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THE BUDDHIST GOD

I began to study Buddhism when I was 31, mostly by attending talks

and zazen practice held by a Zen Buddhist monk named Gudo Nishijima in Tokyo. After I'd being doing it for a while I started to wonder whether

Buddhists believed in God or not. There wasn’t much talk about God or Jesus at any of Nishijima’s talks, and none of the people who went there seemed to mention it much.

I was brought up as a Christian, more particularly as a Catholic, and

even though I’d lost interest in Christianity by then, deep down I felt like

I still believed a lot of the ideas I learned about God when I was growing up.

I eventually decided to ask Nishijima about it. I started by asking if

Buddhists believe in Jesus. It sounds like a stupid question now, but at the time I thought maybe Buddhism believed in some Christian ideas too. Nishijima told me that as far as he was concerned Jesus was a historical person. Nishijima's answer wasn't quite the answer I was looking for so

I pushed a little further and asked if he thought Jesus was, you know,

the son of God and that. I don’t remember him replying to that one, but I guess he must have thought it was a bit of a strange question to ask a Buddhist monk.

I thought about his answer about Jesus for a while, and next time I met

him I decided to ask whether Buddhists believed in God or not. Nishijima said that as far as he was concerned Buddhists believed in God. But he followed up by talking about the Buddhist definition of God. He said Buddhists don’t believe in a God that exists outside the universe but that

created the universe. Instead, Buddhists believe that God is the universe and the universe is God. So the object of Buddhist belief and reverence is the universe itself, or reality itself.

That made a big difference to me. I’d always found it hard to believe in the idea of a God who had somehow created the universe. So the Buddhist idea of God and the universe being the same thing was easier to accept. But Nishijima’s answer still didn’t quite satisfy me. If God is the universe and the universe is God, then who made the universe? This, of course, is the big question. I don’t know why I was asking Nishijima – there's no way he could know. But I asked anyway. He told me that the Buddhist idea is that the universe has always existed.

I spent a while trying to figure out the idea that the universe has always

existed. Eventually though, I realized it’s one of those things no one can

ever really know – kind of like what happens to all those odd socks that get lost at the laundry.