What is the “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 Buddhism, it is the “Life of the Universe” - in which we dwell - that is regarded as the divine. 


In the text of the Lotus Sutra, the concept of “shoho jisso”describes the reality of life as expressions of the Absolute Truth (the Buddhist Law of Cause and Effect), which has spiritual and physical nature:

                “all phenomena are manifestations of the Buddhist Law”  WND2 p 843


The spiritual nature is encoded in the word “Myo” of the Sutra, which signifies this divine nature of Life as: a “wonder beyond explanation”.  It is the collective mind of all living beings and nature.  Our mind is part of this cosmic mind, Myo.

“Myo” signifies also the capacity to revive and energise the mental and physical realms, and create all forms of living beings (to ensure the balance of interconnectedness of all entities).


In nonBuddhist teachings, the concept of the “divine” is attributed to the spiritual aspect only - which is regarded as separate from the physical aspect.  The implication of this dualistic view is that God, the spiritual aspect, is “divine” (and superior to the physical aspect).  Through this belief many people think that the body is sinful, while the spirit is pure.


Obviously, if the nature of divinity and holiness is attributed to the spiritual aspect only, then this can lead to the understanding that the other aspect - the physical - 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 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, which is focused on the concept of ‘God’. 


Nichiren 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 the value of one’s life - as equivalent in worth to the value of the “major world system” - which indicates “galaxy”:


        “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 


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

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 (mind), compassion (spirit) and action (body) -  constitute the three enlightened properties of Buddhahood, which can be considered as the three aspects of the Divine: Body, Mind and Spirit.


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 Cosmic Life that should be fundamentally respected) is a mandala, which acts as a mental mirror reflecting the power of Buddhanature within the individual.  The life of Buddhahood, (existing in each living being) is the most worthy of respect, bringing benefit of wisdom and compassion.


Treasuring the Gohonzon (the Life of Buddhahood) leads to revealing one’s Buddhanature.  Nichiren emphasised the necessity to reveal the Gohonzon “The supreme object of devotion” from within own life, which elevates the life of the individual to be regarded as the divine: “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 is also the domain of the highest value, or the divine.  This is the foundation of harmony and nonviolence.


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Author: Safwan Darshams  


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