Happy to finally share this exclusive design I made for the release of a limited amount of shoulder/tote bags for WEEGIRLSCLUB~the bag launched 101016 in NYC at our pop up event and will soon be available online with shipping worldwide so stay tuned for more info/pics
Few people realise the suffering they can cause someone when they bully, physically harm, emotionally or psychologically abuse someone, or generally mistreat others with harmful words and attitudes. Yet the consequences for these actions are much much more severe than what we are taught.
Spiritual bondage As a spiritual healer I have found people completely held down by what I call “spiritual bondage”, where they have been so mistreated their whole lives that they are emotionally, spiritually, and physically bound to and by their suffering. And it wont always be huge traumatic experiences. Often times, it is simply someone yelling at them which has bound them to their suffering, or something they brought on themselves by mistreating others. But from my experience as a healer, I have found people with energy shackles, essentially negative energy so heavy and so accumulated that their body suffers as if bound in shackles. I’ve had people come to me with backs hunched over and unable to walk without crying in pain, and yet when the negative energy is removed they can walk again like normal. This is spiritual bondage. And this is the result of mistreating others. If left untreated, it can carry on into the next life.
When we hurt someone, we direct negative energies to them. These negative energies sometimes can be so hateful, so angry and so resentful that they become a curse on that persons body. We curse others without even realising, and today more and more people are mistreating each other without realising the true spiritual nature of what they are doing to someone. It is not a small thing to curse someone with spiritual bondage. Spiritual bondage lasts for years, decades, or even someones entire life. This type of suffering is emotionally, physically and mentally draining and cursing with spiritual bondage essentially prevents someone from accessing the divine blessings and protection that they need in order to flourish. You are cutting them off from the spiritual nourishment that all of us need and are deserving of. Yet it is so easy to do. How often have we yelled at shop assistants trying to do their jobs? How many of us yell at our parents, at our friends or partners? How many of us have suffered abuse and mistreatment? How many of us send hateful messages to others? How many of us manipulate and take advantage of others? How many of us discriminate or harm others because they are different? Every word, every action you take matters, and has real spiritual consequences, not only on others, but on your own body.
Ancestral spiritual bondage Spiritual bondage can and usually is also an ancestral inheritance. Not only do we take on spiritual bondage from past lives, but we can inherit it from our ancestors. One of the most common ways that this can be inherited through our ancestors is through abuse or mistreatment from a parent to their child in which the cycle of abuse continues with their children’s children and so on. In my own family, a the of abuse and mistreatment of my grandfather as a child resulted in neglect of my mother whom in turn became manipulative and controlling as a result of her suffering under my grandfather. When she has raised myself and my siblings, we have all grown up cursed with the negative spiritual energy of my grandfather’s abuse. When I had broken free and gone to heal the others in my family, the level of spiritual bondage upon each person has been so damaging and so heavy. Mindfulness: The fundamental teaching of the Buddha One of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha was the concept of mindfulness. He begins this teaching by asking us to focus simply on the breath. With regular practice of mindful breathing, we can begin to apply the concept of mindfulness in our everyday lives in more complex situations than just breathing. But this is such an important teaching. Why? Because being mindful of our words and actions allows us to think before we speak and act, which is extremely important when we want to minimise harm to others. While it is normal to feel anger, rage, sadness, desires and overwhelming emotions of any kind, we need to take care in how we express these emotions. We can always choose our actions, and we can always choose our thoughts. But we cannot know the true suffering of others, and we cannot take back the harm we cause to others. So it is vitally important to treat others with love and respect regardless of how angry they make you, because you do not know what curses your hate may place over them.
We live in a world full of war, disease, starvation, hatred and suffering. The best thing we can do to fight is to love others from our heart. This is the best form of rebellion, the only way to bring light into the world if only for a brief moment. Love is a magic that can overcome pain, and we need more of it in this world. So love others, be mindful of the consequences of mistreating others. Love comes first.
The teaching on the twelve links of dependent origination is common to all Buddhist traditions; however, the interpretation of the twelve links, their processes, and particularly the explanation of the first link, ignorance, is different for the Madhyamaka school than it is for the other philosophical schools.
The other schools define fundamental ignorance as grasping at the self-existence of the person. Grasping at the self-existence of a person means believing there is a self that is somehow distinct from our body and mind — our aggregates. Such a self is thought to act like a master over the physical and mental components of a person.
The seventh-century Indian Buddhist philosopher Dharmakirti gives an example of this belief in his Exposition of Valid Cognition (Pramanavarttika): Say an old person whose body is deteriorating and is full of aches is given the opportunity to exchange his body for a much healthier body. From the depths of his mind would emerge a ready willingness to take part in such an exchange. This suggests that deep down, we believe in a self that is distinct from our body, yet somehow master over it.
Similarly, if a person with a poor memory or some other mental deficiency were given an opportunity to exchange his or her mind for a fresh one with superior cognitive powers, again from the depth of the heart would arise a real willingness to enter into the transaction. This suggests that not only in relation to our body but also in relation to our mental faculties, we believe in a self who would benefit from such an exchange, a self that it is somehow the ruler or master of the body and mind.
The other schools define grasping at self-existence as the belief in this kind of discrete self — a self-sufficient and substantially real master that is in charge of the servant body-and-mind. For them, the negation of that kind of self is the full meaning of selflessness, or no-self. When we search for such a self by investigating whether it is separate from the psychophysical aggregates or identical to them, we discover that no such self exists. The other schools’ interpretation of the twelve links of dependent origination therefore defines fundamental ignorance as grasping at such a self-sufficient and substantially real self.
Madhyamikas would agree that gaining insight into such a selflessness does open the way to reversing the cycle. However, as Nagarjuna argues, while this is a form of grasping at selfhood, it does not get at the subtlest meaning of selflessness.
With insight into this grosser type of selflessness, you can reverse some habits related to the grosser afflictions. But wherever there is grasping at an intrinsic existence of the aggregates — the body and mind — there will always be a danger of grasping at a self or “I” based on those aggregates. As Nagarjuna writes in his Precious Garland (Ratnavali):
As long as there is grasping at the aggregates,
there is grasping at self;
when there is grasping at self there is karma,
and from it comes birth.
Nagarjuna argues that just as grasping at the intrinsic existence of the person or self is fundamental ignorance, grasping at the intrinsic existence of the aggregates is also grasping at self-existence. Madhyamikas therefore distinguish two kinds of emptiness — the lack of any self that is separate from the aggregates, which they call the emptiness of self, and the lack of intrinsic existence of the aggregates themselves — and by extension all phenomena — which they call the emptiness of phenomena. Realising the first kind of emptiness, Nagarjuna and his followers argue, may temporarily suppress manifest afflictions, but it can never eradicate the subtle grasping at the true existence of things. To understand the meaning of the first link, fundamental ignorance, in its subtlest sense, we must identify and understand it as grasping at the intrinsic existence of all phenomena — including the aggregates, sense spheres, and all external objects — and not merely our sense of “I.”
THE RELATIVE I
The search for the nature of the self, the “I” that naturally does not desire suffering and naturally wishes to attain happiness, may have begun, in India, around three thousand years ago, if not earlier. Throughout human history people have empirically observed that certain types of strong, powerful emotions — such as hatred and extreme attachment — create problems. Hatred, in fact, arises out of attachment — attachment, for example, to family members, community, or self. Extreme attachment creates anger or hatred when these things are threatened. Anger then leads to all kinds of conflict and battles. Some human beings have stepped back, observed, and inquired into the role of these emotions, their function, their value, and their effects.
We can discuss powerful emotions such as attachment or anger in and of themselves, but these cannot actually be comprehended in isolation from their being experienced by an individual. There is no conceiving an emotion except as an experience of some being. In fact, we cannot even separate the objects of attachment, anger, or hatred from the individual who conceives of them as such because the characterisation does not reside in the object. One person’s friend is another person’s enemy. So when we speak of these emotions, and particularly their objects, we cannot make objective determinations independent of relationships.
Just as we can speak of someone being a mother, a daughter, or a spouse only in relation to another person, likewise the objects of attachment or anger are only desirable or hateful in relation to the perceiver who is experiencing attachment or anger. All of these — mother and daughter, enemy and friend — are relative terms. The point is that emotions need a frame of reference, an “I” or self that experiences them, before we can understand the dynamics of these emotions.
A reflective person will then ask, What exactly is the nature of the individual, the self? And once raised, this question leads to another: Where is this self? Where could it exist?
We take for granted terms like east, west, north, and south, but if we examine carefully, we see these again are relative terms that have meaning only in relation to something else. Often, that point of reference turns out to be wherever you are. One could argue, in fact, that in the Buddhist worldview, the center of cyclic existence is basically where you are. Thus, in a certain sense, you are the center of the universe!
Not only that, but for each person, we ourselves are the most precious thing, and we are constantly engaged in ensuring the well-being of this most precious thing. In one sense, our business on earth is to take care of that precious inner core. In any case, this is how we tend to relate to the world and others. We create a universe with ourselves in the center, and from this point of reference, we relate to the rest of the world. With this understanding, it becomes more crucial to ask what that self is. What exactly is it?
Buddhists speak of samsara and nirvana — cyclic existence and its transcendence. The former, as we have seen, can be defined as ignorance of the ultimate nature of reality and the latter as insight into the ultimate nature of reality, or knowledge of it. So long as we remain ignorant of the ultimate nature of reality, we are in samsara. Once we gain insight into the ultimate nature of reality, we move toward nirvana, or the transcendence of unenlightened existence. They are differentiated on the basis of knowledge. But here again, we cannot speak of knowledge without speaking of an individual who has or does not have knowledge. We come back again to the question of the self. What exactly is its nature?
This type of inquiry predates the Buddha. Such questioning was already prevalent in India before the Buddha arrived. Until he taught, the dominant belief was that since everyone has an innate sense of selfhood, a natural instinctive notion of “I am,” there must be some enduring thing that is the real self. Since the physical and mental faculties that constitute our existence are transient — they change, age, and then one day cease — they cannot be the true self. Were they the real self, then our intuition of an enduring self that is somehow independent but also a master of our body and mind would have to be false. Thus, before the Buddha, the concept of the self as independent and separate from the physical and the mental faculties, was commonly accepted.
Innate grasping of selfhood is reinforced by this kind of philosophical reflection. These Indian philosophers maintained that the self did not undergo a process of change. We say, “when I was young, I was like this,” and “when I am older, I will do this,” and these philosophers asserted that these statements presume the presence of an unchanging entity that constitutes our identity throughout the different stages of our life.
These thinkers also maintained that since highly advanced meditators could recall their past lives, this supported their position that the self takes rebirth, moving from one life to the next. They maintained that this true self was unchanging and eternal and, somehow, independent of the physical and the mental aggregates. That was largely the consensus before the Buddha.
The Buddha argued against this position. Not only is our intuition of an inborn self a delusion, he said, the philosophical tenets that strengthen and reinforce such a belief are a source of all kinds of false views. The Buddhist sutras therefore refer to the belief in selfhood itself as the mind of the deceiver Mara — the embodiment of delusion — and as the source of all problems. The Buddha rejected the idea of a self that is somehow independent of the body and mind.
Does that mean that the person does not, in any sense whatsoever, exist at all? Buddha responded that the person does indeed exist, but only in relation to the physical and mental aggregates and in dependence on them. Thus the existence of the individual is accepted only as a dependent entity and not as an independent, absolute reality.
Buddhist philosophical schools therefore all agree that an independent self, separate from the body and mind, cannot be found. However, when we say “I do this” or “I do that,” what exactly is the true referent of the person? What exactly is the person then? Diverse opinions arose among the Buddhist schools regarding the exact identification of the nature of this dependent person. Given their shared acceptance of existence across lifetimes, all Buddhist philosophical schools rule out the continuum of the body as constituting the continuity of the person. Therefore, the differences of opinion surround the way that the continuum of consciousness could be the basis for locating the person or the individual.
In a passage in his Precious Garland, Nagarjuna dissects the concept of a person and its identity by explaining that a person is not the earth element, water element, fire element, wind element, space, or consciousness. And apart from these, he asks, what else could a person be? To this he responds that a person exists as the convergence of these six constituents. The term “convergence” is the crucial word, as it suggests the interaction of the constituents in mutual interdependence.
How do we understand the concept of dependence? It is helpful to reflect on a statement by Chandrakirti in his commentary on Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Stanzas on the Middle Way, where the following explicit explanation of how to understand a buddha in terms of dependent origination is found. He writes, “What is it then? We posit the tathagata in dependence upon the aggregates, for it cannot be asserted to be either identical with or separate from the aggregates.” His point is that if we search for the essence of something believing we can pinpoint some real thing — something objectively real from its own side that exists as a valid referent of the term or concept — then we will fail to find anything at all.
TIME AND THE SELF
In our day-to-day interactions, we often speak of time. We all take for granted the reality of time. Were we to search for what exactly time is, we could do so in two ways. One is to search with the belief that we should be able to find something objectively real that we can define as time. But we immediately run into a problem. We find that time can only be understood on the basis of something else, in relation to a particular phenomenon or event. The other way to search is in a relative framework, not presuming an objectively real entity.
Take, for example, the present moment. If we search for the present moment believing that we should be able to find a unique entity in the temporal process, an objective “present,” we won’t find anything. As we dissect the temporal process, we instead discover that events are either past or yet to occur; we find only the past and future. Nothing is truly present because the very process of searching for it is itself a temporal process, which means that it is necessarily always at a remove from now.
If, on the other hand, we search for the present within the relative framework of everyday convention, we can maintain the concept of the present. We can say “this present year,” for example, within the broader context of many years. Within the framework of twelve months, we can speak of “the present month.” Similarly, within that month, we can speak of “the present week,” and so on, and in this relative context we can maintain coherently the notion of a present moment. But if we search for a real present that is present intrinsically, we cannot find it.
In just the same way, we can ascertain the existence of a person within the conventional, relative framework without needing to search for some kind of objective, intrinsically real person that is the self. We can maintain our commonsense notion of the person or individual in relation to the physical and the mental faculties that comprise our particular existence.
Because of this, in Nagarjuna’s text we find references to things and events or phenomena existing only as labels, or within the framework of language and designation. Of the two possible modes of existence — objectively real existence and nominal existence — objectively real existence is untenable, as we have seen. Hence we can only speak of a self conventionally or nominally — in the framework of language and consensual reality. In brief, all phenomena exist merely in dependence upon their name, through the power of worldly convention. Since they do not exist objectively, phenomena are referred to in the texts as “mere terms,” “mere conceptual constructs,” and “mere conventions.”
SEARCHING FOR THE SELF
At the beginning of his eighteenth chapter, Nagarjuna writes:
If self were the aggregates,
it would have arising and disintegration;
if it were different from the aggregates,
it would not have the characteristics of the aggregates.
If we are searching for an essential self that is objectively and intrinsically real, we must determine whether such a self is identical to the aggregates or is something separate from them. If the self were identical to the aggregates, then, like the aggregates, the self would be subject to arising and disintegrating. If the body undergoes surgery or injury, for example, the self would also be cut or harmed. If, on the other hand, the self were totally independent of the aggregates, we could not explain any changes in the self based on changes in the aggregates, such as when an individual is first young and then old, first sick and then healthy.
Nagarjuna also is saying that if the self and the aggregates were entirely distinct, then we could not account for the arising of grasping at the notion of self on the basis of the aggregates. For instance, if our body were threatened, we would not experience strong grasping at self as a result. The body by nature is an impermanent phenomenon, always changing, while our notion of the self is that it is somehow changeless, and we would never confuse the two if they were indeed separate.
Thus, neither outside the aggregates nor within the aggregates can we find any tangible or real thing at all that we can call the self. Nagarjuna then writes:
If the self itself does not exist, how can there be “mine”?
“Mine” is a characteristic of the self, for the thought “I am” immediately gives rise to the thought “mine.” The grasping at “mine” is a form of grasping at selfhood because “mine” grasps at objects related to the self. It is a variation on the egoistic view, which sees everything in relation to an intrinsically existent “I.” In fact, if we examine the way we perceive the world around us, we cannot speak of good and bad, or samsara and nirvana, without thinking from the perspective of an “I.” We cannot speak of anything at all. Once the self becomes untenable, then our whole understanding of a world based on distinguishing self from others, “mine” from not mine, falls apart. Therefore, Nagarjuna writes:
Since self and mine are pacified,
one does not grasp at “I” and “mine.”
Because the self and the mine cease, the grasping at them also does not arise. This resonates with a passage in Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way in which he says that when you no longer see a self in relation to an object, then the root of cyclic existence will come to an end.
One who does not grasp at “I” and “mine,”
that one too does not exist,
for the one who does not grasp
at “I” and “mine” does not perceive him.
In other words, the yogi who has brought an end to grasping at “I” and “mine” is not intrinsically real. If you believe in the intrinsic reality of such a yogi, then you also grasp at selfhood. What appears to the mind of the person who has ascertained the absence of self and its properties is only the absence of all conceptual elaborations. Just as grasping at me and mine must cease, so must grasping at a yogi who has ended such grasping. Both are devoid of intrinsic existence.
The point is that our understanding of emptiness should not remain partial, such that we negate the intrinsic existence of some things but not of others. We need to develop a profound understanding of emptiness so that our perception of the lack of intrinsic existence encompasses the entire spectrum of reality and becomes totally free of any conceptual elaboration whatsoever. The understanding is one of mere absence, a simple negation of intrinsic existence.
DISMANTLING THE CAUSES OF CYCLIC EXISTENCE
When thoughts of “I” and “mine” are extinguished
with respect to the inner and the outer,
the process of appropriation ceases;
this having ceased, birth ceases.
This refers to the twelve links of dependent origination. “Inner” and “outer” here can be understood as the conception of self as either among the aggregates or apart from them. When grasping at self and “mine” ceases, then, because no more karmic potentials related to external or internal phenomena are activated, the ninth link in the twelve links of dependent origination — grasping, or appropriation — will not occur. We will no longer grasp at objects of enjoyment and turn away from things we deem unattractive. Thus, although we may continue to possess karmic potentials, they are no longer activated by craving and grasping, and when this happens, birth in cyclic existence, the eleventh link, can no longer occur. This is the sense in which birth will come to an end.
Therefore, as we deepen our understanding of emptiness, the potency of our karma to propel rebirth in cyclic existence is undermined. When we realise emptiness directly, as it is stated in Exposition of Valid Cognition, “For he who sees the truth, no projecting exists.” In other words, once we gain a direct realisation of emptiness, we no longer accumulate karma to propel rebirth in cyclic existence. As we gradually deepen our direct realisation, so that it permeates our entire experience and destroys the afflictions, we eventually eliminate the root of grasping at intrinsic existence altogether and the continuity of rebirth in cyclic existence is cut. This is true freedom, or liberation, where we no longer create new karma through ignorance, where no conditions exist to activate past karma, and where the afflictions have been destroyed at their root.
Hey, Mod Fire here! For those who have not grown up with Buddhism, are just beginning to research it, or have only seen depictions of it in pop culture, Buddhism can be very confusing. Many mix ups arise such as who and what buddhas are, whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy or something else, conflating Hinduism with Buddhism in many ways… it’s a lot to wade through if you haven’t studied it in depth, grown up with it, or actually converted to it. I can’t tackle every issue in one post (see my masterpost for more Buddhism topics), and so today I’m going to discuss a particularly big source of confusion: atheism vs. gods and goddesses in Buddhism.
But I thought Buddhists were atheists…
You could potentially call Buddhism panentheistic, polytheistic, monotheistic, OR atheistic and make a valid point. This is because the way that gods and goddesses are traditionally defined does not perfectly match up with how Buddhism views deities. There are also many different branches and sects of Buddhism, which have all changed over time, and so it’s difficult to classify all of Buddhism one way. In this post, I’ll be coming mainly from a Vajrayana Buddhist perspective as that is the branch of Buddhism that I practice.
Two Types of Buddhist Deities
In Buddhism, there are two types of spirits that I call “deities.” These are devas/devis and yidams. They are very different from each other and some do not classify yidams as deities, but I consider both yidams and devas to fall under the umbrella category of gods/goddesses/deities. In this post, I’m going to discuss devas and devis in both Hinduism and Buddhism, explain their roles in each religion, and discuss why this is significant to understand the prevalence of atheism in Buddhism.
Devas and Devis
The Sanskrit term deva/devi comes from Hinduism, and essentially means god (deva) and goddess (devi). For convenience, I will use the term devas to refer to both male and female in the same way gods is often used to mean gods and goddesses. Some of the big theological differences between Hinduism and Buddhism lie in how each religion views devas. This can vary between different branches of Hinduism, but generally, the many devas in Hinduism are manifestations or emanations of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality of the universe. Humans are believed to have souls or Atman, the eternal Self, which is really one with Brahman. By worshipping and working with devas, one is able to progress towards uniting their individual sense of Atman with the universal divine Brahman and become spiritually one with the universe.
Traditionally, Buddhism recognizes the existence of the Hindu devas and even features them prominently in art, literature, and the story of Siddartha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha, commonly known as “The Buddha.” When Shakyamuni Buddha reached enlightenment under the bodhi tree, the story goes that the demon Mara challenged his enlightened status. Shakyamuni reached down to the ground beneath him and called on the earth itself which was synonymous at that time with the earth goddess Prithvi, also known as Bhumi Devi. She is said to have protected Shakyamuni and bore witness to his enlightenment, attesting to his worthiness to be a buddha. Though many modern Buddhists do not often think of the earth goddess as having a role in Buddhism, this story is referenced frequently in Buddhist iconography through the bumispharsha or “earth-touching” mudra. Prithvi is just one example of many devas who not only get mentioned in important Buddhist stories but are described in a positive light as supporting or protecting Buddhism.
Where Hinduism and Buddhism Split
One might wonder if devas have been a part of Buddhism literally since its inception at the moment of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, then why are many Buddhists self-proclaimed atheists? Why does Buddhism have a well-known reputation for being atheistic? That’s because although traditional Buddhism has portrayed some devas like Privthi or Indra as being positive and influential figures, there is a very key difference between how Buddhism views devas and how Hinduism does.
Shakyamuni Buddha disagreed with the concept of Atman and Brahman, saying that neither actually exists. Instead of striving to become one with the universe, Buddhists strive to let go of attachments in order to become free from suffering and the cycle of rebirth called samsara. Within samsara, there are multiple planes of existence from being a human to an animal to a “hungry ghost” to a deva. Rather than emanations of the Brahman, in Buddhism devas are viewed as beings who are living much longer lives on higher planes of existence, naked to the ordinary human eye. However, unlike the Hindu concept of devas as eternal, in Buddhism devas may live eons but will eventually die and be reborn like any other being in samsara. Instead of being worshipped themselves, even devas can learn to practice Buddhism and hope to one day reach enlightenment just like any human being.
Devas in Buddhism Today
Hopefully, by now it’s clear why Buddhism has a very different idea of what gods and goddesses are than Hinduism and other polytheistic and pagan religions. Since the main principles of Buddhism discourage worshipping devas and don’t rely on any kind of belief in them, it’s not necessary for modern Buddhists to believe in them and so many do not, leading to a large majority of Buddhists today becoming atheists or functionally being atheists in the sense that they do not worship or interact with devas even if they believe in them.
It’s important to note that how the concept of devas relates to Buddhism and polytheism and paganism at large. Some people might argue that devas and devis are not the same as gods and goddesses in general. When comparing any religion its important to understand how deities have different properties and definitions, but deva and devi is so frequently used interchangeably with god and goddess that I think it is as acceptable to equate the terms as it is to call anything from vastly different cultures “deities.” One simply has to understand that the implications are different depending on whether you look at the same goddess Privthi from a Hindu, Buddhist, or another religious perspective.
My Personal Views on Devas
I think of deities as spirits that are at a certain threshold of power and influence - so the label deity to me is more a flexible perspective or classification of certain spirits. Personally, as a Buddhist, I regard the vast majority of gods and goddesses in polytheistic and pagan religions as deities and within that category of deities as devas. Not every Buddhist may feel this way, but to me, all the gods and goddesses of every major pantheon are devas and devis. I choose to think of them as devas because I also consider yidams, which I’ll explain later, to be deities as well but completely different from devas. I see them as being very super powerful spirits with a limited lifespan - they may live for eons and eons, but each one’s life will eventually come to an end.
I think of this like the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the planets - all are personified as deities and from a human perspective they’re super powerful and seem almost limitless, but eventually in millions or billions of years the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, etc. will all be gone away. I appreciate their influence, their presence, their power, and the roles they play in the lives of those who worship them.
I will often interact with devas and perhaps sometimes give offerings as a way of connecting with nature and practicing spirit work. But I do not worship or work with them in a very religious way. I work with devas much in the same way I would work with spirits, but I just see them as way more powerful and longer living.
Ultimately, the biggest take away from this post I hope is understanding that it does make a lot of sense when Buddhists describe themselves as atheists, and that is a totally valid classification for any Buddhist. It would also be valid potentially (depending on the person) to describe the way someone practices Buddhism as polytheistic or pagan. Although Buddhism states that worshipping devas is not going to help you become enlightened, it does not make someone less Buddhist to do so anyway. Not all Buddhists are vegetarians or adhere to every rule mentioned in the sutras just as not every Christian follows all the laws of the Old Testament. In fact, just as many Buddhists are atheist, many Buddhists do worship gods/deities/devas such as many Japanese Buddhists who may pray both to buddhas and to kami, Shinto deities.
So if you’re a Buddhist, know the dharma and do what works best for you and your path. If you’re not a Buddhist, remember that Buddhists have a wide variety of beliefs ranging from atheism to polytheism (and more).