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What do we mean by "God"?

by Fleda BrownSeptember 06, 2011

I’d say we had at least 15 people coming and going for our local four-hour block meditation on Sunday.  It’s great when people are able to come even for an hour. The more often we choose to sit with the group, the more we embed in ourselves the commitment to the practice, and our support of others in the practice.

I was thinking about last week’s discussion of prayer and doubt, and I started re-reading Chogyam Trumgpa’s The Myth of Freedom. In the opening section, “Fantasy and Reality,” Trungpa says that “usually religions speak of beauty, song, ecstasy, bliss. But according to the Buddha, we must begin by seeing the experience of life as it is. We must see the truth of suffering.. . . If one searches for a promised land, a Treasure Island, then the search only leads to more pain.”

So I was thinking about how the word God is used, what’s meant by that word. I think if we scratch the surface of people’s words about God, it turns out that there are as many understandings as there are people. What they have in common—and this is just me talking here (what do I know?)—is a feeling that if one is able to somehow “know” God, all would be perfect—there would be a “peace that passes all understanding.”  

Actually, would Buddhist thought contradict that? I don’t think so, but what our practice seems to reveal is that the unawakened mind doesn’t yet understand what “perfect” means.  If I went on about this here, I would have to write a book. And to write that book, I’d have to devote my life to study of this subject. It may be enough to leave that sentence hanging in the air: maybe we don’t yet understand what “perfect” means.  Maybe we need to sit still and keep looking at our ideas as they float through our minds, at our bodily sensations, at the whole ball of wax, until our craziness settles enough to see what really is.

It might not hurt for each of us to ask ourselves at least once a week what our very highest aspiration is. If it really is to know the truth, the practice has a lot to say to us about how to proceed.

Next week we’re back to reading Goldstein’s One Dharma. We’ll begin discussing Chapter 5, “Doing No Harm.”


Poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.

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