctrine, the actions, which one performs will redound upon the performer either as blessings for good deeds or curses for evil deeds. These consequences could take the course of several lifetimes to be enacted, depending upon the act performed. The Bhagavad-Gita tells Hindus:
Death is certain for anyone born,
and birth is certain for the dead;
since the cycle is inevitable
you have no cause to grieve.
Buddhists are of similar mind: "The results of acts done in the previous life are transmitted to that consciousness which brings about re-existence…and this transmission takes place ceaselessly and uninterruptedly…like water flowing in a stream" (Bhattacharyya, 135). Both passages discuss and quite clearly reveal the ever-revolving circumstances of life and death. This "revolution" is to reward and punish a person for his actions. Although both passages imply that one may never break free from the constraints of the cycle, both religions seek to do just that. Hindus wish for unity with Brahman and Buddhists seek Nirvana. Karma exists for both religions and it has significant impact upon the beliefs of the adherents.
Lastly, there is dharma. Dharma is loosely translated as "obligation." It is the duty of the individual. To both the Hindu and the Buddhist, dharma is a very real concept. Hindus must live by their caste-it is their dharma. They must do their caste duty above all else, which explains why Arjuna must fight in the war against his kinsmen in the Bhagavad-Gita-it is his obligation. To act through knowledge is also the dharma of all Hindus. "Be intent on action/not on the fruits of action," says Krishna in the Gita (II, 47). One should not act because one can gain by so doing, but rather because action, in itself, is necessary. Butt o act properly requires the relinquishment of desire and the submission to reason. In the Gita, Krishna explains submission to Arjuna:
when suffering does not disturb his mind,
when his craving for pleasure has vanished,
when attraction, fear, and anger are gone,
he is called a sage whose thought is sure.
And he later describes how a man is to use this for proper action:
The wise say a man is learned
when his plans lack constructs of desire,
when his actions are burned
by the fire of knowledge
These passages from the Bhagavad-Gita define the path of action in Hinduism and Buddhist thought echoes them: "One does not will to act in a disciplined manner because an external standard is being enforced. Instead, one wills to act because his actions are in conformity with his own inward state that has been cultured by awareness derived from right knowledge" (Holt, 67). This rationalism is the guiding factor in action-one should examine a situation and act in a manner according with his dharma. That is the key to making the world a "good" place.
In many ways Hinduism and Buddhism are similar, but there are differences. In an attempt to truly make the world a "better" place, the Buddhists have beliefs, which reach beyond and even contradict those of Hinduism. Buddhists make no distinctions among race, sex, color, or caste. Buddhism preaches equal love for all people based upon the "delicate thread of life [that] joins all objects and beings in the universe" (Ikeda, 29). This sympathy for all people was among the first distinctions between Hinduism and Buddhism: "The Buddha was an embodiment of supreme compassion…The Vedas or the Upanishads lacked that intellect and that heart" (Joshi, 55). It would be impossible for Buddhists to be segregationist while following the teachings of the Buddha, for he was beyond all such deficiencies.
The reason for the Buddha's denial of caste, etc. is his rejection of the notion of "self." To the Buddha, there was no self, only existence as a part of a whole. The Buddha taught that the concept of "I" was the source of every single ill in society and showed others this truth. However, this teaching contradicts the Hindu belief in Atman, the eternal soul. Also, he taught that the world was constantly in flux, thus nothing was eternal. This concept not only refutes Atman, but it also refutes Brahman, eternity in nature. There can be no Atman for the Buddhists, because "In the Buddhist view, liberation consists in realizing the unreality of the self and in eradication every trace of individuality" (Joshi, 10). The Bhagavad-Gita, however, tells us that there is a self:
It is not born
it does not die
it will never not be;
constant, and primordial,
it is not killed
when the body is killed
Additionally, the Gita claims the self is something to be maintained:
Knowing the self beyond understanding
sustain the self with the self.
These are conflicting views. To one, the self is the key to inner understanding and acceptance of one's place in the world (dharma), to the other, self is an illusion, which brings out the worst in people.
Another difference, which has been proposed, is the acceptance of god. Hindus have many gods, including Brahman, but Buddhists refute their existence. The Buddha never preached that there was no god, here merely demonstrated the futility of searching for one. He gave the Hindus an analogy of a man who loved a woman, but did not know which woman. When they said that the man was a fool he asked them, "Are you not the same? You say that this God your father or grandfather never saw, and now you are quarreling upon a thing which neither you nor your ancestors ever knew and you are trying to cut each other's throats about it" (Joshi, 78-from Complete Works, III). Buddha is not denying that god may exist, only that one should concentrate upon that which one does know or can know. The fact that Buddha did not claim there was a god was used to deny the existence of god by later Buddhists. They also had support from the view of the ever-changing world; they claimed that no god could exist because he would cease to be a god. Later cosmologies developed within Buddhism allow for the existence of gods and devils, but those creatures are merely souls reborn and serving out their karma before dying and becoming some other life form.
Swami Vivekananda sums up these differences: "I belong to the Hindu religion. That is not the Buddhist's creed…I cannot understand his doctrine…he denied that there was any soul in man…Now, we Hindus all believe that there is something permanent in man…we call Atman…And that there is something permanent in nature and that we call Brahman" (Joshi, 88). Here it is clear that a Buddhist's creed is not the same thing as Hinduism. The Swami also gave different definition to the nature of Buddha, a nature that cannot be according to Buddhists. He said, "The Lord Buddha is my ishta-My God. He preached no theory about Godhead-He was Himself God. I fully believe it" (Joshi, 89). Through this, a Hindu can incorporate aspects of Buddhism into his own religious framework. While the two share many of the same ideas and visions, however, they are different and represent different ideals. One is an ideal of perfect self, one of perfect self-less-ness. These are opposing ends, even if their approaches are similar.
Dharmakaya or buddha-nature Brahma or God may the same but has different from the usual understanding. The first is that I use the Buddhist tradition in its own terms. I do not want to confuse things by incorporating terminology from other sources. Secondly, I think that there are too many connotations to the word "God" that are problematic. Unfortunately, even when you explain what you mean, the word still tends to make people think of an old man with a beard and a bolt of lighting like Zeus. The word just creates more problems than it solves in my opinion. That does not mean I reject the deeper reality that the word or name "God" is trying to point to, it is just that I find that word can act as a barrier as much as a window to the infinite, and in keeping with the Buddhist tradition whose terms and concepts I find more liberating.
Buddhists do not doubt that Brahma is loving, compassionate, joyful, and full of peace. Brahma can also be reborn as a human being. But one must remember that Brahma is the Buddhist portrayal of God as a person or being among beings, the higher conception of a supreme reality is Dharmakaya. The Dharmakaya is always making itself known through its sambhogakayas (enjoyment-bodies) and its nirmanakayas (transformation bodies). This is a complex Mahayana teaching beyond that relate these ideas here to the Christian worldview. The enjoyment-bodies are the personal aspects of the Dharmakaya which are apprehended as a very personal presence in our lives. The enjoyment-bodies touch our hearts and minds with the ideal qualities of buddhahood including love, compassion, and wisdom. In the sutras, the sambhogakayas are even portrayed as transcendent figures or beings who reside in various pure lands from whence their compassion and wisdom embraces all beings. A sambhogakaya has many similarities with the Holy Spirit or the Risen Lord. A transformation-body is the historical actualization of the Dharmakaya and sambhogakaya in the life of a specific individual - Shakyamuni Buddha for instance. Through such a person, we are able to hear the teachings, learn the methods for realizing the truth in our own lives, and see for ourselves how a fully enlightened person acts in the world. It must be stressed that these three bodies are not separate, they are three aspects of one reality, and to the extent that we awaken, we will also participate in that reality as well.
It also needs to be said that according to Buddhism there are also many bodhisattvas or "enlightening beings" who are constantly reborn into this world from the pure lands. These bodhisattvas voluntarily take up all forms of suffering and bestow all their merits upon others due to their compassionate vows to save all beings. In a sense, they have renounced their own liberation until they can be sure that all beings will be liberated from suffering. In many ways, their acts of renunciation, their willingness to suffer for the sake of others, and their bestowal of the rewards for their own good conduct upon others is similar to the story of a savior who renounces divinity, enters the world, suffers for the sake of others, and then rises and ascends into heaven in order to prepare a way for others. The bodhisattva is a prototype of such a savior, and one that appears centuries before the Christian era.
I think that the reality of which the word "God" is just a label or pointer can be more intelligibly described in terms of:
a) God described as a being like Brahma who personifies love, compassion, joy, and equanimity who works to protect the Truth and ensure its spread in this world. While Brahma is not apart from nor the originator of the true nature of reality, he is the most powerful and spiritually refined of all those beings who have not awakened to the selfless nature of reality. He appreciates the truth of selflessness, but still insists on clinging to a finite ego separate from others. In some ways, Brahma is like the Greek Zeus, a literal father in heaven. This persona of God may be easier for some to relate to, and Buddhism does not deny that for some people this can be helpful, but Buddhism also insists that there are much deeper realizations of divinity.
b) God described as a more refined notion like the Dharmakaya, which is the true nature of reality that is not a person but which is always being expressed and related to in a very warm and personal way. The problem with this conception is that it is just a conception, a mere abstraction, if it is not directly realized for oneself.
c) God as an actual realization of the purity, bliss, eternity, and true selfhood of nirvana. This is the realization of the birthless and deathless nature of supreme reality. Once again, this description is only helpful as a pointer to direct realization. Nirvana is really an anti-conception and is not trying to be a description of God or any "thing" else. The whole point of nirvana is that it is a teaching device to help us let go of all those attitudes and ideas which prevent us from seeing and living in the reality which others speak of as "God." This negative method, however, can also be misleading if it ends up leading one to a state of withdrawal and apathy, which is another way of missing the point.
d) God actively engaged in the world as a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva ideal shows that the actual experience of nirvana is about living for others, not enjoying spiritual peace by oneself. The bodhisattva ideal depicts reality working in and as the lives of those who are free of self-centeredness and self-consciousness and who are able to dedicate all their efforts for the liberation of all beings. This is God as active and embodied and fully immanent in the lives of all beings. The bodhisattva ideal also recognizes that this active embodiment must be based upon a transcendent freedom which is another way of understanding God. It should also be noted that Buddhism implies that Brahma is also a bodhisattva who has appeared as Brahma in order to help others.
Again, the Buddhist tradition did not develop the need to used the term "God" in connection with these ideas (except in the case of Brahma who is a personal deity). Rather, the Buddhist tradition developed in reaction to the misunderstandings, confusion, and even oppression of the masses spread by the Brahmanist priests in the name of God or Brahma. The Buddha was not concerned with denying the reality of the Divine, the Buddha was concerned with liberating people from fear based and superstitious views of Divinity so that they could directly experience the reality that people have labeled as God.
When you cut and paste you should always cite the source, otherwise it would seem like you are passing it off as your own work. I've read those passages many times before and they seem to concern later Hinduism (with lots of quotations from the Bhagavadgita) and not the Upanishads, mostly. Both karma and dharma are not important in the Upanishads and maya is quite different as well. The caste system is another important difference; the Upanishads don't talk about it.
"Although the Buddha, himself, never addressed these issues, Buddhism as a religion refutes the ideas of eternal self (Atman) and eternity in nature (Brahman); this refutation distinguishes it from Hinduism."
Now those are the most important aspects, but when considered more deeply this is no longer true. The concept of Anatman is that the self is void, because the reality is void. In the Upanishads, Brahman is the reality, Brahman is Atman, and Brahman is also void. This means that in the Upanishads, reality is void as well. The god of the Upanishads is not one to worship but is just the "reality".
" That does not mean I reject the deeper reality that the word or name "God" is trying to point to, it is just that I find that word can act as a barrier as much as a window to the infinite, and in keeping with the Buddhist tradition whose terms and concepts I find more liberating."
Its the same in the Upanishads; you don't call Brahman a god ("deva"). Its the Brahma concept that is a "deva".
"Buddhists do not doubt that Brahma is loving, compassionate, joyful, and full of peace. Brahma can also be reborn as a human being. But one must remember that Brahma is the Buddhist portrayal of God as a person or being among beings, the higher conception of a supreme reality is Dharmakaya."
Brahma is not the same as Brahman. Brahma came after and its kind of a large personification. Brahman is just the eternal absolute, the supreme reality, which is void in nature.
Of your list of possible types of "gods", the Upanishads would have (b) and (c). (B) being the Brahman-Atman compendium, and (c) being Moskha. I do not see the differences between Buddhism and Upanishad beliefs. Buddhism put a stronger emphasis on nirvana and a lesser on dharmakaya, whereas the Upanishads did vice-versa. Buddhism also put a greater emphasis on metta, karuna, mudita and uppekha than the Upanishads did. Essentially the Shakyamuni filtered the compromises in the Upanishads and created a religion with the true spirit of the Upanishads. Early Buddhism is the practice of the Upanishads and is closer to the Upanishads than any other school of Indian thought.
Separate names with a comma.