Serenity509 wrote:I am a Westerner raised in a Christian household. I've been attracted to Buddhist principles for some time, especially as it relates to making oneself a more peaceful and compassionate person. This Sunday, I attended a Buddhist service for the first time, and was surprised to hear its supplications to the Buddha. I've always heard that Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that doesn't regard Siddhārtha Gautama as a divine figure. Are these supplications interpreted in a non-literal sense, in which "I take refuge in the Buddha" really means "I take refuge in your teaching"?
While I believe in a higher power, I am very open and loose in terms of defining It. I believe that there is a compassionate Spirit that pervades the universe and indwells us all. Whether one terms this Spirit as the cosmic Buddha or the cosmic Christ doesn't make too much of a difference to me. I believe that the historical Buddha and the historical Jesus were in contact with the same spiritual reality.
Buddha is on record having rejected the existence of a creator god. That being said, there are gods in Buddhist cosmology, but they are subject to birth and death, and one does not take refuge in them.
See the following quotes:
'As far as the suns and moons extend their courses and the regions of the sky shine in splendour, there is a thousandfold world system. In each single one of these there are a thousand suns, moons, Meru Mountains, four times a thousand continents and oceans, a thousand heavens of all stages of the realm of sense pleasure, a thousand Brahma worlds. As far as a thousandfold world system reaches in other words, the universe], the Great God is the highest being. But even the Great God is subject to coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be.' -- Anguttara-Nikaya X 29
"God truthfully answers [the questions of the Buddha] in succession: 'Good sir, those views I previously held are not mine; I see the radiance the world of God as passing; how could I say that I am permanent and eternal?'" MN 83
"There are some ascetics and brahmins who declare as their doctrine that all things began with the creation by God, or Brahma."
Anguttara Nikaya 3.61: "Again, monks, I [the Buddha] approached those ascetic and brahmins and said to them: 'Is it true, as they say, that you venerable ones teach and hold the view that whatever a person experiences...all that is caused by God's creation?' When they affirmed it, I said to them: 'If that is so, venerable sirs, then it is due to God's creation that people kill, steal ...[and otherwise act badly]. But those who have recourse to God's creation as the decisive factor, will lack the impulse and the effort doing this or not doing that. Since for them, really and truly, no (motive) obtains that this or that ought to be done or not be done...."'
"If the pleasure and pain that beings feel are caused the creative act of a Supreme God [Issara-nimmana-hetu], then the Niganthas [Jains] surely must have been created by an evil Supreme God." MajjhimaNikaya II 222.
"The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God." MN II 68.
"He who eyes can see the sickening sight, why does not God set his creatures right? If his wide power no limits can restrain, why is his hand so rarely spread to bless? Why are his creatures all condemned to pain? Why does he not to all give happiness? Why do fraud, lies, and ignorance prevail? Why triumphs falsehood, -truth and justice fail? I count your God unjust in making a world in which to shelter wrong." J VI.208
"If God designs the life of the entire world -- the glory and the misery, the good and the evil acts, man is but an instrument of his will and God alone is responsible." J V.238.
There is no room for an omnipotent creator god in Buddhism.
Are these supplications interpreted in a non-literal sense, in which "I take refuge in the Buddha" really means "I take refuge in your teaching"?
The refuges include refuge in the Buddha, his dharma (teaching) and his community (the sangha). Taking refuge in the Buddha is an acknowledgement that one believes the Buddha is the best of teachers, his teaching the best of teachings and his community a manifestation of those teachings.