“An underlying ground to the universe”
Brad Warner recently posted a buttload of new videos on youtube. In one of them he says he believes in God. More specifically he says this:
I don’t think Buddhism is atheism. And if people ask me the question, ‘do you believe in God?’ I’m always, like, ‘Yes, I believe in God.’ There are other Buddhists, or other people who will tell you that Buddhism is atheistic, and sometimes when I hear their explanations for why it’s atheistic, I can go, ‘OK, if you define God as that, then Buddhism doesn’t have that kind of a God.’ It doesn’t have a creation myth, or a creator God, or a God you can thank for getting a touchdown in football, or this kind of thing. That isn’t really part of Buddhism. But there is this sense that there’s an underlying ground to the universe, and that … that we all partake in it and we’re all manifestations of that and that this underlying ground is not just dead matter, it’s something alive. So in that sense I think it is not atheism. My teacher would always say, ‘God is the Universe, and the Universe is God.’
[the youtube clip is here]
But noted Buddhist scholar Paul Williams claims that Buddhism is atheistic. Williams is a widely respected scholar whose area of expertise is Mahayana Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular. When his Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations was first published in 1989 it was praised with words such as “this will without doubt become a standard textbook on the Mahayana” [from a reviewer in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society quoted at amazon.com]. At the time Williams wrote that book he was an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk, in addition to being a professor of Buddhist Studies.
So one should take Williams seriously when he states that the Dalai Lama in particular and all Buddhists in general are atheists, a claim that he first made while he was attempting to explain, after 20 years as a Buddhist (and 10 years after writing Mahayana Buddhism), his reasons for converting to Roman Catholicism in 1999. In his The Unexpected Way: On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism, Williams quotes something that the Dalai Lama said, something that Williams sees as symptomatic of Buddhism’s supposed deficiencies (all ellisions are Williams’):
Many religions begin with the idea of a God … Although this is an easy answer, it is not logically proveable. Therefore Buddha avoided it and tried to present a doctrine that in every way could be established through reason …. By avoiding the use of the God-theory, Buddha also avoided the many problematic side-effects that come with it …. [R]eligions based on the ‘God-theory’ usually do not permit rejection of the ‘Words of God’, even should they contradict all reason. This can very easily stunt the growth of philosophical enquiry …. Buddha tried to present a path based purely on reason, and a path expressed solely in terms of human problems and human goals.
Williams says that the above “sums up a great deal of … why I came to question the Buddhist approach” although, as Williams himself notes, this is from is an English translation of a talk given by His Holiness in colloquial Tibetan to a group of Tibetan refugees living in a camp in India. That is to say, it is certainly not meant as a carefully worded theological discourse. In a footnote, Williams expands a bit on how he sees things (the emphasis in bold is mine):
I have just seen in a bookshop a new book by Deepak Chopra. Chopra is a medical doctor who has gained a great reputation as a New Age self-help advisor. His books sell widely. This new work is on the stages of coming to experience God. I am not quite sure how being a medical doctor qualifies as an expert in this, or whether Chopra himself claims to have experienced God. But the book is endorsed by many authorities, with pride of place given to the Dalai Lama and the Buddhist R.A.F. Thurman, who both seem to think that this book will be of great benefit to others. But what puzzles me is that as a Buddhist the Dalai Lama does not believe in God. What is he thinking, then, when he endorses a book on coming to experience God? Surely the answer is that whatever Chopra means by “God” is perfectly compatible with the atheism of the Dalai Lama. I suspect that Chopra (in common with many in the Indian traditions) in fact means by ‘God’ the ‘True Self’, the final, ultimate, innermost nature of conscious beings, or something like that. The issue of a True Self is of course also problematic for Buddhists, but as far as the Dalai Lama is concerned that is a matter of ontological dispute at a level far too rarified for ordinary people. If we take the ‘True Self’ as the subtlest level of the mind, what the Dalai Lama would accept and call the ‘Clear Light’, the fundamental level of consciousness, then it may be permissable for ecumenical reasons to call that the ‘True Self’. I strongly suspect that Chopra’s book is actually about one’s own experiences, experiencing levels of one’s own mind, oneself, or (if you like) one’s Self. Like the Dalai Lama, Chopra’s concern is with happiness, bringing about happy feelings. Metaphysical subtleties–differences–can come later.
What has all this to do with God? The only God here is one’s Self–oneself. Thus the ‘God-theory’ becomes a matter of the practicalities of description: which description is best suited to bring about the agreed goal of happiness.
[footnote 16 on page 225]
Newsflash: Buddhists do not believe in the Christian God!
The Dalai Lama does not call himself an atheist, a fact that Professor Williams is well aware of. And as Brad Warner made very clear, different people have different associations with the words “atheist” and “God”. If one is clear about which definitions one is using, and how one is using them, then there’s no need for confusion.
But when it comes to making blanket statements it is completely wrong, and in Paul Williams’ case just downright intellectually dishonest, to proclaim that Buddhists are atheists. Here is how one practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism (Dr. Alan Wallace who has produced over a dozen important English translations of Tibetan Buddhist texts, while also publishing both scholarly and popular works of his own on Buddhism) responds to the question of whether or not Buddhists are atheists:
In the framing itself, the question is already skewed. It’s not so obvious to a person who’s totally immersed in Western civilization and has almost no understanding of anything outside of Western civilization. Frankly, so much of this antireligious rhetoric from the likes of Richard Dawkins is just wildly unconsciously and uncritically ethnocentric. Do Buddhists themselves ask, ‘are we atheists?’ Well, I’ve never seen that question posed. In Buddhism that would be regarded as such a dumb and uninformed question that is not even worthy of a response.
[The quote is taken from here, the mp3 file of the entire interview with Dr. Wallace is here.]
The above Alan Wallace interview actually happens to be the very first hit that one gets with a google search on the phrase “the dalai lama is an atheist” (without the quotes). If you do a search on the phrase “the dalai lama does not believe in god” (this time with the quotes), the footnote from Paul Williams’ book is the very first hit. Both Williams and Wallace are highly qualified and accomplished scholars of Buddhism, and both of them also have extensive experience as practitioners of Buddhism, although Williams, as previously mentioned, abandoned that practice in favor of Roman Catholicism.
Paul Williams never said “the Dalai Lama is an atheist” while he was still a Buddhist. He only started saying that once he found himself needing to justify his rejection of Buddhism and his embrace of Roman Catholicism. It is very significant, in my opinion, that Paul Williams begins Chapter One of his book on why he converted to Catholicism with the sentence “Buddhists do not believe in the existence of God”:
Buddhists do not believe in the existence of God. There need be no debating about this. In practising Buddhism one never finds talk of God, there is no role for God, and it is not difficult to find in Buddhist texts attacks on the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good Creator of the universe.
But there are those who say that Buddhism does not deny the existence of God. It is not atheist. It is, rather, agnostic [all emphases are in the original]. Buddhism does not pronounce on whether God exists or not. Buddhists do not claim to know God. God is irrelevant to the Buddhist project of (broadly speaking) final freedom from all types of suffering through the attainment of nirvana, liberation of enlightenment. Enlightenmnent is attained through oneself following a set path of morality, meditation and wisdom. It does not require any help from divine intervention or any reference to God.
To portray Buddhism as agnostic in this way seems to me a modern strategy. In ancient times Buddhists were quite clear that they denied the existence of a personal creator God as taught in the rival theistic systems. Buddhism does indeed hold to the existence of divine beings, rather like the gods of Greek and Roman mythology. But none of these is the one supreme creator God of the great theistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Buddhists ‘gods’ (deva) tend to be happier and more powerful than we are. They live longer than we do. But they are part of the cycle of death and rebirth. In infinite past rebirths we ourselves have been born as gods many times.
Any God as He is understood in a religion like Christianity could not be irrelevant to the path of final spiritual fulfilment. No God as understood by Christians could be irrelevant to final fulfilment. If Buddhism does not teach this God, it either does not teach the path to final fulfilment or it considers that it is not necessary to the path to teach such a God. But a God that is not necessary to final spiritual fulfilment is not God as taught by Christianity. Thus if Buddhism does not teach that sort of God, it must hold that such a God does not exist. Therefore if Buddhism claims to teach such a path, and yet God is not part of it, then the God referred to by Christians is indeed being denied. From a Christian point of view Buddhism is clearly a form of atheism. [pp. 25-26]
Williams’ logic is as airtight as it is devoid of sense: on what grounds would anyone ever suspect that Buddhists (qua Buddhists) would believe in the Christian God? This is like asking people in Zimbabwe if they are Yankee fans. Williams is aggressively projecting the “Christianity or nothing” view of religion (which I have discussed elsewhere in this blog): you either accept the “the one supreme creator God of the great theistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam” or you are an atheist. Take your pick!
Goddesses, Gods and Buddhism
In his The Arya Dharma of Sakya Muni, Gautama Buddha, or, The Ethics of Self Discipline Anagarika Dharmapala wrote:
The charge of atheism is brought against the religion of the Lord Buddha. Buddha came to teach a path without the help of gods or devils. But the people who had their gods got angry because the Lord did not want their help. It is like the man who believed that light can only be got through the burning of oil and wick. He would not accept any other light except the oil light, and when the electrician came and said that he could give a brilliant light without having recourse to either oil or wick, the oil lamp man said, that can’t be, let me have the electric light with the oil and the wick put in, and I shall be satisfied. The muddle-headed who have no idea of the science of evolution or the science of electricity would not believe that a brilliant light could be got without the aid of oil and wick. Buddhism is a religion that teaches new things which the old god believers had no conception of.
The Lord taught that man can get his salvation without the help of angry, blood thirsty deities. The religion that the Lord gave to the civilized Aryans of ancient India was psychological. No god is needed to get rid of anger, jealousy, ill-will, pride, ignorance.
It is a religion of internal development, and the angry gods can’t help another to get rid of anger while they themselves were still dominated by jealousy and anger. Just as light is obtained by means of the electric dynamo without the help of oil, wick and match, so man by following the path of the Lord Buddha, which is the path of scientific wisdom, can attain the highest peace, bliss and freedom by individual effort and personal purity of heart.
The Buddhist can admit into the circle of gods Allah, Jehovah, God, Gott, or any other god who may come into existence in the twentieth century. No Buddhist can hate gods. They have to practise the mettabhavana, and give their love to all the gods. devils, and demons and all living beings. He admits all gods and he gives his love to all.
But gods who murder, and get angry, set fire to cities, kill innocent men, women and children, send tornadoes, typhoons, cyclones, earthquakes, thunderstorms, plagues, pestilences, and create the blind, deaf, dumb, the epileptic, the feeble-minded, and the crippled, the Buddhist rejects.
Some gods get angry daily, some gods want wine, bread and meat for their foods. Some gods without the blood of cows are not happy. Some gods get the worship of muddle-headed by giving them the liberty to kill animals and eat their flesh. They are satisfied with a little music and a few candles and a few psalms. Each man according to his intelligence makes his own god. The Buddhist loves them all. and they are given the merits of the good deeds that he does. No god need be angry with a Buddhist.
[taken from here]
Certainly not all Buddhists would agree with everything that Anagarika Dharmapala says above. But neither can any one make generalizations about all Buddhists that flatly contradict what he says, for he clearly does represent a non-negligible point of view among Buddhists. For those unfamiliar with him he was a major figure in Theravada Buddhism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an invited speaker to the 1893 World Parliament of Religions (when he still less than 30 years old), a founder of the Maha Bodhi Society (which oversees the Maha Bodhi Temple, at the site of the Buddha’s Great Awakening, in Bodhgaya, India), among other accomplishments.
There are three things that must be emphasized about what Anagarika Dharmapala says above. (1) First of all he unequivocally rejects the “charge of atheism” against Buddhism (in fact, he went so far as to explicitly state, at the 1893 World Parliament of Religion, that Buddhism has “a supreme god” who “looks upon all beings with equanimity”). (2) Second of all he portrays a very subtle relationship between Buddhism and Gods, a relationship in which Buddhists can accept gods, and “no god need be angry with Buddhism”. (3) Lastly he insists that “gods who murder, and get angry, set fire to cities … the Buddhist rejects.”
By historical standards Anagarika Dharmapala was a relatively “modern” figure in the 2500 year history of Buddhism, so perhaps he is pursuing what Paul Williams refers to above as a “modern strategy” in order to avoid “the charge of atheism”. Fortunately, dispelling such doubts is quite easy: all one has to do is take a look at the famous Rock Edicts of Asoka, which date from around 250 years after the Buddha’s death. King Asoka was the one who built the original Maha Bodhi Temple, by the way.
King Asoka is one of the more dominating figures in all of Indian history (and also Buddhist history). Mahatma Gandhi frequently referred to Asoka, a Buddhist, as representative of the ideal that all modern day Indian political leaders should aspire to. Asoka was not born a Buddhist, but converted sometime after becoming King. While using his significant power to promote Buddhism, he also promulgated a policy that went far beyond merely “tolerating” religious diversity: “He seems to have genuinely hoped to be able to encourage everyone to practice his or her own religion with the same conviction that he practiced his.” That quote is taken from Ven. S. Dhammika’s introduction to his translation of Asoka’s edicts, available online here. It is especially noteworthy that in the edicts Asoka is always referred to as “Devanampiya”, which means “beloved of the Gods.” Here are some relevant excerpts from the edicts:
In the past there were no Dhamma Mahamatras but such officers were appointed by me thirteen years after my coronation. Now they work among all religions for the establishment of Dhamma, for the promotion of Dhamma, and for the welfare and happiness of all who are devoted to Dhamma. They work among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Gandharas, the Rastrikas, the Pitinikas and other peoples on the western borders. They work among soldiers, chiefs, Brahmans, householders, the poor, the aged and those devoted to Dhamma — for their welfare and happiness — so that they may be free from harassment. They (Dhamma Mahamatras) work for the proper treatment of prisoners, towards their unfettering, and if the Mahamatras think, “This one has a family to support,” “That one has been bewitched,” “This one is old,” then they work for the release of such prisoners. They work here, in outlying towns, in the women’s quarters belonging to my brothers and sisters, and among my other relatives. They are occupied everywhere. These Dhamma Mahamatras are occupied in my domain among people devoted to Dhamma to determine who is devoted to Dhamma, who is established in Dhamma, and who is generous.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart. But people have various desires and various passions, and they may practice all of what they should or only a part of it. But one who receives great gifts yet is lacking in self-control, purity of heart, gratitude and firm devotion, such a person is mean.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, honors both ascetics and the householders of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds. But Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this — that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one’s own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought “Let me glorify my own religion,” only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.
Those who are content with their own religion should be told this: Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. And to this end many are working — Dhamma Mahamatras, Mahamatras in charge of the women’s quarters, officers in charge of outlying areas, and other such officers. And the fruit of this is that one’s own religion grows and the Dhamma is illuminated also.
Beloved-of-the-Gods speaks thus: Twelve years after my coronation I started to have Dhamma edicts written for the welfare and happiness of the people, and so that not transgressing them they might grow in the Dhamma. Thinking: “How can the welfare and happiness of the people be secured?” I give attention to my relatives, to those dwelling near and those dwelling far, so I can lead them to happiness and then I act accordingly. I do the same for all groups. I have honored all religions with various honors. But I consider it best to meet with people personally.
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: My Dhamma Mahamatras too are occupied with various good works among the ascetics and householders of all religions. I have ordered that they should be occupied with the affairs of the Sangha. I have also ordered that they should be occupied with the affairs of the Brahmans and the Ajivikas. I have ordered that they be occupied with the Niganthas. In fact, I have ordered that different Mahamatras be occupied with the particular affairs of all different religions. And my Dhamma Mahamatras likewise are occupied with these and other religions.
In addition to “male” Gods, Buddhists have also, throughout the history of Buddhism, revered a variety of Goddesses, including Prthivi, the ancient Earth Goddess whom the Buddha prayed to just prior to his Enlightenment. Miranda Shaw has written a wonderful, whopping (600 page!) book on Buddhist Goddesses of India, a book also discussed briefly by me in a previous post.
Shaw devotes the longest chapter of her book to the Goddess Tara, where she explains that
Tara finds mention in almost any work on Buddhist history or culture in South Asia and the Himalayas, for her presence in the religious landscape is impossible to ignore. Her worship crosses lay and monastic lines and spans devotional, ritual, and Tantric practices. One would be hard pressed to find any need–whether physical welfare, healing, or spiritual salvation–for which Tara is not supplicated.
The cult of Tara is no “modern” rhetorical “strategy” adopted only to confute Christian critics of Buddhism. According to Shaw, Tara’s “introduction” to Tibet came in the seventh century, historically coinciding
with the ascent of several Hindu goddesses to the rank of supreme deity. Each goddess became for her ahderents a cosmic figure of universal import, the supreme savior and source of refuge. The Mahadevi, or “supreme Goddess,” is all-encompassing in nature, infinite in consciousness and being, worthy of supreme reverence as the source of existence and bestower o liberation. This vision of the female godhood was gatherin force in India at that time, with an outpouring of devotional theologies to Mahadevis such as Lalita of Srividya Tantra, Mahalakshmi of the Pancaratra tradition, and Durga of the Devi Mahatmya.
Tara might not be the Christian “God”, but one wonders how anyone could describe devotees of such a Goddess as “atheists”:
Her persona is redolent with the richness of the earth as she sits on a lotus throne in a lush, harmonious landscape, the very image of the benevolent face of mother nature. Tara encompasses the starry heavens, the teeming oceans, the flowering planet. As the Star Lady, she shines in the firmament as a guiding light. As Savioress, she guides her devotees across the perilous sea of life. As the lotus-bearing goddess, she tend the universe as if it were her garden, nurturing beings from the budding of aspiration to full bloom of enlightenment.
The lavish, indeed nonpareil reverence accorded to Tara arguably finds its roots in the emotional appeal of her kinship with nature, luminous feminine beauty, and gentle, reassuring persona. This homage in turn gave rise to a complex theological edifice, as she came to be exalted as the Buddha mother par excellence, the emanational source of all Buddhas, an embodiment of the very principle of Buddhahood, and a transcendent figure whose being encompasses all things, all living beings, and infinite space.
“It’s something alive”
I want to return to Brad Warner now. He said: “there is this sense that there’s an underlying ground to the universe, and that … that we all partake in it and we’re all manifestations of that and that this underlying ground is not just dead matter, it’s something alive.” Buddhists certainly do not necessarily believe in the Christian God (although Buddhists are free to do so if they wish), but Buddhism does have it’s own conceptions of the divine, and Warner has done a nice job explaining that conception in a very few, plainly spoken, words.
Although he doesn’t use the words, my opinion is that the “ground” that Warner refers to is what Mahayana Buddhists call “Buddha Nature” or in Sanskrit Tathagatagarbha. One of the most important figures in the history of Buddhist philosophy in China was Tao-Sheng (360-434), who is closely associated with the concept of Universal Buddha Nature. In his commentary on the Lotus Sutra, Tao-Sheng wrote that
the ultimate fruit is subtly manifested, as it is ever present
[p. 275 of Young Ho-Kim’s translation and commentary]
[L]iving beings are all endowed with the faculty of great enlightenment; are all without exception potential bodhisattvas…. living beings inherently possess an endowment for enlightenment, and it cannot be concealed….
In fact, Tao-Sheng was briefly expelled from the order of Buddhist monks and left the capital, Chien-k’ang, labeled as a heretic, for his views on Universal Buddha Nature. At that time the “official” position for Chinese Buddhists was that there exists a class of beings, called icchantikas, that do not possess Buddha Nature. This was still a very early time in Chinese Buddhism when key scriptures were still being translated into Chinese. One of these scriptures, the Nirvana Sutra, had only been partially and, in Tao-Sheng’s view, incorrectly translated – and this partial translation was the basis for the “official” position concerning icchantikas. But almost as soon as Tao-Sheng left the capital, a new, complete translation was finished, and this unambiguously validated Tao-Sheng’s view. One excellent English source for information on Tao-Sheng’s life and work is Kenneth Ch’en’s Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey especially pp. 112-120.
Tao-Sheng’s “ultimate fruit” that is “subtly manifested” and “ever present” is Brad Warner’s “underlying ground”. It is Buddha Nature. Warner insists that this underlying ground of the universe is “not dead matter”, and that, instead, “it’s something alive”. And this is also precisely the same point that was made by Alan Watts when he said:
We grow out of this world … if evolution means anything it means that. But you see we curiously twist it: we say, well, first of all in the beginning there was nothing but gas and rock and then intelligence happened to arise in it, you know, like a sort of fungus or slime on the top of the whole thing. But we are thinking in a way, you see, that disconnects the intelligence from the rocks. Where there are rocks, watch out. Watch out! Because the rocks are eventually to come alive.
[taken from the youtuble clip here]
The literal meaning of the Sanksrit Tathagatagarbha is “womb of the Buddha”, where Tathagata is one of the traditional epithets of the Buddha and garbha is the Sanskrit word for “womb”. Interestingly, one of the traditional epithets of the Goddess Tara is “Mother of the Buddhas.” In her Red Tara Commentary Chagdud Khadro says that Tara is “the ground of all phenomena” [p.11] and she also says
no one, not a terrorist or a child, or ourselves in our darkest moments of confusion, or the gods and demons of unseen realms, or a dull old family dog–not the tiniest one celled animal or the grandest creature in the universe–is ever apart from an innate potential for buddhahood
And a little later on she says that one particular form of the Goddess Tara is “Red Tara” who is the “Goddess Who Brings Forth One’s Own Natural Awareness.”
In addition to lacking a Christian conception of “God”, Buddhism also lacks a Pope or even a Council of Bishops. Therefore any given Buddhist, from the Dalai Lama to Brad Warner to someone only recently introduced to Zen, or Vajrayana, or Pure Land, or Theravada (etc), may or may not agree with Tao-Sheng’s ideas on Buddha Nature, or with some particular idea about Tara, etc. But a great many Buddhists do agree with, and attempt to put into practice, these ideas, or ideas very much like them. And those who are of a sufficiently non-sectarian view might not object if I now quote from the Bhagavad Gita, which I think nicely describes a rather different view of the divine from Paul Williams’ “God of the great theistic religions”:
I am the origin of the entire universe and also its dissolution. There exists nothing whatever higher than I am, O Dhananjaya. All is strung on me as row of gems on a thread.
I am the savour of waters, O son of Kunti, the radiance of the sun and moon; I am the syllable Om in all the Vedas, the sound in ether, the manliness in man.
I am the sweet fragrance in earth and the brightness in fire. In all beings I am life, and I am the austerity of ascetics.
Know me, O son of Pritha, to be the Eternal Seed of all things that exist. I am the Intelligence of the intelligent, and the Daring of the brave.
I am Strength in the strong, freed from all longing and attachment. I am, O Lord of the Bharatas, the Desire in all beings that is not contrary to Dharma.
[7.6-11, Swami Nikhilananda’s translation]
Where Williams posits a unified conception of the divine held in common among Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I would posit an alternative view of the divine found in the religions of India, Tibet, and China (in fact among most or even all of the cultures of South, Central and East Asia). This view is not limited to a Spinozean pantheism, although it does sometimes resemble that to some extent. This dharmic (as opposed to “theistic”) view of the divine is also not hobbled by the false dichotomy between immanence and transcendence (on which much more could and should be said – but for now I will just refer the interested reader to the Isha Upanishad). The dharmic view is also a “non-dualistic” view that sees both the divine and the physical universe as inherently good, or as Swami Vivekananda put it, “the whole world is full of God, not sin.”
After all, if Buddhists do have a conception of the divine shared by other religions, one would be most likely to find that common view in religions such as Hinduism and Taoism (as opposed to the “Abrahamic” faiths). This dharmic view is of a divine that is both immanent and transcendant; both masculine and feminine (and beyond both); present in everything and also the source of everything. And despite Paul Williams’ insistence, this is a view also shared by many individual Christians as well.