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As Buddha explained: “religious life does not depend on the dogma.” For Buddhists, dogma “profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of religion, nor tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, the supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana; therefore have I not explained it.” In short, the essence of religion, as Baha’is believe, is about the refinement of human character, the alignment of our selves with divine reality (nirvana) and civilization building. To make it about arcane distinctions, is not productive.
But while the Buddha does not dwell on theology, he does clearly proclaim:
There is an Unborn, an Unoriginated, an Unmade, an Uncompounded; were there not, O mendicants, there would be no escape from the world of the born, the originated, the made, and the compounded. – Udana 8:3 In The Spiritual Heritage of India Swami Prabhavananda , p. 181.
That Unborn source of salvation clearly bears a striking resemblance to God as the more westernized world Faiths understand the Creator. But rather than trying to talk about this God in a land of too many gods, the Buddha’s elegant solution simply involved talking about what is: the human condition, suffering and the way toward salvation. It is a mistake, however, to think that the Buddha does not know God. He had special knowledge of God, proclaiming to His disciple Vasettha:
For Brahman I know, Vasettha, and the world of Brahman, and the path that leadeth unto it. Yea I know it even as one who has entered the Brahman world, and has been born within it. – Svetasvatara 3:9 In The Spiritual Heritage of India Swami Prabhavananda, p. 173.
It is important to note that while we talk about God all the time in the West, God is, as Aquinas reminds us in his De Potentia, unknowable as He “surpasses all that we can understand of him.” We talk of God because we feel connected to God’s Being, to the ultimate source of Reality, and this is what the Buddhists call nirvana.
It is true that most forms of Buddhism speak little of a creator God. But creation stories actually fill very little of Western scripture. What really fills our scripture are our attempts to describe our attraction for the Being that is and to which we are connected, our wonder for the world, and what leads to personal and social advancement or abasement. These are the same pursuits of Buddhist scripture. At heart Eastern and Western religion have the same goal and are occupied with the same tasks. The Dalai Lama makes this point very well:
For a non-Buddhist, the idea of nirvana and a next life seems nonsensical. Similarly, to Buddhists, the idea of a Creator God sometimes sounds like nonsense. But these things don’t matter; we can drop them. The point is that through these different traditions, a very negative person can be transformed into a good person. That is the purpose of religion — and that is the actual result. – The Four Noble Truths, p. 5.
To say that Buddhism is atheistic misses the point entirely. The Buddha frequently spoke of Brahman (God) with intimate knowledge, and as we’ve seen he condemned those priests who did not act in conformity with Brahman’s nature. Further, the whole mission of Buddhism is to help alleviate human suffering by preaching moral behavior and alignment with the sacred stuff of reality (God).
Baha’is believe that this profound and holy way of seeing the universe and our place in it puts Buddhism in the pantheon of the world’s great Faiths. To Baha’is these eternal truths, whether expressed by Buddha or Christ or Baha’u’llah, all come from the same source:
No one truth can contradict another truth. Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East or from the West. Be free from prejudice, so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatsoever point in the horizon it may arise! You will realize that if the Divine light of truth shone in Jesus Christ it also shone in Moses and in Buddha. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 137.