Ouch…. Not long ago I received an email from an individual in Canada, he seemed sincerely interested in my opinion on a position that a certain group had taken; a position that could exclude certain religiously affiliated individuals from joining a group that’s uniqueness was its religious unity.
The belief held by the excluding group was that all Buddhists do not believe in “God”, and because of this held belief the possibility of entrance into the ancient mystery tradition that requires all initiates to verbally express a belief in a Supreme Architect is impossible.
It should also be noted that the God you must profess to believe in is the God of your choice, or your own interpretation.
I am pretty sure the reason I was contacted by this inquiring individual was because I had spent many years studying Buddhism, a religious order I have an affinity with, and am presently a member of the ancient mystery school that required the belief in the Supreme Architect.
His email was a very sincere inquiry into my humble opinion on the subject, one I am afraid that has no easy answer for those that haven’t spent time actually studying Eastern philosophical thought and its comparative religions, streams of thought which may seem so different in substance and symbolism but are just different paths up the same mountain.
It is of the utmost importance we realize that there is a big difference between one following a path (Buddhism) and one not (atheism), just because you may encounter Buddhists that do not see the Monad (God) as the ultimate truth that does not necessarily mean they do not believe in the One. In fact those that believe Buddhists should be excluded from entrance have not looked beyond the veil that is in front of them.
Not all belonging to the tradition believe that Buddhists should be excluded, and to these brothers I tip my hat, if it wasn’t for them I myself could have been excluded at that time. When I entered the tradition I had abandoned the religion of my childhood and brought my belief that everything was interconnected by an all pervasive consciousness, one which I now consider the Great Architect, the “point within the circle”.
But to add to this, I also understand why the Buddha remained silent (no affirmation, no denial) when asked about God, and the best part about this understanding, it came through the tradition that some believe Buddhists should not be admitted!
What is to follow is a small exploration into esoteric symbolism, an exploration that just might shed a little light on the discussion at hand. Because I belong to a tradition that holds Pythagoras in such high regard I have decided to approach this through numbers, a favorite of geometricians.
“Numbers rule the Universe.”…Pythagoras
Please allow me to introduce you to the “Zero”, the perfect circle drawn with the use of a compass, not to be confused with the “point within the circle“, also drawn with a compass but has a very definite point within the center, known as the Monad, the circle we are discussing has no point.
The circle is an ancient and universal symbol of unity (remember my brothers, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”).
Gnostic traditions linked the unbroken circle to the "world serpent" forming a circle as it eats its own tail, also a familiar symbol found on many esoteric symbols, and assuredly within our tradition. Known as the Ouroboros, or Uroborus, the ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail often represents the cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end.
It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting before any beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished. The Ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism, but has also been frequently used in alchemical illustrations, where it symbolizes the circular nature of the alchemist's opus. It is also often associated with Gnosticism and Hermeticism.
Hopefully you see where I’m going, if not to put it simply the Monad, the One (point within the circle) comes from the Zero, the boundless infinite void. Most associate symbolically the Great Architect with the Monad (monotheism), but others may just look beyond the Monad to what many Buddhists may call "Śūnyatā" a Sanskrit word which is usually translated as "emptiness", it is the noun form of the adjective "śūnya" (Sanskrit) which means "empty" or "void", hence "empti"-"ness" (-tā), the zero.
Are you confused yet?
Try this one on for size, in the ancient Indian context the number zero did not originally refer to nothingness or nullity, the zero stands for emptiness suggestive of potentiality. The discovery of the mathematical zero concurred with the emptiness of “prajna-intuition” in India.
If your not familiar with the word prajna, another one of those old Sanskrit words, jñā can be translated as "consciousness", "knowledge", or "understanding". Pra is an intensifier which could be translated as "higher", "greater", or "premium". Prajna is central to Buddhist thought since it is through prajna/intuition that one arrives at anatman, or non-ego, which is sometimes misunderstood to mean that nothing exists, but this is not what Buddhism teaches. It's more accurate to say that there is existence, but that we understand it in a one-sided and delusional way. Thus the goal of the Buddhist is to lose one’s ego and unite with “ultimate reality“.
One could easily see how the goal of Buddhism and our goal of our tradition may be closer than you think, ours to seek union with the divine, the Monad, and theirs to seek union with that which can not be described, the Zero, which precedes the One.
Zero is that which contains all possible polarized pairs such as (+1, -1), (+2, -2), etc. It is the collection of all mutually cancelling pairs of forward and backward movements. Put it another way, zero is fundamental to all existence. Because of it, everything is possible. Zero is the additive identity, the focal point of all numbers; without it, numbers cannot be created.
If I have been able to capture your attention up to this point, and you haven’t turned away confused by the references to esoteric symbolism, please allow me to continue.
“Before He gave any shape to the world, before He produced any form, He was alone, without form and without resemblance to anything else. Who then can comprehend how He was before the Creation? Hence it is forbidden to lend Him any form or similitude, or even to call Him by His sacred name, or to indicate Him by a single letter or a single point. . . . But after He created the form of the Heavenly Man, He used him as a chariot wherein to descend, and He wishes to be called after His form, which is the sacred name 'YHWH' “…from the Zohar
If one carefully reads the paragraph above, one can clearly see the parallel thought from this passage of the Zohar, the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought to that of the Buddhist concept of the “void”, yet we would never deny the petition of one from a Jewish non-dual perspective.
Although I am have certainly simplifying Buddhist philosophy with a little Jewish Kabbalah (the Zohar), I’m hoping the point is coming across, why would we exclude initiates on a spiritual path just because they see beyond the One, after all where did the one come from?
The fact is the Buddha never discussed the concept of what many may call God, the God commonly associated with the Judaic Christian religious thought, and because of this silence it is assumed that Buddha was an atheist. Wasn’t it Paul that said “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?”, if the Buddha spoke not of God how did you arrive at the conclusion of atheist? Maybe you read a few opinions by different individual Buddhists and came to the conclusion ALL Buddhists reject the belief in God, but you would be wrong, just as not all Christians believe in the virgin birth you can’t judge a religion from a limited vantage point, especially when the subject is one that was never discussed by the enlightened being’s philosophy, the Buddha.
In closing I have a secret to share, look up the word mandala. Once you understand the purpose of the design of the mandala think of the layout of the lodge room. I hope you get it.