We need not bother with such theoretical questions as who, if anyone, was or is responsible for the universe; all that matters is to understand that we are responsible for ourselves.
— Richard Gombrich
I have not seen a better summary of the Buddha’s theological views than the quote above from Professor Gombrich’s book What the Buddha Thought. The Buddha had no patience for diversions from his goal, which was to end needless suffering.
He lived in a time when religion was being re-energized around the Indian subcontinent. Jainism and the Vedic sects that would lead to modern Hinduism were thriving, and sages wove complex stories about both the world’s creation and the lives of the gods, which were not at all similar to the immortal, infallible, omniscient creator god of the Abrahamic Bible.
In 1967, the First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council attempted to develop a set of points unifying Buddhist disciplines, and one widely agreed to was: We do not believe that this world was created and ruled by a god. That, of course, leaves a lot of room for those followers of Western religions who interpret the word in their own way, as Peter Mayer does beautifully in the Youtube video below.
The Buddha was willing to talk about the Vedic gods, in the same sense that we may talk about vampires and ghosts today, so some see Buddhism as polytheistic. But the Buddha cut short discussions about how the world was created, how it will end, and whether a supreme being or beings pulled the strings.
As Professor Gombrich says, we are responsible for ourselves. The Buddha believed in karma, that a chain of worldly causes and effects brings us to where we are right now, and the decisions we make at this moment determine what happens in the future. We will all know the pain of illness and the loss of loved ones, but we turn that pain into needless suffering by believing we should be able to avert it. The more we grasp at the idea that it shouldn’t be happening to us and that we don’t deserve it, the more we suffer.
That’s what the Buddha meant by attachment. We’re attached to the idea that we’re too good to experience bad stuff. And since aversion is just another form of attachment, we’re averse to bad stuff. Or maybe we’re attached to that new car, or that new god, that will end our suffering.
We are responsible for ourselves.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine