I’ve always thought that Christianity is monotheist: one God above all. It seems that this Christian God is not only above all, watching every leaf fall from every tree, but within every falling leaf; within what Buddhism calls “the ten thousand things”: all those manifestations that stimulate the attractions and distractions that occupy most of our attention. When we read in the Gospels that God cares not only for us but for every sparrow, it seems that for this Greater Being no corner of the cosmos is hidden.
Who does not hope that our world is not just a jumble of isolated things, each confined to its own boundaries? I expect that even people who call themselves atheists or agnostics like to believe that their own individual being is held within some coherent wholeness. They just hold back from religious beliefs about how this wholeness came to be and how it is now being governed. I’ve yet to run into anyone who envisions that a community of gods, like the gods of ancient Greece–quarrelling over territory and their own scope of authority–controls our world. Of course, we all sometimes behave like them.
Wouldn’t it be comforting to feel that small gods and spiritual helpers are keeping a look out for our enterprises and adventures? If there were minor deities, with no pretention of being in charge of anything but their own small domains, then we wouldn’t have to bother the Creator of the universe with our own small, but sometimes urgent concerns.
In Buddhism, there is no God; although there is a vision of everything being woven out of a single, shining cloth. In fact, the god realm is just one of six realms and not even the one presented as the most desirable place to be. The human realm is considered better than the god realm because it leaves room for us to become more than we have been up until this moment. The main problem with the god realm is that in the eons of comfort and pleasure it provides, beings lose their capacity for effort and their ability to face difficulties. As a consequence, when their positive karma finally runs out, they plunge straight into dark despair, unable to deal with anything even a little bit challenging.
I find myself somewhat confused about the monotheism of Christianity. Christianity appears to have inherited the monotheism of Judaism; continuing the vision of One God, present here and everywhere, now and always. At the same time, this Christian God also has three manifestations: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I wonder if the Christian vision of a Creator God, as well as continuing the monotheism of Judaism, has also absorbed some Buddhist influence. (There are ancient documents recording that Jesus travelled to India). The relationship between the Son and the Father seems to reflect, as do Buddhist teachings, what we are all called upon to do in our own lives: bring spiritual understanding into the life we are actually living, with all its dramas, inconsistencies, and uncertainties.
Personally, given a choice between a God that is above everything and one that is in everything, I would chose a divinity that permeates not only every human soul but every drop of water and every grain of sand.