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 wasnft much talk about God or Jesus at any of Nishijimafs talks, and nobody who went to Nishijima's seemed to mention it much.
I was brought up as a Christian, and even though Ifd lost interest in Christianity by the time I got interested in Buddhism, deep down I felt like I still believed a lot of things I learned about God when I was growing up.
I decided to ask Nishijima about it. I started by asking him 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 donft remember him replying to that one, but I guess he must have thought it was a strange question to ask a Buddhist monk.
I thought over his answer about Jesus for a while. Next time we met I asked him if Buddhists believed in God. 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 donft believe in a God that exists outside the universe but who also 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 difference to me. Ifd always found it hard to believe in the idea of a God who had somehow created the universe from outside. So for me the Buddhist idea of God and the universe being the same thing was easier to accept. But Nishijimafs answer didnft 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 donft know why I wanted to ask Nishijima about it, because there's no way he could know. But I him asked anyway. He told me the Buddhist idea is that the universe has always existed.
I spent a while trying to figure out the idea about the universe always existing. Eventually I realized itfs one of those things no one can ever really know - like what happens to all those socks that get lost at the laundry.