Keeping the Baby — de Botton’s Religion for Atheists

Keeping the Baby — de Botton’s Religion for Atheists

Ian Kluge

Community, Identity, and Peace

Alain de Botton plans to throw out the bathwater — but keep the baby. The author of  Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion thinks humanity will be better off if we toss the metaphysical superstitions encumbering all religions but keep the many insights and practices that are still beneficial for human development. In his view, ‘God’ was just one answer to questions about value, meaning, community, identity and peace (to name just a few) that have always been and will always be with us.

They are part of the human condition. Thus, while

God may be dead . . . the urgent issues which impelled us to invent him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the take of the seven loaves and fishes. (1)

The supernaturalist answers, says Botton, are assuredly false, but the questions themselves are real — and won’t go away despite our wrong answers in the past. In short: the bathwater goes — but the baby stays.

In de Botton’s view, atheism and especially the new atheism have missed this distinction and demanded that we abandon both God and existential issues to which God is one possible answer. He says, it is “not that secularism is wrong, but that we have too often secularized badly.” (3)

This leads him to conclude that the

error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed. Once we cease to feel that we must either prostrate ourselves before them or denigrate them, we are free to discover religions as repositories of a myriad ingenious concepts with which we can try to assuage a few of the most persistent and unattended ills of secular life. (3)

In short, he demands an objective view of religion, one that is motivated neither by excessive love or antipathy. As the Baha’i Writings say, a researcher must “cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth.” (4)

With this counsel in mind, de Botton makes a valiant effort to achieve objectivity in his reflections about certain religious insights and practices he thinks will be useful in the secular world.

Let us examine some particular examples. He starts with the universal problem of loneliness — of finding a meaningful place and identity in a community of kindred minds and spirits. The Catholic Mass, which he uses as an example, helps tone down our egocentric tendencies by voluntarily involving ourselves in something bigger than we could ever be alone. This lets us actually experience “unity in diversity” (to use Bahá’í terminology) — that is, to experience ourselves as individuals in a community. But, of course de Botton wants to replace the Mass with a secular equivalent, in his case the “Agape Restaurant” where everyone must sit and dine with strangers, and discuss deep human issues from “The Book of Agape,” a secular missal with quotations from various religions and philosophers. Topics include the imperfection “embedded in human nature” (5) and the difficulties of belonging to a community.

But it’s not all work at the Agape Restaurant. One of its important ceremonies is Carnival, a yearly “Feast of Fools” when almost all moral norms, especially sexual ones, are broken. For several days a year, drunken orgies provide release from the relentless restrictions of daily life in society.

Sacred Architecture

Sacred architecture is another aspect of religion that de Botton finds necessary to retain. The secular world must build “Temple[s] to Reflection (6) to provide an atmosphere that encourages contemplation by allowing isolation and respite from our often chaotic inner and outer lives. These are places in which we can re-center ourselves and find the balance we miss. In de Botton’s view, we should

revive and continue the underlying aims of religious architecture, by expressing through these secular temples designed to promote important emotions and abstract themes, rather than through scared shrines dedicated to embodied local deities. (7)

Anyone who has ever walked into the cathedrals at Notre Dame, Chartres, Cologne or Wilmette, will recognize how powerfully these buildings entice us to calmness and reflection, to inner order and peace. Some natural places have a similar power to stir up particular emotions. In de Botton’s view, there is some truth in the traditional idea that these locations have a special spirit. Grand Canyon is one such place; Mt. Carmel is another.

I admit that for my tastes, de Botton becomes too zealous when he prescribes that we should travel to local shrines to heal certain afflictions, as Catholics, for example, visit Lourdes for physical ailments or Bad Muenstereifel for excessive fear of lightning. I find it hard to imagine why excessive rationalism is better cured in Vladivostok than in Tuktoyaktuk. Notwithstanding this momentary lapse into new-age-ism, de Botton is certainly correct in asserting that architecture and some locations play an important role in fostering a deep and vibrant inner intellectual and emotional life in humans.

A Need for Beauty

In a similar vein, de Botton hopes that “museums may be able to take over the aesthetic responsibilities for churches.” (8)

The need for beauty in art seems to be innate in human beings:

we need art because we are so forgetful. We are creatures of the body as well as of the mind and so require art to stir our languid imaginations and motivate us in ways that mere philosophical expositions cannot. (9)

Art gives shape or form to our deepest emotions from the depths of despair and pain to the dizzying heights of joy. However, we must adapt art to fit into a secular world.  Rather than another version of the Stations of the Cross “we might consider setting contemporary artists the task of depicting a Seven Sorrows of Parenthood, a Twelve Sorrows of Adolescence or a Twenty One Sorrows of Divorce.”(10)

I’ll admit, I’d be thrilled to see what a Picasso or a Dali could do with these projects.

Three Good Things

In my view, de Botton has done three good things that make this book worthwhile for both religious and non-religious readers. Most obviously, it successfully debunks the new atheist claims that religion has done nothing but cause wars and psycho-social difficulties. De Botton’s study underlines the fact that religion has survived in humankinds’ three million year history precisely because it fulfills a positive evolutionary and historical function. His evidence highlights the crudity of the new atheists’ view of religion.

Second, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning!” (11)

Though written by a convinced atheist, Religion for Atheists is valuable for believers because it presents succinct arguments explaining the existential — or if you prefer, spiritual — rationale behind many religious practices. My own favorites are his defense of religious art, and especially, religious architecture. The latter, he points out, cannot be reduced to mere monuments to pride and ostentation, but also fulfill deep human needs.

We should revive and continue the underlying aims of religious architecture, by expressing these through secular temples designed to promote important emotions and abstract themes . . . (12)

Though he does not mention the neo-Platonists, de Botton revives their argument that the task of art is to make beautiful things that gradually refine and raise our feeling and thinking beyond the material world. As an atheist, de Botton cannot accept the metaphysical implications of the neo-Platonic view, but he can certainly accept the promotion of more profound feelings and thoughts.

The third strong-point of Religion for Atheists — at least for the religiously inclined — is that it provides excellent reasons for many religious practices. It rationally demonstrates how various practices and the insights on which they are based are not mere arbitrary impositions but have their basis in the needs of human nature. Of course, de Botton does not claim that his examples are the only ways of meeting these needs; his aim is to make us more aware of the underlying rationale so that we shall not be so quick to condemn these practices — as the new atheists have done. There may be more wisdom in such practices than a cursory glance can reveal. This is a salutary lesson not just for atheists but also for modern believers who may feel impatient with some aspects of religion.

Religion for Atheists has, in my view, one major problem: if religion arose in answer to our most “urgent issues”(13) and intuitions, then it seems unlikely that a “de-mythologized,” (i.e. secularized version) of these answers are likely to satisfy most people for long. “Urgent issues” impelled us to invent these religious answers precisely because there is something about the issues themselves that leads us in a ‘supernaturalist’ direction.

For example, if we ask, “Is there any purpose to life beyond happily indulging in food, drink, sleep and sex?” there is obviously a suggestion that the purpose we seek  must at least partly be more than physical. Consequently, we may conclude that our ancestors accepted these answers not because they were naïve, but because these kind of answers were deemed most adequate or appropriate to the issues they faced. Secularized, “de-mythologized” answers were simply “ersatz” — inadequate and inferior substitutes for the real thing — like drinking a mixture of roasted barley and acorns instead of real coffee.

This is why — the new atheist onslaught notwithstanding — the theistic answers persist and show no signs of disappearing even in our day. The

 

outward form of these answers may change, but the core issues and intuitions remain. I suspect that many of the secularists who would follow de Botton’s ideas will find their way back to belief in the non-material aspects of reality and some kind of religious commitment.

There is a Baha’i prayer which says, “All are His [God’s] servants and all abide by His bidding.” In his effort to show the truth in many religious insights and practices, and at the same time, to secularize these practices, de Botton has given an excellent explication of these practices and, at the same time, demonstrated the futility of seeking secularized substitutes for them.

===================== References =========================

1 Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, p. 12.
2 De Botton, p. 17.
3 De Botton, p. 13.
4 Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 264.
5 De Botton, p. 85.
6 De Botton, p. 264.
7 De Botton, p. 275.
8 De Botton, p. 209.
9 De Botton, p. 217.
10 De Botton, 224.
11 Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 136.
12 De Botton, p. 275.
13 De Botton, p. 12.

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126 thoughts on “Keeping the Baby — de Botton’s Religion for Atheists

  1. Helpful post, Ian. Many thanks.

    De Botton’s book is not the only one to address the holes that atheism leaves in people’s lives. Another atheist philosopher with a French name, André Comte-Sponville, is the author of The Book of Atheist Spirituality: An Elegant Argument for Spirituality without God. He opens his final chapter thus:

    Let us conclude with what, to my mind, is most important of all – not god, not religion, not atheism, but spiritual life. Some will express surprise: ‘What? You,an atheist, take an interest in spiritual life?’ Of course I do. Not believing in God does not prevent me from having a spirit, nor does it exempt me from having to use it.

    People can do without religion, as I showed in the first chapter, but they cannot do without communion, fidelity and love. Nor can they do without spirituality.

    Interestingly, the Dalai Lama takes the same view. He has written:

    Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit… ‘…there is no reason why the individual should not develop them [the qualities of the human spirit], even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system.

    1. Hi Barney:

      Did you see Ian’s reply to your comment? He is saying that spirituality without God is “ersatz”, i.e., non-genuine and its meaning in flux with the prevailing interpretations of popular culture. OK, I added the last part.

      My take is that if people value spirituality, then they are one step closer to understand the full picture of human life and its transcendent dimensions that religion describes. E.g., once you understand Newton’s mathematics, you are then closer to making the leap that there are actual features of the universe underlying that mathematics.

      Stephen

  2. My problem is simple: I can’t help suspecting that spirituality without the ‘metaphysical’ or ‘supernatural’ basis is, in the last analysis, an example of psychologism. Without the metaphysical basis, all we have left are mere psychological experiences which have no inherent value beyond what we decide to give them.

    What I would call ‘genuine’ spirituality requires some form of reference to the supernatural, which is the ultimate source of value, i.e. the good, the beautiful and the true. For example, it is one thing to experience community with my neighbors because I choose to value and appreciate them deeply, and to value and appreciate them because they each exhibit the signs of God and the knowledge that they are each an image of God.

    The difference between the two is that one is a personal experience and nothing more, and the other is a personal experience of a thing and its transcendent ground of being and source of value. One experience is entirely ego-bound, the other is ego-transcending.

    The Dali Lama’s remarks support this. He talks of a “human spirit” – but “apart from any religious or metaphysical belief system.” what can that “spirit” be except a psychological construct? We don’t have metaphysics, or theology, or ontology – only psychology. (That is, indeed, one possible interpretation of Buddhism but there is lots of controversy within Buddhism on this score.)

    To me, the removal of the supernatural element from spirituality also reduces the associated psychological practices from ways of transcending ourselves and the material plane to ways of actualizing ourselves on the material plane.
    The latter is too much like “ersatz” coffee made from roasted barely and chickory. (I actually had to drink this swill in Europe after the war.) I’d rather have the Real Thing.

  3. Spirituality without the supernatural can be no more than the pursuit of certain psychological states which may well have experiential value but lack the transcendent dimension implied by the concept of spirituality. What could the meaning of ‘spirit’ be if is not distinct from the material, i.e. the non-spirit? Without this distinction, why talk of ‘spirituality’? Indeed, what is there to talk about except our feelings and the values we choose to give things? And why should one of these group of feelings be labelled ‘spiritual’?

    Unfortunately I have to disagree with Steven in regards valuing spirituality putting us on the path to recognizing “the full picture of human life.” Recognizing spirituality in de Botton’s sense will never get us there because it denies from the outset the very sine qua non of full spirituality. De Botton’s spirituality can never escape being psychology. The issue of transcendence presents a roadblock – and if this roadblock were not there, de Botton would no longer be an atheist. He would be an agnostic. I do not think we can get from atheism to religion without renouncing atheism.

    Personally, I suspect a lot of people who claim to be atheists turn out to be agnostics when their views are carefully scrutinized.

  4. Hi,

    But the physical world is a mirage, it is really non-existence compared to the spiritual life. Therefore science must demonstrate that God doesn’t exist, unless God is physical.

  5. I’m not quite sure where you are going with this, but I’ll try.

    The physical world is, indeed, a mirage compared to spiritual the spiritual dimension but, as Abdu’l-Baha says, it is quite real in regard to itself so the physical world is real in one respect but not in another. (This is not a logical self-contradiction; there is no claim that it is real and not-real at the same time in the same way vis-a-vis itself or spirit.)

    The only way science can demonstrate that God doesn’t exist is to demonstrate that its purely physical explanations are complete and adequate, i.e. that physical nature can be explained in its own terms without any further questions remaining. But it cannot be explained strictly in its own terms without further questions. Therefore, logically speaking, science must, at the very least, remain open to the possibility of God i.e. a non-material explanatory principle.

    Hawking has recognized this difficulty for science – which puts him miles ahead of Dawkins, Harris, Stenger and Dennett – but his explanations don’t hold up logically. In fact., they are quite poor. My review (here on Common Ground) of “The Grand design” gives all the details.

  6. Dear Ian,

    Have you heard of theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss and his new book ‘A Universe from Nothing”. If I can condense his book into one sentence, it is that, existence is a simple consequence of the laws of physics because nothingness is more unstable than existence.

    1. Krauss’ new book has been savaged by reviewers for its strange and unphysical take on quantum mechanical (qm) vacuums (see the NY Times for a particularly cogent review by a top quantum mechanics theorist with a strong philosophical resume – let me know if you need the reference). Basically, he wants to view such a vacuum as nothingness, although it is well known that such a qm vacuum seethes with a riot of virtual particles and has very real physical effects (BTW, I’ve had a career doing qm.) And he wants to say the universe is thus proven to come from nothing. It is – simply put – a primitive and unsophisticated play on technical terms.

      A secondary point is indeed the idea that the universe is a consequence of the laws of physics, or rather the laws of nature. This is an ancient understanding completely compatible with divine religion, although it is sometimes taken to imply a clockwork universe where God kick-starts things by creating those laws and then retiring from the scene.

      1. Dear Stephen,

        But is there evidence that the “Nothingness” you refer to even exists? All “nothingness” that is observed has quantum particles in it. Am I wrong? The “Nothingness” you refer to is only a construct of one’s imagination, no?

        1. Quantum mechanical vacuum states – the brand of nothingness that Krauss was talking about – are fairly readily created and their properties measured. Spontaneous emission, the non-laser way of making photons, is basically a qm vacuum relating to an excited energy state in an atom or molecule and making it radiate. Related effects – the Casimir effect, for example – are easily seen too.

          They certainly aren’t a contstruct of the imagination, although many have asked if they are a construct of our mathematical methods for modelling the simplest aspects or reality.

          QM nothingness doesn’t have real particles, it has “virtual” particles which leap into and out of semi-existence continually and on very fast time scales.

  7. I had a long look at Krauss’s book – and decided it wasn’t worth the price of admission. For starters, the glowing intro. by Dawkins aroused my suspicions. Dawkins knows very little about philosophy and even less about logic. I have a 42 page compendium of logical errors in “The God Delusion,” as well as in Harris’ “The End of Faith” and Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell.” By logical errors I don’t mean ‘differences of opinion’ – I mean logical errors that can be circled, named and corrected. “The God Delusion” is a book my favorite logic teacher would have assigned to the class to “find circle and identify all the logical errors by name.”

    As others have also pointed out, Krauss plays fast and loose with the meaning of ‘nothing,’ seeming to confuse ‘nothing’ in the quantum mechanical sense with ‘nothing’ in the philosophical sense – which is what the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” refers to. Philosophically, ‘nothing’ is the negation of everything, including potentials, virtual particles, laws of nature etc. This is where physics falls flat because there is nothing physical, i.e. physics doesn’t apply here. There are no physical laws that are relevant to the negation of everything.

    He demonstrates this confusion when he says, “that “nothing” is almost everything and that it has properties.” (Atlantic) That is true of the qm nothing (which is already something) but it does not apply to the “negation of everything.”

    To prove his confusion, Krauss says, “It’s true that I’m applying the laws of quantum mechanics to it, but I’m applying it to nothing, to literally nothing. No space, no time, nothing.” This only makes sense if he is talking about nothing in the qm sense, not in the philosophical sense because there is nothing to *apply* the laws to. There can be no application without an object or something applied to the object. Philosophical nothing negates both of them.

    Indeed, when there is nothing in the philosophical sense, there are no quantum laws either: nothing is the negation of everything. Krauss does not seem to have understood this distinction.

    Moreover, Krauss’s is guilty of circular reasoning; he assumes that which must be explained. He assumes the qm laws – which are part of what must be explained – and then applies them to his so-called ‘nothing.’

    Krauss also flatly contradicts himself when he he says in his interview with The Atlantic, “. I don’t think I argued that physics has definitively shown how something could come from nothing; physics has shown how plausible physical mechanisms might cause this to happen.” Either he doesn’t understand his own argument or he is trying to muddy the waters. His whole argument has been to prove that “something could come from nothing” and not to show how it is plausible for that to happen.

    Of course, given his circular reasoning which underlies his whole argument, he has not shown how it is plausible for something to come from nothing.

    1. Dear Ian,

      You have no evidence that the dreamed-up “Nothingness” to which you refer actually exists. Quantum Physics demonstrates is based on scientific observation. What is philosophy based on other than the human mind’s dreams?

      1. RE: “You have no evidence that the dreamed-up “Nothingness” to which you refer actually exists. Quantum Physics demonstrates is based on scientific observation. What is philosophy based on other than the human mind’s dreams?”

        I think you misunderstand the argument about ‘nothingness.’

        My argument – based on the Baha’i Writings – is precisely that such an absolute ‘nothingness’ does not exist. Nor has it ever. That is why it is disingenuous of scientists like Hawking and Krauss to claim that the world was created from nothingness. No such thing has ever existed. These scientists are either trying to muddy the waters and confuse people, or – more likely – they have no philosophic/logical understanding of what they are saying on this score.

        What Hawking and Krauss et al mean to say, IMO, is that nature can explain its own existence in purely natural terms. They make it easy to falsify this position when they start with qm vacuums and qm laws as givens.

        Philosophy is based on logic and logic is based on our experience of how reality works at the very simplest levels. For example, you cannot both have had lunch and not had lunch today in the same sense, at the same time and in the same circumstances. You either are pregnant – or not. This is the law of non-contradiction from which almost all logical laws can be deduced.

        When you say that philosophy is only the mind’s dreams you are, IMO, referring to post-modernism (which dominates the North American academy these days in sociology, educational research, literature, psychology, history and even some sciences.) As I indicated before, for a philosophical Realist like me, postmodernism is little more than free-style opinionating.

  8. The bottom line is that Krauss confuses the qm vacuum – which he calls “nothing” – with the logical/philosophical nothing intended by the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Like Hawking, Krauss shows us one way how ‘something’ can derive from the qm vacuum/nothing – which in actual fact, is already ‘something.’ That is why Krauss’s and Hawkings’ arguments are circular, i.e. logically false. They assume what is to be proven – some form of existence.

    The only way to correct this fatal logical flaw is to show how ‘something’ could emerge from ‘nothing’, i.e. the negation of everything. The Baha’i Writings express this idea as follows:

    “no sign can come from a nonexisting thing — that is to say, it is impossible that from absolute nonexistence signs should appear — for the signs are the consequence of an existence, and the consequence depends upon the existence of the principle”(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 225)

    Of course it may be that such an absolute nothing is merely a theoretical human construct – which does not actually exist. For Baha’is this makes sense because we believe there has always been a creation of some kind, perhaps the qm vacuum. However, that does not exempt us from asking about the origins/source of the qm vacuum itself as well as qm laws.

    Sooner or later atheists are going to have to face the fact that physical nature does not and logically cannot explain itself.

    1. Ian, I think i absolutely agree with you, the nothingness of modern physics is different from the nothingness of philosophy.

    2. Yes Ian,

      I agree that the Baha’i writings state that creation always existed, which may explain the difference between the philosophical nothingness from what Stephen Friberg describes.

      I also think “athiests” are more like agnostics or at the most a 6.999, in Richard Dawkin’s scale of 1-7, because they cannot logically be a 7 (which would be a pure atheist).

  9. I admit, I am not sure whether physicists like Krauss truly understand this difference between the qm vacuum and genuine nothing. This creates a problem insofar as they communicate this confusion or ignorance to their readers who think they have real ‘proof’ that something came from nothing.

    The logical absurdity of getting something from nothing is why the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo must either be rejected outright or re-thought, re-interpreted. (There is room for that.)

    I agree that atheists are basically agnostics – and very confused agnostics at that – or they are people who have other personal, emotional motives for their alleged atheism. I knew a Holocaust survivor who could just not bring herself to believe in a God because of her experiences. I never bothered to argue with her on the basis of logic; logic wasn’t really the issue with her . . .

    When I meet atheists, I first try to find out what their inner motivation is. Among young people especially, I find that issues like the world’s injustice or suffering are at the roots of their ‘atheism.’ Of course, I have to explain it’s a total logical failure (non sequitur) to argue that because God is bad or imperfect, He doesn’t exist! Hitchens, Dawlkins and Harris are also prone to that logical error – forgivable in callow youths but not in aspiring leaders-of-thought.

  10. I’ll tell you a big problem with religion and God. It is used by the rich and powerful as a way to control society such that they continue with their rule over the people, such that the nice people are made into contrite, servile people. Sycophants to the rich. Order in society is a ploy created by the powerful to consolidate their riches. Rules are followed by society, but are circumvented by the rich. Religion and God often create unctuous people to slave for the rich, the kings, the rulers, the CEOs, Directors, and Wall Street.

    1. “Religion and God often create unctuous people to slave for the rich, the kings, the rulers, the CEOs, Directors, and Wall Street”

      Rather, the human misuse of religion and God does this. So, I’ll tell you a big problem with people — they like to pass the buck, to lay the blame for their problems anywhere but at their own door. I’d remind you of this statement of Abdul-Baha in The Secret of Divine Civilization: “”[T]here are foolish individuals who have never properly examined the fundamentals of the Divine religions, who have taken as their criterion the behavior of a few religious hypocrites and concluded that religions are an obstacle to progress. They have not even observed this much, that the principles of the Divine religions can hardly be evaluated by the acts of those who only claim to follow them. For every excellent thing can still be diverted to the wrong ends. A lighted lamp in the hands of an ignorant child or of the blind will not dispel the surrounding darkness nor light up the house — it will set both the bearer and the house on fire.” — Abdu’l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 72

      As Abdu’l-Baha notes, religion is a resource — it is we who determine how it is to be used or abused. If I have a teacher and my teacher tells me to be kind and I am, instead, cruel whose fault is that? If I claim to be a vegetarian and consume meat at every opportunity, does that reflect on the philosophy and practice of vegetarianism or does it reflect on my failure to behave like a vegetarian?

  11. This, of course, is the old Communist line: religion is a tool used by the rich and powerful (capitalists, bourgeoisie) to repress the the lower classes. I grew up hearing this gospel a la Marx/Lenin from my parents.

    What you say *may* be a problem with religion – but it is a non sequitur logical error to use this as a basis for atheism as Marx did. The use others make of God is totally disconnected from the issue of whether or not God exists. Making such a connection is purely ideological or political, but it doing so has no logical basis.

    The next difficulty with the Marxist line (and its contemporary successors) is the long list of psychological/spiritual benefits conferred by religion on individuals and society. These benefits are what de Botton tries to adapt to a secular world-view in “Religion for Atheists.” He feels the need to do so because these benefits are real – and survive because people (the lower classes too) gain from them. These benefits may account for the persistent survival of religion all over the world as well as Marx’s theory that the masses are inherently too dumb to see through the fantastic fairy tales and the political power plays of the ruling classes.

    The belief in the innate stupidity of the masses is inherent in Marxism which is why Marx and Lenin developed the theory of the “revolutionary elite” which knew the best interests of the working classes better than the working class itself. Only the Party knows the true (versus apparent) interests of the people. Hence the justification for the use of force – even against the working classes. I’m sure you know about the Gulags and the Lao Gai.

    IOW, despite its abuse by some, religion also confers various benefits to individuals and societies – which is a major reason why it survives. If it conferred no benefits, all the plottings and schemings of the rich and powerful could not keep it alive – and religion has been around as long a humankind has.

    Personally, I find it highly unlikely that billions of people have been so incredibly dense over the last million years or so as to follow something which brings them no net benefit.

    1. Dear Ian,

      The politics aside (I am not a political Marxist), I still think your God is a God of Philosophy, which is a God of imagination.

      I reject all Gods of imagination. Show me a God I can see and a God I can hear!

      1. RE: “I still think your God is a God of Philosophy, which is a God of imagination.

        I reject all Gods of imagination. Show me a God I can see and a God I can hear!”

        I will try to summarize some of the many possible answers to your statements,

        The God of philosophy is the God of logic, i.e. the God Whose existence can be shown to be logically necessary. This can lead us to at least two questions. (1) Does logic reflect the way the universe works, i.e. is logic based on the cosmos as humans fundamentally experience it? (2) Can the material world explain itself, i.e. its own existence in its own terms.

        The answer to (1) is yes and the answer to (2) is no. Logic reflects how the universe works, and logic makes God – at the very least – a necessary assumption in explaining how the material world came into existence – something that cannot be done in strictly naturalist terms.

        God is a necessary assumption to explaining the origin of the material universe just as astronomers assume that the North Star they observe today is the same North Star they have observed in the past and will observe tomorrow, i.e. they assume constancy in time. Science is full of necessary explanatory assumptions – many of which can only be justified logically. Ibid. God.

        Philosophy is only imagination if you accept the post-modernist view of philosophy as free-style opinionating (and power ploys). As a realist in philosophy, I reject that view.

        RE: “Show me a God I can see and a God I can hear!”

        There are at least two problems with this demand.

        First, it illustrates what logicians call a “category mistake.” You want God – an inherently non-material being – to act like a material being. That’s like trying to weigh the soul (Duncan MacDougall, 1in 1920, thought it weighed 21 grams) or like trying to measure the speed of beauty. If atheists want to disprove the God of religion, then they must disprove the God of religion – and not something else. Otherwise, they commit the logical error of non sequitur.

        Second, are you sure you would listen if God called you? Are you open to that possibility in its various forms? Furthermore, how do you know that God hasn’t called millions before you – as, indeed, many millions claim?

  12. Ian, your book review is a good one and I intend to share it around with my scientist friends. Thanks for your effort. With regard to the old saw “religion is the opiate of the masses,” my perspective has come around to the fact that alcohol is the opiate of the masses, or whatever drug or soporific substance (or activity, throw in reality TV) one wishes to substitute in place of alcohol. This is a charge that goes down hard with those hard-drinking Marxists.

    Another element to the discussion here, and this applies especially to the ideas expressed by de Botton, is what substitutes in for religion for people when organized religion fails them or they abandon it. In present circumstances, it appears to be in large part commercialism, merely a form of materialism and there is no doubt about it. Richard Foltz has written a good bit about this, referring to the “Religion of the Market,” even to the extent of identifying a priesthood, and acolytes. Are we not discovering that our market logic, devoid of spiritual principles and values, leads to ruin? I find it very difficult to consider the overall argument and perspective of the new atheists and their fellow travelers without including this issue.

    1. The Catholics, Protestants, and many Muslims and Jews are heavier drinkers than the atheists.

      Atheists are good because they are essentially good.

      Christians and Muslims and Jews are good because they are afraid of the imaginary god.

      Take the atheist as your friend, not the Christian, Muslim, and Jew.

      1. RE: “The Catholics, Protestants, and many Muslims and Jews are heavier drinkers than the atheists.”

        What is this supposed to prove?

        RE: “Atheists are good because they are essentially good.”

        Atheists are good because they are moral parasites who absorb (and secularize) the ethical principles of the societies in which they live.

        Atheists have to be free-riders in ethics because in itself, atheism per se does not provided a basis for any kind of moral system. The most it can do is affirm moral relativism according to which Mother Teresa and Dr. Mengele are both right in their own way. This is because atheism inherently cannot solve the twin problems of all ethical systems: (1) authority and (2) legitimacy, i.e. by whose authority is an ethical rule promulgated? and what legitimacy does the promulgator have?

        If the authority and legitimacy only comes from humans (individuals or collectives) or, if the authority is not legitimate, then there is ultimately no reason why someone cannot hold the opposite opinion, i.e. relativism. If we say that practicality is the standard, then we have to ask (1) practical for whom? and (2) practical under what circumstances. ‘Practical’ had different meanings in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany than in the U.S.

        In religion, of course, God is the authority (omnipotent etc); He is legitimate since He is the maker of heaven and earth. Who ya’ gonna call?

        No doubt some Christians etc are good because they fear God, but ‘some’ does not mean ‘all’. Besides, from a purely practical point of view – the only point of view an atheist can take – it does not matter whether the good Samaritan helps because he fears God or if he helps for other reasons. The end result is the same.

        Moreover, I could argue that atheists are good because they fear the police, and are cowards: they lack the courage to be bad and, a la Nietzsche, they are weak and lack the strength to carry out their desires. (I could, but I won’t.)

        I don’t trust anyone on the basis of religious belief or lack of it.

      2. As I’m sure you know, your statement is too broad to be taken as true or used as a guideline for the selection of friends.

        I know atheists I would trust with my life, others I wouldn’t trust with my cheerios and whose hatred and bigotry make me feel physically ill. Ditto with religionists of various stripes.

        Some atheists are good because they have received nurturing that has disposed them to be empathetic to their fellow creatures. That nurturing of necessity included ideas from parents and a society that is permeated with religious conceptions of morality. The Golden Rule that so many of my atheist correspondents assure me they revere, is a statement from revealed religion. There is no way to know if they would have been “good” without these ambient religious conceptions. Indeed, the very concept of “good” is one that rises in great part from the body of religious revelation that goes back into antiquity.

        Conversely, I know atheists who will state emphatically that the Golden Rule is impracticable, irrational nonsense and against all human nature (which they believe is competitive, not cooperative naturally) and that such nonsense from religion is what makes us weak.

        I know religious people (myself included) who don’t drink (or adopt other behaviors) not because they fear God, but because they love God and take seriously the idea that to show their love for God, they must obey His guidance. We humans try to teach our children this concept. You may disagree, but I’d rather my child obey me because she loves me and trusts me, not because she fears me.

        I also know religious and irreligious people alike who commit acts of cruelty and who are bigoted, ignorant and irrational.

        The difference between them is this: The atheist who is cruel, bigoted or irrational has no standard that he has adopted by which his behavior can be categorized as good or bad or “atheistic”. The religionist who is cruel, bigoted or irrational has such a standard in the teachings of faith that they profess. It is a standard that determines whether they are really Christian, or Muslim or Baha’i. And it is a standard they must belie in order to commit cruel, bigoted or irrational acts.

        Muhammad revealed a surih that makes a point of this:

        Hast thou observed him who belieth religion?
        That is he who repelleth the orphan,
        And urgeth not the feeding of the needy.
        Ah, woe unto worshippers
        Who are heedless of their prayer;
        Who would be seen (at worship)
        Yet refuse small kindnesses! — Qur’an, Surih 107:1-7 (Pickthall)

        If we fail to be temperate or kind, it is because we have failed to “hit the mark” we have committed ourselves to hit. When we do this, we have no one to blame but ourselves. This simple fact makes people of faith more culpable than those who claim no religious beliefs when their behavior fails to reflect their professed beliefs. Atheists have no standard to uphold. Lacking an objective standard, an atheist can behave in any way they choose.

        But, when a religionist is successful living by the standards revealed by such Teachers as Christ, Buddha, or Baha’u’llah, the results are profound. Even atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell understood this when he said that if we actually lived by Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, the world would be transformed.

  13. The “God is dead” quote is so often taken completely out of context. Nietzsche was compelling us to consider that if there was no God, what moral compass should we then adopt?

    “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

    Human beings have always sought to make sense of their surroundings if only to survive, and understand how the smaller patterns of order out of chaos relate. God may simply be a grand theory of how everything hangs together. However, to be able to explain this, we have to rely on other experiences to help illustrate that understanding (try describing the smell of a rose to someone), and all too often we confuse the metaphor with the message and make literal the stories and parables.

    As the sum of human knowledge has advanced, so too have we ascribed to science so many things we had previously included in our grand theory of everything. Even so, there will be a grand theory of everything to associate all those scientific theories, and then there will always be another theory beyond that, an out beyond that yet another for the universe is infinite, and God is perhaps a way of expressing the entirety of these theories (of course that is only a conception not so much of what God IS, but how we might relate to Him). I defer to Baha’u’llah’s reference that God is an unknowable essence, but am also mindful that the word “essence” is figurative only. Buddhist scriptures rightly hold that whatever we can conceive we only limit with our minds and thus we cannot conceive of God, though I would argue on the basis of the smell of the rose that just because we can’t do so without reference to human experience, it cannot exist.

    So, yes, I choose to believe in God even though I can’t describe or explain Him (figurative again) because it makes sense that all things are associated with each other.

    Knowing this is I suggest the impetus to live a genuinely spiritual life, one that acknowledges that one’s every action has consequence. The initial horizon of responsibility tens of thousands of years ago was confined to one’s immediate surroundings, and has progressively been widened to embrace tribal and national perspectives, and now our responsibilities have been broadened still further to embrace the planet. How do I know that this is the right thing? Well, frankly, I don’t, but I choose to believe this is so because it makes sense. This is for me the essence of the meaning of a “manifestation of God” – an explanation / description of how this grand theory would now apply to human civilization now it has reached this point in its social evolution, and I am grateful for the clarity that these figures have brought, and for the understanding they shed on the grand theory which makes social evolution purposeful.

    But why our understanding of the spiritual underpinnings of our existence must needs rely on something so unscientific – a personage who from time to time claims to possess knowledge of everything and that we need to trust that what this person says is true and that whereas every observation we have made had yielded no indication that life continues after our bodies die seems almost perverse, an affront to human intelligence. Yet to reject God or the value of religious discipline because it cannot be scientifically proven seems equally perverse, for all we have done is abandon hope and assurance that our actions, our live are useful. Some may say that this is just psychology, but I would say it does not matter, for psychology is a scientific sub-sets of the grand theory. In the end we simply choose to believe for we are all agnostics as we do not have sufficient knowledge to either prove or disprove the existence of God.

    I read the writings and am captivated by their beauty because they resonate with so many of the sub-patterns an shake off the clutter that made them difficult to understand. I am inspired by the clarity of their vision – “The world is but one country and mankind its citizens” is an extraordinarily powerful statement, a call to action, an affirmation for attitude, a benchmark for human enterprise.

    For me, religion is the daily habit by which we can acquire the virtues that make us distinctly human. Of course all of life experience can contribute to this, and we can gain useful insight independent of any religion, but then we will only be working at a sub-pattern, without reference to a grand theory, and our insights and behaviour will again (ironically) be limited by what we can conceive. It’s like learning to play the violin, but only choosing the lessons you like. Yes, there are things about the Baha’i writings I find challenging, things I don’t understand and practices with which I struggle, but then again I don’t like differential calculus, let alone understand how it works, but I trust it.

    I choose to believe in God because it makes sense that all things are connected;
    I am prepared to trust that religious practice is beneficial;
    I seek always to distinguish between the metaphor and the meaning;
    I will allow my decisions in life to be made in the light of responsibility towards the whole of mankind;

    1. My computer is acting up so I don’t know if this reply got to Common Ground. My apologies if it has appeared twice.

      Reading this post brought the following line of reasoning to mind. From a philosophical perspective, one could argue that atheists are the most determined God-seekers of all, in other words, the most rigorous believers. . . . indeed, perhaps even religious fanatics a la Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett and Stenger.

      One of the chief objections to God as expressed by Sartre is that God sets limitations and boundaries on us, by imposing on us a human essence which is what it is without any consideration for our wishes. Sartre rejects this cosmic dictator who gives identities, limits, essences to everything in nature and, thereby, limits our potential for endless development. The human will has no inherent limitations – it wants what it wants absolutely – and demands the right to make itself without any arbitrarily imposed boundaries. (This relates to postmodernism as well.) Only God is limitless; nothing and no one sets God’s boundaries for Him, and therefore, only He is free.

      The atheist rejects this privileging of the divine. He seeks this divine attribute of limitless for himself, i.e. he wants to be God, or, put another way, to replace God with himself! We reject the divine dictator – to replace him with ourselves. Then I can deny essences in everything and live without limits. Then I – and my words – will actually construct reality as the postmoderns (pomos) think.

      Thus the “new” atheism actually turns out to be a quest for becoming God.

    2. Thank you for posting the fuller text of the God is Dead quote. It strikes me as differently from the way I’ve heard it used as did the Karl Marx commentary on religion being the opiate of the masses.

      Marx likens religion to pretty flowers woven into the chains that bind humanity taken in context, Marx seems to be saying the the solution to man’s bondage is not to remove the flowers, but to destroy the chains. If that is what he’s saying, then he is in agreement with all of the revelators of faith that religion should not merely make our sojourn here more tolerable, but free us from what makes it intolerable.

  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_ethics

    In an earlier comment, someone implied that atheists and agnostics don’t have standards of ethics to live by. The above links say otherwise. Being only non religious, atheist, or agnostic in and of itself doesn’t give a code of ethics, but it netiher precludes you from a code of ethics either. There are secular formulations of the. Golden Rule. There are secular ethics. The whole field of normative ethics is mostly secular. There are even pop culture formulations of the golden rule. Note: I excluded secular traditions which are more complex than simple secularity because they are more developed than simple agnosticism, simple atheism, or simple secularity. Humanism, Existentialism, Objectivism, and Kantianism are all secular traditions with well defined ethics.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religions_and_spiritual_traditions
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_founders_of_religious_traditions

    Are religious people more ethical because they have a code of ethics pre mead for them rather than actually studying normative ethics as a science and becoming an ethicist?

    1. “In an earlier comment, someone implied that atheists and agnostics don’t have standards of ethics to live by. The above links say otherwise. Being only non religious, atheist, or agnostic in and of itself doesn’t give a code of ethics, but it netiher precludes you from a code of ethics either. There are secular formulations of the Golden Rule.”

      While it’s obvious that one can be an atheist and still have a personal code of ethics, it is also obvious that there is no code of ethics that forms the foundation of atheism. If an atheist is a moral person, it is because he has taken the time and effort to cobble together a code of ethics from his environment and his attitudes toward that. In that code, he might find equal wisdom in the words of any thinker, be it Karl Marx or Carl Sagan. There is no set of teachings that he takes as a benchmark or a standard for his own behavior.

      For a person of faith there is a standard, a set of principles and guidance that forms the Gold Standard for the believer’s behavior. What this means is that the believer has a choice to make — they can either strive toward that goal and live by those teachings, or they can fail to do so. History is replete with examples of religious people who fell short of the standard (of which the Golden Rule is a prime example) and even flagrantly violated the teachings of their faith.

      But the standard exists. An atheist is bound to no such standard. In that relativistic milieu, are the ethics of Joseph Stalin any more or less valid than the ethics of someone as tolerant as Neil deGrasse Tyson or as compassionate as Oliver Sacks? It’s my personal acceptance of a faith standard that causes me to distinguish between the behavior of these individuals and regard Stalin was ignorant and sick, and Tyson and Sacks as personal heroes (menchen, by my standards).

      Here is my point: You can be a moral person and not personally believe in God or adhere to the codes of a particular faith, but you will never know if you can be a moral person without the existence of religion in the environment. The societies in which we live, our childhoods, our environments are permeated with religious principles such as the Golden Rule. That there is a secular formulation of it isn’t surprising, but it is not a secular principle. It is a principle that has existed in revealed religion going back before written history.

      The reality is that religions are founded on a code of ethics, whereas atheism is simply the lack of belief in God–there is no coherent ethical foundation. Moreover, the influence of religious ethics doesn’t stop at the doors of the church, mosque, or synagogue it permeates our world. Even societies that are assertively secular are founded on the principles that have come to us, like the Golden Rule, from the teachings of religion.

      What this means to me is that I, as a person of faith, am more culpable than my atheist confreres if I am intolerant, unjust, venial, selfish or prejudiced because I have publicly and privately covenanted to live by a body of teachings that I believe are divine in origin and such behavior violates that covenant. An atheist has no such covenant and bears no responsibility toward it.

      1. Allow me to add to your excellent points, Maya:

        As you say, there is no code of ethics inherent in atheism and for that reason, no atheist code of ethics is any more than personal preference – which is a very weak foundation on which to build individual and collective lives. Preferences can change too easily and be swayed by all kinds of considerations that should have nothing to do with ethics. It leaves us with “moral flexibility” which in practice turn out to be no morals at all. No society can base itself on such preferential morality because society must be able to rely on consistent human behavior. Thus, from a purely practical point of view, atheist preferential ethics are a non-starter for humankind’s collective life.

        That is one of the reasons Baha’u’llah says, “Know thou for a certainty that whoso disbelieveth in God is neither trustworthy nor truthful.” (Gleanings, p. 232) He does not mean every individual atheist is necessarily dishonest all the time but rather that there is no reliable foundation for ethics in such persons. One of the things ethics must do is compel us to act in a certain way – ethics are about obligations – but the disbeliever in God has no necessary obligations. The believer does.

        1. My observation about that verse “whoso disbelieveth in God is neither trustworthy nor truthful” is that it applies to religionists as much as it applies to those who are openly and avowedly atheistic.

          A person’s professions to believe in God must be borne out by behavior. Every Manifestation of God (Prophet, Avatar, Buddha pick your term) has made a point of this. Jesus, for example, told His followers that they were to use their rational faculty to “judge a thing by its fruits.” He also warns those same followers that one day people will profess to follow Him but behave in a way that belies that. He will tell them, “I never knew you.”

          When Baha’u’llah says “whoso disbelieveth in God”, I take Him to mean people who show by their behavior that they don’t really believe in God enough to follow His guidance. So, they claim to be righteous and pious, but show intolerance or hatred or apathy for other human beings.

          Which is why I commented earlier that a person who claims allegiance to God through any faith is responsible to strive to live up to that allegiance and they are more culpable when they fail to do so because they have a standard by which to measure themselves that their atheist comrades do not have.

          1. I agree with you, Maya, that believing or disbelieving in God does not refer only to intellectual or emotional assent to God’s existence but also to one’s actions. I call these two types of disbelief “theoretical atheism”and “practical atheism.” People can be theoretical believers but practical disbelievers or vice versa.

            Interestingly enough, the Baha’i concept of faith is “first conscious knowledge and second the practice of good deeds.” (Tablets of A-B, Vol. 3, p. 549). In short, both theoretical and practical assent are needed for faith. Neither by itself is sufficient.

            IMO, Baha’u’llah’s statement applies to both of these species of atheism. A person who does good deeds but loudly proclaims his disbelief in God in effect undermines the spiritual progress of humankind. Yes, s/he may help people materially or emotionally, but by advocating disbelief, s/he helps severe our relationship with the divine. It is an interesting debate whether what s/he gives is of greater value than what she takes.

    2. Non-theistic ethical systems have at least two problems that none of them have solved: legitimacy and authority. Kant finally realized that which is why he re-introduced God in “The Critique of Practical Reason” as a “postulatory theism” necessary to anchor any ethical system. He had (so he thought) disproved all proofs of God but he found it necessary to rely on the concept of God in order to solve these two problems. When you kick God out the front door, he returns through the back. Here’s why.

      Who decides which ethical standard is applicable, the one by which we separate true ethical claims from false? What human being has the legitimacy, i.e. the qualifications to establish which actions, people, etc are culpable or required? In any secular ethics, this decision is either individual or collective – but in either case it is no more legitimacy than anyone else’s choice. Neither individuals nor collectives have the qualifications to know enough about human nature and the nature of the universe in general to make their choices more than ‘opinions.’ And any human opinion may legitimately challenge any other human ‘opinion’ – leading, thereby, to a state of ethical anarchy which is precisely what we see in the secularized nations. And anarchy inevitably leads to conflict as ethical opinions contend – often in the political sphere.

      Theists don’t have the legitimacy problem because God eminently meets the standard of legitimacy since He is omniscient and omnipotent. Thus, His views about what is ethically good actually have a better foundation that mere ‘opinion.’

      The second problem for secularists is authority. If somebody breaks the ethical rules, who is hold us accountable? In a secular world, society may – but society’s rules are mere opinion, so while society is more powerful than I am, it does not necessarily have genuine authority. It has no more than consolidated opinion – but ignorance multiplied is still ignorance, and illegitimate authority is still illegitimate. (That’s why the two issues are intertwined.) God, of course, has legitimate authority because He is the one Who made the rules and laws by which the universe functions. If you don’t like it, I mean, really – whoya gonna call? Thus, God has the authority to hold us responsible, judge us and start us on our next phase of evolutionary spiritual development.

      Even more interesting is that almost all secularists who have an ethical code have ‘borrowed’ i.e. hijacked it from the religions teachings on their social environment. Does Sartre have an unique existential ethic? Not really – he is, in fact, no more than a sophisticated version of Ayn Rand who simply insisted that we accept responsibility for our choices. Well, accepting responsibility for our choices is what Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Baha’i are all about. So tell me again, what was new there? Marxist-Leninist ethics are, religious to the core: good is whatever helps the cause of the proletarians (the children of Israel) escape from the Egypt of capitalism and the pharonic financiers to the promised land of the classless society (with a temporary rest in the Canaan of the dictatorship of the proletariat). No surprise – Marx’s father was a rabbi – that so many of the early Communists were Jewish. They recognized their old story in a new form.

      Anyway, enough for now.

  15. I’d like to add something to my previous post.

    What non-theistic ethical systems lack is internal coherence. They have no way of establishing legitimacy and authority from *within* their own premises and arguments. They are all forever stuck in the ‘opinion’ mode which, as I have shown, inevitably leads to intellectual anarchy and conflict. On their own premises they cannot fulfill the need for legitimacy and authority for any ethical system to be more than ‘just another opinion among the others.’

    Theistic ethics have internal coherence insofar as the issues of legitimacy and authority are based on their premise of God.

    Even the Golden Rule requires divine legitimacy and authority. After all, the Golden Rule cannot tell me why I should follow it, why it is obligatory to follow it – especially when it is to my advantage not to, or, maybe because I enjoy being a jerk. In short, by itself, the Golden Rule lacks internal coherence – as do Kant’s categorical imperative (first form) and utilitarianism.

    1. Hi Ian, Maya, all:

      I’ve been immersing myself in Enlightenment and Reformation history – and I’m just get ready to write on it again. What keeps coming back to me again and again is the difference between the high principles of religion – which both of you have just written truly and touchingly about, and the often grubby reality.

      At issue again and again is that the reality of religious life that people see about them doesn’t match the rhetoric. Maya would say that yes, of course, you don’t judge belief in God by the actions of people who are only there to make money from it. But if you can’t see a reality that matches the rhetoric, its easy to disbelieve the rhetoric.

      In other words, the old religions decay away, and the reality of the greatness of ethical teachings grounded in belief in God becomes harder and harder to see. So the question is not just skepticism – the failing away of belief in the vitality of, say, Christianity as a system of divine truth – but of restoring the vitality of that system so that it lives up to these high ethical visions.

      This is the problem I come to again and again. I know the truth of what you and Maya say about ethics, but I also know it is a struggle to see that truth embodied in an independent and non-interpreted form rather than the massive overlaying of human interpretation that presents itself most readily at first blush.

      Stephen.

  16. Ian, by secular I meant non religious not, non theistic. There are various religions that don’t invovled belief in God and various believers in God who aren’t religious. Religion and belief in God aren’t interchangeable.

    Perhaps by non theistic you only include people who believe in neiterh God nor religion? I thought we were talking about religious versus secular, not theistic versus atheistic.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      I’m not sure how it is possible to be secular and a believer in God without tying oneself up in knots.

      For example, a theistic secularist is a contradiction in terms because the whole basis of secularism – an offshoot of humanism – is that God is not relevant to humankind and/or God does not exist. Moreover, if you believe in God, i.e. in a non-material ground of being on whom all things depend for their existence, how can you exclude God from any part of your existence, personal and social? Actually, I don’t think you can – you can only pretend. When God gets kicked out the front door, He comes in through the back window.

      In my understanding, if you believe in God, you are religious. You are not ‘churched’ as people used to say, but you are ‘religious’ insofar as you assent to the existence of God.

      The only religion I know that claims not to believe in God is Buddhism – but that’s a highly debatable issue. During the last 30 years or so scholars like Kalupahana and Garfield have pushed this idea, but other major scholars disagree, e.g. Rahula, and Suzuki. Even Kalupahana shows signs of wavering. I wrote two long papers on Buddhism and the Baha’i Faith and would be happy to e-mail you a copy if you like. Drop a line to

      1. Hi Ian, Stephen:

        There is an interesting item on “Religion WIthout God” in this weeks issue of the New York Review of Books. (See http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/04/religion-without-god/).

        Its the first chapter to new – and unfortunately posthumously published book by Ronald Dworkin, the noted New York University philosopher, legal scholar, and public intellectual. And I’ve seen a lot of other commentary recently on the topic as well. Some extracts:

        The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like and just as profound as those that believers count as religious. They say that though they do not believe in a “personal” god, they nevertheless believe in a “force” in the universe “greater than we are.” They feel an inescapable responsibility to live their lives well, with due respect for the lives of others; they take pride in a life they think well lived and suffer sometimes inconsolable regret at a life they think, in retrospect, wasted. They find the Grand Canyon not just arresting but breathtakingly and eerily wonderful. They are not simply interested in the latest discoveries about the vast universe but enthralled by them. These are not, for them, just a matter of immediate sensuous and otherwise inexplicable response. They express a conviction that the force and wonder they sense are real, just as real as planets or pain, that moral truth and natural wonder do not simply evoke awe but call for it.

        There are famous and poetic expressions of the same set of attitudes. Albert Einstein said that though an atheist he was a deeply religious man:

  17. There are other atheistic world religions than just Buddhism. Jainism, Shenism, Taoism, Confucianism, Mohism, Shinto, Unitarian Universalism, Scientology, Raëlism, etc. are world religions that either are atheistic, have atheistic currents within them, or at lest don’t teach the existence of God. Even Hinudism has some atheistic interpretations.

    1. I think that calling a truly atheistic organization a religion may be pushing semantics a bit over the edge of meaning, but some of those faiths you mention I would not classify as atheistic in any pure sense of the word: Buddhism being one of them.

      What they share is a disbelief in the western “Christian” version of God or the equally “personal” versions that occur in some Hindu and even Buddhist teaching. In this sense, even Krishna was an atheist when He stated that some mistakenly believed God to be that human form they saw.

      May I ask: is your misspelling of Hinduism as “Hinudism” intentional or accidental transposition? I’ve noticed it in several comments.

    2. As far as I can tell, you restrict the concept of God to what the Judaism, Christianity and Islam have made of it: a personal being or at least a being with personal attributes. However, this is not necessarily all that God is.

      Philosophically, God is that being or entity on which everything depends but which does not depend on anything else. That is the minimal definition of God: even the personal definitions of God adhere to this., i.e. He is omnipotent: all need Him, He needs none.

      Such an entity exists in Buddhism. The key concept of Buddhsim is “dependent origination” of all things – but if we ask if there is an exception to this, the answer is there are several. Nirvana, Dharmakaya, and the Tathagatagarbha to name only three. These fit into the philosophical definition of theism quite easily.

      Mohism is a philosophy, and has never portrayed itself as a religion. It seems likely that its teachings imply or pre-assume a theistic basis of some kind given the Mohist doctrine of “Heaven’s Intention” which is not only perfect but, among other things, punishes those who are out of harmony with it. Heaven’s Intention fits into the philosophical definition of theism.

      Jainism is simply a form of pantheism which identifies the universe with what Westerners call the ground of being or God. It is ‘atheist’ only in the sense that it rejects a Western concept of God as a personal entity.

      Shenism is Chinese folk religion mixed with Taoism and is rife with gods and goddesses not to mention Qi, the universal energy which is the ground of being for all things, dependent on none but all things depending on it.

      Shinto: is a nature religion with numerous gods and goddesses. I do not understand how you can call this atheistic. The ancient Greeks weren’t atheists nor were the American Indians.

      I would be curious to know what you mean by ” have atheistic currents within them.” What constitutes an “atheistic current”?

      I think one of the things to watch for when claims about atheism are made is whether or not the concept of God or gods is implicitly assumed. Raelians, for example, are simply a variation of pantheism and, therefore, not atheistic.

      1. Ian, the minmal definition of God I have seen involves a list of ten attributes.

        1 a person
        2 a spirit
        3 all powerful
        4 all knowing
        5 everywhere at once
        6 all good
        7 interested in humans
        8 creator of everything
        9 un changing
        10 neccessary

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_and_religion
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_in_Hinduism

        In Sanksrit, Ishwara means God. if you asked a Buddhist, a Jain, or even some Hindus if their religion included belief in God or Ishwara, they would say no.

        Take Mimamsa Hindus for example, they interpret the Vedas in such a way that devas only exists insofar as their mantras and God doesn’t exist either. They believe in the correct performance of Vedic rituals and not in God or gods.

        Adi Shankara and Advaita Vendanta hold that God is illusory. Same with Kapila and Samkhya.

        1. I see the semantical problem we’re having involves the first point in your “minimal definition”—that God is a person. Whether God can be defined as a “person’ depends entirely on what qualities one ascribes to a person.

          If one defines a person as a soul, then in some sense, I suppose God is a person. But in any physical or intellectual sense most sacred texts provide an argument that God is beyond personhood as we understand it. If a physical existence is assumed, as a Baha’i, I would not define God as a person.

          The concepts of “all-knowing” and “all-powerful” are only meaningful in contrast to human limitations and those limitations have given rise of absurd logical constructs such as the old conundrum “Could God make a rock He couldn’t lift?” Which assumes that God is a person in the human sense.

          To say, God is everywhere at once, again, relies on the human limitation of only being able to be in one place physically. Now, to be sure, my intellect can imagine being in multiple places, view the world from multiple viewpoints, but none of us can do that physically.We might express our understanding of God’s pervasiveness (as Krishna expresses it) by saying He is everywhere at once, but that is an expression of our own limitations. My son, during his study of physics, proposed that what he called the “God Dimension” was the dimension of perspective. We humans have one perspective—though some of us (writers, for instance) make a concerted effort to imagine what other viewpoints might look like. God, he theorized, might perceive all viewpoints. Is that omniscience? Insofar as a creature that can only perceive one viewpoint, it is.

          All good in human terms is sort of a mixed bag. One man’s meat is, after all, another man’s poison. I would say that God is the ultimate arbiter of what is good in terms of what conduces to the spiritual progress of our species—which brings us to “interested in humans” and “creator of everything”,

          Baha’u’llah says (in Godspeak, if you will) “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.” As I’ve commented elsewhere, I grasp the idea because I have similar reasons for my creationary process. If God did indeed create everything and if our consciousness is a reflection of His (the Spirit of God in man, as Krishna would have it), then I’d say he was necessary to creation in the same way that I’m necessary to the worlds within the stories I write.

          The sacred texts tell us that God is unchanging. That He, unlike us, is not evolving. Perhaps they only mean that He is unchanging with regard to us.

          You focus on the word Ishwara. But Ishwara, like “person” has connotations that may or may not fit what an individual believer or belief system accepts. We obviously have the same relationship with the word God in this culture. Or the word religion. Religion means manmade ritual and dogma to many people, while they describe their own beliefs as “spirituality”. Religion means simply the body of a prophet’s teachings to others. Or the community that is attempting to live by those teachings. It’s important to get the semantics straight or we end up taking past each other, which I think is partly what’s happening here.

          Of course ishwara is illusory. Baha’u’llah, who claims to represent what we call God, makes a point of the fact that any conception we form of God is illusion because we are not capable of comprehending the reality. Buddha is quoted as saying that the question as to whether there is a God (and if He uses the word ishwara, then we need to be sure we understand what that means) is irrelevant. This is taken to mean that God is irrelevant or, even more interpretively, that there is no God. But, as a believer in God (as a Being knowable only through His creation, flashes of insight and the revelations of the Buddhas) I agree that the Question as to whether there is a God is irrelevant. It is as irrelevant as the question as to whether there is a Sun, or an Earth, or a Universe.

          “There is, O monks, an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. Were there not, O monks, this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated formed.” Udana 80-81

          “The Element (or Cause) is without beginning in time. It is the common foundation of all dharmas. Because it exists there also exist all places of rebirth and the full attainment of Nirvana.” Ratnagotravibhaga pp. 72,73

          Try scrapping your minimal list and delve into the sacred texts, not just of Buddhism, but of the other revealed faiths. I found it most enlightening—and I was coming at this from the opposite direction. I thought that God had to be a Person, as I understood persons and that He was manifest in one individual Representative for all time. My study has changed my point of view on this.

          What you take away from these writings depends, in part, on what you bring to them. I entered this arena with a Christian upbringing that strongly colored my views and my understanding of words like God, manifestation, spirit and the like.

          I guess what I’m saying is that it is easy for human beings to become locked inside our own constructs.

          1. It could be semantic because ultimately God like all words are just words.

            I was raised Christian as well, but I have studied various other religions and religious texts over my lifetime. It started with studying Gnosticism, then several other religions as well… Judaism, Islam, Baha’i Faith, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Tenrikyo, Seicho No Ie, Sekai Kyuseikyo, Cheondogyo, Wicca, Rastafarianism, Unitarian Universalism, Raëlism, Scientology, Druidism, Zoroastrianism, Thelema, New Age, Theosophy, Eckankar, etc. Though I feel an incomplete study of comparative religion.

            Also, Adi Shankara would say only Brahman and Atman are real and everything else is Maya or illusion and Avidya or ignorance. Google the word mayavada. Mayavada shows the difference between Advaita and Vaishnavism. Each school of Vedanta has their own commentaries on the Upanishads and the Gita. Adi Shakara would also say we aren’t really changing either, just the illusion of change. Imagine a tree with two birds. One bird is at the top of the tree and represent Brahman and Atman. A second bird is at the bottom of the tree tasting various fruits. It over times goes eventually to the top of the tree. In the end only the first bird existed the second was an illusion. Also, how familiar with Advaita Vedanta, Madhyamaka, and Yogacara are you?

            I do have a shelf currently stocked with the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants Community of Christ version, Lotus Sutra, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, and Hua Hu Ching. I also have e books of other scriptures like the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra. I also have been comparing translations of the Quran and plan to get that soon as well. I also consider getting Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures and several other religious texts as well. I have read both with and without commentaries. Diamond Sutra and Heart Sutra translations are the most likely to come with commentaries in them.

            I also know websites that host scriptures online as well.

          2. I forgot to add that Hndus either belong to a monistic camp or a theist camp.

            The monistic camp view God and Gods as Ishta-Devata, useful concepts, but just only cocncepts and hence illusions like all things other than Brahman and Atman. This is also a concept in Vajrayana Buddhism, in Tibetan Ishta-Devata is Yidam.

            The theist camp view God as Ishwara. They don’t use the illusion hypothesis.

            I’ll give the example of the the Mahavakays of the Upanishads.
            Prajanam Brahma
            Ayam Atma Brahm
            Aham Brahmasmi
            Tat Tvam Asi or Atat Tvam Asi
            Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma
            Sat Chit Ananda Brahma

            Each of the above saying has a Advaitin and a Vaishnava interpretation.

            Tat Tvam Asi or Atat Tvam Asi

            Advaita
            Absolute equality of Brahman and Atman, between Tat and Tvam. Nirguna Brahman and Atman alone are real.

            Vaishnava Visisitadvaita
            Identity of Atman as a part of Brahman, Tvam as a part of Tat. Saguna Brahman is identified as Ishwara or Vishnu.

            Vaishnava Dvaita
            Atman is a servant of Brahman. Atman is not Brahman. Saguna Brahman is identified as Ishwara or Vishnu.

            Vaishnava Shuddhadvaita
            Oneness in essence of Atman and Brahman, Tvam and Tat. Atman or Tvam is the part and Brahman or Tat is the whole. Saguna Brahman is identified as Svayam Bhagavan or Krishna.

            Vaishnava Dvaitadvaita
            Equal difference and sameness between Atman and Brahman, Tvam and Tat. Atman or Tvam is a part of the whole which is Brahman or Tat. Saguna Brahman is identified as Svayam Bhagavan or Krishna.

            Vaishnava Achintyadvaitadvaita
            Inconceivable oneness or sameness and difference between Atman and Brahman, Tvam and Tat. Atman or Tvam is the part and Brahman or Tat is the whole. Saguna Brahman is identified as Svayam Bhagavan or Krishna.

            Above are the various Vedanta interpretations from one line in the Upanishads. The Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Brahma Sutras all have varying interpretations and commentaries produced by each school of Vedanta mentioned above in chronological order of the schools.

            Advaita was taught by Shri Gaudapada, Govinda Bhagavatapada, and Adi Shakrara Bhagavatapada. There are four aims of life or Purusharthas which are Kama, Artha, Dharma, and Moksha. Moksha is achieved by the realization of nonduality of Atman and Brahman. Knowledge of Brahman destroys Maya and one becomes a jivanmukti or liberated while alive. A trained Guru of Adviata Vedanta is neccessary to achieve liberation of Moksha to understand Advaita correctly. Six pramanas or ways of knowing are held in Advaita, various Hindu philosophies hold between two and six. Brahman which is also Atman is real and Maya which is Avidya is illusion. The five koshas are veils of Brahman and Atman. Whatever eternal is true, whatever temporary is false. Whatever unchanging is true, whatever changing is false. Whatever is idenpendent of time and space is true, whatever is dependent of time and space is false. Whatever is immune to superimposition is true, whatever is vulnerable to superimposition is false. When people try to understand Brahman, due to the Maya, the illusion of God appears. Neti neti means not this and not that, because of Maya and Avidya.

            Above is a summary of Advaita. The Smartha Tradtion or Smartism a denomination of Hinduism is based on the above. Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism are the other denominations of Hinduism and disagree with the beliefs above, especially Hare Krishnas.

            Visisitadvaita was taught by Ramanuja. There are three pramanas as in most schools of Vedanta. Devotion to God rather than mystic realization of oneness with Brahman is the path to liberation. God is seen as the whole of all that exists. Nothing but God exists. Netiher neti means not just this and not just that.

            Dvaita was taught my Madhva aka Purna Prajna aka Ananda Tirtha. There are five differences, between God and souls, God and matter, souls and matter, various souls, and various matter. This is important to note because most Hindus don’t believe in the five differences, but rather five onenesses, samenesses, or non-differencesses.

            Shaivism has various school as well. They are Pashupata Shaivism, Shaiva Siddhanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Vira Shaivism or Lingayatism, and Shivadvaita. Shaivism generally teaches Visistadvaita as taught by Ramanuja but with focus on Shiva rather than Vishnu. Shaktism focuses on Shakti rather than Shiva.

        2. Dear Stephen:

          The philosophical (not theological) definition of God I provided – that which is independent of everything but on which everything else depends i.e. the ground of being – explicitly or implicitly includes the ten attributes you mention.

          1) God is omnipotent, (all-powerful) because He depends on nothing and everything depends on Him.
          2) He is necessary vis-a-vis other beings because everything depends on Him.
          3) He is necessary in Himself because if He were contingent then he would depend on something else, which violates His independence.
          4) He is omnipresent because if He were not, there would be parts of existence beyond his power and this violates the principle that all things depend on Him.
          5) He is a spirit because If He were material He would be contingent and dependent.
          6) He is the “creator of everything” because all things depend on Him for existence.
          7) He is unchanging insofar as His prime attributes – ontological independence and that on which everything depends do not change. He is also beyond time – since He is dependent on nothing – and therefore is unchanging.
          8) He is a person because without personhood He would be incomplete and incompleteness implies dependence.
          9) He is all good because He granted existence to this universe (He didn’t have to – He is independent) and thus gave the gift of existence.
          10) He is interested in humans because if He wasn’t, He wouldn’t have chosen to create this universe.
          11) He is all-knowing because if He was not He would be dependent on other things for His knowledge and that would violate His independence.

          IMO, the point here is not what religions say about themselves but rather what is said and/or implicit in their teachings. As a philosopher, I am particularly interested in the philosophic content of religions, the often hidden pre-suppositions and implications. My interest is inspired by Baha’u’llah’s teaching of progressive revelation which requires us to re-think past revelations in new terms.

          What differs among religions is that some are more aware of God as a personal being – even the Buddha is no mere man, He is the Compassionate Buddha who is eternal – than others. But all religion has a God, an X, a ground of being, and exception to the contingency of the world. Some, like Jain pantheists locate it in existence, the universe, itself. As you can see from the above, it all ends in the same place.

          1. Ian, for example lots of people would debate the all good point. Existence isn’t that much of a gift given the problem of evil. Existence contains lots of suffering. Some people would say existence is a curse not a gift.

            I’ll illustrate with Hindu atheist arguments.

            Atheistic Hindu doctrines cite various arguments for rejecting a creator-God or Ishvara. The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra of the Samkhya school states that there is no philosophical place for a creationist God in this system. It is also argued in this text that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. For instance, Samkhya argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world. It says God was a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. The Sutras of Samkhya endeavour to prove that the idea of God is inconceivable and self-contradictory, and some commentaries speak plainly on this subject. The Sankhya- tattva-kaumudi, commenting on Karika 57, argues that a perfect God can have no need to create a world, and if God’s motive is kindness, Samkhya questions whether it is reasonable to call into existence beings who while non-existent had no suffering. Samkhya postulates that a benevolent deity ought to create only happy creatures, not an imperfect world like the real world.
            Proponents of the school of Mimamsa, which is based on rituals and orthopraxy, decided that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They argue that there was no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there was no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a God to validate the rituals. Mimamsa argues that the Gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. In that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of Gods.

            The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra in verse no. 1.92 directly states that existence of “God is unproved”. Hence there is no philosophical place for a creationist God in this system. It is also argued by commentators of this text that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. Samkhya theorists argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world and that God was only a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. The Sutras of Samkhya have no explicit role for a separate God distinct from the Puruṣa. Such a distinct God is inconceivable and self-contradictory and some commentaries speak plainly on this subject. The Sankhya-tattva-kaumudi commenting on Karika 57 argues that a perfect God can have no need to create a world (for Himself) and if God’s motive is kindness (for others), Samkhya questions whether it is reasonable to call into existence beings who while non-existent had no suffering. These commentaries of Samkhya postulate that a benevolent deity ought to create only happy creatures, not a mixed world like the real world.[citation needed] A majority of modern academic scholars are of view that the concept of Ishvara was incorporated into the nirishvara (atheistic) Samkhya viewpoint only after it became associated with the Yoga, the Pasupata and the Bhagavata schools of philosophy. This theistic Samkhya philosophy is described in the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Bhagavad Gita.

            Samkhya accepts the notion of higher selves or perfected beings but rejects the notion of God. The following arguments were given by the Samkhya philosophers against the idea of an eternal, self-caused, creator God:
            If the existence of karma is assumed, the proposition of God as a moral governor of the universe is unnecessary. For, if God enforces the consequences of actions then he can do so without karma. If however, he is assumed to be within the law of karma, then karma itself would be the giver of consequences and there would be no need of a God.
            Even if karma is denied, God still cannot be the enforcer of consequences. Because the motives of an enforcer God would be either egoistic or altruistic. Now, God’s motives cannot be assumed to be altruistic because an altruistic God would not create a world so full of suffering. If his motives are assumed to be egoistic, then God must be thought to have desire, as agency or authority cannot be established in the absence of desire. However, assuming that God has desire would contradict God’s eternal freedom which necessitates no compulsion in actions. Moreover, desire, according to Samkhya, is an attribute of prakriti and cannot be thought to grow in God. The testimony of the Vedas, according to Samkhya, also confirms this notion.
            Despite arguments to the contrary, if God is still assumed to contain unfulfilled desires, this would cause him to suffer pain and other similar human experiences. Such a worldly God would be no better than Samkhya’s notion of higher self.
            Furthermore, there is no proof of the existence of God. He is not the object of perception, there exists no general proposition that can prove him by inference and the testimony of the Vedas speak of prakriti as the origin of the world, not God.
            Therefore, Samkhya maintained that the various cosmological, ontological and teleological arguments could not prove God.

          2. Ian, interestingly in Advaita Vedanta nothing dependent is held to exist at all. That which is eternal, independent, unchanging, spaceless, and timeless is real and true ie Brahman which is Atman. All else is Maya which is Avidya which is unreal and false. It is sometimes called Kevaladvaita or Absolute Monism or Absolte Nondualism.

            Google Mayavada to see the more Vaishnava views in relation to the above.

          3. Stephen,

            It seems to me you have overlooked the significance of what I wrote. In a nutshell, I showed that the minimal philosophical definition of God implicitly contains the theological definition of God which you offered (and vice versa). IOW, the two definitions are convertible and therefore, wherever we find one, we implicitly find the other. Different religions may emphasize one or the other perspective but upon closer inspection, they turn out to be one. This is further philosophical proof for Baha’u’llah’s teaching of the essential unity of all religions which, ultimately, worship one God.

            Maya makes a good point: what is the difference between divine and non-divine ultimate reality? If we can’t distinguish them, they are really one (the principle of the oneness of indistinguishables). Maybe the difference is only our perspective which brings us back to the essential oneness of all religions.

            Regarding the gift of existence: I think your response confuses the gift per se and people’s response to it. A gift is something given; it is unearned, and in the case of existence, unearnable; it is given freely. Existence is a gift.

            The fact that some people do not appreciate this gift is a separate issue. Personally, I don’t take such protestations about how horrible the gift is very seriously. Indeed, the hypocrisy annoys me. If people don’t think the gift is really worth it – they know how to return it. There is no shortage of ways to do so. The fact that they do not return it shows they are posturing and putting on a show for themselves and others.

            You write: “The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra of the Samkhya school states that there is no philosophical place for a creationist God in this system”

            To call a God a “creationist God” is to offer one perspective or way of understanding the fact that something, X, that is absolutely independent and on which everything depends. Baha’is don’t have a “creationist God” either: in the Baha’i Writings God emanates phenomenal reality although this emanation can be understood as creation in regards to specific universes or worlds. In short, there is no necessary contradiction between the philosophical definition of God and what the Samkhya (i.e. interpretation) school says.

            You write: “For instance, Samkhya argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world.”

            This is simply wrong. Aristotle’s unmoved mover – which the Writings confirm – is designed precisely to refute that mistaken notion. As the Great Attractor, God can move things without moving or changing Himself.

            You write:”commenting on Karika 57, argues that a perfect God can have no need to create a world”

            It is true that God has no need to create i.e. that which is absolutely independent has no deficiency. However, God creates precisely because of His perfection as a gift.

            You write: “and if God’s motive is kindness, Samkhya questions whether it is reasonable to call into existence beings who while non-existent had no suffering. Samkhya postulates that a benevolent deity ought to create only happy creatures, not an imperfect world like the real world.”

            Given how virtually every animal fights for its continued existence, every plants struggles to grow in whatever place it is and very few humans voluntarily exit this life (and then only under extreme pressure) I would say we have plenty of empirical evidence that Samkhya'”reason” notwithstanding, all beings appreciate being called out of non-existence and are quite grateful.

            Is it “reasonable” to call them into existence? Of course, given what they can gain in existence.

            What makes the Samkhya think that the world is imperfect because it isn’t to their taste or fails to meet their standards? Maybe they should revise their standards by a closer look at reality.

            As the Baha’i Writings indicate, happiness is not comfort – as the Samkhya seem to have thought – but the appropriate actualization of one’s inherent potentials. We can be very uncomfortable while self-actualization but at bottom, we are happy. The world is made of happy creatures. (As a neo-Aristotelian, I can’t help point out that the Writings have confirmed Aristotle’s definition of happiness.)

            Sorry, but the Mimamsa are just plain wrong. Physical nature cannot explain itself and requires a God.

            BTW: saying that reality is an illusion does not mean reality does not exist. It simply means reality exists as an illusion – which is a mode of existence – and, just like physical nature, cannot explain itself.

      2. Also I would like to add that belief in an ultimate reality doesn’t equal belief in God even though the reverse is true. God is a divine ultimate reality, but there are various non divine ultimate reality alternatives to God. Theists are people who believe God is the ultimate reality. Atheists are people who don’t believe that, whatever they believe to be the ultimate reality or if they believe in an ultimate reality is irrelevant to the category.

        1. Pardon, but this sounds like pure semantics to me. And an issue of viewpoint (of which we each have but one). For one thing, many of the atheists I know would assure you that they disbelieved in any sort of ultimate reality—divine or not.

          But what is a “divine ultimate reality” as opposed to a “non divine ultimate reality” and how are we to know the difference?

          The sacred texts tell us that the universe reflects the attributes of its Creator. The Torah says the “heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament displays His handiwork” that they “pour forth speech” but do it without words. (Being a writer, I love that, since my job is to put into words things that cannot be put into words.)

          Baha’u’llah wrote: “Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great Light. Methinks, but for the potency of that revelation, no being could ever exist. How resplendent the luminaries of knowledge that shine in an atom, and how vast the oceans of wisdom that surge within a drop! To a supreme degree is this true of man, who, among all created things, hath been invested with the robe of such gifts, and hath been singled out for the glory of such distinction. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed.”

          Baha’u’llah is saying that creation reflects God’s attributes and that we, as human beings are capable of reflecting all of those attributes. Our reality is a reflection of the ultimate reality. If that is true and we are rational beings whose reality transcends the physical, then it stands to reason that the ultimate reality is also rational and transcendent. But He (and Krishna, and Christ, and Buddha etc) is also saying that that ultimate reality is one that can communicate its love and guidance for us through beings like them.

          Now, whether or not you believe that will depend, in part, on what you’ve gotten out of a study of those Avatars and Prophets and the extent to which their teachings, if practiced, can conduce to human evolution and spiritual progress.

          Again, I think we come back to Buddha’s assertion that the Question of whether God exists is irrelevant. To us—as evolving rational, spiritual beings—the relevant question is, “If we live by the teachings of Buddha or Christ or Baha’u’llah, will we evolve into better human beings?”

          1. Maya,

            You ask, “But what is a “divine ultimate reality” as opposed to a “non divine ultimate reality” and how are we to know the difference? ”

            IMO, that is right to the point: we cannot distinguish between the two divine and non-divine ultimate realities.

            That was precisely the point of my showing how the minimal philosophical definition of God implicitly contains within itself the more theological definition of God offered by Stephen.

            IOW, the two are convertible – which means that anything that meets the minimal philosophical definition of God is also – at least implicitly or potentially – also a ‘religious’ definition. Buddhist claims notwithstanding, the Tathagatagarbha is, theologically speaking, divine. Ibid the Jain material universe in which they divinize matter.

        2. Stephen. you wrote: Look at the Wikipedia list of Ultimate Realities and subtract God and al-Haqq and you will now have a list of non divine Ultimate Realities.

          No, I have a list of Ultimate realities from which God has been arbitrarily redacted. It strikes me as a similar exercise to putting on a sleep mask to keep the light from keeping one awake. The light is still there, the sleeper simply can no longer see it and can snooze merrily away.

          It also strikes me that the concept of Nothingness in metaphysics is similar to the concept of nothingness in physics. It is not really an absence of anything because clearly there is something there to be remarked upon. Whether we say that the Universe came forth from Nothingness or nothingness, we are still left with an infinite regression and a bunch of unanswered questions.

          Only if we posit that Ishwara or Suryata or God or Nothingness or the Absolute or Brahma or the Unformed, Uncreated is something fundamentally unlike anything in the created, evolved universe do we stop the infinite regression. But I think we have to exercise some humility in the face of THAT.

          Here’s my take on it: There is certainly Something at the beginning of it all, and throughout history human beings have arisen claiming to speak for THAT. They give the same basic teachings—transferred orally, then eventually written down after the fact, or at the time of revelation, and finally, written in the hand of the Revelator. Now, either these fellows are nuts, or they are liars, or they are who they claim to be. My own personal study has led me to believe that the common ground in their messages is too great a coincidence to even appear in a work of fiction, let alone real life, so I feel listening to them and testing their teachings in the laboratory of life is a rational response.

          I would not feel this way were Christ or Krishna or Buddha or Muhammad or Ra or Fu Hsi or Zoroaster or Baha’u’llah an isolated event in history. I would not feel this way if all of these messages were given in a pre-literate world. I would not feel this way if these men were all “of their time and place”—that is they were simply refining on current trends which they had studied avidly. Baha’u’llah, for example, received no formal education and was a product of 19th century middle-eastern culture—yet, He produced a body of work the principles of which were shocking to most of the people around Him. The uniqueness of these individuals is one of the reasons that there are world-wide religions with many millions of followers so long after their advents while even contemporary rulers are little more than historical footnotes.

          What I am suggesting is that I accept the existence of a God not because of one thing or another but because of a body of evidence that includes the sort of thing I alluded to above. Mathematician William Hatcher put it eloquently in his essay “The Science of Religion”, I think, when he said that: “It would be a mistake to say that we hold such a statement to be true because of reason, or because of intuition, or because of experience. In the final analysis, we hold something as true only because of everything else which we accept as true, that is, because this something is consistent with our experience and understanding of life as a whole.”

  18. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha-nature

    The above link shows that all alleged Buddhist concepts of the ultimate reality are actually references to Sunyata or emptiness. Though, I guess you could ultimately equate Sunyata with God.

    Though utimately, monists transcend both theism and atheism ultimately with one ultimate reality the can be said to be God or not God. Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Ekists, Scientologists, Theosophists, Gnostics, Hermeticists, New Agers, Contemporay Modern Neo Pagans, Wiccans, and several other religions are prime examples of monistic religions as well as some Jews, some Kabbalists, some Christians, and some Sufis. But, monistic interpretations can be applied to any and all religions, any and all philosophies. Atman is Brahman and Brahman in Atman. One is All and All is One. All roads lead to the one. All founders, religions, scriptures, philosophers, and mystics teach monism, even if the influence of Maya and Avidya only make it seem otherwise. Karma, desires, debt, and various other things prevent people from entering moksha or nirvana and so are reborn. Philosophies like Vedanta, Madhyamaka, and Yogacara have been used historically to interpret Hinduism and Buddhism, but can be used to interpret any and all religions.

    Also, interesting note, both the Upanishads and Gita were orally composed centuries after the death of the Buddha. Some Upanishads are Pre Buddhist, but the vast majority are not. Upanishads are continually being added to the canon, though the 108 Upanishads are the most famous, having been codified in the medieval period. The Mukhya Upanishads are the oldest with all others being added at later dates.

    Rig Veda 1700 – 1100 BCE
    Sama Veda 1700 – 1100 BCE
    Yajur Veda 1100 – 600 BCE
    Atharva Veda 1200 – 900 BCE
    Brahmanas 900 – 700 BCE
    Aranyakas
    Upanishads Wide Range from Pre Buddhist Era to Present
    Mahabharata 400 – 300 BCE
    Bhagavad Gita 500 – 100 BCE
    Ramayana 500 – 100 BCE or even later
    Puranas 250 – 1200 CE or even later
    Tantras
    Sutras
    Stotras 500 – 1700 CE among several of the most famous
    Ashtavarka Gita after 500 – 100 BCE
    Gherand Samhita 1600 – 1700 CE
    Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1400 – 1500 CE
    Yoga Vasistha 1000 – 1400 CE

    Above are all the universally recognized Hindu scriptures. There are sectarian scriptures as well. Note, some Upanishads and most Puranas are sectarian, but are listed above due to have wide appeal as a group. The Buddha couldn’t have rewritten books that had yet to have been composed.

    Mimamsa
    Mimamsa Sutra 300 – 200 BCE

    Vedanta
    Brahma Sutras

    Yoga
    Yoga Sutras 300 – 200 BCE

    Samkhya
    Samkyha Sutras 200 CE

    Nyaya
    Nyaya Sutras 200 – 100 BCE

    Vasheshika
    Vasheshika Sutra 200 – 100 BCE

    Gaudiya Vaishnavism
    Brahma Samhita 1300 CE
    Gita Govinda
    Chaitanya Bhagavata 1500 – 1600 CE
    Chaitanya Charitamrita 1500 – 1600 CE

    Kashmir Shaivism
    Agamas 850 CE
    Shiva Sutras 800 – 900 CE
    Vijnana Bhairava Tantra

    Pahupata Shivism
    Pashupata Sutras

    Shaiva Siddhanta
    Tirumurai 500 – 1200 CE
    Agamas 850 CE

    Lingayatism or Vira Shaivism
    Agamas 850 CE
    Siddhanta Sikhamani 700 – 800 CE
    Vachana Sahitya 1000 – 1100 CE
    Mantra Gopya 1100 – 1200 CE
    Shunyasampadane 1400 – 1600 CE
    Karana Hasuge 1100 – 1200 CE
    Basava Purana 1200 – 1300 CE

    This illustrates the long process which the Historical Vedic religion became the Hinduism we have today. Also, note the dates above are when they were orally composed and not when they were first written down for the oldest ones. Hinduism began anywhere from 250 – 1200 CE with the composition of the Puranas.

    1. Stephen,

      Yes, I’m aware they are identified by some with Sunyata. I’ve got a whole paper on this – “Nothigness and the Baha’i Writings” along with my “Buddhism and the Baha’i Writings.” The important thing, however, is to bear in mind that Sunyata also meets the standard of not being caused or affected by “dependent origination”, i.e. it depends on nothing and everything depends on it.

      How you define monism would determine whether I can agree with your assertion that “All founders, religions, scriptures, philosophers, and mystics teach monism.” If by monism you mean that ultimately there is only one thing that is absolutely real i.e. God, I agree with you. That is contained in the idea of God’s absolute independence. All other things are only relatively real as the Baha’i Writings state.

      However, if monism is defined as the existence of only one substance – then I disagree. That which is independent of all else cannot be of the same substance as things that are dependent. They are essentially different in at least one important respect.

      Worst of all is to confuse monism with pantheism – which is often done. Pantheism says that God – the absolutely independent – enters into the condition of the dependent. Clearly this is impossible.

      1. Ian, you are forgetting the concept of Maya and Avidya, illusion and ignorance.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_(illusion)

        Weirdly enough the monism of Adi Shankara involves one and a half substances. Brahman and Maya, or Atman and Avidya. The relationship isn’t completely explained between them. Brahman or Atman exists and nothing else, but Maya or Avidya is illusion and only appears to exist.

        Some have criticized the above position as not being monism at all like Ramanuja and Vallabha. They said the Adi Shankara actually taught was dualism under close investigation.

        So how familiar are you with Vedanta, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, and various other philosophies? You do seem to be familiar with Adi Shankara since your position is actually the same as his, or is this a coincidenence? Note, by Vedanta, I mean Advaita and Adi Shankara, not any of the other five schools of Vedanta. I sometimes use them interchangeably, but Vaishnavas subscribe to different forms of Vedanta than other Hindus.

        Dependent thing actually only appear to be dependent from a point of view. Things appear to be created and be destroyed, be born and die, but actually nothing is created, destroyed, born, or dead.

        Also, you seem to make a straw argument of what Pantheists and monists believe, or even that they are mutually exclusive groups, actually they don’t believe God becomes dependent either. It’s a point in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna told Arjuna that Atman neither is born nor dies and the wise grieve neither for the living nor the dead. This was in the context of the Kurukshetra War. Also, technically the Bhagavad Git was originally part of the Mahabharata that started to circulate as its own book after a while.

        Why do people not read the Wikipedia article? I give links to them, but people don’t make references to the relevant material in then or in any other links.

        So what Pantheists and monists did you interview to arrive at the conclusion was that was what they believed? Or did you only just glean their positions from whatever Abdul Baha wrote of them? I’m familiar with various religions and didn’t find some books that helpful, especially Some Answered Questioned where he basically uses straws of Sufis, Theosophists, others, and what they professed.

        Also, on my earlier point, while mainstream Christianity and Islam don’t teach monism, some.Christians and Muslims did. How monistic a person is is a good measurement of how close they are to moksha or nirvana? This is illustrated by various interactions between Hindus and Christians I have seen online, like a Hindu guru and a Christian nun or a Hindu guru and a Christian priest. Through practice if whatever religion as a means to get closer to God, people will naturally realize, pantheism, monism, or both.

        1. Given that my name is Maya, I’ve been fascinated by the way westerners seem to blur the concept by assigning it the negative “illusion” and a yang relationship to the yin of “real”. We thus turn what is a simple statement of the continuum of reality into a zero-sum game: either something is real (good, positive, sat) or illusion (bad, unreal, asat). I frankly see no need to make this distinction. No, more than that: I think the distinction is unnecessarily divisive and obscuring.

          You said that “Maya or Avidya is illusion and only appears to exist.”

          With all due respect to the wikipedia articles, this is not new material to me, and I doubt that it is to Ian or Stephen either. Is it necessary for us to have to refer to the articles directly in order for you to engage? We can do so, but I would far rather interact with you and your understanding of the material.

          When I go to the Bhagavad Gita or other texts from which these concepts are drawn, I get an entirely different take on the concept of Maya, for example, than appears in the materials you reference. Maya, in the sacred texts is, that creative power of which the physical universe was made. I’m actually blogging Wednesday about this, tangential to Bertrand Russell’s essay on Mysticism and Logic—specifically the idea that the oneness of all things is reality and that plurality is illusion. That is, “not real.”

          The danger of binary thinking here is obvious. If we judge a situation, person or thing by what seems to be true about it, the results can run the gamut from benign to humorously embarrassing to disastrous. Most humans, I think, do tend to see the external reality of things almost to the exclusion of what is behind or within or underlying it.

          For example, we talk about not judging a book by its cover. My last book has an absolutely gorgeous cover that is, I think, evocative of the story inside the book. From that cover you can glean a sense of the struggle between darkness and light; you would perceive that the protagonist was a young man; you would even be able to guess the nature of his dilemma from the title and what sort of being the antagonist was based on the composition of the painting.

          That’s a significant amount of information. It’s good information. The cover might even inspire that wonderful rush of pleasure that comes from seeing something evocative and beautifully done. That’s not unreal or ephemeral or worthless. BUT it is incomplete. Because until one is drawn by the cover to open the book and read the story within it, one will not get the whole story with all its nuance and emotional resonance. Moreover, my book is real. The story is real in the sense that it exists. But it would not exist without me. It’s reality is dependent upon MY reality.

          That is the way I see the relationship between God and His Maya. It is the action and result of God’s creative power, and it and its effects are real and good as long as we recognize that they are connected inextricably to and dependent upon the reality behind and within them. We deceive ourselves when we think that the book wrote itself or that the story is independent of the Teller of the story. We damage ourselves when we make the creation partner with God (as the Bab and Baha’u’llah have put it) and make it the focus of our efforts.

          As Krishna is quoted to have said: “When one sees eternity in things that pass away and infinity in finite things, then one has pure knowledge. But if one merely sees the diversity of things then one has impure knowledge. And if one selfishly sees a thing as if it were everything, independent of the ONE and the many, then one is in the darkness of ignorance.” — Bhagavad Gita 18:20-22

          It seems to me that the balance, here, is to understand our physical, material reality as Baha’u’llah and Krishna suggest—reflections or manifestations of the spiritual reality within, or behind them.

          1. Maya, there are six schools of Vedanta each with different interpretations of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita,

            You misquoted the verses. It says that sattva predominated people are Pantheists and monists. Rajas dominated people are dualists and pluralists. Tamas dominated people are solipsists. Also, remember since the Bhagavad Gita is only a smriti text, it must be taught in the context of shruti texts like the Upanishads. Actally what I’ve read of the Bhagavad Gita and Advaita commentaries on it undermines your position on what Krishna and the Bhagavad Gita teach.

            I have read both Advaita commentaries and Vaishnava commentaries. You seem to hold more of a Vaishnava position while I hold a more Advaita position. Notable Advaita personalities are Gaudapada, Govinda Bhagavatapada, Adi Shankara, Vacaspati Misra, Madhava Vidyaranya, Sadananda Yogendra Saraswati, Madhusudana Sarasvati, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi, Narayana Guru, Sivananda Saraswati, Chinmayananda Saraswati, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Dayanada Saraswati, Nigamananda Paramhansa, etc.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman

            The Wikipedia page on Brahman shows the differences among Vedanta. Vaishnavas are the other five schools of Vedanta. Vishishtadvaita has Nammalvar, the Alvars, Yamunacharya, Ramanuja, Pillai Lokacharya, Vedanta Desika, Manavala Mamunigal, etc. Dvaita has Madhva, Jayatirtha, Vyasatirtha, Sripadaraja, Vadirajatirtha, Raghavendra Swami, Naraharitirtha, Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasaru, Vijaya Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, etc. Dvaitadvaita has Nimbarka and others. Shuddhadvaita has Vallabha and others. Achintyadvaitadvaita has Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acharya, Gadadhara Pandita, Srivasa Thakura, Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, etc.

            The later Vedantic philosophers teach that the liberated being, upon realizing his or her true nature, reaches the state of existence, awareness and bliss; as such, when asked to describe Brahman anthropomorphically, philosophers use the term saccidananda even though Brahman is beyond the grasps of words. The term saccidānanda is regarded as the only possible, yet inadequate and inaccurate, term which can be used to explain Brahman.
            It is said that Brahman cannot be known by empirical means — that is to say, as an object within our consciousness — because Brahman is our very consciousness. Therefore it may be said that moksha, yoga, samādhi, nirvana, etc. do not merely mean to know Brahman, but rather to realise one’s “brahman-hood”, to actually realise that one is and always was Brahman. Indeed, closely related to the Self-concept of Brahman is the idea that it is synonymous with jiva-atma, or individual selves, our atman (or Self) being readily identifiable with the greater reality (paramatma) of Brahman.
            Generally, Vedanta rejects the notion of an evolving Brahman since Brahman contains within it the potentiality and archetypes behind all possible manifest phenomenal forms. The Vedas, though they are in some respects historically conditioned, are considered by Hindus to convey a knowledge[note 5] eternal, timeless and always contemporaneous with Brahman. This knowledge is considered to have been handed down by realised yogins to students many generations before the Vedas were committed to writing. Written texts of the Vedas are a relatively recent phenomenon.
            Different schools try to establish the primacy or supremacy of the personal or impersonal nature of Brahman. Advaita argues the latter and dvaita the former.

            Advaita Vedanta espouses nondualism. Thus, Brahman is the origin and end of all things, material or otherwise. Brahman is the root source of everything that exists, and is the only thing that exists according to Shankara. He states that Brahman is unknowable (as an object of knowledge), indescribable and, all inclusively, non-dual. The goal of Vedanta is to realize that one’s Self (Atman) is a product of our ego and false-identification; in reality, Brahman is all that exists. This leads to the statement that we are ultimately Brahman. Depending upon the interpretation, the Hindu pantheon of gods is said, in the Vedas and Upanishads, to be only higher manifestations or metaphors, of Brahman. For this reason, “ekam sat” (“Truth is one”), and all is Brahman. This explains the Hindu view that “Truth is one, though the sages give it different names.”[19]
            The universe does not simply come from Brahman, it is Brahman. According to Adi Shankara, a proponent of Advaita Vedanta, knowledge of brahman springs from inquiry into the real word as well as the world of the Upanishads. Adi Shankaracharya is also of the view that the knowledge of brahman that shruti provides cannot be obtained in any other means besides inquiry.[20]
            In Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is without attributes and strictly impersonal. According to Advaita Vedanta, consciousness is not a property of Brahman but its very nature. In this respect Advaita Vedanta differs from other Vedanta schools.[21]
            Since the Advaitins regard Brahman to be the ultimate reality in comparison to it, the distinctness and dualism/pluralism of the material universe are products of illusion and ignorance. Nonetheless, individual Advaitins have slightly differing views regarding the existence of God in relation to Brahman. Some believe that there is one God however this God is transcended by the impersonal Brahman; this form of Advaita Vedanta is a transtheistic form of nondualism. Others, still, consider gods to be metaphors of the different aspects of the universe, which is ultimately Brahman; in this sense, Advaita Vedanta is a nondualistic form of atheistic pantheism.
            Following are relevant verses from Bhagavad-Gita which establish the Advaita position:
            Similar to a person who is not attached to external pleasures but enjoys happiness in the Atman (soul), the person who perceives Brahman in everything feels everlasting joy. (Bhagavad Gita 5.21)
            The act of offering is Brahman; that which is offered is Brahman; the sacred fire is Brahman; the one who makes the offering is Brahman; Brahman is thus attained by those who, in their actions, are absorbed in contemplation of Brahman.(Bhagavad Gita 4.24)

          2. You wrote: “Maya, there are six schools of Vedanta each with different interpretations of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, You misquoted the verses.”

            Stephen, I’m not sure how to say this, so I’ll just say it. The only interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita that is really pertinent to me is my own, gleaned from reading it, in several different translations and in context with my readings of other sacred texts.

            Of primary importance to me is a key principle of my own Faith: the independent investigation of reality which is based upon my understanding of this sacred verse: “O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.” — Baha’u’llah

            If I seem resistant to using wikipedia entries or the opinions of this or that school of thought to condition my own understanding of a verse or an entire text, this is why. I find the study of such opinions of some interest, but not necessary to forming my own understanding.

            Now, regarding my “misquoting” the verses. I did not misquote the translation I chose (Mascaro). Perhaps I chose a translation you were not familiar with. But I did quote it correctly. I have several other translations such as the Easwaran which, while it makes reference to different philosophical approaches (Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic to be specific), comes to the same conclusion—that if one sees a small part and mistakes it for the whole one is not seeing the “big picture”— to use modern vernacular. Or, to quote an old saying: Knowledge is one point, which the foolish have multiplied.

            If Vedantic philosophers find it helpful to express their knowledge as a set of complex interrelationships and specific labels, that’s fine. But that does not mean that you or I must do so. My need to understand the sacred texts does not arise from an academic appreciation or a theologian’s desire to know all of the abstract schools of thought that have grown up around the myriad expressions of faith in the world. It would take many lifetimes, indeed, to make that sort of study and I would not achieve my goal. My need to understand what the Buddhas have taught is very pragmatic: I wish to know what the Manifestations of God have taught about who and what I am and what relationship I should seek with my own soul, with other human beings and with God. I wish to do this so that I can live a life that is of benefit to those around me.

            I need to be a direct consumer of the medicine that the Tathagata dispenses, rather than getting it predigested from another human being like myself. As Buddha noted: “It is indeed a fact that salvation cannot come from the mere sight of Me. It demands strenuous efforts in the practice of Dharma. But if someone has understood this my Dharma, then he is released from the net of suffering, even though he never set eyes on Me. A man must take medicine to be cured; the mere sight of the physician is not enough.” — Buddhacarita XXV 33:4

            At various times, I’ve used a question that new atheist writer Christopher Hitchens raised to make this same point. “If I believe,” he asks, “that Buddha was born from a slit in his mother’s side, will that make me a better person?” Clearly the answer to that question is “no.” Simply believing in a particular miraculous happening will not achieve The Goal. But taking Buddha’s medicine WILL. So, my interest in the teachings of Krishna or Buddha or Christ or Baha’u’llah is for the purpose of practicing the Dharma.

          3. Maya, I forgot to describe Advaita in more depth. Also, I find it ironic that someone named Maya actually know little maybe even nothing about Vedanta or at least Advaita Vedanta. To clarify, sattva is to see Brahman and Atman. Rajas is to see Maya and Avidya. Tamas is to see only your own illusory self as existing.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advaita_Vedanta

            Advaita Vedanta[note 1] is a school of Hindu philosophy[1][2][3][4] and religious practice,[web 1] giving “a unifying interpretation of the whole body of Upanishads”.[5] The principal, though not the first, exponent of the Advaita Vedanta-interpretation was Shankara Bhagavadpada[6] who systematised the works of preceding philosophers.[7]
            Advaita Vedanta is widely considered the most influential[8] and most dominant[9][10] sub-school of the Vedanta[note 2] school of Hindu philosophy[11] and religious practice. Its teachings have influenced various sects of Hinduism[12] and acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond.
            The key source texts for all schools of Vedānta are the Prasthanatrayi, the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras, of which they give a philosophical interpretation and elucidation.[5]
            “Advaita” refers to the identity of the true Self, Atman, which is pure consciousness[note 3], and the highest Reality, Brahman, which is also pure consciousness.[14] [note 4] [note 5] Followers seek liberation/release by acquiring vidyā (knowledge)[16] of the identity of Atman and Brahman. Attaining this liberation takes a long preparation and training under the guidance of a guru.
            Advaita developed in a multi-faceted religious and philosophical landscape. The tradition developed in interaction with the other traditions of India, Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, as well as the other schools of Vedanta.

            Also, the Bhagavad Gita had lots of commentaries.

            Bhagavad Gita integrates various schools of thought like Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, and other theistic schools. Therefore, it remains a popular text for commentators belonging to various philosophical schools. However, its composite nature also leads to varying interpretations of the text. In the words of Mysore Hiriyanna, “[The Gita] is one of the hardest books to interpret, which accounts for the numerous commentaries on it–each differing from the rest in one essential point or the other.”[85]
            Different translators and commentators have widely differing views on what multi-layered Sanskrit words and passages signify, and their presentation in English depending on the sampradaya they are affiliated to. The oldest and most influential medieval commentary was that of the founder of the Vedanta school[86] of extreme “non-dualism”, Adi Shankara (788–820 A. D.),[87] also known as Shankaracharya (Sanskrit: Śaṅkarācārya).[88] Shankara’s commentary was based on a recension of the Gita containing 700 verses, and that recension has been widely adopted by others.[89] Ramanujacharya’s commentary chiefly seeks to show that the discipline of devotion to God (Bhakti yoga) is the way of salvation.[90] Madhva, a commentator of the Vedanta school,[91] whose dates are given either as (1199–1276 CE)[92] or as (1238–1317 CE),[44] also known as Madhvacharya (Sanskrit: Madhvācārya), wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, which exemplifies the thinking of the “dualist” school.[88] Winthrop Sargeant quotes a dualistic assertion of the Madhva’s school that there is “an eternal and complete distinction between the Supreme, the many souls, and matter and its divisions”.[44] His commentary on the Gita is called Gita Bhāshya. It has been annotated on by many ancient pontiffs of Dvaita Vedanta school like Padmanabha Tirtha, Jayatirtha, and Raghavendra Tirtha.[93]
            In the Shaiva tradition,[94] the renowned philosopher Abhinavagupta (10–11th century CE) has written a commentary on a slightly variant recension called Gitartha-Samgraha. Other classical commentators include Nimbarka (1162 CE), Vidyadhiraja Tirtha, Vallabha(1479 CE)., Madhusudana Saraswati, Raghavendra Tirtha, Vanamali Mishra, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 CE),[95] while Dnyaneshwar (1275–1296 CE) translated and commented on the Gita in Marathi, in his book Dnyaneshwari.[96]

            Among notable modern commentators of the Bhagavad Gita are Aurobindo, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Chinmayananda who took a syncretistic approach to the text.[107][108] Paramahansa Yogananda’s commentary on the Gita called God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita was released 1993.[109] Eknath Easwaran has also written a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. It examines the applicability of the principles of Gita, to the problems of modern life.[110] Other notable commentators include Jeaneane Fowler and Ithamar Theodor.[111]

            Although Vivekananda did not write any commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, his works contained numerous references to the Gita, such as his lectures on the four yogas – Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, and Raja.[112] Through the message of the Gita, Vivekananda sought to energise the people of India to claim their own dormant but strong identity.[113] Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay thought that the answer to the problems that beset Hindu society was a revival of Hinduism in its purity, which lay in the reinterpretation of Bhagavad Gita for a new India.[114] Aurobindo saw Bhagavad Gita as a “scripture of the future religion” and suggested that Hinduism had acquired a much wider relevance through the Gita.[115] Sivananda called Bhagavad Gita “the most precious jewel of Hindu literature” and suggested its introduction into the curriculum of Indian schools and colleges.[116] In the lectures Chinmayananda gave, on tours undertaken to revive of moral and spiritual values of the Hindus, he borrowed the concept of jnana yajna, or the worship to invoke divine wisdom, from the Gita.[117] He viewed the Gita as a universal scripture to turn a person from a state of agitation and confusion to a state of complete vision, inner contentment, and dynamic action. Teachings of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a Gaudiya Vasihnava religious organisation which spread rapidly in North America in 1970s and 1980s, are based on a translation of the Gita called Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is.[118]

            The first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita was done by Charles Wilkins in 1785.[119][120] In 1981, Larson listed more than 40 English translations of the Gita, stating that “A complete listing of Gita translations and a related secondary bibliography would be nearly endless”[121]:514. He stated that “Overall… there is a massive translational tradition in English, pioneered by the British, solidly grounded philologically by the French and Germans, provided with its indigenous roots by a rich heritage of modern Indian comment and reflection, extended into various disciplinary areas by Americans, and having generated in our time a broadly based cross-cultural awareness of the importance of the Bhagavad Gita both as an expression of a specifically Indian spirituality and as one of the great religious “classics” of all time.”[121]:518 Sanskrit scholar Barbara Stoler Miller produced a translation in 1986 intended to emphasize the poem’s influence and current context within English Literature, especially the works of T.S. Eliot, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.[122] The translation was praised by scholars as well as literary critics[123] and became one of most continually popular translations to date.[124]
            The Gita has also been translated into other European languages. In 1808, passages from the Gita were part of the first direct translation of Sanskrit into German, appearing in a book through which Friedrich Schlegel became known as the founder of Indian philology in Germany.[125] Swami Rambhadracharya released the first Braille version of the scripture, with the original Sanskrit text and a Hindi commentary, on 30 November 2007.[126]

            TAT TVAM ASI or That thou art!

            Tat tvam asi is the Mahāvākya (Grand Pronouncement) from Chandogya Upanishad. The Advaita school of Shankara assigns a fundamental importance to this Mahāvākya and three others of the same kind from three other Upanishads. This is actually a statement meted out by Sage Aruni to Shvetaketu, his son. It says literally ‘That thou are’. In other words that Brahman which is the common Reality behind everything in the cosmos is the same as the essential Divinity, namely the Atman, within you. It is this identity which is the grand finale of Upanishadic teaching, according to Advaita. The realisation of this arises only by an intuitive experience and is totally different from any objective experience. It cannot be inferred from some other bit of knowledge. To comprehend the meaning an analysis of the three words in the pronouncement is needed.

            Who is this ‘Thou’?
            ‘Thou’ stands for the inherent substratum in each one of us without which our very existence is out of question. Certainly it is not the body, mind, the senses, or anything that we call ours. It is the innermost Self, stripped of all egoistic tendencies. It is Ātman.
            The entity indicated by the word ‘That’ according to the notation used in the Vedas, is Brahman, the transcendent Reality which is beyond everything that is finite, everything that is conceived or thought about. You cannot give a full analogy to it and that is why the Vedas say words cannot describe it. It cannot even be imagined because when there is nothing else other than Brahman it has to be beyond space and time. We can imagine space without earth,water, fire and air. But it is next to impossible to imagine something outside space. Space is the most subtle of the five elemental fundamentals. As we proceed from the grossest to the subtle, that is, from earth to water, to fire, to air, and to space the negation of each grosser matter is possible to be imagined within the framework of the more subtle one. But once we reach the fifth one, namely space or Ākāsha, the negation of that and the conception of something beyond, where even the space is merged into something more subtle, is not for the finite mind. The Vedas therefore declare the existence of this entity and call it ‘sat’ (existence), also known as Brahman.

            ]That and This
            The Ātman or the innermost core of our self seems to have an individuality of its own. So, in saying that it is the same as the unqualified Brahman in the Infinite Cosmos, we seem to be identifying two things: one that is unlimited and unconditioned, and one that is limited and conditioned. Whenever someone says, for instance, that the person B whom you are meeting just now is the same as the person A whom you saw twenty years ago at such and such a place, what is actually meant is not the identity of the dresses of the two personalities of A and B, nor of the features (those of B may be totally different from A), but of the essential person behind the names. So whenever such an identity is talked about we have to throw away certain aspects which are temporarily distinctive or indicative in both and cling on only to those essentials without which they are not what they are. B and A may have distinct professions, may have different names, may have different attitudes towards you or towards a certain issue, or may have an additional identity, exemplified by, say, having different passports—but still they are the same, is what is being asserted by the statement ‘B is the same as A’.

            ]Brahman minus its Māyā and Ātman minus its avidyā are identical
            In the same way, when Brahman and Atman are identified by this Mahāvākya, we have to discard those inessential qualities that are only indicative (and therefore extraneous), choosing only to explore what commonality or essentiality there is in them that is being identified. Brahman is the primordial Cause of this Universe. But this is a predication of Brahman and so is extraneous to the identity about which we are speaking. The Self, or Ātman, appears to be limited by an individuality which keeps it under the spell of ignorance; this is extraneous to the essentiality of the Ātman. So what is being identified is Brahman, minus its feature of being the Cause of this Universe and Ātman minus its limitations of ignorance-cum-delusion. That these two are the same is the content of the statement ‘Tat tvam asi’. The cosmic Māyā is what makes Brahman the cause of this Universe. The individual avidyā (ignorance) is what makes the Ātman circumscribed and delimited. So the Mahāvākya says that Brahman minus its Māyā and Atman minus its avidyā are identical.

          4. You wrote: “Maya, I forgot to describe Advaita in more depth. Also, I find it ironic that someone named Maya actually know little maybe even nothing about Vedanta or at least Advaita Vedanta.”

            Heh. You’ll think it more ironic when you learn that I lived for several decades in the heart of California’s Vedanta culture in Nevada City, which boasted an Ayurveda academy and a Vedanta society—not to mention the Ananda Colony. I think I explained in another comment why I chose not to immerse myself in a study of different Hindu or Buddhist or other schools of belief. I similarly did not immerse myself in the philosophies of the many schools of Islam. I am familiar with different “takes” on Christianity because I was raised with them.

            You wrote: “To clarify, sattva is to see Brahman and Atman. Rajas is to see Maya and Avidya. Tamas is to see only your own illusory self as existing.”

            Yes, I understand this. Easwaran’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita makes a point of connecting the terminology to the type of belief it represents. What I’m chiefly interested in is the practical spiritual applications. That is, how can knowledge of these distinctions inform my life and the choices I make.

            That’s a rhetorical question: That particular verse of the Bhagavad Gita is one that I have meditated on a great deal. Enough to have developed both a spiritual and practical point of view with regard to it. My Wednesday blog here on Common Ground gets into the philosophy part of the equation, but in terms of walking the spiritual path with practical feet, what it means is that I seek oneness by extending my point of view as much as I can toward empathy. That is, I try, inasmuch as I can, to see the one in the many and to see the many in the One.

            Where this has practical application is in Baha’u’llah’s teaching of the Oneness of God, the oneness of Religion and — most importantly—the oneness of humanity. A practical application of Sattvic thought, to use your terminology, is looking into the face of another human being (especially one I do not understand or whom I have reason to dislike) and seeing the face of the One. This requires effort. And, for me, the constant reminder in the sacred texts about coming to the One with “love for all creatures” (Krishna), to love even one’s enemies (Christ), to worship God by serving mankind (Baha’u’llah) is an exercise in bearing fruit (as Christ might say).

            I do not see the sacred texts as philosophical treatises to be dissected and argued over, but as prescriptions for living.

          5. Maya, I’ve seen several translation of the Gita, but currently I mostly use Gita Society translations.

            http://www.gita-society.com/

            You can get a copy for free, but it takes weeks or even months to ship which is also free.

        2. Stephen,

          RE: forgetting Maya, Avidya: So you claim. I don’t think I am, so please explain to me how I am forgetting them.

          Appearing to exist is also a mode of existence. Any appearance of any kind is a mode of existence distinguishable from absolute nothingness.

          Even the Baha’i Writings can make these claims about Avidya/Maya since they say that in comparison to absolute existence, all other phenomenal existence is nonexistence: “In the same way, the existence of creation in relation to the existence of God is nonexistence.” (Some Answered Questions, p. 280) They even refer to this world as a “shadow” – but this is, of course, only meant relatively.

          You’ll have to explain one and a half substances to me. What do you mean by substance? And how can a substance be fractional?

          What point are you trying to make about Madhyamaka and Yogacara?

          RE: “Dependent thing actually only appear to be dependent from a point of view. ” In other words, they can only be known to be dependent from an absolute point of view i.e. God, because no dependent viewpoint can claim to know that another thing is dependent.

          RE pantheists and monists: explain to me how I used straw-men in making my point?

          I’m a philosophy scholar and was one long before I became a Baha’i and I think Some Answered Questions is an excellent book from a rigorous philosophical perspective – and have published numerous papers illustrating that.

          Asking people to read Wikipedia articles is not a useful way to carry on a discussion. In a discussion, you have to present your argument(s) to support your contention(s) so that your partners can evaluate what you say and reply.

          We can find a miniscule minority of people in any religion who believe just about anything. I’m glad you are interested in them, but my interest is what the mainstreams teach

          1. Ian Hindus can be divided into four camps or people of any religion for that matter, especially other Indian religion.

            Advaita-Vada monism or nondualism
            Dvaita-Vada dualism or pluralism

            Ishvara-Vada theism
            Nir-Ishvara-Vada atheism

            Saiva Siddhanta Church, not the other Saiva Siddhanta, for example teaches Advaita Ishvara Vada or monistic theism. Tattvavada and the Hare Krishna movement teaches Dvaita Ishvara Vada or dualistic theism. Samkhya and Mimamsa teach Dvaita Nir Ishvara Vada or dualistic atheism. There is debate on wether or not Adi Shankara and his teachings are Advaita Nir Ishvara Vada or monistic atheism.

            The six Vedic philosophies of Nyaya, Vasheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta are all seen as orthodox by Hindus. They are astika.

            The Sanskrit term Āstika (“pious, orthodox”) refers to the systems of thought which admit the validity of the Vedas.[5] Sanskrit asti means “there is”, and Āstika (per Pāṇini 4.2.60) derives from the verb, meaning “one who says ‘asti'”. Technically, in Hindu philosophy the term Āstika refers only to acceptance of authority of Vedas, not belief in the existence of God.[6] However, though not accepted universally, Āstika is sometimes translated as “theist” and Nāstika as “atheist”, assuming the rejection of Vedas to be synonymous to the rejection of God.[7] In Indian philosophy, three schools of thought are commonly referred to as nastika for rejecting the doctrine of Vedas: Jainism, Buddhism and Cārvāka. In this usage, nastika refers to the non-belief of Vedas rather than non-belief of God.[5] However, all these schools also rejected a notion of a creationist god and so the word nastika became strongly associated with them.

            Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, author of the Hindu nationalist ideology Hindutva, was a self–proclaimed atheist.[26] The Indian Nobel Prize-winner Amartya Sen, in an interview with Pranab Bardhan for the California Magazine published in the July–August 2006 edition by the University of California, Berkeley states:[27]
            “ In some ways people had got used to the idea that India was spiritual and religion-oriented. That gave a leg up to the religious interpretation of India, despite the fact that Sanskrit had a larger atheistic literature than what exists in any other classical language. Madhava Acharya, the remarkable 14th century philosopher, wrote this rather great book called Sarvadarshansamgraha, which discussed all the religious schools of thought within the Hindu structure. The first chapter is “Atheism” – a very strong presentation of the argument in favor of atheism and materialism. ”
            According to Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India and former judge of the Supreme Court of India, eight out of the nine systems of Hindu Philosophy are atheistic, as they do not have a place for God in them. Only one of the nine systems, Uttar Mimansa, which is also called Vedanta, has a place for God in it.[28]
            [edit]Prominent Hindu atheists
            Brahmananda Swami Sivayogi was an atheist and rationalist who founded the organization Ananda Mahasabha.[29]
            Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the president of Hindu Mahasabha, described himself as a Hindu atheist.[30][31]
            Shreela Flather, Baroness Flather of Windsor and Maidenhead (1934– ), the first Hindu woman in British politics. She has described herself as a “Hindu atheist”. Broadly, she is an atheist with affinity to secular aspects of Hindu culture such as dress and diet.[32]
            Anu Garg, author, speaker, and founder of Wordsmith.org.[33]

            Interesting note in India and the East, the primary debate is Advaita versus Dvaita, Ishvara versus Nir Ishvara is secondary. In the West, the inverse is true.

          2. Ian, several points.

            Maya and Avidya are in the middle, neither real nor unreal. Also, I mentioned Madhyamaka and Yogacara because in India along with Advaita Vedanta there three are seen as one philosophy. I’ll show in the Wikipedia link below.

            Advaita developed in a multi-facetted religious and philosophical landscape. The tradition developed in interaction with the other traditions of India, Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, as well as the other schools of Vedanta.
            [edit]Influence of Mahayana Buddhism
            Although Shankara’s Advaita, like other traditions of Vedanta, claims to base itself chiefly on the Upanishads[note 44], the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras, many authorities from India and elsewhere have noted that it shows signs of influence from Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana schools with whom Shankara’s Advaita is said to share similarities are the Madhyamaka, founded by Nagarjuna,[149] and the Yogacara,[150] founded by Vasubandhu[151] and Asanga[152] in the early centuries of the Common Era.
            John Grimes writes that while Mahayana Buddhism’s influence on Advaita Vedanta has been ignored for most of its history, scholars now see it as undeniable.
            Eliot Deutsch and Rohit Dalvi state:
            In any event a close relationship between the Mahayana schools and Vedanta did exist with the latter borrowing some of the dialectical techniques, if not the specific doctrines, of the former.[153]
            S. Mudgal noted that among some traditionalist Indian scholars, it was the accepted view that Shankara
            Adopted practically all […] dialectic (of the Buddhists), their methodology, their arguments and analysis, their concepts, their terminologies and even their philosophy of the Absolute, gave all of them a Vedantic appearance, and demolished Buddhism… Sankara embraced Buddhism, but it was a fatal embrace”.[154]
            This influence goes back at least to Gaudapada:
            Gaudapada rather clearly draws from Buddhist philosophical sources for many of his arguments and distinctions and even for the forms and imagery in which these arguments are cast.[153]
            Michael Comans has also demonstrated how Gaudapada, an early Vedantin, utilised some arguments and reasoning from Madhyamaka Buddhist texts by quoting them almost verbatim.
            However, Comans believes there is a fundamental difference between Buddhist thought and that of Gaudapada, in that Buddhism has as its philosophical basis the doctrine of Dependent Origination, while Gaudapada does not at all rely on this principle. Gaudapada’s Ajativada is an outcome of reasoning applied to an unchanging nondual reality, the fundamental teaching of the Upanishads.[155]
            [edit]Upanishadic influences
            Many authors are of the opinion that the similarities in Advaita and certain aspects of Buddhism were due to the Upanishadic influence on both streams. For instance, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, an important intellectual figure of 20th century India, wrote in his book Indian Philosophy:
            “There are no doubt similarities between the views of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, and this is not surprising in view of the fact that both these systems had for their background the Upanishads.”[156]
            In the same vein, C.D Sharma, in his A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, states:
            Buddhism and Vedanta should not be viewed as two opposed systems, but one which starts with the Upanishads, finds its indirect support in Buddha, its elaboration in Mahayana Buddhism, its open revival in Gaudapada, (and) which reaches its zenith in Sankara.”[157]
            Mudgal states that the Advaita according to Shankara is a synthesis of two independent and opposing streams of thought, the Upanishadic and the Buddhist, representing the orthodox and the heterodox respectively.[158]
            [edit]Advaita-criticisms
            In India, the similarity of Shankara’s Advaita to Buddhism was brought up by his rivals from other Vedanta schools, while on the other hand, Mahayanists such as Bhavyaviveka had to defend themselves from Theravada Buddhist accusations of the Mahayana doctrine being just another form of Vedantism.[159][note 45][160]
            Shankara defended himself against these accusations:
            Shankara’s criticisms of Buddhism are nevertheless powerful and they exhibit clearly at least how Shankara saw the difference between Buddhism and his own Vedantic philosophy.[153]
            [edit]Mutual influence
            Sri Kamakoti Mandali points to a mutual influence of Mahayana Buddhism and Vedic culture on each other.[web 65] Mandali mentions the Vedantinization of Buddhism, which is discerneable in the Aālayavijñāna of the Yogacara and the Tathāgatagarbha-doctrine:
            As is well known, in the Lankavatara Sutra, which was probably composed around the year 400 A.D., Tathāgatagarbha or the matrix-embryo of the tathAgata was not only at times identified with Alaya-vijnna, but the definition of this Tathāgatagarbha was also very similar to the definition of Brahman in the Vedanta.[web 65]
            An important difference is that the Aālayavijñāna is not a “permanent substratum”, where-as Atman and Brahman are “one persistent entity”, “absolutely unchangeable”.[web 65]
            According to Mandali, “Buddhism was gradually in the process of moving towards monism”. The inclusion of the Aālayavijñāna and Tathāgatagarbha doctrines in Buddhist thought…
            … reveals to us the weakening of Buddhism as a social force and the revival of Brahmanism and the consequent Brahmanization or Vedantinization of Buddhism. The tendency towards a monistic way of thinking is one great current that runs through the orthodox line of the history of Indian thought from the time of Rgveda.[web 65]
            On the other hand, in the Advaita Vedanta school…
            … the realistic monism of the Brahmasutra was gradually transformed and moved closer and closer to the Buddhism which had a more advanced theoretical system than the Vedanta. While doing so, this Vedanta philosophy came to be “buddhisticized” considerably.[web 65]
            This ‘Buddhistisation’ is clearly reflected in Gaudapada’s Mandukyakarika.[web 65] Shankara’s goal was to revive the Vedanta school “from the standpoint of orthodox Brahmanism”:[web 65]
            [U]sing his profound knowledge of Buddhism, he transmuted Buddhist doctrines in the Mandukyakarika into Advaita; in other words, he re-injected the Upanishadic spirit into the extremely buddhisticized Mandukyakarika of his paramaguru, pouring new life into it as it were, giving it an interpretation that followed the line of Vedanta school and achieved the re-Vedantinization of the buddhisticized Vedantic tradition.[web 65]
            The incorporation of ‘absolutist’ and ‘essentialist’ doctrines has also been noted by Kalupahana. He sees the Madhyamaka and Yogacara-schools as reactions against this development, trying to counter it with a return to the original process-ontology of early Buddhism.[161][162] Both schools survive in the Buddhist traditions of Tibet, China and Japan, bearing witness to the influence of Indian culture in Asia, but eventually vanished from India, together with the ‘essentialist’ schools of Buddhism.
            [edit]Modern praise of the Buddha
            In modern India, spiritual gurus following the tradition of Advaita Vedanta have generally been enthusiastic in their praise of the Buddha. Swami Vivekananda of the monastic Ramakrishna Mission, a leading figure in the late 19th century religious scene in India, spoke highly of the Buddha[163] and the similarities between Advaita and Buddhist thought.[164]
            [edit]Common core thesis
            See also: Perennial philosophy
            Western scholars like N.V. Isaeva state that the Advaita and Buddhist philosophies, after being purified of accidental or historical accretions, can be safely regarded as different expressions of the same eternal absolute truth.[165]
            Ninian Smart, a historian of religion, noted that the differences between Shankara and Mahayana doctrines are largely a matter of emphasis and background, rather than essence.[166][note 46]

            [edit]Relationship with other forms of Vedanta
            The exposition and spread of Advaita by Sankara spurred debate with the two main theistic schools of Vedanta philosophy that were formalised later: Vishishtadvaita (qualified nondualism), and Dvaita (dualism).
            [edit]Vishishtadvaita
            Main article: Vishishtadvaita
            Yamunacharya, a 10th-century AD proponent of the Vishishtadvaita philosophy that opposed Shankara’s Advaita, compared Advaita to Buddhism and remarked in his Siddhitraya that for both the Buddhists and the Advaitins, the distinctions of knower, known and knowledge are unreal. The Advaita traces them to Maya, while Buddhist subjectivism traces them to buddhi.[167] Ramanujacharya, another prominent Vishishtadvaita philosopher, accused Shankara of being a Prachanna Bauddha, that is, a hidden Buddhist[168]
            [edit]Dvaita
            Main article: Dvaita
            The Dvaita, founded by Madhvacharya (1238–1317 AD), was partisan to Vaishnavism, building on a cogent system of Vedantic interpretation that proceeded to take on Advaita in full measure. Madhvacharya’s student Narayana, in his Madhvavijaya, a hagiography of Madhva, characterised Madhva and Shankara as born-enemies, and describes Shankara as a “demon born on earth”.[169] Surendranath Dasgupta noted that some Madhva mythology went so far as to characterise the followers of Shankara as “tyrannical people who burned down monasteries, destroyed cattle and killed women and children”.[170]
            [edit]Advaita and Kashmir Shaivism
            Over time, followers of Advaita came to consider Shankara as an incarnation or Avatar of the God Shiva.[web 68][171] The Kashmir Shaivism tradition founded by Abhinavagupta is also non-dualist in outlook, much like the Advaita Vedanta, though it differs in many significant ways.[citation needed] For example, while Advaita Vedanta is based on the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita,[172] Kashmir Saivism is based on a monistic interpretation of the Bhairava Tantras and Kaula Tantras.[173] Some authors have suggested a link between the two, with philosophy of Vedantins such as Gaudapada finding its further development and theistic expression in Abhinavagupta.[174][note 47]

          3. Ian, to clarify, I’ve found an old revision of the Ramanuja page of Wikipedia which compares his Vishishtadvaita to Adi Shankara and his Advaita.

            Ramanuja’s philosophy is referred to as Vishishtadvaita which translates as qualified non-dualism.
            Differences with Adi Shankara

            Adi Shankara had argued that all qualities or manifestations that can be perceived are unreal and temporary. Ramanuja believed them to be real and permanent and under the control of the Brahman. God can be one despite the existence of attributes, because they cannot exist alone; they are not independent entities. They are Prakaras or the modes, Sesha or the accessories, and Niyama or the controlled aspects, of the one Brahman.

            In Ramanuja’s system of philosophy, the Lord (Narayana) has two inseparable Prakaras or modes, namely, the world and the souls. These are related to Him as the body is related to the soul. They have no existence apart from Him. They inhere in Him as attributes in a substance. Matter and souls constitute the body of the Lord. The Lord is their indweller. He is the controlling Reality. Matter and souls are the subordinate elements. They are termed Viseshanas, attributes. God is the Viseshya or that which is qualified.

            Ramanuja opines, wrong is the position of the Advaitins that understanding the Upanishads without knowing and practicing dharma can result in Brahman knowledge. The knowledge of Brahman that ends spiritual ignorance is meditational, not testimonial or verbal.

            In contrast to Shankara, Ramanuja holds that there is no knowledge source in support of the claim that there is a distinctionless (homogeneous) Brahman. All knowledge sources reveal objects as distinct from other objects. All experience reveals an object known in some way or other beyond mere existence. Testimony depends on the operation of distinct sentence parts (words with distinct meanings). Thus the claim that testimony makes known that reality is distinctionless is contradicted by the very nature of testimony as a knowledge means. Even the simplest perceptual cognition reveals something (Bessie) as qualified by something else (a broken hoof, “Bessie has a broken hoof,” as known perceptually). Inference depends on perception and makes the same distinct things known as does perception.

            He also holds that the Advaitin argument about prior absences and no prior absence of consciousness is wrong. Similarly the Advaitin understanding of a-vidya (not-Knowledge), which is the absence of spiritual knowledge, is incorrect. “If the distinction between spiritual knowledge and spiritual ignorance is unreal, then spiritual ignorance and the self are one.”

            Seven objections to Shankara’s Advaita

            Ramanuja picks out what he sees as seven fundamental flaws in the Advaita philosophy to revise them. He argues:
            The nature of Avidya. Avidya must be either real or unreal; there is no other possibility. But neither of these is possible. If Avidya is real, non-dualism collapses into dualism. If it is unreal, we are driven to self-contradiction or infinite regress.
            The incomprehensibility of Avidya. Advaitins claim that Avidya is neither real nor unreal but incomprehensible, {anirvachaniya.} All cognition is either of the real or the unreal: the Advaitin claim flies in the face of experience, and accepting it would call into question all cognition and render it unsafe.

            The grounds of knowledge of Avidya. No pramana can establish Avidya in the sense the Advaitin requires. Advaita philosophy presents Avidya not as a mere lack of knowledge, as something purely negative, but as an obscuring layer which covers Brahman and is removed by true Brahma-vidya. Avidya is positive nescience not mere ignorance. Ramanuja argues that positive nescience is established neither by perception, nor by inference, nor by scriptural testimony. On the contrary, Ramanuja argues, all cognition is of the real.

            The locus of Avidya. Where is the Avidya that gives rise to the (false) impression of the reality of the perceived world? There are two possibilities; it could be Brahman’s Avidya or the individual soul’s {jiva.} Neither is possible. Brahman is knowledge; Avidya cannot co-exist as an attribute with a nature utterly incompatible with it. Nor can the individual soul be the locus of Avidya: the existence of the individual soul is due to Avidya; this would lead to a vicious circle.

            Avidya’s obscuration of the nature of Brahman. Sankara would have us believe that the true nature of Brahman is somehow covered-over or obscured by Avidya. Ramanuja regards this as an absurdity: given that Advaita claims that Brahman is pure self-luminous consciousness, obscuration must mean either preventing the origination of this (impossible since Brahman is eternal) or the destruction of it – equally absurd.

            The removal of Avidya by Brahma-vidya. Advaita claims that Avidya has no beginning, but it is terminated and removed by Brahma-vidya, the intuition of the reality of Brahman as pure, undifferentiated consciousness. But Ramanuja denies the existence of undifferentiated {nirguna} Brahman, arguing that whatever exists has attributes: Brahman has infinite auspicious attributes. Liberation is a matter of Divine Grace: no amount of learning or wisdom will deliver us.

            The removal of Avidya. For the Advaitin, the bondage in which we dwell before the attainment of Moksa is caused by Maya and Avidya; knowledge of reality (Brahma-vidya) releases us. Ramanuja, however, asserts that bondage is real. No kind of knowledge can remove what is real. On the contrary, knowledge discloses the real; it does not destroy it. And what exactly is the saving knowledge that delivers us from bondage to Maya? If it is real then non-duality collapses into duality; if it is unreal, then we face an utter absurdity.

          4. Advaita took over from the Madhyamika the idea of levels of reality.[132] Usually two levels are being mentioned[133], but Shankara uses sublation as the criterion to postulate an ontological hierarchy of three levels:[134][web 58]
            Pāramārthika (paramartha, absolute), the absolute level, “which is absolutely real and into which both other reality levels can be resolved”.[web 58] This experience can’t be sublated by any other experience.[134]
            Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya[133] (empirical or pragmatical), “our world of experience, the phenomenal world that we handle every day when we are awake”.[web 58] It is the level in which both jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Iswara are true; here, the material world is also true.
            Prāthibhāsika (pratibhasika, apparent reality, unreality), “reality based on imagination alone”.[web 58] It is the level in which appearances are actually false, like the illusion of a snake over a rope, or a dream.

            Brahma and Atman are real.
            Maya and Avidya are neither real nor unreal.
            Imaginatin is unreal.

            Maya and Avidya are complex, unreal relative to Brahman and Atman, real relative to imagination.

            PS Samkhya, Advaita Vedanta, Tantra, and Yoga are mainstream Hindu philosophies. Samkyha is simmilar to Theraveda Buddhism. Advaita Vedanta is simmilar to Mahayana Buddhism. Tantra is simmilar to Vajrayana Buddhism. Yoga is completely practice and not theory and so can be aligned with any of the above.

      2. Ian, you’re using both composition fallacy and division fallacy in the above statement. What I’ve read of Vedanta and the Mahavakayas is the while Brahman/Atman is the one substance tha makes up everything like gold to things made out of gold or clay to things made out of clay, it doesn’t take on the properties of that which it forms or vice versa.

        I’ll give the example of the fact everything is made of constituent parts. Nothing is ever really created or destroyed. Everything that is created is really the rearrangement of stuff and so with everything that is destroyed. Your argument for dualism is ithe erroneous fallacy of composition and division. It is correct that cups depend on clay for existence, but it’s fallacious to say clay depends on cups. That’s basically your argument. Gold and clay are imperfect metaphors in themselves, but their relationship to pottery and jewelry are the point. Another example would be that water is dependent on hydrogen and oxygen for existing, but it would be erroneous to say inverse.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monism

        Also, according to Wikipedia various Abrahamic and Dharmic religions are listed as teaching monism.

        To specify on the world being relatively real is an exposition of the related Mahavakayas.

        … edited for length

        Realization comes in stages:

        First, there is cognitive understanding of the meaning.
        Second, intuition rolls down, revealing deeper meanings.
        Finally, it is as if the one doing the practice travels upwards to merge in the direct experience, even though there was never any division in the first place.

    2. Hi Stephen:

      I’m thoroughly thrilled by the dialogue you have been having with with Ian and Maya. it is precisely for this type of dialogue that we created this website.

      If your main point is that much of non-western theology seems to have a resolutely atheistic ring to it – I whole-heartedly agree. But if your point is that Buddhism, Shinto-ism, and the other religions on your list offer a atheism that is equivalent to that of Spinoza, Diderot, d’Holbach, Hume, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and the like, I would disagree.

      I agree that some of the theologies advance by the doctors of these religions can seem atheistic. Partly, this is because the thrust of progressiveness in religion has been away from a diversity of local deities – the nature Gods, the tribal Gods, the war Gods, the Gods of city, hearth, home and sacred places – towards more universal conceptualizations. Consider Christianity, long assailed by classical Hellenistic authorities 1600 to 2000 years ago as atheistic and sacrilegious because of its stubborn denial of the validity of worship of the Emperor of Rome or of the gods of City and State. The accusation of heresy and atheism hurled at Christianity came about because it taught the existence of only one God, as did the Judaism from which it emerged, denying the authority of the many gods.

      Well before Christianity, Buddhism had made much the same move. It denied the existence – or maybe we should say it emphasized the illusionary and transitory nature – of the diverse and manifold gods of Hinduism and the other religious traditions it encountered (and frequently incorporated into its fold) while at the same time keeping much of their cosmology and advancing an overarching sense of order, justness, and purpose as intrinsic to the universe.

      And you are correct that it often didn’t use the Western language of monotheism – or concepts of God.

      This latter point continues to be brought home to me in dramatic ways by my wife – whom I married twenty three years ago during my eleven year stay in Japan.

      “We don’t understand this western idea of God,” she tells me. “It is very, very difficult for us to understand the concept of one God, or obedience to God, or the idea that God is very strict.”

      “For us, God is not to be a source of fear or danger, but to be thanked, asked for help, not something to be frightened of.”

      “It is not that we believe in many Gods,” she tells me. Rather, “we believe that everything has a spirit.” For us, “Buddha is not the same as Jesus. There is no God above him. Buddha is like a holy guide and teacher, we don’t have a God above him.”

      And she summarizes, “we think that belief in God is like folk religion or Shinto.”

      I can’t think of a better way to summarize about the “atheism” of Eastern religion than her comments. Yes, there is often no parallel in the terminology or the conceptual universe in which the concepts have to have meaning. But the thrust of the understanding is exactly the same provided one doesn’t get bogged down in philosophical excursions into this or that transitory school of thought. The full truth of the nature of reality and its purpose comes through the revelation of divine teachers – for Buddhism, the Buddha.

      And conceptually, as Ian,Maya, and many others have pointed out, the view that religions like Buddhism deny the existence of the God of western monotheism is either due to a highly restrictive understanding of Western monotheism or a view of Eastern religious thought at odds with its intrinsic conceptions of the limitations of intellectual constructions of reality.

      Another Stephen

      1. Stephen, is there any study among the various beliefs of various atheists?

        I’ve read atheists who were atheists because they didn’t believe in a limited number of conceptions of God. David Ramsey Steele explains his beliefs in Atheism Explained. He only denies belief in the God of the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon. That generally seems to be a good definition of various atheists I know. He is agnostic towards other concepts of God he considers throughout the book.

      2. Stephen, technically since atheism is a negative counterpart to theism. An atheist doesn’t have to agree with everything all atheists or even any other atheist believes to be an atheist. An atheist is a person without any belief in God or any conception of God. They don’t have to believe in everything that Lance Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, Dave Barry, Béla Bartók, Warren Buffet, Penn Jillette, R. J. Teller, Katherine Hepburn, George Orwell, Pablo Picasso, Ayn Rand, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Marleau-Ponty, Albert Camus, Thomas Szasz, H. G. Wells, Joss Whedon, or any other atheist believes to be an atheist other than simple lack of theism or a belief in God.

        I don’t know any atheists who say that to be an atheist a person need to have the exact same atheism as them. Atheism is a negative category unlike theism. Theism have said that to be a theist you have to have the exact same theism as them, but atheists have never made a similar claim with regards to atheism. To be an atheist doesn’t require believing in each and every thing that some famous atheist believed, but rather abscence of a belief in God.

        http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-f1qufY92VCs/TtkAEykXsPI/AAAAAAAAAIg/ic4KNinoXAc/s1600/tableofatheistsb.jpg

        I’ve never heard an atheist say that to be an atheist someone must have the same atheism as any atheist whether Stephen Hawkings to David Cross. I used the Periodic Table of Atheists as a good example. Did all 118 Atheist listed even have the same atheism or just a simple lack of belief in God? As anyone can see, Atheists are a mixed bunch who agree on nothing other than an abscence of belief in God. Also, I wouldn’t count Spinoza as an Atheist, but as a Pantheist. An Atheist, as defined as someone who lacks belief in God, doesn’t even need to explicitly call themselves an Atheist, agree with other Atheists on anything other than not believing in God, or do anything other than not believe in God.

        Pantheism gives the problem of everyone who believes that anything exists believes in God via a Pantheist Ontological argument. It goes like this. In Pantheism, God is defined as everything that exists. People believe that everything that exists exists. Therefore, people believe that God exists. This is a summary of Spinoza’s Pantheism which for some reason you listed as atheism. I just used the ontological argument for the existence of God, but with a Pantheist twist.

        Religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and the Baha’i Faith require belief in God. All other or most other religions don’t make such a requirement by giving individual believers freedom of opinion in this regards.

        A lot of Hindus have the exact same Pantheism as Spinoza.

        Similarities between Vedanta and Western philosophical traditions have been discussed by many authorities.
        The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker was one of the early figures to notice the similarities between the religious conceptions of the Vedanta and those of the Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, writing that Spinoza’s thought was

        … a western system of philosophy which occupies a foremost rank amongst the philosophies of all nations and ages, and which is so exact a representation of the ideas of the Vedanta, that we might have suspected its founder to have borrowed the fundamental principles of his system from the Hindus, did his biography not satisfy us that he was wholly unacquainted with their doctrines… We mean the philosophy of Spinoza, a man whose very life is a picture of that moral purity and intellectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world, which is the constant longing of the true Vedanta philosopher… comparing the fundamental ideas of both we should have no difficulty in proving that, had Spinoza been a Hindu, his system would in all probability mark a last phase of the Vedanta philosophy.

        Max Müller, in his lectures, noted the striking similarities between Vedanta and the system of Spinoza, saying “the Brahman, as conceived in the Upanishads and defined by Sankara, is clearly the same as Spinoza’s ‘Substantia’.” Helena Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society also compared Spinoza’s religious thought to Vedanta, writing in an unfinished essay “As to Spinoza’s Deity—natura naturans—conceived in his attributes simply and alone; and the same Deity—as natura naturata or as conceived in the endless series of modifications or correlations, the direct outflowing results from the properties of these attributes, it is the Vedantic Deity pure and simple.”

        The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer drew explicit parallels between his philosophy, as set out in ‘The World as Will and Representation’, and that of the Vedanta philosophy ascribed to Vasya in the work of Sir William Jones.

        1. I got a smile out of this because Stephen (our Common Ground Stephen) was raised an atheist and became a Baha’i as a young adult. He has made rather a study of different flavors of atheism, as have I. BUT, I prefer not to memorize and try to assign arcane labels. For my purposes BECAUSE atheism is more personalized (or vague) than other belief systems–except perhaps for unitarianism–I’ve encountered three main philosophies.

          1) Atheism. That is, a lack of belief in any deity. This is what Stephen Friberg has referred to as Atheism 1.0. He identifies his parents and upbringing with this. These are folks who simply don’t believe in a God and have no stake or vested interest in what other people believe.

          2) Anti-theism. That is a lack of belief in God coupled with an active, evangelical hostility toward religion of any kind and religious people and organizations. Stephen refers to this as Atheism 2.0

          3) Philosophical or sectarian atheism. In this form, the individual disbelieves in a very specific type of deity, but not all conceptions of deity. In a study done two years ago, 21% of self-identifying atheists in a northern European nation (I don’t remember whether it was Switzerland or Sweden) said they believed in some sort of universal intelligence or force. 8% of those said they would call that God. This prompted Sam Harris to grumble that they apparently didn’t understand what an atheist was.)

          Sometimes these last two philosophies overlap. Christopher Hitchens–the new atheist polemicist who died recently and FAR too young–has said that his atheism is “Protestant atheism”–which is to say, there was a particular vision of God that he was rejecting. My ex-boss referred to himself as an atheist, but when I discussed his philosophy with him, it turned out he didn’t disbelieve in God, he was angry at God for personal tribulations he’d had as a young man.

          You wrote: Religions like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, and the Baha’i Faith require belief in God. All other or most other religions don’t make such a requirement by giving individual believers freedom of opinion in this regards.

          Your wording is interesting: “require belief in God” as if there were a test one had to take. Right now I have an Israeli friend who self-identifies as a Baha’i. She does not currently believe in God. This presents a bit of a dilemma and possible cognitive dissonance for her if she wishes to officially become a Baha’i because she will have to commit to the idea that the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are who and what they claim to be. My best friend ran into this issue too. He was a militant atheist as a youth and embraced the principles of the Baha’i Faith. He believed, as a student of history, that Baha’u’llah’s principles, ordinances and the administrative order that He designed were the answer to the world’s problems and gave a blueprint for their solution (which is, after all, the purpose of religion as a collective endeavor.) At some point he realized that his stated belief in Baha’u’llah must extend to what Baha’u’llah said about God. My friend literally said, “Well, Baha’u’llah, You’re right about everything else. If You say there’s a God, then there must be a God.”

          So, my friend believes in God, but his view of God is different than mine. But His understanding that Baha’u’llah has the knowledge and authority to say, unequivocally, that there is a God is the same. His pledge to uphold the principles of the Faith and to work for the unity of mankind in whatever way we can is the same as mine, though our capacities and the means by which we do that are necessarily diverse.

          So, the Baha’i Faith does not “require” a belief in God–as a standard one must meet. Rather, we believe that Baha’u’llah knows the way to the kingdom of Brahma as one who was born in it, as Buddha described it. The question of whether God exists is irrelevant. It’s more than irrelevant; it’s a time-consuming, wasteful distraction.

          1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmā_(Buddhism)

            I guess ultimately devas and their existence is only relevant to people born or reborn as Devas (Brahmas being Devas outside of Kamaloka) or Asuras. Samsara can be divided into Arupaloka, Rupaloka, and Kamaloka. The first two do get lumped together into Brahmaloka.

            Brahmā in Buddhism is the name for a type of exalted passionless deity (deva), of which there are several in Buddhist cosmology. Especially the mahayana Lotus sutra, chapter 7 makes mention of several “Brahma gods”.

            The name Brahmā originates in Vedic tradition, in which Brahmā appears as the creator of the universe. By contrast, early Buddhist texts describe several different Brahmās coexisting in the same universe; some of them think they are “all powerful” creators of the world, but they are corrected by the Buddha. The myths, characters, and functions of these Brahmās are distinct from those of the Vedic Brahmā. However, at least one of the Buddhist Brahmās is identified as being the object of worship of pre-Buddhist brahmins. The Buddha described the Vedic Brahmā as a misunderstanding, or mistaken remembrance, of one or more of the Buddhist Brahmās, as explained in the Brahmajāla-sutta (Digha Nikaya 1).
            There is no identity between the Buddhist Brahmās and the Hindu conception of brahman as an all-encompassing divine force.

            There are at least four ways of interpreting the term Brahmā (Japanese: 梵天 Bonten). It may refer to:
            Any of the deities of the Ārūpyadhātu or of the Rūpadhātu
            Any of the deities of the nine lowest worlds of the Rūpadhātu, from Śubhakṛtsna to Brahmapāriṣadya.
            Any of the deities of the three lowest worlds of the Rūpadhātu
            A Mahābrahmā, one of the highest deities of preceding group.
            In the sense of “a being of the Rūpadhātu”, the term Brahmā may be related to Brahmavihāra, a term referring to the meditative states achieved through the four Rūpajhānas, which are shared by the inhabitants of the Rūpadhātu.

            All of the above would require extensive knowledge of the Buddhist cosmology which is way too complex to simplify. Also, the Brahma worlds aren’t the goal of Buddhism, they are good pure lands to use as stations to progress to Nirvana, but they are still part of samsara. Belief in God and disbelief in God are ultimately irrelevant points as neither can benefit nor harm soneone’s quest for enlightenment, only bad karma can. As I said earlier whatever exists, exists and that is what a Pantheist would call God. Thus, God would tautologically exist, but only for Pantheists. The only way for God not to exist in this defintion would be for nothing to exist. The Dharma exists primarily to take sentient beings from samsara to nirvana, but sometime Buddha taught some people how to pursue a favorable rebirth instead. It would be difficult and pointless listing all the 33 planes of samsara a sentient being can be reborn in.

            The old Upanishads largely consider Brahman in the masculine gender (Brahmā in the nominative case, henceforth “Brahmā”) to be a personal god, and Brahman in the neuter gender (Brahma in the nominative case, henceforth “Brahman”) to be the impersonal world principle. They do not strictly distinguish between the two, however. The old Upanishads ascribe these characteristics to Brahmā: first, he has light and luster as his marks; second, he is invisible; third, he is unknowable, and it is impossible to know his nature; fourth, he is omniscient. The old Upanishads ascribe these characteristics to Brahman as well. In the Buddhist texts, there are many Brahmās. There they form a class of superhuman beings, and rebirth into the realm of Brahmās is possible by pursuing Buddhist practices.In the early texts, the Buddha gives arguments to refute the existence of a creator.

            In the Pāli scriptures, the neuter Brahman does not appear (though the word brahma is standardly used in compound words to mean “best”, or “supreme”), however ideas are mentioned as held by various Brahmins in connection with Brahmā that match exactly with the concept of Brahman in the Upanishads. Brahmins who appear in the Tevijja-suttanta of the Digha Nikaya regard “union with Brahmā” as liberation, and earnestly seek it. In that text, Brahmins of the time are reported to assert: “Truly every Brahmin versed in the three Vedas has said thus: ‘We shall expound the path for the sake of union with that which we do not know and do not see. This is the correct path. This path is the truth, and leads to liberation. If one practices it, he shall be able to enter into association with Brahmā.” The early Upanishads frequently expound “association with Brahmā”, and “that which we do not know and do not see” matches exactly with the early Upanishadic Brahman.

            In the earliest Upanishad, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Absolute, which came to be referred to as Brahman, is referred to as “the imperishable”. The Pāli scriptures present a “pernicious view” that is set up as an absolute principle corresponding to Brahman: “O Bhikkhus! At that time Baka, the Brahmā, produced the following pernicious view: ‘It is permanent. It is eternal. It is always existent. It is independent existence. It has the dharma of non-perishing. Truly it is not born, does not become old, does not die, does not disappear, and is not born again. Furthermore, no liberation superior to it exists elsewhere.” The principle expounded here corresponds to the concept of Brahman laid out in the Upanishads. According to this text the Buddha criticized this notion: “Truly the Baka Brahmā is covered with unwisdom.”

            The Buddha confined himself to what is empirically given. This empiricism is based broadly on both ordinary sense experience and extrasensory perception enabled by high degrees of mental concentration.

          2. “The question of whether God exists is irrelevant. It’s more than irrelevant; it’s a time-consuming, wasteful distraction.”

            This. God is an “unknowable essence.” If I cannot know this essence, I cannot determine whether or not it exists. Knowing whether or not something exists requires being able to adequately articulate those attributes that sufficiently define what it is. Can’t do that for an “unknowable essence.”

            Central to being a Baha’i is the question of who, or what, Baha’u’llah is. Does Baha’u’llah exhibit extraordinary qualities; degree of capacity and insight not possessed by normal human beings? Does Baha’u’llah give us profound insights into our human condition? I think a person can spend a life-time immersed in these questions without plumbing the depths of the ideas in Baha’u’llah’s words.

            To me, the difference between Baha’u’llah and the rest of us mere mortals is like night and day. It’s not a difference I can bring myself to deny. That’s why I’m a Baha’i.

  19. Stephen,

    Somehow your last post disappeared from my computer, so I’m replying here to your comments about the ideal and the real in religion.

    First, to a considerable extent I would say the complaints about religion are caused by faulty statistical thinking.

    For example, the new atheists like to point out all the horrible things done by religious people in the past. No problem – except they forget that since virtually all people were religious back then, all the good things were done by religious people too. These good things, “these little unremembered acts/ of kindness and of good” (Wordsworth) count too, although they are not always as spectacular as some of the bad things. So what have the new atheists actually proven? Not much. (A scientist like Dawkins, of course, should know this – but he has become a petty polemicist like Hitchens and long ago ceased thinking like a scientist.)

    A similar argument holds vis-a-vis behavior today. Yes, some religious people behave badly – and those who are looking for that, will find it and those who go looking for the good will find that too. What you find depends on what you choose to look for – and your choice is maybe what you should be questioning first.

    Second, when people argue that they can’t be religious because some priests molest children or religion causes conflict, I remind them then they can’t be atheists either. By far the bloodiest regimes in history have been the programmatically atheist Communist governments in the world. I grew up in a militantly Marxist-Leninist family, and drank my Marx with my mother’s milk, so I can assure you atheism is an essential aspect of Communism. No atheism, no communism: they are absolute correlates. In one century, Communism killed more people – around 100 million – than all the violent Christian and Muslim regimes put together over a dozen centuries.

    If bad examples discourage people from being religious, they should also discourage them from being atheists or non-religious.

    Personally, I don’t think people should let other people’s behavior determine my choices vis-a-vis religion. That is a flight from freedom and responsibility, little better than finger-pointing. “They made me do it!” .

    From my perspective the criterion for joining a religion always was and is: “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 213). IMO, that is the standard we need to apply today in our quest for religion.

  20. Maya, while the conversation with Ian and Stephen has covered some ground, here’s my response to whatever we last talked about.

    I’ve studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Theosophy, Ascended Masters Teachings or Neo Theosophy, the Bahai Faith, and various other religions.

    Most humans and most sentient being have no progress towards enlightenment. They are the zeroth group.

    The first group is stream enterers.

    The second group is once returners.

    The third group is non returners.

    The fourth group is shravakas, arhats, pratyekas, paramhamsas, and various other equivalents.

    I’ll skip to the seventh group now.

    The seventh group is bodhisattvas, avatars, messiahs, mahdis, christs, ascended masters of ancient wisdom, manifestations, and various other equivalents.

    The eight group is buddhas, tathagatas, jinas, tirthankaras, and various other equivalents.

    I’ll also add that I could add gurus, lamas, and tulkus to the seventh group, but have made a decision yet on that part.

    So long story short, Maya, Jesus and the other people you listed as other Buddhas are actually Bodhisattvas, but it’s a distinction sometimes Buddhists even mix up sometimes. Foremost among Bodhisattvas are the eight Mahasattvas and their emanations. They are Ajita aka Maitreya, Akashagarbha, Avalokitéshvara, Kshitigarbha, Mahashtamaprapta, Manjugosha aka Manjushri, Samantabhadra, and Sarvanivaranavishkambhin.

    Take for instance Paramhamsa Yoganada and his commentaries on the Bible. This is an example of how the East interprets the teachings of the West. I could give other example like any Hare Krishna or Saiva Siddhanta website.

    1. To sum up, you wrote: So long story short, Maya, Jesus and the other people you listed as other Buddhas are actually Bodhisattvas, but it’s a distinction sometimes Buddhists even mix up sometimes.

      My study of those same faiths has brought me to a different conclusion. First, I view the station of a Buddha and a human being as fundamentally different. Humans are rational souls (as CS Lewis put it, “You are a soul. You have a body.”), but they are not, as Buddha described Himself “enlightened for ever so long.” We are the students; Buddha is the Teacher. The Buddhas—what Baha’u’llah refers to as Manifestations of God—are something above that. You put them in your 8th group. I think of them as Ground Zero—the source of the explosion of God’s creative impulse.

      I believe, however, that Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Zoroaster, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah (and others lost to us in history) are that rare and perfect reflection of the Divine that you would call the Tathagata or Buddha. A Being that Gautama Buddha describes thusly: “And the Tathagata (the Righteous One or Anointed One) is the same to all beings, differing in attitude only so far as all beings are different. The Tathagata, however, knows the law whose essence is salvation, and whose end is the peace of Nirvana. He is the same to all, and yet knowing the requirements of every single being, He does not reveal Himself to all alike. –Sanskrit Dhammapada)

      I believe this because Baha’u’llah challenged me to believe it and I accepted the challenge. It was His contention that if I refused to be distracted by the bewildering array of human rituals and dogmas and went to the sacred texts—even those obscured by age and oral transmission—I would find unity in what I had been assured by theologians of various stripes had none.

      The salient point is that He does not reveal Himself to all alike. When I was a Christian, I place Christ far above any other divine Manifestation. He was God’s Son and — depending on what mood I was in — Buddha and others like Him were either liars and deceivers or simply wise men or saints. It took earnest study of the Buddha’s teachings to make me realize that the same Light I saw manifest in Jesus Christ was manifest with equal beauty and clarity in Gautama Buddha—six hundred years earlier. The similarity of teaching goes far beyond just Buddha and Christ, which I’d like to illustrate, but in a different comment so this won’t get hugely long. 🙂

      At base, my conclusion about these Beings is this: They did not intend to found “different” religions. Looking at the prophetic utterances of Moses, Christ, Buddha, etc, I have come to the conclusion that, as Baha’u’llah says, They each represent a different aspect of “the changeless faith of God—eternal in the past, eternal in the future”. The differences lie in our point of view—rather like the experience that a certain group of blind men had with an elephant once upon a time. 🙂

      An aside: Baha’u’llah, as you may or may not be aware, Baha’is of Buddhist background view as being the Maitreye Buddha (“He whose name is kindness), and Buddha Amit-abha. (Baha’u’llah’s given name, Husayn, means “kindness”.)

      In this context of “levels” of existence—if there is any benefit to such stratification—there is Baha’u’llah’s eldest son Abdu’l-Baha, who holds a unique station. He is human, but is the fullest expression of human potential. A bodhisattva, indeed. His Father referred to him as “the one around whom all the names of God revolve” and the Mystery of God. While we might argue that the station of a Buddha is unreachable, and the lives of the ancient bodhisattvas clouded by myth and superstition, here is someone close enough to us in time for us to fully appreciate his example.

      I think that if the life and philosophy of Abdu’l-Baha were all I knew of the Baha’i Faith, I would have still come to belief. To simply read the teachings is one thing; to see them born out with perfection in the life of a human being is another.

      1. Maya, I didn’t make the rankings, the Theosophical Society did.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initiation_(Theosophy)

        I did edit them somewhat, but basically the Theosophical Society did most of the work. I added the Bahai concept of Manifestations to the list. First of all Maitreya is a bodhisattva and to claim to be Maitreya is to claim to be a bodhisattva. He is never identified as anything else in the sutras. The Theosophical listing actually includes all the people you listed above and more. I only listed several of the relevant initiations, but the initiations are infinite.

        Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Christ, and the Good Shepherd, which are all bodhisattva level. That is one example. I find the Bahai Faith to be too limited in that they limit themselves to a list of eight Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Avatar, Manifestations, or whatever you want to call them.

        There are Avatars other than Krishna. There are Buddhas, Tathagatas, Jinas, Tirthankaras other than Shakyamuni.

        Also, the translation of Sanskrit into Arabic is problematic at best. Does Maitreya even translate into Husayn or Ahmad or whatever anyone else claims it does?

        I’m a universalist and believe all religions as religion, all scriptures are scripture, etc. All paths lead to the one. Though the initiation levels are infinitie, Anyone 4 and above is enlightened, though there are varying degrees of enlightenment. I used the Theosophical list because I like Theosophy.

        Good examples of avatars include Muhammad, Bahaullah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi, Samael Aun Weor, Adi Da Samraj, Meher Baba, Mother Meera, Jesus, Moses, Zoroaster, Adu Shankara, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Basava, etc.

        Good examples of bodhisattvas include Jiddu Krishnamurti, Muhammad, Bahaullah, Mirza Ghulam Ahamd, Riaz Ahmad Gohar Shahi, Gung Ye, Xiang Haiming, Empress Wu, Ly Zhong Yi, L. Ron Hubbard, Adi Da Samraj, Raël aka Claude Vorilhon, Guan Yu, Emperor Nurhaci, Peter Deunov aka Master Benisa Deuno, Uriel aka Ruth Norman, Rama Bahadur Bojmon, various Lamas, various Tulkus, Ashvaghosa, Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Aryadeva, Jesus, Budai, Marpa, Mazu, Milarepa, Naropa, Niguma, Shantideva, etc.

        Even though both lists are level 7 I needed to show good examples of how the listing works.

        Good examples of Buddhas are Parshva, Mahavira, Siddhartha Gautama aka Shakyamuni, Nichiren, Padmasambhava, some Lamas, some Tulkus, Yeshe Tsogyal, Mandarava, etc.

        I need to more easily complie my list, but those are starter examples. I guess you could lump all three lists into one list and label it the Manifestation list if you want Maya, and Bahai-ize this list.

        1. Stephen, whoever created the rankings, you are using them. Am I wrong to assume you agree with them? Do you use them because you find them a convenient way to label and categorize things or is it the way you think the spiritual realm is actually organized?

          While I understand the human need to label and categorize things, I would caution against conflating a tool for human convenience with divine reality. You may take that I do not accept the Theosophical society as an authority on these matters because I think the tendency we have to so label and pigeon hole things (as if we really understood them) limiting and distracting from the real purpose of all sacred revelation—the transformation of the individual and society.

          Which brings me to your comment about the Baha’i Faith limiting the number of Buddhas, etc. This is a factual error and I think it arises from Baha’is trying to simplify the message too much. There is no list of approved Buddhas or Prophets. We sometimes list the ones that Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha specifically mentioned, but they are not the only ones.

          The sacred texts are clear that there have been uncounted Manifestations of God sent to us. There is no authoritative “list”, we are rather to recognize them by Their fruits, as Christ’s words suggest. In Foundations of World Unity, Abdul-Baha gives a set of criteria and says it’s up to us to look back at history and recognize these souls. There is no stratified hierarchy—they are equal in station. Rather it is our capacity or lack thereof that causes Them to tailor their messages to us and causes us to assign superior or inferior status to them (as, for example, most Christians believe Moses is inferior to Christ.)

          So, no, there are not only eight and the nine referenced in most Baha’i literature are the Prophets of the extant revealed religions, which arose from the teaching of an independent Manifestation and which are mentioned by Baha’u’llah. He mentions others as well whose religions have either been completely subsumed by a later revelation or have been lost in historical obscurity. But these Messengers have been coming since the dawn of time and no one but God knows their number.

          The criteria for Buddhahood, if you will, is that the person claims revelation and then shows evidence of it by revealing His teachings (which will be at core like the teachings of the previous Manifestation, though the social time-bound laws and the context will differ), and living a pure life, as Buddha describes. Moreover, His teachings will be the source of progress to the culture that follows them. When one of these individuals appears, there is a burst of spiritual energy; arts, sciences, and human capacity shoots upward. Then we start editing the message, creating dogma, labeling, stratifying, making up rules and formulas and complexities that exclude more and more of humanity from appreciating the substance of the message.Then God sends another Buddha to start the process again.

          In between, there are all manner of saints, wise men, holy souls, boddhisattvas, who further the progress of the souls around them. They, too, can be recognized by their words and deeds and by the results of both. We don’t have an authoritative list of those either. You have to be able to look at them and see whether their words and deeds are in accordance with the divine standard.

          1. Maya, its a little of both of those reasons.

            Also, Arhats, Pratyekas, and Bodhisattvas are Buddhas as well. Its hard to tell in English, but there are four types of Buddhas actually Samyaksams are the fourth kind.

            All sentient beings, not just enlightened beings are equal via the ultimate dimension, but not the historical dimension. As you can see from the following posts I have created a list of Buddhas. Examples, include Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Samael Aun Weor, Adi Da Samraj, Lu Zhong Yi, Claude Vorilhon aka Raël, L. Ron Hubbard, etc. How can you say any of these didn’t fulfill your above criteria? Or any another of my candidates listed below?

            I wouldn’t say the only extant revealed religions, but rather the only extant ones specifically enumerated in Bahai scripture.

            While I agree with what you say, I don’t interpret your message in the same way the Baha’i mainstream does. I’m too universalist to be a Baha’i. I think the Baha’i Faith misinterprets Baha’u’llah’s writings. I find the East as a whole rather than the current Baha’i Faith to be a better unifier of religions.

          2. Maya, I’ve just noticed several problems with the criteria.

            This takes several centuries or millennia after a person’s death to fully verify a person’s status.

            Did Krishna found an independent religion? Wasn’t he just a dependent prophet of the historical Vedic religion?

            Did the Bab found a major world religion? How could Babism done all of tht before the advent of the Baha’i Faith?

            Look at the list of the major world religions who have fulfilled the criteria.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups

            What logical reason do I have for saying Laozi, Confucius, Guru Nanak, Mahavira, Ngo Van Chieu, Choe Je-u, Nakayama Miki, Gerald Gardner, Mokichi Okada, Masaharu Taniguchi, Marcus Garvey, L. Ron Hubbard, Paul Twitchell, Claude Vorilhon, or any other founder of a religious tradition you can think of doesn’t fulfill said criteria?

          3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10/40_Window

            Christian culture is outside of the window. The Islamic, Jeswish, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Shinto, Sikh, Jain, Bahai, Cai Dai, Cheondogyo, Tenrikyo, Sekai Kyuseikyo, Seicho No Ie, Zoroastrian, etc. cultures are in the window partially of fully.

            Right now Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu have made huge worldwide impact, not only in breadth but also in width of impact. At what point does a religious culture impact the world enough to fulfill the culture criteria?

            http://maitreya.org/

            Also, have you heard of Joseph Emmanuel aka Ahmad ibn Abdullah aka Maitreya aka would claims to be a Manifestation as well?

      2. Maya, I do agree with some points, but there is still unexplained dualism.

        First let me explain the three type of bodhisattvas.

        Shepherds beyond compare aspire to delay their own buddhahood until after all sentinet beings attain buddhahood. They are the most courageous. Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Shantideva are examples.

        Boatsmen of sacred wisdom aspire to achieve buddhahood with sentient beings.They are in the middle with regards to courage. Maitreya is an example. Despite not being a Scientologist, this always makes me think of L. Ron Hubbard. Also, Maitreya is a bodhisattva, desptie the folk religion belief in his buddhood which is unsupported by the sutras.

        Kings of the great wish aspire to achieve buddhahood as soon as possible. They are the least courageous.

        Doctrine, philosophies, and religions are skillful means to bring sentient beings to nirvana and moksha. All religious figures are Manifestations, Ascended Masters of Ancient Wisdom, Buddhas, Tathagats, Jinas, Tirthankaras, Bodhisattvas, Avatars, Messiahs, Christs, Mahdis,etc. or any combination of the above.

        All paths are rivers leading to the ocean. Just like Sri Ramakrishna says “Do not argue about doctrines and religions. There is only one. All rivers flow to the Ocean. Flow and let other flow too!”

        Also, the Eternal Buddha doctrine not only refers to the Buddha but all sentient beings. Eternal enlightenment is true from an ultimate perspective while enlightenment in a moment in time is true from a historical perspective. The same sutra that preaches this also preaches the Buddha wanting all sentient beings to be his equal.

        There is no unbridgeable gulf between the spritually evolved an the spritually unevovled.

        I believe in unity of religion too, but I interpret in my own way rather than in the limited way currently taught as official Baha’i Faith doctrine.

        The vast majority of sentient beings are spiritually unevolved. Various spiritually evolved guides give teachings, but they have to be conveyed in language which conveys words, but not meanings. Practicing teaching leads the spiritually unevolved to spiritually evolve and become more enlightened.

        I have found a religion neutral unity among the religions, while you base that unity on Baha’i dogma and Baha’i rituals actually. You conform your interpretation of non-Baha’i scriptures and even Baha’u’llah’s writing by whatever the Baha’i Faith says they taught rather than whatever they taught. This does lead to certain uncertainty about what anyone taught, but I’ll try to describe my worldview, even though It’s not what’s taught in the mainstream of any religion even the Baha’i Faith. I have my own interpretations of Bah’u’llah’s writings and all scriptures.

        First take unity of religion. All religions are one. I take that straight forward. Their practice lead to moksha and nirvana as well as spiritual evolution via higher degrees of enlightenment. The religions, doctrines, and philosophies need not be internally, externally, or even factually consistent because by practice of religion people will be more enlightened and naturally shift to more enlightened doctrines.

        Second take progress revelation. Revelation progresses over time. It can be new religions. It can be new developments in old religions. It can be new scriptures. It can be new commentaries on scriptures. It can be people moving closer to enlightenment. It can be mystical experiences. It can be a whole myriad of ways revelation can progress.

        Third my concept of time. Instead of the Western linear concept of linear consecutive ages, I believe in cyclical concurrent ages. Who says only one age can exist at one given time?

        Fourth, I don’t limit my count to the limited list Baha’is use of Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Bab, Baha’u’llah. I find it ironic that Baha’i do various things Baha’u’llah criticized other religions for have crept into the Baha’i Faith.

        I believe that all Generous Glorious Holy Noble Sacred Books, Scriptures, Texts, Writ, Writings, etc. should be referred to as such rather than, just using the term to refers to one’s own religious texts.

        I believe all teaching have infinite interpretations, none more preferred than any others. Though, I do have a complicated worldview. Though, naturally as people become more enlightened they will shed any unenlightened interpretations for more enlightened ones.

        I like the Shaiva Siddhanta example of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, Jews, Christian, Muslims, and others are all blessed by Shiva, Shaiva Siddhanta’s preferred name for God.

        1. “All paths are rivers leading to the ocean. Just like Sri Ramakrishna says “Do not argue about doctrines and religions. There is only one. All rivers flow to the Ocean. Flow and let other flow too!”

          I completely agree with this. May I ask why you are arguing that the spiritual world must be seen just so with all these complex levels and stations and labels?

          You wrote: “First take unity of religion. All religions are one. I take that straight forward. ”

          This is the very essence of the Baha’i Faith. Baha’u’llah wrote: The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated. — Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, CXXII

          You wrote: “Revelation progresses over time. It can be new religions. It can be new developments in old religions. It can be new scriptures.”

          This, again, is the essence of the Faith of Baha’u”llah, that God, like wise Teacher, teaches mankind throughout the ages in accordance with our capacity.

          You wrote: “Instead of the Western linear concept of linear consecutive ages, I believe in cyclical concurrent ages. Who says only one age can exist at one given time?”

          The idea of cycles or seasons is a prominent part of the Baha’i teachings, as well. The cycle of spring, summer, fall, winter, then spring again, exists in all facets of existence. The laws of physics of which this is true of everything from the life cycles of living things to the life cycle of stars and galaxies are only a small, visible piece of the cycles. I would add to that that this world is only one of uncounted worlds of God, both physical (other planets that have life) and spiritual.

          You wrote: Fourth, I don’t limit my count to the limited list Baha’is use of Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Bab, Baha’u’llah. I find it ironic that Baha’i do various things Baha’u’llah criticized other religions for have crept into the Baha’i Faith.”

          I’m sorry you were misinformed. We do not limit our “count” to that either, though since most Baha’i literature does mention the Prophets that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha addresses directly, I can see how you (and even some Baha’is) believe this is the case. It is not, however. As I mentioned elsewhere, Abdu’l-Baha speaks at length on how these Beings can be recognized in history and Baha’u’llah alludes in His writings to their great number.

          Abdu’l-Baha makes the importance of these Manifestations of God very clear when He writes: “The supreme and most important happening in the human world is the Manifestation of God and the descent of the law of God. The holy, divine Manifestations did not reveal themselves for the purpose of founding a nation, sect or faction. They did not appear in order that a certain number might acknowledge their prophethood. They did not declare their heavenly mission and message in order to lay the foundation for a religious belief. Even His Holiness Christ did not become manifest that we should merely believe in him as the Christ, follow him and adore his mention. All these are limited in scope and requirement whereas the Reality of Christ is an unlimited essence. The infinite and unlimited Reality cannot be bounded by any limitation. Nay, rather His Holiness Christ appeared in order to illumine the world of humanity, to render the earthly world celestial, to make the human kingdom a realm of angels, to unite the hearts, to enkindle the light of love in human souls, so that such souls might become independent, attaining complete unity and fellowship, turning to God, entering into the divine Kingdom, receiving the bounties and bestowals of God and partaking of the manna from heaven. Through Christ they were intended to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, attain a new spirit and realize the life everlasting. All the holy precepts and the announcements of prophetic laws were for these various and heavenly purposes. Therefore we offer thanks to God that although no earthly relation obtains among us, yet—Praise be to God!—ideal and divine bonds blend us together.”

          You wrote: “I believe that all Generous Glorious Holy Noble Sacred Books, Scriptures, Texts, Writ, Writings, etc. should be referred to as such rather than, just using the term to refers to one’s own religious texts.”

          All Baha’is would agree with you here, too. We are exhorted to make ourselves aware of the sacred texts of the previous Manifestations and of the spiritual paths followed by other believers. Baha’u’llah, in fact, makes independent investigation of the sacred texts a duty. Baha’is often use the older sacred texts in our devotions. I find the Bhagavad Gita especially resonates with me, though my favorite among all verses is from Gautama Buddha: “Hatred does not cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love. This is an eternal commandment.”

          My preferred name for God is “Beloved”.

      3. Maya, for an update on my list. I’m adding Ryuho Okawa, Nirmala Srivastava, André Mastoua, Joseph Emmanuel aka Ahmad ibn Abdullah, and Haile Selassie to my seventh initiation group.

        For future simplicity, I’ll just refer to the sixth initiation and above a Ascended Masters of Ancient Wisdom. It includes all Avatars, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, Jinas, Tirthankaras, Messiahs, Christs, Mahdis, Manifestations, etc.

        Also, Bodhisattvas have more wisdom and compassion than Buddhas, due to the nature of their Bodhicitta.

      4. I also added Ramanuja to group 7 due to the Master Jesus and Master Maitreya Wikipedia pages seperate from the Jesus and Maitreya pages. I will produce one grand unified list of Ascended Masters of Ancient Wisdom from groups 6 and up eventually.

        Once someone goes to group 8 they are no longer able to remain with humanity to help them, only kings of the great wish would do that, as opposed to batsmen of sacred wisdom and shepherds beyond compare.

      5. Maya, at various points you confuse the ultimate dimension, historical dimension, and action dimension of various scriptures.

        Various stages of enlightenment and initiations are part of the historical dimension and what you do to get there is the action dimension. The ultimate dimension is that the ultimate reality alone exists. An example would be the Upanishadic Mahavakyas, they are the ultimate dimension. Though when a person say it whether enlightened or not, it’s still not true from a historical dimension.

        The Heart Sutra is an exposition of the ultimate dimension. The Diamond Sutra on the other hand confuses people because it flips between dimension all the time. Properly understanding any scripture of any religion requires you to understand which dimension or dimensions are being used in any given quote, verse, chapter, book, or reading.

        The Buddha being the Eternal Buddha is true from the ultimate, but not historical dimension. The eternal life of the Buddha is also true from the ultimate, but not historical dimension.

        The ultimate dimension is all sentient beings are already at the infinitive initiation, but historically are the the various initiations they are.

        The Guru Sishiya tradition of Hinduism is a good example. The Guru being a teacher and the Sishiya being a student is true at the time historically and actively, but not ultimately. The job of a Guru is to reveal to his Sishiya their ultimate identity of Guru as well.

        Everyone and everything is the Eternal Buddha from the ultimate dimension even Devadatta. He is currently in Avichi Hell, historically.

        1. Stephen wrote: “Maya, at various points you confuse the ultimate dimension, historical dimension, and action dimension of various scriptures.”

          No, I don’t believe I do. Though perhaps I don’t categorize them as you do. What I do perceive about the sacred texts is that they serve different purposes and are of different types. Some are stories. Some of the stories are histories and some are parables or morality tales. Here, they cross over into prescriptive scriptures that indicate either directly or by example how we should think and behave. There are also scriptures that are I suppose what you may call Ultimate Dimension scriptures. They explain what and who we are, what our purpose is, who God is and how we may know THAT. There are also prophetic scriptures, of course.

          I was confused about those things early in my life because, being raised a Christian, I was not taught to view the Bible in that way, even though all of those types of utterances are in it.

          I assure you, I have no confusion in my mind about the different types of scripture.

          Speaking of enlightenment and spiritual journeys, if you have never read Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, you really should. I read it repeatedly and always discover something new about the spiritual journey and my own reality.

          1. Maya, I’ll explain the dimensions.

            The ultimate dimension is the dimension where the ultimate reality alone exists. It goes beyond all concepts of duality, matter, energy, space, time, birth, death, coming, going, subject, object, etc.

            The historical dimension is the illusory world we all know. In contrast to the ultimate dimension, it is based on all the concepts that the ultimate dimension transcends. This is the history of people and their lives.

            The action dimension is how the historical dimension can be transcended and one can cross over to the ultimate dimension.

            Westerners and Easterners perceive the historical dimension differently. Westerner think Easterners believe in contradictions, while Easterners think Westerners believe in half truths. Just my description of the action dimension and the ultimate dimension should sound like a contradiction to a Westerner, though I am one, I have studied various worldviews.

            Take Jesus statement that

            Before Abraham, I am.

            Abraham existed historically, while the I essence of each individual exists ultimately.

            I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but by me.

            The I essence of each individual is the way, the truth, and the life. No one come to the ultimate reality, but by said essence.

            Those are some of Jesus’s quotes. I have put my commentary below them to show the Eastern interpretation of the above statements. It differs from the Christian interpretation which interprets those statements historically as referring to Jesus as a unique individual and the Bahai interpretation that refers to Jesus as a unique class of individuals.

            To most Westerners the concept of the Buddha being eternally enlightened and becoming enlightened during his thirties sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not because Westerners tend to view both statements as historical statements. The first statement refers to the ultimate dimension and the second, historical.

            You seem to interpret equality of Avatars and equality of Buddhas as a historical rather than an ultimate fact. The I essence of each Indvidual is equal, ultimate fact. You do also have carrying degrees of enlightenment, even among Avatars and Buddhas, historical fact. Even the lowest Hell being like Devadatta for example can become the highest Buddha given time, historical fact. The I essence of Devadatta is already a highest Buddha, ultimate fact. How he gets there is the action fact. His current stay in Avichi for the next ten to the twentieth power years, means that won’t happen anytime soon.

            All beings are equal ultimately, but undergo various initiations into higher levels of enlightenment historically. My belief that various figures you call Manifestations are at different levels of enlightenment historically, doesn’t contradict their ultimate equality.

            Even though James W. Sire has an overt Christian bias, his book, The Universe Next Door, is extremely useful at contrasting Abrahamic Theism and Eastern Monism as worldviews, he also lists New Age as a spinoff of Eastern Monism. Abrahamic Theism is divided into Christian and Islamic chapters.

            http://www.amazon.com/The-Universe-Next-Door-Edition/dp/1459611144/ref=tmm_pap_title_1

            Ultimately, all are Manifestations. It’s just historically some people become Manifestations at various times and places.

            For example, your identity of Maya as God’s creative power rather than illusion would be indentification as a half truth by an Easterner. They would say illusion ultimately, and your theory on a historic level.

          2. You really don’t need to explain the dimensions to me :). I get it. I just use different “jargon” to describe them. Let’s not get distracted by the labels, okay?

            In case it isn’t obvious to you, I think more like an Easterner. I don’t see the contradictions (not even the ones you seem to see)

            As you say, Abraham and the other Manifestations of God existed historically (that is, physically) and in that reality, they were separate individuals. But in the ultimate reality They are one and the same spirit.

            I think of it like the ocean. Each wave seems to be a separate entity. Indeed, from one point of view, they ARE separate. But underneath, they are joined and are part of the same whole–the ocean.

            Agreed?

            I make no distinction between the different Manifestations. Nor do I believe They are at different levels of enlightenment. I believe it is OUR level of enlightenment, not Theirs, that dictates how they speak to us, what language and metaphors and sensible examples they use to teach us. My daughter’s teacher in first grade told her, “you can subtract big numbers from small numbers” and insofar as first grade math is concerned, that is true. But now her fifth grade teacher is showing her how to subtract big numbers from small numbers to get negative numbers. This is also true. And the first grade teacher knew that as well as the fifth grade teacher, but the first graders were not ready to hear it.

            Each Manifestation or Avatar or Buddha or whatever you want to call them, comes with a message suited to the time, the place, and the people. Each sheds His light. There is a Baha’i saying: Many Lamps; One Light. Abdu’l-Baha speaks to this in Foundations of World Unity and makes the point that we must be attracted to the Light, not attached to the Lamp.

            Another metaphor that applies is the physical Sun, which rises from different points on the horizon, but is always the same Sun.

            Read Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys (it’s a very small, very potent book). Then let’s talk.

          3. Another comment on the foregoing—you wrote: “You seem to interpret equality of Avatars and equality of Buddhas as a historical rather than an ultimate fact. The I essence of each Indvidual is equal, ultimate fact.”

            No, I interpret it as an ultimate fact. Look at the metaphor I used in my reply to this and the quote from scripture I included in my last response, I think that made my understanding very clear.

            Historically, the Manifestations are different. They have different names: Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Zoroaster, Baha’u’llah, etc. Ultimately (as the metaphor I used of the ocean and waves was meant to suggest), They are one.

            Also, when Jesus said that He was the Way (which, of course, the other Prophets also said), I take it to mean in part that at that time, He is the One who (as Buddha put it) was born in the world of Brahma and knew the way to it. A large part of Christ’s stupendous claim (in Jewish eyes) was that He was saying He had seen the Father (God). As far as Jews were concerned, only Moses had seen God “face to face.” I associate this claim to the the Way with a claim of Buddha-hood. It is up to the seeker to determine if this claim has merit.

            Such, in part, is the nature of enlightenment, I think.

            The next question that arises is “what do I do with the knowledge that this Person is a Buddha?” For me, the answer is that I read and try to assimilate His words such that they transform my inner and outer life.

          4. Maya, ultimately there is not ultimate distinction between the unenligthened and the enlightened. Though, historically unenligthened beings become enlightened by enlightened beings who were enlightened by prior englightened beings.

            Everyone and everything are the one same ocean Vedantins call Brahman and Atman, Tantrists (Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Bön practitioners, New Agers, etc.) call Shakti and Shiva, Taoists call Tao and Te, Buddhists call Shunyata and Bodhictta, Thelemites call Nu and Had, Kabbalists call Ain Soph and Sephiroth especially Keter, etc.

            Atman is Brahman, or whatever terms listed above you can substitute because I labeled them respectively. The soul of each and every thing is the one and same soul of the cosmos. Some things are more one than others. All roads leads to the One. To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond historic personality to the transpersonal ultimate. To realize one’s ones with the cosmos is to pass beyond historic knowledge to the ultimate. Non-contradiction and excluded middle do not apply where ultimate reality is concerned. To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond historic good and historic evil to the ultimate prefection. Death is the end of the historic individual, but it changes nothing in the indivduals’s ultimate nature. To realize one’s oneness with the One is to pass beyond history. History is unreal. History is cyclical. To realize one’s oneness with the One is to pass beyond all desire.

            Also I have read those books and various books by Sufis as well. I’m familiar with both the Baha’i Faith and Sufism.

            Oh, wait I should add more.

            Whatever the nature of the ultimate reality, the ultimate reality is kingpin, the prime reality. As human beings grow in their awareness and grasp of this fact, the human race is on the verge of a radical change in human nature; even now we see harbingers of transformed humanity and prototypes of the New Age. The cosmos, while unified in the ultimate reality, is manifested in infinite dimensions. The core experience of the New Age is cosmic consciousness, in which the ordinary historic dimension disappears. Physical death is not the end; under the experience of cosmic consciousness, fear of death is removed. Infinite distinct attitudes about the metaphysical question of the ultimate reality fit under under one ultimate dimension framework. Conception is relative, because cosmic consciousness uses infinite models of reality, all of which are true.

            I used the word New Age because I learned the second framework which is same as the first from the New Age movement which is a syncretic rehash of the East. It is notably more Anthropocentric than the classical model, but nothing is different between the two models. There are differences of emphases. Vedanta, Tantrism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Bön, New Age, Thelema, Kabbalah, Judaism, etc. went into the first formulation. The New Age went into the second alone. Thelema is before the New Age, but it can go into either framework.

            I tend to call myself a Unitarian Universalist, rather than using any of the possible labels above that might or might not fit me accurately. I recognize all Buddhas, Avatars, Messiahs, Ascended Masters of Ancient Widom, Maniefestations, etc. The ultimate reality is their Mother. Universalized from the statement Sunyata is the Mother of Buddhas or Shakti is the Mother of Avatars. Prajnaparamita while being both literature on Sunyata. She is also a Bhagavati, Devi, Shakti, Shunyata, Brahman, Ain Soph, Nu, Tao, etc. Herself.

            Also, I did more research on what forms of Hinduism was common during the time of the Buddha. Shaktism existed during the time of the Buddha. The beliefs of Shaktism are subtle, but can be found through Prajnaparamita as explained above.

          5. Stephen, you say you’re familiar with the Baha’i Faith, but you are not familiar enough with the actual scriptures of the Faith to know that they do not teach there were only nine Manifestations of God. So, please understand that, as someone who’s been a Baha’i for her entire adult life, I know that your knowledge of the Faith is limited and that you are misinformed about at least one important aspect of it.

            You wrote: “Maya, ultimately there is not ultimate distinction between the unenligthened and the enlightened. Though, historically unenligthened beings become enlightened by enlightened beings who were enlightened by prior englightened beings.”

            A sort of domino effect, it seems. Is it relevant?

            Let me ask you this: What is the purpose of the teachings of the Buddhas?

          6. Maya, I hope that’s a rhetorical question because if it wasn’t I’d give you a list of sutras I’d recommend. My personal favorite is the Threefold Lotus Sutra. I’d also reccomend Prajnaparamita literature, Avatamsaka Sutra, and various other Mahayana sutras as well. Samadhi sutras like Pratyupanna, Samadhiraja, Candrapradipa, and Shurangama are also good reads as well. Cuisine sutras like Angulimaliya, Brahmajala, Lankavatara, Mahaparinirvana, Nirvana, and Shurangama are also good reads as well. Third turning sutras like Lankavatara and Sabdhinirmocana are good reads as well. Fourth turnings sutras like Avatamsaka, Mahaparinirvana, Nirvana, Srimaladevi Simhanada, and Tathagatagarbha are good reading as well. Yogacara sutras like Avatamsaka, Lankavatara, Pratyupanna, Sandhinirmocana, and Srimaladevi Simhanada are good reading as well. I hope this list of Mahayana sutras isn’t too much reading for you.

            Buddhas teach sentient beings their innate Buddhahood, to cross then over to nirvana, to stop them from accruing bad karma, to sever their attachments, to perfect the paramitas and brahmaviharas, etc. I’d rather just simplify with the first part because it implicitly contains the other parts.

            Also, I’ll copy and past from a blog to illustrate my point.

            On January 9, 1985, the Rev. Tom Hansen, a Unitarian Universalist minister—I do not use his real name—wrote to the spiritual assembly of the Bahá’ís of Wilmette, Illinois, to express his feelings of frustration and offense. First he had been invited to read at a World Religion Day service at the Bahá’í House of Worship. Later he was told that his reading selection was not acceptable and that, as he put it in his letter to the Assembly, he must read from “a world scripture such as the Holy Bible, or Koran, etc., or not at all.”

            “How would you like,” he wrote, “to be asked to participate in a world religion day and then be told that the host required you to read what he defined to be your scriptures, rather than you being able to read from what you felt represented your holy writings?”

            The letter is a page-and-a-half of single-spaced type. It is pointed, challenging, and painful.

            I wonder if in clinging to decisions of Bahá’í leadership of decades ago you realize that you are denigrating other faiths in holding a world religious [sic] day and then not permitting your guest faiths to designate their readings to be what they call holy scriptures rather than going by your outmoded past? You are denying our beliefs, heritage, and scriptures, in saying, “We Bahá’ís have decided what is scriptural for you. We deny you the right, in our setting, to call scripture what you say is holy. You cannot read what is a true representation of your thinking in our world religious [sic] day. You are limited to what we Bahá’ís, or other authorities of the past century, call holy scripture. If you don’t agree that we are right about what is scriptural for you, and read from those books we limit you to, then you are excluded from our service.”

            The letter passed from the Wilmette spiritual assembly to Bruce Whitmore at the Bahá’í House of Worship. Whitmore contacted Rev. Hansen by phone and sent a follow-up letter of apology with a copy of his own book on the building of the House of Worship as a gift. Whitmore wrote in his letter, “Although it may not be possible for us to change the directives which govern our devotional services, be assured that we will make certain that neither we nor Bahá’í communities planning programs at the House of Worship offend any other religious community, even inadvertently.”

            Rev. Hansen read the book and delivered a sermon entitled “How the Bahá’ís Built their Temple.” Then he wrote back to Mr. Whitmore on February 7. He quoted ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Rúhíyyih Khánum from Mr. Whitmore’s book to “suggest that your whole movement reexamine their position about limiting the readings allowed in the main room of the temple.” He added his own emphasis to the quotes by underlining words and phrases such as unity, every, agreement, unfettered, all creeds, Unity of His Prophets, and Unity of Mankind. “Are you willing to hear from a Unitarian Universalist prophet,” he challenged, “or are we for some reason not included in that unity. And are we a part of the unity of mankind, or not?” He closed the letter with a minor factual correction to Mr. Whitmore’s book and thanks for Whitmore’s “big spirited attitude.”

            I found this correspondence while doing research at the U.S. Bahá’í National archives in Wilmette. It originally interested me because it illustrates, I believe, the dissonance between the public image of the Bahá’í Faith and the more insular, restrictive, and conservative practice of the Faith. The former understandably led Rev. Hansen to believe that “in truth there is no faith in this community closer to yours than the Unitarian-Universalist religion” (first letter, to Assembly); the latter leads me to think that beneath the surface the two are more opposite than alike.

            The dissonance I want to look at now, though, is that between the feeling of accepting all faiths that the doctrine of progressive revelation gives so many Bahá’ís and the meaning which that doctrine has when expressed or acted on in an interfaith context.

            In his book Music, Devotions, and Mashriqu’l-Adhkár (1987), R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram documents the transformation in American Bahá’í consciousness of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár from a place for Bahá’ís to worship locally, as envisioned originally in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, to its role as “silent teacher.” Armstrong-Ingram does not discuss the early American Bahá’ís’ understanding of progressive revelation and how it influenced that process. But I suspect it did, because the House of Worship has come to be understood primarily as a physical and public means of relating to non-Bahá’ís religiously—naively so, I would say.
            In the last chapter of his book, Armstrong-Ingram quotes Hatcher and Martin:

            At the present time, the houses of worship are not principally used for Bahá’í community services. Rather, they are opened as places where individuals of all religious backgrounds (or those professing no particular faith) meet in the worship of the one God. Services are nondenominational and consist of readings and prayers from the scriptures of the world’s faiths, with no sermons or other attempts to cast these teachings in a mold of a specifically Bahá’í interpretation.

            This passage deserves its own essay to unpack its multi-dimensional naiveté and self-deception; I quote it here simply as an example of the disappearance of the doctrinal assumptions underlying devotional practices at the House of Worship behind a claim of non-denominationality.

            Progressive revelation is not just a belief in the shared divine origin of the world’s religions, which is the aspect of the teaching that is built into the temple. The general scheme of architecture that all Bahá’í houses of worship share—nine doors and nine sides—symbolizes unity. And the Wilmette House of Worship, in particular, sports the symbols of other major world religions cast into its decorative concrete exterior. The doctrine also includes the conception that God communicates episodically with humanity through perfect teachers. Their revelations have become the scriptures which are now the only accepted readings in the auditoriums of Bahá’í houses of worship. There is nothing neutral or nondenominational about this point of view; it is particularly Bahá’í, though some other faiths have related doctrines. How could Rev. Hansen and his rejected twentieth-century Unitarian writings fit into this scheme? As part of the human corruption and decline of the revelation of Christ and its disintegration into schism?

            So we find Mr. Whitmore caught between the directives for worship in the auditorium, which have their roots in this specifically Bahá’í concept of progressive revelation, and the desire to experience fellowship and unity with people of other faiths. How, I wonder, did he think they would avoid offending “any other religious community, even inadvertently”? By not holding interfaith services in the Auditorium? By not inviting Unitarians? Making the rules clear up front might have helped. But the offense seems almost bound to have been repeated in some form, so long as the building continued to be seen by Bahá’ís as a place for all to worship—on Bahá’í terms.

            I imagine the Bahá’ís involved were startled by Rev. Hansen’s response. But the invitation they had issued was not really one to come together as equals and peers—it couldn’t be, because the rules governing the use of the auditorium had, and still have, a specific bias. It was an invitation to participate in a Bahá’í conception of the oneness of religion. The Bahá’ís involved stumbled into this awkward situation because they believed they were doing one thing when in fact they were doing another. Progressive revelation is not a bright, universally obvious umbrella under which all religions can happily gather; it is a doctrine of one particular religion. Bahá’ís need to recognize its limitations as a basis for interfaith relationships.

            Seven years ago I moved away from the vicinity of the House of Worship, so I can’t speak for any recent developments, except to praise the presence of Van Gilmer as music director. I do know, though, that there has been a long history of frustration and dissatisfaction with devotional activity at the House of Worship. I think that both Bahá’ís and people of other faiths will find more pleasure in worship there when the understanding of the place reverts to that originally intended by Bahá’u’lláh—a place for Bahá’ís to worship, though one with open doors.

            Also, judging at least from Armstrong-Ingram’s book, a fresh engagement with Bahá’u’lláh’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s writings on the subject might yield a devotional practice more various and engaging than the one which has dominated the House of Worship’s history.

            It would also be more distinctively Bahá’í than the historical one. I think that would be a good thing.

      6. I’m adding Mata Amritanandamayi to my initation 7 list. She like Mother Meera and Nirmala Srivastava are Avatars of Shakti and therefore are grouped together with Messiahs, Christs, Mahdis, and Bodhisattvas.

          1. No it was just info on my upkeep of the list.

            Also, I’ve never read any passage in a Buddhist Sutra or Hindu text to make me doubt the given cosmology. It is not mutually exclusive of the respective cosmology given in the sutras or the Puranas. It seems a combination of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Biblical, Theosophical, Neo-Theosophical, and Ascended Masters cosmologies were combined to create the initation cosmology as seen on the page.

            The English term enlightenment has been used to translate several Buddhist terms and concepts, most notably bodhi, kensho and satori.[1] When referring to the Enlightenment of the Buddha (samma-sambodhi) and thus to the goal of the Buddhist path the word enlightenment is normally translating the Pali and Sanskrit word bodhi.

            Buddhahood is the attainment of full awakening and becoming a Buddha. The term buddha has acquired somewhat different meanings in the various Buddhist traditions. An equivalent term for Buddha is Tathāgata, ‘the thus-gone’.
            In Theravada Buddhism, reaching full awakening is equivalent in meaning to reaching Nirvāṇa.[web 1] Attaining Nirvāṇa is the ultimate goal of Theravada and other śrāvaka traditions.[web 2] It involves the abandonment of the ten fetters and the cessation of dukkha. Full awakening is reached in four stages.
            In Mahāyāna Buddhism the Bodhisattva is the ideal. Not one’s own liberation in Nirvāṇa, but the liberation of all living beings is seen as the ultimate goal.
            In time, the Buddha’s awakening came to be understood as an immediate full awakening and liberation, instead of the insight into and certainty about the way to follow to reach enlightenment. In some Zen traditions this perfection came to be relativized again; according to one contemporary Zen master, “Shakyamuni buddha and Bodhidharma are still practicing.”[13]
            But Mahayana Buddhism also developed a cosmology with a wide range of buddhas and bodhisattvas, who assist humans on their way to liberation.

            The way to Buddhahood is somewhat differently understood in the various buddhist traditions. Nevertheless, for all traditions the study of the sutras is essential, and gaining insight a prerequisite.
            [edit]Theravada
            Main article: Theravada
            Theravada Buddhism follows the Seven Stages of Purification, described by Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga (Path to purification). It is based on the classical Noble Eightfold Path, but emphasizes insight in the three characteristics of life, namely dukkha, anatta and anicca. It distinguishes four stages of enlightenment, in which the ten fetters are gradually abandoned.
            [edit]Mahāyāna
            Main article: Mahayana
            Mahāyāna stresses prajñā and Karuṇā, insight and compassion. It has developed a rich variety of teachings, including the use of mantras, such as the Daimoku in Nichiren Buddhism, and devotion to Buddha ancestors.
            [edit]Lamrim
            Main article: Lamrim
            In Tibetan buddhism the stages of the path are described in the Lamrim texts. They are elaborations of Atiśa’s 11th Century root text A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradīpa).[web 3]
            [edit]Sudden and gradual
            Main articles: Subitism and Chinese Chán
            In Zen Buddhism two main views on the way to enlightenment are discernable: sudden and gradual enlightenment. Early Chán recognized the “transcendence of the body and mind”, followed by “non-defilement [of] knowledge and perception”.[14] In the 8th-century the Ch’an-history was effectively re-fashioned by Shenhui, who placed Hui-neng into prominence and emphasized sudden enlightenment, as opposed to the concurrent Northern School’s gradual enlightenment.[15] According to the sudden enlightenment propagated by Shenhui insight into true nature is sudden; there-after there can be no misunderstanding anymore about this true nature. This emphasis is also maintained by the contemporary Rinzai school.
            In opposition to this, the Sōtō school emphasizes silent illumination and the practice of shikan-taza, just sitting. Chinul, a 12th-century Koran Seon master, emphasized that insight into our true nature is sudden, but is to be followed by practice to ripen the insight and attain full Buddhahood. This is also the standpoint of the contemporary Sanbo Kyodan school, according to whom kensho is at the start of the path to full enlightenment.[2]
            This gradual cultivation is also recognized by Tozan, who described the Five ranks of enlightenment.[web 4] Other example of depiction of stages on the path are the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures which detail the steps on the Path, and the Four Ways of Knowing of Hakuin.[16] This gradual cultivation is also described by Chan Master Sheng Yen:
            Ch’an expressions refer to enlightenment as “seeing your self-nature”. But even this is not enough. After seeing your self-nature, you need to deepen your experience even further and bring it into maturation. You should have enlightenment experience again and again and support them with continuous practice. Even though Ch’an says that at the time of enlightenment, your outlook is the same as of the Buddha, you are not yet a full Buddha.[17]

            Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, is said to have achieved full enlightenment, known as perfect Buddhahood (Skt. samyaksaṃbuddha; Pāli: sammāsaṃbuddha).
            In the suttapitaka, the Buddhist canon as preserved in the Theravada-tradition, a couple of texts can be found in which the Buddha tells about his own awakening.[6][7]
            In the Vanapattha Sutta (Majjhima, chapter 17)[8] the Buddha describes life in the jungle, and the attainment of awakening. After destroying the disturbances of the mind, and attaining concentration of the mind, he attained three knowledges (vidhya)[9][10]:
            Insight in his past lives
            Insight in the workings of Karma and Reincarnation
            Insight in the Four Noble Truths
            Insight in the Four Noble Truths is here being called awakening.[9] The monk (bikkhu) has
            …attained the unattained supreme security from bondage”[11]
            Awakening is also being described as reaching Nirvana, the extinction of the passions whereby suffering is ended and no more rebirths take place.[12] The insight arises that this liberation is certain:
            Knowledge arose in me, and insight: my freedom is certain, this is my last birth, now there is no rebirth”[12]
            So awakening is insight in karma and rebirth, insight in the Four Noble Truths, the extinction of the passions whereby Nirvana is reached, and the certainty that liberation has been reached.[12]

            A good example of a sutra is the Shurangama Sutra. It will take a while to be fully familiar with this sutra, but it’s the best description of Mahayana in any one sutra.

            http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/surangama.pdf

            It’s several hundred pages long, but is a great summary of the Buddhist cosmology.

            Some sutras said a beginner would take 3–22 countless eons (mahāsaṃkhyeya kalpas) to become a buddha.[18][19][20] Pure Land Buddhism suggests buddhists go to the pure lands to practice. Tiantai, Huayan, Zen and Vajrayāna schools say they teach ways to attain buddhahood within one karmic cycle.[21][22]
            Various traditions within Buddhism believe in specific bodhisattvas. Some bodhisattvas appear across traditions, but due to language barriers may be seen as separate entities. For example, Tibetan Buddhists believe in various forms of Chenrezig, who is Avalokiteśvara in Sanskrit, Guanyin (Kwan-yin or Kuan-yin) in China and Korea, Quan Am in Vietnam, and Kannon (formerly spelled and pronounced: Kwannon) in Japan. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism consider the Dalai Lamas and the Karmapas to be an emanation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
            Kṣitigarbha is another popular bodhisattva in Japan and China. He is known for aiding those who are lost. His greatest compassionate vow is:
            If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? … if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi.
            The place of a bodhisattva’s earthly deeds, such as the achievement of enlightenment or the acts of dharma, is known as a bodhimanda, and may be a site of pilgrimage. Many temples and monasteries are famous as bodhimandas; for instance, the island of Putuoshan, located off the coast of Ningbo, is venerated by Chinese Buddhists as the bodhimanda of Avalokiteśvara. Perhaps the most famous bodhimanda of all is the bodhi tree under which Śākyamuṇi achieved buddhahood.

          2. Maya, I forgot to add a Prajnaparamita recommendation.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prajnaparamita

            Various texts like One Letter, One Word, Heart 14 Lines, Heart 25 Lines, Diamond 300 Lines, 500 Lines, 700 Lines, 2500 Lines, 8000 Lines, 10000 Lines, 18000 Lines, 25000 Lines, Great 100000 Lines, etc. are all Prajnaparamita literature.

            These deal with Buddhist wisdom (prajñā). “Wisdom” in this context means the ability to see reality as it truly is. They do not contain an elaborate philosophical argument, but simply try to point to the true nature of reality, especially through the use of paradox. The basic premise is a radical non-dualism, in which every and any dichotomist way of seeing things is denied: so phenomena are neither existent, nor non-existent, but are marked by emptiness (śūnyatā), an absence of any essential, unchanging nature. The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter illustrates this approach by choosing to represent the perfection of wisdom with the Sanskrit and Pāli short a or “schwa” vowel (“अ”, [ə]). As a prefix, this negates a word’s meaning, e.g., changing “svabhāva”, “with essence” to “asvabhāva”, “without essence”.[31] It is the first letter of Indic alphabets and, as a sound on its own, can be seen as the most neutral and basic of speech sounds.[32]
            Many sutras are known by the number of lines, or ślokas, that they contain.
            Edward Conze, who translated all of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras into English, identified four periods of development in this literature:
            100 BCE – 100 CE: Ratnaguṇasamcayagatha and the Aṣṭasāhasrikā (8,000 lines)
            100–300 CE: a period of elaboration in which versions in 18,000, 25,000 and 100,000 lines are produced. Possibly the Diamond Sutra too stems from this period.
            300–500 CE: a period of condensation, producing the well known Heart Sutra and the Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter.
            500–1000 CE: Texts from this period begin to show a tantric influence.

    2. Food for thought. One of the many points of agreement among those who have claimed to speak for God is the way in which They speak of their own relationship in regard to us. I admit to deep surprise when I first stumbled across these references in my reading of the Manifestation and His message as the Way:

      I am the Way, and the Master who watches in silence; thy friend and thy shelter, and thy abode of peace. I am the beginning and the middle and the end of all things; their seed of Eternity, their Treasure supreme. — Bhagavad Gita 9:16-18 


      This indeed is the Way — there is no other — for the purification of one’s vision. Follow this Way. I have taught you the Way … making the effort is your affair. — Dhammapada vs. 274-276


      I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him. — John 14:6,7 


      This is the way of thy Lord, leading straight: We have detailed the signs for those who receive admonition. For them will be a home of peace in the presence of their Lord: He will be their friend, because they practised (righteousness). — Quran, Surih 6:126-127


      …He hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance, the Symbols of His divine unity, and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self. Whoso recognizeth Them hath recognized God. Whoso hearkeneth unto Their call, hath hearkened unto the voice of God, and whoso testifieth to the truth of Their revelation, hath testified to the truth of God Himself…. Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above…. They are the Manifestations of God amidst men, the evidences of His Truth, and the signs of His glory. — Gleanings p. 49,50

      I was also amazed to find these references to “the city of God”, which I was familiar with in Jewish and Christian texts, in Hindu texts as well:

      There the sun shines not, nor the moon gives light, nor the fire burns, for the Light of My Glory is there. Those who reach that abode return no more. — Bhagavad Gita 15:6

      The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. — Isaiah 60:19

      There the sun shines not, nor the moon, nor the stars; lightnings shine not there and much less earthly fire. From His light all these give light and His radiance illumines all creation. — Katha Upanishad #6 (other Upanishads also contain this passage)

      By day shines the sun; by night, the moon; in armor, the warrior; in jhana, the brahmin. But all day and all night, every day and every night, the Awakened One shines in splendor. — Dhammapada vs 387 (describing the state of the inhabitant of that “city”)

      The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the Glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor to it. — Revelation of St. John 21:23-24

      Baha’u’llah explains what these refer to:

      That city is none other than the Word of God revealed in every age and dispensation. In the days of Moses it was the Pentateuch; in the days of Jesus the Gospel; in the days of Muhammad the Messenger of God the Qur’án; in this day the Bayan; and in the dispensation of Him Whom God will make manifest His own Book — the Book unto which all the Books of former Dispensations must needs be referred, the Book which standeth amongst them all transcendent and supreme.” -Bahá’u’lláh

  21. Maybe de Botton should just have atheists convert to Unitarian Universalism or any other religion instead of creating a secular alternative to religion. Any non-theistic religion might do for atheists, even if Ian disagrees with them being labeled non-theistic.

    Since atheists want religion maybe they should put the name of several religions on pieces of paper, put them in a jar, shake them up, and convert to whatever religion they get.

  22. Oops, Sorry. Accidentally signed in as Anonymous on the last two of my posts because my iPod usually automatically signs me in, but I’m on another computer where that data isn’t saved.

  23. Religion is, in its broadest sense, defined as the answers given to explain humankind’s relationship with the universe. In the course of the development of religion, it has taken an almost infinite number of forms in various cultures and individuals. Religion today is dominated by a number of major world religions.

    Occasionally, the word “religion” is used to designate what should be more properly described as a “religious organization” – that is, an organization of people that supports the exercise of some religion, often taking the form of a legal entity.

    Beyond the above, very broad definition of religion, there are a variety of uses and meanings for the word “religion.” Some of the approaches are as follows:

    One definition, sometimes called the “function-based approach,” defines religion as any set of beliefs and practices that have the function of addressing the fundamental questions of human identity, ethics, death and the existence of the Divine (if any). This broad definition encompasses all systems of belief, including those that deny the existence of any god, those that affirm the existence of one God, those that affirm the existence of many gods, and those that pass on the question for lack of proof.

    A second definition, sometimes called the “form-based approach,” defines religion as any set of beliefs which makes claims that lie beyond the realm of scientific observation, according to some authority or personal experience with the Divine. This narrower definition places “religion” in contradistinction with rationalism, secular humanism, atheism, and agnosticism, which do not appeal to authority or personal experience in coming to their beliefs, but instead appeal to their interpretation of science.
    A third definition, sometimes called the “physical evidence approach,” defines religion as the beliefs about cause and effect that Occam’s Razor would remove as recognizing causes that are more than what is both true and sufficient to explain the physical evidence. By this definition then, non-religion is any set of beliefs that admits no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearance.
    A fourth definition, sometimes called the “organizational approach,” defines religion as the formal institutions, creeds, organizations, practices, and rules of conduct, of all major, institutionalized religions. This definition places “religion” in contradistinction to “spirituality,” and therefore does not include the claims “spirituality” makes to actual contact, service, or worship of the Divine. In this definition, however, religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive: a religious person may be spiritual or unspiritual, and a spiritual person may be religious or non-religious. By analogy, “religion” is the coal, wood, or gasoline, while “spirituality” is the fire.

    Approaches to distinguishing religion from non-religion can be divided into two broadly defined schools of thought: function-based approaches and form-based approaches.

    Religion is subject to much discussion in the fields of theology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Specialists in these fields, as well as ordinary people—theists, atheists, and agnostics alike-often disagree about the fundamental nature of religion. Consequently, any discussion of religion must begin by answering certain “basic” questions such as “What is a religious belief?”, “What is the difference between religious and secular beliefs?”, “How do we recognize what are religious beliefs?”, “Are religions individual or group activities?”, and “What methodology shall we use to investigate these questions?”. The answers to these questions and similar questions can then serve as a common ground upon which further discussion can be based.

    If the conclusions of a discussion are to be accepted by people from diverse religious backgrounds, then that discussion must make as few assumptions as possible. However, all societies and this article start with the following a priori assumptions:

    There are sets of beliefs that are “religious”.
    These beliefs are distinct from non-religious beliefs and recognizable as “religious”.
    (The most controversial) There are ways to recognize which beliefs are “religious” and which are “non-religious”.
    The last one is most controversial because there are two main ways of looking at the world, each bringing with it certain a priori assumptions that are usually not recognized. While a study of a particular religion made by either viewpoint may come to many of the same conclusions, differences between the two approaches include what beliefs are to be considered religious and the effects of religions.

    Monotheistic religions assert that there is one God, distinct and separate from Nature as we understand it. Examples include Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith, and the dualistic schools of Hinduism, including the Dvaita school of Vaishnavism, and the dualist Saiva Siddhanta school of Shaivism. The more prevalent form of monotheism present in Hinduism which differs from the monotheism prevalent in Semitic religions is monistic theism .
    Trinitarian religions assert that there is one God with three persons. Examples include the majority of Christian denominations, with the exceptions of Oneness Pentecostals;
    Henotheistic religions assert that there are many gods and/or deities of varying attributes, but One God is ultimately supreme. Examples include the strains of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism (especially Shaivism and Vaishnavism), that acknowledge angels, demons, devas, asuras, or other gods of whom the One God is greatest, as well as many animistic traditions, particularly in Africa;
    Polytheistic religions such as Greco-Roman religion assert that there are many Gods;
    Pantheistic and Panentheistic, or “natural” religions believe that God and everything in nature are aspects of a continuous spiritual plane, and are thus essentially inseparable. Examples include (to various degrees): the pantheistic and panentheistic schools of Shaivism and Vaishnavism in Hinduism, Shintoism, and some animistic traditions.
    Non-theistic religions (such as Buddhism) make no claim as to the existence or non-existence of God;
    Atheistic religions (such as Jainism and Secular Humanism) do not believe in a god, gods or goddesses.;
    Out of point of interest agnostics will often talk in terms of not knowing the number of gods, whether it be thousands, one, or zero.

    Now that religion has been defined. Why be religious?

    “Experience or emotion”: For many, the practice of a religion causes an emotional high that gives pleasure to them. Such emotional highs can come from the singing of traditional hymns to the trance-like states found in the practices of the Whirling Dervishes and Yoga, among others. People continue to associate with those practices that give pleasure and, in so far as it is connected with religion, join in religious organizations that provide those practices.
    “Supernatural connection”: Most religions postulate a reality which include both the natural and the supernatural. Most adherents of religion consider this to be of critical importance, since it permits belief in unseen and otherwise potentially unknowable aspects of life, including hope of eternal life.
    “Rational analysis”: For some, adherence is based on intellectual evaluation that has led them to the conclusion that the teachings of that religion most closely describe reality. Among Christians this basis for belief is often given by those influenced by C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, as well as some who teach young earth Creationism.
    “Moderation”: Many religions have approaches that produce practices that place limitations on the behavior of their adherents. This is seen by many as a positive influence, potentially protecting adherents from the destructive or even fatal excesses to which they might otherwise be susceptible. Many people from many faiths contend that their faith brings them fulfillment, peace, and joy, apart from worldly interests.
    “Authority”: Most religions are authoritarian in nature, and thus provide their adherents with spiritual and moral role models, who they believe can bring highly positive influences both to adherents and society in general.
    “Moral framework”: Most religions see early childhood education in religion and spirituality as essential moral and spiritual formation, whereby individuals are given a proper grounding in ethics, instilling and internalizing moral discipline.
    “Majesty and tradition”: People can form positive views of religion based on the visible manifestations of religion, e.g., ceremonies which appear majestic and reassuringly constant, and ornate cloth.
    “Community and culture”: Organized religions promote a sense of community. The combination of moral and cultural common ground often results in a variety of social and support networks. Some ostensibly “religious” individuals may even have a substantially secular viewpoint, but retain adherence to religious customs and viewpoints for cultural reasons, such as continuation of traditions and family unity. Judaism, for example, has a particularly strong tradition of “secular” adherents.
    “Fulfillment”: Most traditional religions require sacrifice of their followers, but, in turn, the followers may gain much from their membership therein. Thus, they come away from experiences with these religions with the feeling that their needs have been filled. In fact, studies have shown that religious adherents tend to be happier and less prone to stress than non-religious people.
    “Spiritual and psychological benefits”: Each religion asserts that it is a means by which its adherents may come into closer contact with God, Truth, and Spiritual Power. They all promise to free adherents from spiritual bondage, and bring them into spiritual freedom. It naturally follows that a religion that frees its adherents from deception, sin, and spiritual death will have significant mental health benefits. Abraham Maslow’s research after World War II showed that Holocaust survivors tended to be those who held strong religious beliefs (not necessarily temple attendance, etc), suggesting it helped people cope in extreme circumstances. Humanistic psychology went on to investigate how religious or spiritual identity may have correlations with longer lifespan and better health. The study found that humans may particularly need religious ideas to serve various emotional needs such as the need to feel loved, the need to belong to homogenous groups, the need for understandable explanations and the need for a guarantee of ultimate justice. Other factors may involve sense of purpose, sense of identity, sense of contact with the divine. See also Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, detailing his experience with the importance of religion in surviving the Holocaust. Critics assert that the very fact that religion was the primary selector for research subjects may have introduced a bias, and that the fact that all subjects were holocaust survivors may also have had an effect. A study of adolescents found that frequent church-goers with high spiritual support had the lowest scores on the Beck depression inventory (Wright et al., 1993).[9]
    “Practical benefits”: Religions may sometimes provide breadth and scale for visionary inspirations in compassion, practical charity, and moral restraint. Christianity is noted for the founding of many major universities, the creation of early hospitals, the provision of food and medical supplies to the needy, and the creation of orphanages and schools, amongst other charitable acts. Many other religions (and non-religious organizations and individuals, eg: humanistic Oxfam) have also performed equivalent or similar work.

    For more info:
    http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Thelema_%26_Religion

    I particularly recommend the three see also articles.

  24. http://www.uua.org/directory/congregations/index.php

    Unitarian Universalism has its historical roots in Christianity. In, 1961, it became its own religion. They no longer define themselves as a Christian denomination. Various surveys define the makeup of Unitarians.

    According to a 1997 survey of almost 10,000 UUs gave their theological perspective as:

    46.1% Humanist. This is the most common belief system.
    19% identify themselves as Nature or Earth centered religion (e.g. Wiccan, Druid or other Neopagan tradition.
    13% describe themselves simply as Theist.
    9.3% self-identify as Christian.
    6.2% are mystic.
    3.6% are Buddhist.
    Other perspectives listed are Jewish at 1.3%, Hindu at 0.4%, Muslim at 0.1% and other at 13.3% 2
    They are certainly a diverse lot!

    Another poll I’ve seen says,

    Humanism 54%
    Agnosticism 33%
    Earth centered 31%
    Atheism 18%
    Buddhism 16.5%
    Christianity 13.1%
    Contemporary Modern Neo Paganism 13.1%

    Notice that the polls are choose all that apply so obviously the results will add up to more than 100%.

    Buddhist Fellowship: The Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship is a group within the UUA for Buddhists. “Since the introduction of the first Buddhist texts to American in the mid-19th century, Buddhism has been an extremely influential force among Unitarians…” 1
    Christian Fellowship:
    “The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship is a group within the UUA for Christians. The purpose of the Fellowship (UUCF) is to serve Christian Unitarians and Universalists according to their expressed religious needs; to uphold and promote the Christian witness within the Unitarian Universalist Association; and to uphold and promote the historic Unitarian and Universalist witness and conscience within the church universal.” 2

    Church of the Larger Fellowship: The CLF is an outreach of the UUA which supports Unitarian Universalists throughout the US and Canada who do not have a Unitarian congregation or fellowship nearby. They publish a newsletter Quest.
    “CUUPS”: The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans was formed in 1985 to promote the “practice of contemporary Pagan and Earth [-centered] and nature-centered spirituality”. They help UU’s who are also Neopagans to network together. They develop material to inform and facilitate Neo-Pagan services at individual UU churches. They promote communications among religions etc. They have a quarterly newsletter Pagan NUUS and an annual journal The UU Pagan. 3
    Green Sanctuary Program: This program was originally part of the Seventh Principle Project. The latter has since been renamed the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE). Since 2008-JUL-01, the program has become a part of the Congregational Stewardship Services office of the UUA. Individual congregations can earn the designation of”Green Sanctuary” by fulfilling at least 12 activities or projects spread over four focus areas––worship, environmental justice, religious education, and sustainable living. 8
    Interweave: This is an organization affiliated with the UUA and composed of Unitarian Universalists who promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns. The UU Association was the first significant religious organization in North America to open an office for the support of equal rights for (and acceptance of) gays and lesbians. This has expanded in recent years to include both bisexual and transgender people.
    Unitarian Universalist Service Committee: This was formed in 1939 to help people escape from fascism in Europe. A parallel group in Canada is the USC, formed after World War II by Lotta Hitchminova. Each has since evolved into an agency no longer affiliated with the UU movement. However, they still gain much financial and other support from UUs. Both groups are active around the world, in the areas of: health care (including family planning), the status of children and women, poverty reduction, human rights, the environment, etc.
    Other Groups: There are Unitarian interest groups for Judaism, and for the ethical treatment of animals. Beacon House is its publishing arm.

    There is great diversity of religious belief within the UUA, within each of its congregations, and even within individual UUA families. Many members identify themselves either as Humanists, or as followers of a theistic tradition. In most religious organizations, this would cause great difficulty; the range of beliefs among the membership would make it impossible to establish a common set of shared beliefs — a denominational dogma and creed. However, the UUA bypasses this problem; they do not require its members to hold any specific religious beliefs.

    Rev. William R. Murry, is the president of Chicago’s Meadville/Lombard Theological School, — one of two which are affiliated with the UUA. He noted in early 2001 that there is great diversity in the denomination; UUA membership “leaves room for just about everyone.” He estimated that half the UUA’s 1,055 congregations have a theistic orientation. This is matched by half of the students at his school. 4

    By and large, UUA congregations share a number of common interests: social justice, study of diverse religions and spiritual traditions, the search for a personal spirituality, democracy, tolerance, ethics, etc. The UUA has many affinity groups, representing UUA members who are Buddhists, Christians, Humanists, followers of Neopaganism, etc. It is through these shared interests and affinity groups that congregations find unity, in spite of their great diversity of religious beliefs among its members.

  25. To clarify some religions ambiguity on what stance on the existence of God. I’ll contrast it to religions like Christianity and Islam which mandate monitheism in their mainstream forms as the only valid way of interpreting their scriptures. Other religions like Judaism, Sikhism, and the Baha’i Faith are also included in this group of officially endorsing a specific view of divinity as such. Other religions leave room for the individual adherent to have whatever possible view on the issue of the existence of God as they want. Examples include Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shenism, Falun Gong, Shinto, Unitarian Universalism, Contemporary Modern Neo Paganism, etc. I use Wicca, a form of Contemporary Modern Neo Paganism to illustrate.

    About deities:

    Depending upon one’s point of view, Wicca can be considered a monotheistic, duotheistic, polytheistic, henotheistic, or atheistic religion, Hang onto your hat; this gets a bit complex:

    Wicca is monotheistic (belief in a single deity): Some Wiccans recognize a single supreme being, sometimes called “The All” or “The One.” The Goddess and God are viewed as the female and male aspects of this single deity.

    Wicca is duotheistic (belief in two deities; a.k.a. bitheistic): 1 Wiccans often worship a female Goddess and a male deity — often called the Lady and Lord.

    Wicca is polytheistic (belief in many deities): Many Wiccans recognize the existence of many ancient Gods and Goddesses, including but certainly not limited to: Aphrodite, Artemis, Briget, Diana, Dionysius, Fergus, Hecate, Isis, Pan, Thor, etc.

    Wicca is henotheistic (belief in a single main deity among many): Many Wiccans view the many ancient deities as being aspects of the Lady and Lord, and view the latter as the male and female aspects of “The One.”

    Wicca is atheistic (no belief in a deity or deities): Some Wiccans view the God and Goddess as symbols, not as living entities. Depending upon which definition of the term “Atheist” that you adopt, these Wiccans may be considered Atheists.

    You can use the above illustration of diversity of views to any religion other than Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and the Baha’i Faith. That’s because those are the only five religions that require belief in God. While someone with a variant view on the existence of God would be declared a heretic within those five religions, in all other religions variant views would be considered acceptable.

    Transtheism complicates the matter with belief in the existence of God. Note, Aristotilean logic is X is either X or non-X. While Inidan and Chinese logic say X is either X, non-X, both, or neither.

    Transtheistic is a term coined by philosopher Paul Tillich or Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, referring to a system of thought or religious philosophy which is neither theistic, nor atheistic,[1] but is beyond them.
    Zimmer applies the term to the theological system of Jainism, which is theistic in the limited sense that the gods exist, but become immaterial as they are transcended by moksha (that is, a system which is not non-theistic, but in which the gods are not the highest spiritual instance). Zimmer (1953, p. 182) uses the term to describe the position of the Tirthankaras having passed “beyond the godly governors of the natural order”.
    The term has more recently also been applied to Buddhism,[2] Advaita Vedanta[3] and the Bhakti movement.[4]
    Nathan Katz in Buddhist and Western Philosophy (1981, p. 446) points out that the term “transpolytheistic” would be more accurate, since it entails that the polytheistic gods are not denied or rejected even after the development of a notion of the Absolute that transcends them, but criticizes the classification as characterizing the mainstream by the periphery: “like categorizing Roman Catholicism as a good example of non-Nestorianism”. The term is indeed informed by the fact that the corresponding development in the West, the development of monotheism, did not “transcend” polytheism, but abolish it, while in the mainstream of the Indian religions, the notion of “gods” (deva) was never elevated to the status of Brahman, but adopted roles comparable to Western angels. “Transtheism”, according to the criticism of Katz, is then an artifact of comparative religion.
    Paul Tillich uses transtheistic in The Courage to Be (1952), as an aspect of Stoicism. Tillich stated that Stoicism and Neo-Stoicism
    are the way in which some of the noblest figures in later antiquity and their followers in modern times have answered the problem of existence and conquered the anxieties of fate and death. Stoicism in this sense is a basic religious attitude, whether it appears in theistic, atheistic, or transtheistic forms.[5]
    Like Zimmer trying to express a religious notion that is neither theistic nor atheistic. However, the theism that is being transcended in Stoicism according to Tillich is not polytheism as in Jainism, but monotheism, pursuing an ideal of human courage which has emancipated itself from God.
    The courage to take meaninglessness into itself presupposes a relation to the ground of being which we have called “absolute faith.” It is without a special content, yet it is not without content. The content of absolute faith is the “god above God.” Absolute faith and its consequence, the courage that takes the radical doubt, the doubt about God, into itself, transcends the theistic idea of God.[6]
    Martin Buber criticized Tillich’s “transtheistic position” as a reduction of God to the impersonal “necessary being” of Thomas Aquinas.[7]

    Above is the description of transtheism where the ultimate reality is either both God and not God or netiher God nor not God.

    Another good example of diverse opinions within a religion is Hinduism.

    Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism among others; and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization.

    The Rig Veda, the oldest scripture and the mainstay of Hindu philosophy does not take a restrictive view on the fundamental question of God and the creation of universe. It rather lets the individual seek and discover answers in the quest of life. Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda thus says:
    Who really knows?
    Who will here proclaim it?
    Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
    The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
    Who then knows whence it has arisen?

    Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul — the true “self” of every person, called the ātman — is eternal. According to the monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit. Hence, these schools are called non-dualist. The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realize that one’s ātman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul. The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of one’s own self realizes an identity with Brahman and thereby reaches moksha (liberation or freedom).

    The schools of Vedanta and Nyaya states that karma itself proves the existence of God. Nyaya being the school of logic, makes the “logical” inference that the universe is an effect and it ought to have a creator.

    Dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality, and they worship him or her thus, as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. The ātman is dependent on God, while moksha depends on love towards God and on God’s grace. When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle), God is called Ishvara (“The Lord”), Bhagavan (“The Auspicious One”) or Parameshwara (“The Supreme Lord”). However interpretations of Ishvara vary, ranging from non-belief in Ishvara by followers of Mimamsakas, to identifying Brahman and Ishvara as one, as in Advaita. In the majority of traditions of Vaishnavism he is Vishnu, God, and the text of Vaishnava scriptures identify this Being as Krishna, sometimes referred to as svayam bhagavan. However, under Shaktism, Devi or Adi parashakti is considered as the Supreme Being and in Shaivism Shiva is considered Supreme.

    The multitude of devas are viewed as avatars of the Brahman. In discussing the Trimurti, Sir William Jones states that Hindus “worship the Supreme Being under three forms — Vishnu, Siva, Brahma…The fundamental idea of the Hindu religion, that of metamorphoses, or transformations, is exemplified in the Avatars.

    In Bhagavad Gita, for example, God is the sole repository of Gunas (attributes) also as:
    His hands and feet are everywhere, He looks everywhere and all around, His eyes, ears and face point to all directions, and all the three worlds are surrounded by these.

    Atheistic doctrines dominate Hindu schools like Samkhya and Mimamsa. The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra of Samkhya argues that the existence of God (Ishvara) cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. Samkhya argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world. It says God was a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. Proponents of the school of Mimamsa, which is based on rituals and orthopraxy states that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They argue that there is no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there is no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a God to validate the rituals. Mimamsa considers the Gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. To that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of Gods.

    I’m not saying if the theist camp or the atheist camp is correct, but that most religions are big enough tents to accommodate both camps. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and the Baha’i Faith are religions solely made up of what other religions would call their theist camps.

    Hinduism refers to a religious mainstream which evolved organically and spread over a large territory marked by significant ethnic and cultural diversity. This mainstream evolved both by innovation from within, and by assimilation of external traditions or cults into the Hindu fold. The result is an enormous variety of religious traditions, ranging from innumerable small, unsophisticated cults to major religious movements with millions of adherents spread over the entire subcontinent. The identification of Hinduism as an independent religion separate from Buddhism or Jainism consequently hinges on the affirmation of its adherents that it is such.

    Hinduism grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship. Hinduism conceives the whole world as a single family that deifies the one truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity. Hence, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy.

    Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).

    I’ll finish with an agnostic hymn from the Vedas.

    Who really knows?
    Who will here proclaim it?
    Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
    The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
    Who then knows whence it has arisen?

  26. Rick Schaut writes re God’s existence:

    “God is an “unknowable essence.” If I cannot know this essence, I cannot determine whether or not it exists. Knowing whether or not something exists requires being able to adequately articulate those attributes that sufficiently define what it is. Can’t do that for an “unknowable essence.”

    IMO, this is not supported by the following quotes

    1: “The utmost one can say is that Its existence can be proved, but the conditions of Its existence are unknown.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 54).

    2: “the least change produced in the form of the smallest thing proves the existence of a creator: then can this great universe, which is endless, be self-created and come into existence from the action of matter and the elements? How self-evidently wrong is such a supposition!” (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 6)

    3: “The acquisition of the realities of phenomena is an ideal virtue; likewise, the emotions of man and his ability to prove the existence of God.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 325)

    Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha also gives several proofs of God throughout His works, e.g. he re-affirms Aristotle’s First Mover argument and uses the argument from design.

    It is also important to distinguish between knowing God’s Essence or Essential Being (which is impossible) and knowing God’s Being as manifested in His actions, i.e. in creation and through His Manifestations.

    IMO, we must be careful not to use the “unknowability of God” as a thought-stopper and use it instead as a guide to what we can or cannot think about God.

    1. I’d say it depends on how you define terms like Nature, World, Cosmos, Universe, Multiverse, Metaverse, Megaverse, etc. These terms are theoretically supposed to mean “everyone and everything that exists” but people use the above words in ways other than the definition I have just given. The problem comes from humans discovering things that exist all the time that expands our understanding of everyone and everything that exists.

      I’d say the problem with point two is it uses the word universe in a way different than the above defintion.

      God is either everyone and everything that exists or a subset thereof. To simplify, I will use the term Metaverse instead of everyone and everything that exists. So, God is either the Metaverse or part of the Metaverse. It’s by defintion that the Metaverse alone exists and that nothing exists outside of it.

      The ambiguities of the defintion of the terms meaning things other than everyone and everything that has existed, exists, or will ever exist. If you keep this definition throughout rahter than using it as an undifferentiated middle term, this results.

      Since God either is or is part of the Metaverse, God either created all other parts of the Metaverse other than Himself or God simply is the Metaverse. Thus, parts of the Metaverse require causes outside of themsevles. That cause is either a part of the Metaverse or the Metaverse itself as established priory. To put simply part of the Metaverse or the Metaverse itself is the cause of the rest of the Metaverse or simply is the Metaverse. Since the Metaverse is everyone and everything that exists, the Metaverse can’t have a cause outside of itself, because by defintion that would mean that it has a non existent cause.

      This gets complicated by the Hermeticist position where God is both a part of the Metaverse and the Metaverse itself. While there is part of the Metaverse which is God, all other parts of the Metaverse are God as well, but to a lesser extent. This is the third middle possibility in addition to the two mentioned above.

    2. Ian, I should simply the above data. David Ramsay Steele gives a better version of the above argument.

      The word universe is often taken to mean everything that exists. This strictly implies that, if there is a God, then either God is the universe or God is part of the universe. If there’s a spirit world in addition to physical reality, then the spirit world would have to be part of the universe (and God, if he does not include the physical universe, either is the spirit world or is part of the spirit world).

      Thi way of talking would be clear and consistent, but perhaps unfortunately, almost no one adheres to it all the time. People talk of parallel universes, alternate universes, and multiple universes. Physicists, philosophers, science fiction fans, and theologians have all picked up the habit of talking like this. As soon as we start talking about more than one universe coexisting, or about anything that might exist outside the universe, then the word universe cannot mean all that exists.

      In order to maintain clarity, it would be useful to have a word that is defined to mean everything that exists, and I propose the word metaverse. It’s part of the definiton of metaverse that there can be no more than one metaverse, and there can bever be anything outside the metaverse. If there’s a God, then by definition either he is the metaverse or he is part of the metaverse.

      The ambiguity of the word universe is a great help to theists. It rhetorically insulates the assumption that after we have taken account of everything that exists, there might be something else left over. If we stick to talk of the metaverse, our simple form of the Cosmological Argument can hardly even be formulated without appearing silly. We can’t simply say that: The metaverse must have a cause. That cause is God. Or if we do say it, and try to make sense of what we’re saying, we’re merely saying that part of the metaverse is the cause of all of the metaverse, and why would anyone seriously entertain this suggestion? And if God is the metaverse, then we would flatly contradict ourselves by saying that the metaverse cannot cause itself and yet the metaverse does cause itself (for if there was a time when only part of the metaverse existed, then at that time that part would be the whole metaverse).

      If metaverse is defined as everything that exists or ever has existed, including God if he exists or ever has existed, then we have to say that the metaverse simply cannot have a cause outside of itself. Either the metaverse has no cause or, what might amount to the same thing, it has its own cause (One state of the metaverse causes another state of the metaverse).

      If God is defined as part of the metaverse, then the Argument would have to take this form: part of the metaverse requires a cause outside itself, and the cause is another part of the metaverse. The part of the metaverse which requires the cause outside itself is (or includes) that part of the metaverse of which we have direct observational evidence. It is that part of the metaverse which theists and atheists acknowledge to exist.

      People usually add some unneeded qualification into everything that exists, whether physical, manifest, created, or whatever else you can use to qualify to change the meaning from everything that exists to a subset of everything that exists without explaining this undifferentiated middle term. God is not whatever qualification they injected into the defintion unnecessarily. They therefore assume that everything given whatever qualification they choose has a cause, but is without said qualification does not have a cause. Here any of the given qualifications are given quite broad meanings. Everything that exists means everything that exists period.

      Pantheism is the theory that God is the metaverse. Though there are all kinds of Pantheists, and the is no one Pantheist party line. Panentheism could be confused with Pantheism. Proccess theologians are all Panentheists, but not the other way around. Panentheism is the distinctive view that the metaverse is not God, but is part of God. If you put this under a microscope, Panetheism becomes quickly incoherent and self contradictory. Given that the metaverse is all that exists and the God can either be a part of everything that exists or is everything that exists, here is the problem. Everything that exists is not a part of everything that exists nor is everything that exists, but everything that exists is a part of a part of everything that exists or is a part of everything that exists. All formulations of Panentheism lead to this absurdity. Pantheism does not lead to this said absurdity.

    3. Ian,

      My apologies for the lack of clarity, but I must confess to having difficulty grappling with the correct wording sufficient to convey the point. I used the word “determine” to specifically avoid using the word “prove”. A proof requires a foundation, and that foundation can only come from that which is accessible to us. In the absence of some other way for us to come to know the attributes of God, no proof is available to us. The distinction I’m drawing here is similar to, but not quite the same as, `Abdu’l-Baha’s distinction between sensible reality and intellectual reality. If there is a better word than “determine” to convey this distinction, I’m open to suggestions.

      If we consider this issue of logical foundations in the context of Maya’s statement, “So, the Baha’i Faith does not “require” a belief in God,” there is a foundational problem in the notion that one must first believe that God exists before accepting the claims of Baha’u’llah. I think Maya is entirely correct. The Manifestations of God are how we come to know about God. It is through them that we can find a strong logical foundation to support any proof that God exists.

      To “require” a belief in God before accepting Baha’u’llah’s claims rather puts the intellectual cart before the horse. We must first believe in that which is not directly accessible to us before we can accept the claims of One Who is accessible to us? At the very best, this reasoning would be circular.

      In every other respect, I think we are in complete agreement, particularly with respect to using the unknowability of God’s essence as a crutch to avoid asking questions that are difficult to answer.

      1. Rick, my statement was relative. The five religions I listed as requiring belief in God view the belief that God, that talk of them means the God exists when scriptrure speaks of him.

        A Bing search of Nontheistic Religions and Atheism And Religion will give information (via Wikipedia) on Atheistic interpretations in Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Scientology, Taoism, Unitarian Universalism, etc. This is despite my characterization of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as not being in this camp.

        A good summary is the Wikipedia intro.

        The degree to which one can be considered an atheist while simultaneously being an adherent of a sect of a traditionally monotheistic, polytheistic, or non-theistic religion is the subject of ongoing theological debate. Some people with what would be considered religious or spiritual beliefs call themselves atheists; others argue that this is a contradiction in terms.

        Take for example, Contemporary Modern Neo Paganism, as an example. Wikipedia lists Henotheism, Panentheism, Pantheism, and Polytheism as views listed. Religious Tolerance lists Atheism, Duotheism, Monotheism, and Polytheism.

        An atheist doesn’t say that Scripture (God for Monotheism and Gods for Polytheism), just that the word God or Gods doesn’t mean that God or Gods exist, but rather are a symbol used by scripture, a literary allusion, a poetic metaphor, etc.

        Hinduism is another good example. Religious Tolernace lists Henotheism, Monotheism, and Polytheism as views. Wikipedia list Atheism, Monism, Panentheism, Pantheism, and Polytheism as views.

        An atheist and/or non-theist reading of a religion or a scripture is simply not reading God or Gods in a literal or straightforward way, but rather as just a word used. Example would be a Hindu who believe God and Gods is a symbol of the self verifying Vedas, mantras, and rituals rather than meaning that God or Gods exist. To explain how this works would require a whole complicated explanation of various religious cosmologies.

        Religious Tolerance on Wiccan views of divinity is here below.

        Depending upon one’s point of view, Wicca can be considered a monotheistic, duotheistic, polytheistic, henotheistic, or atheistic religion, Hang onto your hat; this gets a bit complex:

        Wicca is monotheistic (belief in a single deity): Some Wiccans recognize a single supreme being, sometimes called “The All” or “The One.” The Goddess and God are viewed as the female and male aspects of this single deity.

        Wicca is duotheistic (belief in two deities; a.k.a. bitheistic): 1 Wiccans often worship a female Goddess and a male deity — often called the Lady and Lord.

        Wicca is polytheistic (belief in many deities): Many Wiccans recognize the existence of many ancient Gods and Goddesses, including but certainly not limited to: Aphrodite, Artemis, Briget, Diana, Dionysius, Fergus, Hecate, Isis, Pan, Thor, etc.

        Wicca is henotheistic (belief in a single main deity among many): Many Wiccans view the many ancient deities as being aspects of the Lady and Lord, and view the latter as the male and female aspects of “The One.”

        Wicca is atheistic (no belief in a deity or deities): Some Wiccans view the God and Goddess as symbols, not as living entities. Depending upon which definition of the term “Atheist” that you adopt, these Wiccans may be considered Atheists.

        Another example would be Thelema, God and Gods are referenced throughout Thelemite texts like the Book of the Law, but any and all interpretations are explicitly stated as equally valid whether theistic or atheistic.

        Thelemapedia gives the following views on divinity of various religions.

        Monotheistic religions assert that there is one God, distinct and separate from Nature as we understand it. Examples include Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith, and the dualistic schools of Hinduism, including the Dvaita school of Vaishnavism, and the dualist Saiva Siddhanta school of Shaivism. The more prevalent form of monotheism present in Hinduism which differs from the monotheism prevalent in Semitic religions is monistic theism .

        Trinitarian religions assert that there is one God with three persons. Examples include the majority of Christian denominations, with the exceptions of Oneness Pentecostals;

        Henotheistic religions assert that there are many gods and/or deities of varying attributes, but One God is ultimately supreme. Examples include the strains of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism (especially Shaivism and Vaishnavism), that acknowledge angels, demons, devas, asuras, or other gods of whom the One God is greatest, as well as many animistic traditions, particularly in Africa;

        Polytheistic religions such as Greco-Roman religion assert that there are many Gods;

        Pantheistic and Panentheistic, or “natural” religions believe that God and everything in nature are aspects of a continuous spiritual plane, and are thus essentially inseparable. Examples include (to various degrees): the pantheistic and panentheistic schools of Shaivism and Vaishnavism in Hinduism, Shintoism, and some animistic traditions.

        Non-theistic religions (such as Buddhism) make no claim as to the existence or non-existence of God;

        Atheistic religions (such as Jainism and Secular Humanism) do not believe in a god, gods or goddesses.;

        Out of point of interest agnostics will often talk in terms of not knowing the number of gods, whether it be thousands, one, or zero.

        http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Religion

        I might as well give a link to the Thelemapedia article as well. I like Thelemapedia, Religious Tolerance, and Wikipedia as good sources of information for a variety of topics.

  27. Stephen Kent Gray:

    Even Nagarjuna didn’t use tetralemmic i.e. non-Aristotelian logic. Like every other human, he paid tribute to Aristotelian logic each and every minute of his whole life.

    He knew the difference between having eaten lunch and not having eaten lunch i.e. he recognized the law of identity.

    He knew that it was impossible to eat lunch and not eat lunch at the same time i.e. he recognized the law of non-contradiction.

    He knew that he had either eaten lunch or not eaten lunch – there was no third possibility, i.e. he recognized the law of the excluded middle.

    Even a baby knows Aristotelian logic though it cannot formalize it. The baby knows if it has been fed or not – and will let you know clearly which.

    Aristotelian logic is universal which is why the Writings are based on it – as I show in my recently published paper “Reason and the Baha’i Writings.” That only makes sense given the Baha’i mission to help unify mankind.

    I’m familiar with the various funny logics – like fuzzy logic so please don’t send me any wikipedia articles.

    Since even Nagarjuna did not actually use tetralemmic ‘logic’ there is obviously another explanation for it. He uses it to create a certain frame/state of mind – the actual logic is not as important as the frame of mind it is intended to induce. There are English poets in the 16 and 17th C who do the same thing, (we call them the Metaphysical Poets for that reason) as does Shakspeare in some of his sonnets. See my paper for deeper a explanation.

  28. Stephen writes:”A proof requires a foundation, and that foundation can only come from that which is accessible to us. In the absence of some other way for us to come to know the attributes of God, no proof is available to us.”

    Your are right – but logic is “accessible to us” and so is the empirical evidence on which logic is based. That is why at least some of the proofs of God’s existence – the God of the philosophers, not of the Bible or Qu’ran – are valid. Philosophical atheism is a thoroughly illogical position.

    Accepting Baha’u’llah is an implicit or tacit acceptance of God’s existence since belief in Baha’u’llah includes His theism.

    God is not part of ‘creation,’ the ‘universe’ or the ‘metaverse.’ To say that “Everything that exists means everything that exists period” is a logical category mistake if it is used to refer to God. God is not a ‘thing’ in any sense of the word, and, therefore, is not one of the “everything’ in your statement. He is totally sui generis. The Baha’i Writings call this category mistake “joining partners with God’ which is a theological expression of the same logical error. This is also the logical error underlying pantheism.

    1. I didn’t specify that the universe of metaverse which is a term for all of existence rather than its common usages to be all of creation, but rather all of existence. I just used the word thing to say all of exisetence. Either God is all of existence or part of existence. It’s an unjustified duality between God and the rest of existence.

      The problem comes in when classical theists try to makes all of existence mean all physical things, all creation, all manifest things, or all created things rather than all of existence.

      If you were to create a list of all of existence either God would be part of the list or God would be the list itself, but it’s too impractical to create a list like that unless God alone was on it. Your position is based on an assumed duality based on a vague notion of God not really existing.

      1. I’ll reformulate the argument. The Absolute, the All, the Ground of Being, etc. is all of existence. If God exists, God either is it or part of it. If God exists, the Absolute is either God alone or God and everything that exists as well.

        You claim the alternatives to classical theism are logically incoherent because you universalized the definition of God in classical theism to the alternatives as well. This is obviously undifferentiated middle term fallacy.

        There’s no universal consensus on the defintion of God. When you refer to the philosophical definition of God, you don’t refer to all philosophy but the small pool of Christian and Muslim philosophers along with some others and their consensus definition of God.

    2. I’d like to add the Wikipedia summary on God.

      God is often conceived as the supreme being and principal object of faith. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. In deism, God is the creator (but not the sustainer) of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. Common among these are omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God or in the oneness of God. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the “greatest conceivable existent”. Many notable medieval philosophers and modern philosophers have developed arguments for and against the existence of God.

      There are many names for God, and different names are attached to different cultural ideas about who God is and what attributes he possesses. In the Hebrew Bible “I Am that I Am”, and the “Tetragrammaton” YHVH are used as names of God, while Yahweh, and Jehovah are sometimes used in Christianity as vocalizations of YHVH. In Arabic, the name Allah (“the God”) is used, and because of the predominance of Islam among Arab speakers, the name “Allah” has connotations with Islamic faith and culture. Muslims regard a multitude of titular names for God, while in Judaism it is common to refer to God by the titular names Elohim or Adonai. In Hinduism, Brahman is often considered a monistic deity. Other religions have names for God, for instance, Baha in the Bahá’í Faith, Waheguru in Sikhism, and Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism.

      There is no clear consensus on the nature of God. The Abrahamic conceptions of God include the monotheistic definition of God in Judaism, the trinitarian view of Christians, and the Islamic concept of God. The dharmic religions differ in their view of the divine: views of God in Hinduism vary by region, sect, and caste, ranging from monotheistic to polytheistic to atheistic. Divinity was recognized by the historical Buddha, particularly Śakra and Brahma. However, other sentient beings, including gods, can at best only play a supportive role in one’s personal path to salvation. Conceptions of God in the latter developments of the Mahayana tradition give a more prominent place to notions of the divine.

      Oneness
      Main articles: Monotheism and Henotheism
      Monotheists hold that there is only one god, and may claim that the one true god is worshiped in different religions under different names. The view that all theists actually worship the same god, whether they know it or not, is especially emphasized in Hinduism and Sikhism.

      Islam’s most fundamental concept is tawhīd (meaning “oneness” or “uniqueness”). God is described in the Qur’an as: “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.” Muslims repudiate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and divinity of Jesus, comparing it to polytheism. In Islam, God is beyond all comprehension or equal and does not resemble any of his creations in any way. Thus, Muslims are not iconodules, and are not expected to visualize God.

      Henotheism is the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities.

      Theism, deism and pantheism
      Main articles: Theism, Deism, and Pantheism
      Theism generally holds that God exists realistically, objectively, and independently of human thought; that God created and sustains everything; that God is omnipotent and eternal; personal and interacting with the universe through for example religious experience and the prayers of humans. It holds that God is both transcendent and immanent; thus, God is simultaneously infinite and in some way present in the affairs of the world. Not all theists subscribe to all the above propositions, but usually a fair number of them, c.f., family resemblance. Catholic theology holds that God is infinitely simple and is not involuntarily subject to time. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, although this belief raises questions about God’s responsibility for evil and suffering in the world. Some theists ascribe to God a self-conscious or purposeful limiting of omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Open Theism, by contrast, asserts that, due to the nature of time, God’s omniscience does not mean the deity can predict the future. “Theism” is sometimes used to refer in general to any belief in a god or gods, i.e., monotheism or polytheism.

      Deism holds that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world beyond what was necessary to create it. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and does not literally answer prayers or cause miracles to occur. Common in Deism is a belief that God has no interest in humanity and may not even be aware of humanity. Pandeism and Panendeism, respectively, combine Deism with the Pantheistic or Panentheistic beliefs discussed below. Pandeism is proposed to explain as to Deism why God would create a universe and then abandon it, and as to Pantheism, the origin and purpose of the universe.

      Pantheism holds that God is the universe and the universe is God, whereas Panentheism holds that God contains, but is not identical to, the Universe; the distinctions between the two are subtle. It is also the view of the Liberal Catholic Church, Theosophy, some views of Hinduism except Vaishnavism which believes in panentheism, Sikhism, some divisions of Neopaganism and Taoism, along with many varying denominations and individuals within denominations. Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, paints a pantheistic/panentheistic view of God — which has wide acceptance in Hasidic Judaism, particularly from their founder The Baal Shem Tov — but only as an addition to the Jewish view of a personal god, not in the original pantheistic sense that denies or limits persona to God.

      Other concepts
      Dystheism, which is related to theodicy, is a form of theism which holds that God is either not wholly good or is fully malevolent as a consequence of the problem of evil. One such example comes from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in which Ivan Karamazov rejects God on the grounds that he allows children to suffer. Another example would be Theistic Satanism.

      Nontheism holds that the universe can be explained without any reference to the supernatural, or to a supernatural being. Some non-theists avoid the concept of God, whilst accepting that it is significant to many; other non-theists understand God as a symbol of human values and aspirations. Others such as Richard Dawkins see the idea of God as entirely pernicious. In his book, The God Delusion, Dawkins writes: “God, in the sense defined, is a delusion; and as later chapters will show, a pernicious one.”

      In modern times, some more abstract concepts have been developed, such as process theology and open theism. The contemporaneous French philosopher Michel Henry has however proposed a phenomenological approach and definition of God as phenomenological essence of Life.

      God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the “greatest conceivable existent”. These attributes were all supported to varying degrees by the early Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologian philosophers, including Maimonides, Augustine of Hippo, and Al-Ghazali, respectively.

      1. More on conceptions.

        The god of monotheism, pantheism or panentheism, or the supreme deity of henotheistic religions, may be conceived of in various degrees of abstraction:

        as a powerful, human-like, supernatural being, or as the deification of an esoteric, mystical or philosophical category;

        the Ultimate, the summum bonum, the Absolute Infinite, the Transcendent, or Existence or Being itself;

        the ground of being, the monistic substrate, that which we cannot understand, etc.

        Monotheist conceptions of God appear in the Hellenistic period, out of predecessor concepts of monism (mostly in Eastern religions) and henotheism. Since humans, plants and animals, rocks, mountains, and other things, have been labeled as divine by various religions and beliefs, it can be argued that anything can be considered a god, and that there is no criteria other than acknowledgement of divinity.

        A conception of God is internally incoherent if it leads to logical problems. It’s not incoherent if it leads to contradictions with your own personal definition which you think all the philosophers you’ve read have a consensus on, which implicitly excludes all philosophers who have defined God differently.

        While not involving a definition of God, either God exists or not. If God exists, either God alone exists or God exists, but God is not alone in existing,

        Also, assigning partners with God is an Islamic term for polytheism. Pantheism is the exact opposite of that by saying all is God. If God is all, then by definition God has no partners. For a complex definition that defies categorization, The All is an article on Wikipedia.

        The All is the Hermetic version of God. Alternatively, it has been called The One, The Great One, The Creator, The Supreme Mind, The Supreme Good, The Father, and The Universal Mother. The All is seen by some to be a panentheistic conception of God, subsuming everything that is or can be experienced. One Hermetic maxim states “While All is in THE ALL, it is equally true that THE ALL is in All.” (Three Initiates p. 95) The All can also seen to be hermaphroditic, possessing both masculine and feminine qualities in equal part (The Way of Hermes p. 19 Book 1:9). These qualities are, however, of mental gender, as The All lacks physical gender.

        According to The Kybalion, The All is more complicated than simply being the sum total of the universe. Rather than The All being simply the physical universe, it is said that everything in the universe is within the mind of The All, since The All can be looked at as Mind itself (Three Initiates pp. 96–7). The All’s mind is thought to be infinitely more powerful and vast than humans can possibly achieve (Three Initiates p. 99), and possibly capable of keeping track of every particle in the Universe. Despite The All being described as subsuming the universe, the possibility of there being things outside of The All is not excluded.

        The All may also be a metaphor alluding to the godhead potentiality of every individual. “[God]… That invisible power which all know does exist, but understood by many different names, such as God, Spirit, Supreme Being, Intelligence, Mind, Energy, Nature and so forth.” In the Hermetic Tradition, each and every person has the potential to become God, this idea or concept of God is perceived as internal rather than external. The All is also an allusion to the observer created universe. We create our own reality; hence we are the architect, The All. Another way would to be to say that the mind is the builder. Freemasonry often includes concepts of God as an external entity, however, esoteric masonic teachings[citation needed] clearly identify God as the individual himself: the perceiver. We are all God and as such we create our own reality. Although others believe God to be abstract. Meaning he is not seen in reality, but understood through deep contemplation. He is all around us everyday, just hiding in the miracles and beauty of our Earth.

        The All (also called The One, The Absolute, The Great One, The Creator, The Supreme Mind, The Supreme Good, The Father, and The Universal Mother) is the Hermetic, pantheistic or panentheistic view of God, which is that everything that is, or at least that can be experienced, collectively makes up The All. One Hermetic maxim states, “While All is in The All, it is equally true that The All is in All.” The All can also be seen to be androgynous, possessing both masculine and feminine qualities in equal part.

        The following is commentary on possibilities about The All but not anything necessarily accepted by Hermetics in general.
        According to The Kybalion, The All is a bit more complicated than simply being the sum total of the universe. Rather than The All being simply the physical universe, it is more correct to say that everything in the universe is within the mind of The All, since the ALL can be looked at as Mind itself. In effect, the universe is partially existent on the Mental plane, and we may in fact all be parts of The All’s psychological makeup, representing parts of The All in its dream or meditation.

        The Three Initiates (see The Kybalion) strongly caution that we restrain from simply declaring “I am God” for oversimplification purposes. Though you are a part of The All, you are but one small piece of that puzzle. You cannot be equated with God any more than your toenail can be equated with you. You have the potential for perfection and to rejoin God, but you are not the totality of God. However stating “God is me/I (us)” is a more accurate statement.

        The All’s mind can be seen as infinitely more powerful and vast than any of us could hope to achieve. Therefore, it may be capable of keeping track of each and every particle across the expanse of the Universe, as well as maintain symbolism that applies to many lesser entities such as that seen in astrology and numerology.

        Because of this view, some Hermetics also practice theurgy. If the universe is completely a mental construct, then the mind must be able to mold it and shape it, in an experience that can become closer and closer to lucid dreaming as skills improve.
        It may also be possible that The All has a main incarnation, which may be closer to visions of God as a physical being, just as one has a distinct self when dreaming, though everything in the dream may indeed be us.

    3. Ian,

      Stephen writes:”A proof requires a foundation, and that foundation can only come from that which is accessible to us. In the absence of some other way for us to come to know the attributes of God, no proof is available to us.”

      Slight correction: I wrote the words you quoted, not Stephen.

      I don’t think you and I are very far apart, if we are apart at all. I think my only point is that accepting the existence of God is not a necessary condition for accepting the claims of the Manifestations of God. This is not the same thing as saying that one is not obliged, by way of logic, to accept the proposition that God exists once one has accepted the claims of the Manifestations of God. I’m drawing a distinction between a logical prerequisite and a logical consequence.

  29. Stephen: you write,

    “You claim the alternatives to classical theism are logically incoherent because you universalized the definition of God in classical theism to the alternatives as well. This is obviously undifferentiated middle term fallacy.”

    Just where did I claim that and how did I do that? Please explain how I’m committing an “undifferentiated middle.”

    1. It means you swap the meanings of a word in the middle of a syllogism. Your argument is the you swap various definitions of God during your argument to say that other people definition are internally incoherent rather than externally incoherent with your definition of God.

      There is no universal theism, but rather the closest thing to that is classical theism. There are alternatives to classical theism. You say the alternatives are internally incoherent because you superimpose the definition of God from classical theism on all the alternatives (which is called undifferentiated middle term fallacy) to produce contradictions and say they’re internally incoherent rather than contradicts a train of thought outside itself.

  30. Stephen writes,

    “It means you swap the meanings of a word in the middle of a syllogism. Your argument is the you swap various definitions of God during your argument to say that other people definition are internally incoherent rather than externally incoherent with your definition of God.”

    Yes, I know what it means – but I don’t think I did that and would like you to explain to me how I did that in the particular case we are talking about. Since you make the charge, you surely know exactly how I “swapped meanings” and between which alternatives. Then I can answer your charge by admitting its validity or by showing its error. That’s how we learn and make progress.

    1. I can’t find the argument, but knows its back on this page somewhere. Wikipedia lists atleast twelve articles on general conceptions of God. Wikipedia lists various specific ones as well. God is infamous for being a word that conveys nothing clear or distinct. The problem of the dictionary in any given language is the the dominant philosophy or theology of a given culture will color the definition in the given dictionary.

      Theories can be incoherent in three ways. They can contradict known facts. They can contradict other theories. They can contradict their own theory. The first and third are serious issues with a theory, but the second isn’t so much as theories don’t need to be on the same page as each other. To say there is a philosophical defintion of God (without qualifications on which philosophies and philosophers are included or excluded) requires omniscient knowledge of all philosophies and philosophers. The same goes for the theological side of the coin.

      I remember there being a class on philosophy, once, but it excluded eastern philosophy because when Westerners use the word philosophy unqualified, they don’t mean all philosophy, but rather Western philosophy.

      Let’s say the ten traits are agreed upon by classical theists. Other theists don’t believe in all of the ten traits. It’d be undivided middle term to say that other theists are logically incoherent because they contradict classical theists and not themselves.

  31. I have found a simmilar book to review. Faitheist by Chris Stedman.

    http://huumanists.org/blog/201305/faitheist-chris-stedman-unitarian-universalism-interfaith-case-point

    Chris Stedman’s book “Faitheist” is subtitled “How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious”. For the purpose of this post, let’s define religion as the belief in God or the supernatural; in other words, theism. (There is a lot of disagreement about defining religion in this way, particularly amongst “religious humanists”, but since this is the way Stedman defines it in his book, let’s stick with that.) The book is a personal narrative, a memoir by a twenty-something (strange as that may sound), about starting without religion, finding religion and then losing religion. Along the way Stedman finds a “calling” of sorts to encourage more service work among the non-religious and to bring atheists into the interfaith movement.

    To most of his atheist colleagues, the idea of interfaith participation made no sense. “When the majority of prominent atheist-identified thought leaders name “the end of faith” as one of the movements top priorities, the idea of participating in organized interfaith efforts can seem contradictory.” Not only was it contradictory, it was anathema and resulted in a great deal of vitriol directed at Stedman for even suggesting such a thing.

    The idea doesn’t seem contradictory to most Humanist Unitarian Universalists. To most of us, that “Common Ground” that Stedman talks about is literal: it is a white-steepled building, often called First Parish, with a weather vane on top instead of a cross or it is a modern meeting hall with stained glass windows depicting flowers, planets or a sunrise. Unitarian Universalists know from interfaith. Because we consider faith to be a personal matter, there is no dogma or creed that unites us, only adherence to seven principles that almost directly parallel the latest Humanist Manifesto. It’s almost a cliché in UU circles to paraphrase John Wesley, “We need not think alike to love alike.” Another UU chestnut is the “You’re a Theist, I’m a Humanist” song. It pokes fun at the fact that the Humanism-theism debate has been going on in congregations for a very long time but that we still end up friends in the end.

    Everyone agrees that humans are social creatures and that (most of us) thrive in community. We are also more effective at taking action when we do it together. Being part of a Unitarian Universalist congregation is not for everyone, particularly not for those atheists who consider it “accommodationist” to work and socialize with people with whom they disagree regarding metaphysics. But how many of us are completely fixed in our thoughts about religion? Most anti-atheists accuse us of being arrogant, negative and selfish. This is certainly a caricature and a stereotype. As the LGBT movement taught us (something that Stedman also shows a great deal of experience with in his book), the best way dispel a stereotype is to have a relationship with the “other”. By being openly atheist in UU communities where the overriding demands are service, compassion and thoughtfulness, we are showing people that their stereotypes are wrong. By standing up for reason within those communities, we are showing open-minded people that there is an alternative to supernaturalism that also leads to fulfillment and, for many people, that is their path to Humanism.

    I guess it is not surprising that I see much of Unitarian Universalism in “Faitheist”, after all Stedman got a master’s degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School which is primarily a seminary for UU ministers, and the book was published by Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association. In fact, I was surprised to see so little of UUism in the book. Why is that? Is Humanism within UUism such a lost cause that Stedman would prefer not to be associated with it? There are approximately 160,000 UUs in America, roughly half of whom identify as Humanists. That’s a big opportunity for organized Humanism! A CBS documentary “Religion & Spirituality in a Changing Society”, recently profiled the UUA and the Harvard Humanists in Cambridge, MA where Stedman now works as two successful communities that are attractive to the “Nones”, those without any affiliation with organized religion. That’s a big opportunity for UUism!

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