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Higher power in Buddhism

SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
edited November 2011 in Modern Buddhism
Recently someone mentioned the notion of a Higher Power, I think in the context of the 12-step program.

For myself, I sometimes feel that what is lacking in my life is a kind of trust in the intelligence/guidance (or dare I say providence?) of a power higher than myself. I see that in the Buddhist context life can seem somewhat mechanical, or too impersonal. I've been trying to find it within TB but with little success so far.

Maybe it's because of my Christian (Catholic) background. I find myself recently looking into more Hindu ideas of a Supreme Being/God, and into the beliefs of Unitarians and the Baha'is.

But it's there in Buddhism. Somewhere in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" (if I remember correctly) Suzuki Roshi says something like "leave it up to the Buddha, the Buddha will take care of everything".

A Korean nun, Daehaeng Sunim, puts it this way: "“Believe in your foundation, Juingong (Buddha-Nature), and entrust it with everything that confronts you. Then go forward while observing and experimenting with what you experience. All things constantly change every instant, so there is nothing to cling to. By entrusting everything to your foundation, every aspect of your daily life can become part of your practice."

How is it for you? Do you have a need to open up and trust in a higher power? How do you find it in your practice?
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Comments

  • you just gotta trust in everything. life itself is the teacher and process. at first life was distant, then life became intimate, then impersonal.

    the more and more i study and practice buddhism, the more and more i feel that it is all about saying yes to everything. suffering? yes! no suffering? yes! life? yes! death? yes!

    and when we start to say no then that is our work. that is where our attachments sleep.

    i have complete faith that this mind we all pocess is the same mind of the buddhas. thus to engage in the path is to awaken to our innate wisdom. the higher power is already here.
  • Put no mans head above your own. There is no higher power, Buddhism is a personal path and whilst I can find interest in books and scriptures they are ulimately somebody elses path. I examine them and see what they mean to me.
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    @sattvapaul -- Please believe whatever you'd care to believe -- God, higher power, soul, solace, destiny, nature, or a plate of scrambled eggs. Everyone could use a helping hand ... especially their own. Believe what you like.

    AND... keep up your good and determined practice.

    As a footnote (not a threat or criticism) you might want to notice that all belief relies on the past for its force. There is no belief that reaches into the present. If you doubt this, just gather around you your most cherished beliefs ... and then sneeze. No one can believe anything while sneezing ... the sneeze is simply in the driver's seat. Sneezing IS the present. Only later can any of us gather up our cherished beliefs, put them back in their preferred order. And what is true for sneezing is likewise true for breathing or seeing or hearing or tasting or touching. Belief relies on the past and the question that invariably arises in a good and determined practice is, "how peaceful can a man or woman be when they are constantly living in the past?"
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    Thank you for your responses.

    @genkaku - your answer made me realise that I'm not clear about whether it's belief or faith - as in trust. Or is it both?

    I wasn't talking about belief as in a rigid set of propositions to believe. More about trust/faith.

    But perhaps I can't JUST sneeze yet.
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    The higher power in Buddhism is not some external thing but there is a higher power. The higher power is the power of enlightenment. The power of the 3rd Noble Truth and the power of the 4th to achieve the 3rd. :) IMO
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    edited November 2011
    @seeker242 - is that power manifesting in your life as something you give yourself to, like a presence, or is it a power more in the sense of a possibility of achieving something, like a vision, or a goal?
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    "But perhaps I can't JUST sneeze yet."

    @sattvapaul -- No disrespect intended but ... don't be ridiculous! Of course you can just sneeze. You've been doing it all your life. You've done it without a backward glance. You've done it without any philosophy or religion to guide you. What else can you possibly do when you sneeze? Sneeze sneezes ... end of discussion.

    Of course there is nothing saying you can't toy with it or play with it or put philosophy and religion on top of it or find a god to explain it. But a sneeze is so sneeze that adding faith or trust to it has a slightly ludicrous tinge. What is troubling, perhaps, is that what you currently find serious in your approach to things simply gets wiped off the map in one delicious sneeze. That can be pretty scary because of course a philosophy or religion are s-e-r-i-o-u-s. And that's where practice comes in: With practice, what was or remains intellectually or emotionally serious loses its imperious footing. Sure, it's serious ... it's just not that serious. And what becomes serious (so to speak) is your laughter.
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited November 2011
    @seeker242 - is that power manifesting in your life as something you give yourself to, like a presence, or is it a power more in the sense of a possibility of achieving something, like a vision, or a goal?
    I would say it's both of those things. The presence of your own "Buddha Nature" as well as your own ability to realize it, AKA get enlightenment.

  • MindGateMindGate Veteran
    edited November 2011
    Look up pantheism if you need a god to look to. Pretty much says the universe itself is god, in a sense.
  • Higher power in Buddhism

    Emptiness.
  • My understanding is that we put faith in the Dharma. When practices diligently, the Dharma will give us the tools to provide our own skillful answers to questions that face us. The Dharma empowers us so that we don't need recourse to a higher power.
  • As both a Buddhist and a member of a 12 Step program, I hope I can shed some light on this subject.

    In most 12 Step circles, the concept of a Higher Power is a deeply personal one. In fact, one rarely discusses the particulars of our respective beliefs toward our personal Higher Power in a 12 Step meeting. Hence, our individual Higher Power is one of our own choosing and/or understanding. Also, it must be remembered that we go to our Higher Power, initially, in a state of extreme desperation. That “bottom” state, is rarely a good place for philosophizing and pontificating. We usually reach out to whatever is there and hold on for dear life. In my case, I just started praying to WHATEVER would listen.

    Once we see faith working in our lives (which I did) then we start diving deeper into what we’ve got, tying to figure out what it is (which I did). What I ended up with, when the smoke cleared, was the Dhamma. So if I had to put a name on MY Higher Power, I suppose that would be it. But to be honest, I generally don’t try to put a name on it. I’ve seen it change so much and am willing to allow it to change again if and when the need arises. Right now, it’s enough for me to continue learning, practice my practice and try to pass what I’ve learned on to others.

    Hope that is helpful.
  • @sattvapaul We recently had a thread on exactly this topic. Some really good suggestions came out of it. Maybe you could find it via Google, or a mod could help you find it.
  • @JeremyKS1 - as another member of a 12 Step program, and a person who considers himself to be primarily a Buddhist in belief, I commend you on an AWESOME explanation of the relationship between a HP and the Dhamma as you see it.

    Very eloquently stated - couldn't have said it any better : )


    Many blessings,

    Kwan Kev
  • IMO *you* are/have the higher power. Everything you believe needs to be ACCEPTED or REJECTED by your own thought process. Even if you decide to submit to another's biding.
    Question is, are you submitting to a doctrine that needs to be accepted as the higher power, or do you prefer a thought provoking concept, that reminds you that you need to *figure out for yourself*, whether you can accept and practice the teachings - on those terms alone. The latter is what sets Buddha's teachings apart from the rest.

    Whatever works for you, is what you will ultimately follow. It's a personal choice and is perfectly OK.
  • I grew up Christian, too, and can relate. My path into Buddhism has involved a lot of acknowledgment of what I really do have control over (instead of playing the victim when an external situation can be blamed) and realizing that I don't have control over anything outside of myself. Letting go of my illusion of control in the past has involved surrender to a higher power.

    My belief in a higher power is based on the Universe's energy being the higher power, kind of like pantheism. The energy that fuels creation, sustaining, and destruction is my higher power. The energy flows through everything; even when you look at a rock under a microscope, it's built from smaller, constantly moving particles.

    So, when I feel the need to remember that higher power (usually when I need to let go of attempts at control), I look at a tree and see the higher power in that. I look at the sky or a weather report and remember that there MUST be a higher power - because we certainly don't control as much as we like to believe.
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    edited November 2011
    This is what I'm talking about - surrendering our need to control. And I sometimes do similar thing - looking at the energy of the universe moving through everything and allowing it to express itself. My original post was an attempt to see how it fits with Buddhism. Can we conceive of Buddha-nature as this kind of power?

    I find that notions of God can sometimes help to see that - but I'm not talking about God in a theistic sense of some controller out there, but as a personification of that power. Then it seems easier to have a relationship with it.
  • This is what I'm talking about - surrendering our need to control.
    How about trying to see the Emptiness in certain situations which you want to control?

  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    edited November 2011
    This is what I'm talking about - surrendering our need to control.


    How about trying to see the Emptiness in certain situations which you want to control?

    I suppose this is another angle
  • All is one, so there is a higher power from the perspective of your little self (ego).
  • I know this may sound silly, but it is my honest opinion : I tend to look at my Higher Power much as "The Force" is portrayed in the Star Wars movies. It is positive, it is alive and active, it has influence, yet it is never really described in concrete terms, nor are any specific attributes assigned to it. That is rather how I see my HP - as The Force. And that Force is in me, all around me, is me - and is everyone else too.

    I also used to want for some Supreme Being to go to - some spiritual Father to pray to, to know that someone 'up there' really cared for me. After awhile, I found that I can receive those feelings of reassurance, love and guidance from something other than the HP I had envisioned though - that I could receive those things from this 'Force' of mine just as well. And indeed, by not viewing it as an anthropomorphic entity, it is much easier to detach from it all the constraints and doubts that come with that.

    I think it also fits in perfectly well with Buddhism and the Dhamma, as does anything that doesn't contradict the teachings - the Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, etc.

    Many Blessings, and may The Force be with you! Lol

    Kwan Kev
  • On the other thread we had on this, someone in a 12-step program said they cite the Dharma as their higher power. Or you could say the Triple Gem.
  • On the other thread we had on this, someone in a 12-step program said they cite the Dharma as their higher power. Or you could say the Triple Gem.
    That was me.

    The thing is, I can't get my head around some magical being/force that seems to care for some, yet ignore others on a seemingly random basis.

    I've heard, for example, people say that 'God saved them from their alcoholism', and yet I wonder why this same 'God' let my father die a terrible death from alcoholism. What was more worthy about the other individual and not my father. I'm not sure if theistic religions can explain why bad things happen to good people. I'm sure I've went looking for an answer in the past, and never did find one.

    So, I don't believe in any magical deity; I guess the universe cares no more for us, than it does the fly that got squished on your windscreen on the way home from work.

    Sorry if I sound a bit callous here.

  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    @Kwantum_Kev- that is an excellent analogy and not silly at all. It's precisely what I have in mind. I think with notions of emptiness we can sometimes overemphasise it, in which case Buddhism can indeed seem a little nihilistic. Particularly if you're struggling with something like depression. You need to flip it and see the positive side, so to speak.

    @Dakini - Dharma, Triple Gem - I found it works, but only if I have an understanding of them embodying something which is eternal and present and active - I don't think it contradicts Dharma at all, but sometimes it's not spelled out like that.
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    @Tosh,

    I can see what you are saying about God as a being/deity that seems to have some sort of will. I agree with that.

    But I've got an issue with the second point. If the universe doesn't care for us, for me this is too nihilistic.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited November 2011
    Cool thoughts guys/gals..

    My teacher says that there are two sides to refuge. One side is what you will do. And the other is that the universe is naturally active in awakening. You could say the buddhas and bodhisattvas and all levels of beings are calling to us. From one perspective the buddhanature is emptiness, which is to say all is interconnected. You can also look at the four noble truths. Even animals have intelligence and certainly humans. We all wish for happiness.

    From that standpoint the universe has a heart and we are all awakening.

    The dharmakaya is the interconnectedness or emptiness of all beings. This radiates to all beings and helps them in their situation as they wake up. Therefore each being has a relationship to buddha and from that standpoint they are drawn into the path. Formal refuge represents a step. As do the precepts. Yet all beings have some relationship to awakening.

  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    @Jeffrey - interesting perspective, thanks for this.

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited November 2011
    @Tosh, Sattvapaul, As you know, the Dharma is a method, not a supernatural power. And as a method, it's eternal. And if we practice it, it's present and active. But it has the power (with our diligent practice) to change us for the good.

    Sorry to hear about the sad events in your family, Tosh. Blessings for both of you.
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    edited November 2011
    @Dakini - yes, but in Mahayana there is also the concept of Dharmakaya, being the "Truth body" of the Buddha. The word Dharma, apart from teaching, can also mean Law or Truth or Principle. I think through this we can conceive of Dharma(kaya) as a kind of power. Sort of what @Jeffrey said.

    Also, this power is not exactly supernatural, as it operates through/as phenomena.
  • Oh, sure, sattvapaul. I didn't mean to argue but just to clarify an earlier post. If that works for you, then great. I've heard so many meanings for Dharmakaya, Nirmanakaya, Sambogakaya, you're probably right.
  • There is just naked reality, which means there is barely 'other', let alone 'higher'.
  • MindGateMindGate Veteran
    edited November 2011
    The video is relevant; especially the middle/last part. I implore everybody to watch it.

  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    Interesting video but irrelevant. We're not discussing theism vs atheism - at least that was not my intention.

    As a side note, I think some atheists should actually be called anti-theists, like this guy and his ilk. They are so emotional about their anti-theism. This guy would make a good Crusader :)
    Notice that if you swap the characters in this video, all of it would hold equally true.
  • edited November 2011
    ^how is that relevant?

    And why the cliché dichotomy of theist vs atheist? Agnostics don't bother themselves with changing the atheist or theists opinions...nor with what the church or people BELIEVE to be true.

    There are essentially two types of people who don't "believe" in god : the one who denies the existence of god and the one who is agnostic about god.
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    There is just naked reality, which means there is barely 'other', let alone 'higher'.
    True in principle but not always "in practice", and not always helpful to say. Your statement might go into the same category as "everything is perfect". Tell it to someone who is suffering (and I guess that includes most of us).
  • I understand, sorry my comment was not more helpful to you.

    If you are looking for "something to believe in", have you considered taking refuge? The buddha, the dharma and the sangha can be of great comfort in difficult times. Of course in practice you already have this online community and I'm sure you study dharma in your own way, but perhaps by formalising your own commitment you may find a feeling of security. A teacher, if you don't already have one, can also be of great help in these matters.

    Namaste
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    edited November 2011
    @Daozen,
    No problem, actually your comment was helpful on some level. Your suggestions about taking refuge are good - I have actually taken refuge but am trying to evaluate it in terms of relating to some tangible presence that aids my practice.

    I have seen Dharma paths divided into categories of "self-power" and "other-power". For example, Zen would be self-power and Pure Land would be other-power. In TB there seems to be a bit of both.

    I wonder if there is any practitioner of Pure Land here who can shine some light on this idea of relying on other-power (in this case, the vows of Amitabha/Amida).
  • The video is relevant when it talks about how theists, or people who believe in God/higher power, are actually just equating God with themselves. Like I said, the middle/end part.
  • I have seen Dharma paths divided into categories of "self-power" and "other-power". For example, Zen would be self-power and Pure Land would be other-power. In TB there seems to be a bit of both.
    I've never heard it put exactly like that, but I can see where you're coming from. I don't know much about Pure Land, but from what I do know it seems very devotional, a lot of prayer and chanting, repeating the name Amitabha, right? Personally that kind of thing doesn't appeal to me, it feels too close to other religions I've already abandoned. But I guess with Buddhism, there are many ways to reach the goal, so do whatever works for you.

    Namaste
  • Guys, to be honest, the Higher Power thing in A.A. is something to be experienced, and the experience is always internal. It even says that in our basic text "We found the Great Reality deep down within us", though the context that it's written in is 'Christian' (or Abrahamic), because that's where the roots of the program lies.

    But basically, like in Buddhism where the deeper meaning of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is that we take refuge in ourselves, the deeper meaning of 'God' (though many would disagree with me I'm sure) is that we find this Higher Power in ourselves. Only that people with a Christian background ascribe this 'Higher Power' to a 'God'.

    And how do we experience that Power? Well, as alcoholics, many times we drank to get courage. We couldn't dance, we drink, we can dance. We're too shy to talk to girls, we drink, we can chat away. Alcohol was a source of 'power', so to an alcoholic, it's not difficult to explain that you can find an alternative source of 'Power' through doing the work contained in the 12 Steps, and that works by deflating the 'self', which removes a lot of ego based fear, and empowers the alkie into feeling more comfortable, so that he/she doesn't feel compelled to drink anymore, because their internal condition is not so hyper anxious.

    I'm not sure this is relevant to the post, but it could be; I dunno!
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    edited November 2011
    I didn't know until recently that the name "Higher Power" comes from AA. I wanted to explore how to bring this feeling of security and trust in something bigger than ourselves into our Buddhist practice. And not necessarily personifying it in an idea of God.

    But I feel your post is very much relevant, @Tosh.
  • Tosh I think buddhism finds that thoughts and cravings are passing. And though they are compelling ultimately we have choices. Its like since our conditioning to have a drink is there. If that formed somehow... then that means we can break that conditioning by making choices.

    Thats how I think of it: choices. It is not true that I have no choice.

    And if you recall I am a reformed drinker myself. I am applying the same theme of choices trying to lose weight. I find if I say I am on a diet I rebel, but if it is choices then that means that it is up to me.
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Somewhere in the UK, Central-Southern.... Moderator
    .....I wanted to explore how to bring this feeling of security and trust in something bigger than ourselves into our Buddhist practice....
    As an ex-Roman Catholic of 40+ years standing, I'm frankly flummoxed as to why you should actually want to.....
    This is precisely one of the reasons I had to begin my Buddhist practice.
  • SattvaPaulSattvaPaul Europe Veteran
    @federica - I'm not sure myself. Hence this thread..

  • And if you recall I am a reformed drinker myself.
    You may have had a problem with alcohol, but if you were a real alcoholic, you would probably still be drinking. Alcoholics drink no matter what. They can maybe get some periods of sobriety in, but they invariably end up drunk, and staying that way.

    It's tough to describe, but when you're deeply alcoholic, you don't have much, if any, choice in the matter. I work with a lot of guys, and it's heart breaking to see them do the stuff they do. One waited for a year for a government funded place at a detox and rehab. After six week break from drinking, as soon as he was released he drank again (and is still on it - he just can't stop and it will kill him). Another guy I've been helping, he's 25 years old, he's drinking again despite a boat load of consequences (he's about to be homeless again and live on the streets) and his Mother has phoned me five times this evening. I haven't answered the calls, since I really don't want to get involved with any trauma that's going on (from past experience and trips to mental health hospitals in the small hours, I don't answer my phone when I think 'trauma' is happening. We have a police force and an ambulance service. It's not my place to get involved in this way). I shall phone her back in the morning.

    I've also drank myself and had no choice in the matter other than kill myself or go insane. Choice, or free-will is dependant on causes and conditions, Jeffrey; you should know that, so if those causes and conditions aren't present, there is little or no choice in the matter of drinking, for an alcoholic.

    You know, sometimes I suggest to guys I'm helping who are really struggling to get sober to find a nearby church, and pray for help to have a sober day. It doesn't always work (I suspect they don't even go), but it has helped a couple of guys I can think of. I don't believe a 'Magic Man in the Sky' helps them; but at a psychological level, these guys need all the help they can get.

    Now what did the Buddha say about rafts, rivers, using the raft to cross 'em, and then leaving the raft behind for the overland portion of the journey, so the raft didn't become a hindrance?



  • I didn't know until recently that the name "Higher Power" comes from AA. I wanted to explore how to bring this feeling of security and trust in something bigger than ourselves into our Buddhist practice. And not necessarily personifying it in an idea of God.

    But I feel your post is very much relevant, @Tosh.
    Thank you. However I did read about the origin of the phrase 'Higher Power', and I know for certain that it's not originally from A.A., only nowadays the phrase is known more because of the 12 Step program A.A. uses (and hundreds of other organisations; the 12 Steps is used to treat a massive variety of issues).

    It may come from William James's book Varieties of Religious Experience, which was a bit hit in it's day (but is an extremely dry read; I tried it and couldn't finish).

  • Tosh, thanks for telling me about that. I only know my own experience so perhaps I did not understand. I did go a whole year wanting to quit but unable to. And then my lama just told me to be undivided. Drink and go full force in that with awareness. Or don't drink. But don't be one side hating self and other side drinking.

    Anyhow thanks for letting me know how others experience. One person died of drink in my life and I didn't want that to happen to me. I also embarassed myself to my sangha and that made me really motivated.


  • The only higher power there is, is acceptance. Accept the pizza going into the mouth.
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Somewhere in the UK, Central-Southern.... Moderator
    (Buon Appetito).

    Read, mark and inwardly digest.

    As Judge Judy says:
    "If something doesn't make sense, it's usually not true."
    Unfortunately, from my own personal perspective, that's very broadly speaking, why I switched paths and made Buddhism my calling.
  • edited November 2011
    On the other thread we had on this, someone in a 12-step program said they cite the Dharma as their higher power. Or you could say the Triple Gem.


    That was me.

    The thing is, I can't get my head around some magical being/force that seems to care for some, yet ignore others on a seemingly random basis.

    I've heard, for example, people say that 'God saved them from their alcoholism', and yet I wonder why this same 'God' let my father die a terrible death from alcoholism. What was more worthy about the other individual and not my father. I'm not sure if theistic religions can explain why bad things happen to good people. I'm sure I've went looking for an answer in the past, and never did find one.

    So, I don't believe in any magical deity; I guess the universe cares no more for us, than it does the fly that got squished on your windscreen on the way home from work.

    Sorry if I sound a bit callous here.

    Hi Tosh,

    I also have come from a 12 step background and my mother died with active alcoholism.
    For me, I think it is like said somewhere in the Big Book that " we " are the lucky ones and were able to accept a higher power, in whatever way we understand it. For me, when I hear other people sharing about how they can see that their Higher Power saved them, I do not think that this Higher Power let me mother die. I feel sad that she did not find a way to accept a higher power and was not one of the lucky ones.

    Free will helps to explains a lot of the bad things which happen to good people for me and being able to sit with not knowing doesn't concern me anymore.
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