Some thoughts on the limitations of gods

Posted on March 6, 2009
Filed Under Buddhism, deity, mystical journeys, Taylor Ellwood | Leave a Comment

Warning…this post will likely be considered blasphemous if you are of the school of thought deities are all powerful, all knowing, and therefor infallible. That said, let’s move on to the content…

I recently finished the new Prince of Persia game and have been playing the downloadable add-on epilogue adventure and in both the main game and the epilogue there is a very interesting point raised about the power and intelligence of a deity. At one point, in the main game, one of the protagonist’s wishes that there was an army helping them fight Ahriman, and the other protagonist says it’s actually better that it’s two of them, because an army of people would be more dangerous because they could be tempted by Ahriman. In fact, she goes on to explain that the real danger is that peopel would be tempted by Ahriman. Yes, this deity could tempt them, but the fact is, the choice is ultimately the person’s and that makes that person very dangerous. Ahriman, in this game is simply the god of Darkness. In some ways he has less individuality and less choice than the humans he could tempt. He’s dangerous, but his danger is limited by the context of the function he serves by being a god of darkness.

In the epilogue, the characters face a monster that Ahriman creates, and both note the lack of originality and the one character says that Ahriman is still weak and so is using forms he is familiar with, when creating monsters out of the corruption. But it also brings up an interesting question about the creativity or lack thereof that Ahriman displays. Ahriman is limited to some degree by the very role he has as a god of darkness and so what he can do is also accordingly limited.

In the Buddhist conceptions of deity, the gods, despite being powerful within the function that they fulfill, are less powerful than humans because they are defined by that function and even defined by the way humans relate to them. In the past, it has been pointed out to me that deities can grow and develop as a result of the relationship that they have with people, and I agree that this is true, but it is actually because of that relationship that they can grow and evolve…that the function of what they do can change. A god of darkness is kind of old hat in contemporary culture…but a god of darkness and several other functions is a god that has adapted to the times as a result of its interaction with people.

I think that there are some spiritual seekers that are too eager to give all power to the gods, while divesting themselves of the responsibility for their actions by saying: “My god made me do it.” Undoubtedly they would look at what I wrote above and say I was being blasphemous to the spirits, that I would be punished for my affront by describing gods as beings that may not be all powerful and may in fact be defined and shaped by the relationships they have with humans and other beings. Yet, the simple fact of the matter is that everything is defined by relationships. A human being is definitely not all powerful…s/he has to live on a planet with a breathable atmosphere and other forms of live in order to sustain his/her own life…and that’s just survival on the physical level. The emotional, mental, and yes spiritual level also necessitates relationships of some kind in order for a person to survive and indeed thrive.

Why wouldn’t this principle apply to gods? In fact, I don’t think gods are all powerful and I think they are limited by the function of what they do and how that is defined in the relationships they have with others. I think that when people put gods on a pedestal, they are divesting themselves of responsibility for their own actions, or using that god to justify their own attempts to have power over other people. This isn’t to say that a relationship where a person feels subservient to a god isn’t spiritual or right for that person…for clearly that can be a relationship that person needs. Nor is it wrong to feel a sense of awe or humbleness in working with a deity…but such relationships will ideally not involve abdication of responsibility. Rather, ideally the god will challenge the person to grow and use the spiritual lessons to help that person fully understand the nature of the service s/he has entered into in choosing to work with or worship that god.

All the same, I don’t think treating a god as all powerful or all knowing is a wise idea. Recognize it’s power and knowledge, but also recognize your own. Recognize the context of the relationship in order to better appreciate that relationship and learn and grow from it, while also helping the other end learn and grow as well.

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