What is “Divine” in Buddhism

The word ‘divine’ is understood to refer to: ‘that which is sacred’,

i.e. to the “most valuable and most respect-worthy” quality or phenomenon.

In nonBuddhist teachings, the concept of the “divine” is used in conjunction with “creator god”  – a perspective based on separation between the spiritual aspect from the physical reality.   Buddhism, however, teaches the inseparability of the spiritual and the physical aspects of life, and for this reason the discussion about ‘what is divine’ - takes a different perspective than the concept of divine in Abrahamic religions.

If the nature of divinity and holiness is attributed to the spiritual aspect only, then this can lead to the understanding that the physical aspect lacks divinity.  Excluding the material body from being sacred, or even from being worthy - is a result of separation between the body and mind, the material and spiritual.

Buddhism views ‘Life’ - which integrates the physical and spiritual aspects of the individual - as the most valuable in existence.  Nichiren regarded  ‘Life’ as  being beyond any measure of valuation: “nothing is more precious than life itself”. WND1 p 301

Emphasising the holiness and sanctity of life, Nichiren equates one’s value of life - as equivalent in worth with the value of the Universe:

“One day of Life is more valuable than all the treasures of the major world system….A single life is worth more than the major world system” WND1 p 955 

It is notable that rather than simply pointing to the apparent greatness of the Universe, as we see it externally - Nichiren placed the divine value at the inner life of the individual, highlighting its significance.

Accepting the extreme worth of one’s life leads to valuing also the life of others as respect-worthy and by extension - also valuing the environment that supports life, i.e. the universe.

This non-dualistic approach brings into focus the sanctity and divinity of all expressions of life, self and others, because all expressions of life are mutually interconnected. 

The most fundamental object of respect

While all forms of life are valuable, the life of enlightened human being is obviously more capable of bringing benefit, security and happiness to others and to the environment around it.

In terms of creating benefit to humanity and the environment, a life manifesting wisdom, compassion and courage is an expression of the highest qualities in existence.  Wisdom, compassion and action for the benefit of others constitute the three enlightened properties of Buddhahood.

Although various schools of Buddhism treasure the “Life of Buddhahood” as the highest manifestation of life’s existence, the implication of the word ‘Buddha’ was obscured by abstract associations and exaggerated features (making the ‘Life of Buddha’ beyond the reach of ordinary people).

Realising this, Nichiren established a comprehensible and realistic manifestation of “Life of Buddhahood” in form of a mandala: the Gohonzon.  The Gohonzon (or: the essence of life that should be fundamentally respected) is a mandala, which acts as a trigger to the inner power of Buddhanature.  The divine is the life of Buddhahood, existing in each living being.  Treasuring the Gohonzon (the Life of Buddhahood) leads to revealing one’s Buddhanature, or transforming one’s life into the potential of Buddha.  Nichiren emphasised the necessity to reveal the Gohonzon “The supreme object of devotion” from within own life.  The highest form of the Divine is fusing one’s life with the life of Buddha or the Gohonzo within oneself: “never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself”.

The belief that one’s own life is the domain of the highest value, or the divine, leads to the awareness that the life of others also is the domain of the highest value, or the divine.