Buddhism and Gods

Although Buddhism has a fairly cool attitude towards gods, neither Buddha nor his successors ever denied the existence of divinities. Nowadays the different schools have different attitudes towards gods, and it is probably the Theravada school which reflects the most original Buddhist attitude: Just ignore them!

In Mahayana, and especially in Himalayan Buddhism, there are countless universes filled with gangs of gods. Somehow they are more symbolic among the learned, and more like spirits in folk traditions. Buddhism is very flexible and adapts easily to different cultural contexts.

What I wonder about, as a Western Buddhist, is how we best could handle the question of divinities in our culture. Although being a member of a group of Tibetan Buddhists, I do not think it is possible to transfer the Tibetan universe of divinities to the Western mind, not even as symbols. Still there is a need to develop Western Buddhism into the Western context. Playing Tibetan, Japanese or Chinese is not fruitful and easily turns out to be an “escape to the exotic.” Mythologies are so tightly bound to culture and society, that even a “translation” might not be worth the try.

Since it seems that the tide is turning against spirits and gods, which hardly survive even in the movies (see Feast), Buddhism should be in front of the development. Western Buddhism has to care even less for gods than Mister Gautama did.

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