- God in Buddhism
Since the time of the Buddha, the refutation of the existence of a creator has been seen as a key point in distinguishing Buddhist from non-Buddhist views. [B. Alan Wallace, "Contemplative Science." Columbia University Press, 2007, pages 97-98.]
Buddhismis usually considered a religion, but is also commonly described as a "spiritual philosophy", since it generally lacks an Absolute creator god. Rather, Buddhism teaches that through persistent meditation practices and efforts to perfect morality, practitioners (and, by extentiona, all sentient beings) can dispel ignorance and thereby suffering. As presented in the earliest Pali texts, practitioners may through these practices become inheritors of the Dharma, and thus embody the Buddha's word (Buddha vacanam) as his sons and daughters. In Mahayana and Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism, it is said that through meditation which cuts through all concept, individuals may attain the state of ultimate enlightenment, and thereby themselves become "Buddha." ("Awake") Although an absolute creator god is absent in most forms of Buddhism, veneration or worship of the Buddha and other Buddhas does play a major role in all forms of Buddhism. Certain other aspects can be related to the concept of God in Abrahamic religions, for instance that the Buddha is known as "anuttaro" or unequaled. However, in Buddhism all beings may strive for Buddhahood, whereas striving to become a god or God in a monotheistic context would be futile or senseless, even heretical, due to a strict distinction between humanity and divinity. Throughout the schools of Buddhism, it is taught that being born in the human realm is best for realizing full enlightenment, whereas being born as a God presents one with too much pleasure and too many distractions to provide any motivation for serious meditation on emptiness. Doctrines of theosishave played an important role in Christian thought, and there are a number of theistic variations of Hinduism where a practitioner can strive to become the godhead, but from a Buddhist perspective, such attainment would be disadvantageous.
In his popular book on
comparative religion, Huston Smithdescribes Buddhism as being psychological rather than metaphysical. [cite book|last=Smith |first=Huston| title= The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions |origyear=1958 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=1G4eNRWYT6gC |accessdate=2008-09-12 |year=1991 |publisher=HarperCollins |isbn=0062508113 ] Unlike theistic religions, which are founded on notions of God and related creation myths, Buddhism begins with the human condition as enumerated in the Four Noble Truths. In Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism, however, there is far less reticence on the part of the Buddha (or Buddhas) to discourse upon metaphysical matters than is found in the Pali Canon. In fact, in the views presented within these "vehicles" ("Yanas"), the psychological and the metaphysical are inseparable.
Some tantras depict the Buddha on a cosmological scale and in cosmogonic terms as the emanator of all beings and all universes (see, for instance, the
Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra). This primordial Buddha is viewed by the Jonangpaschool of Tibetan Buddhismas absolute, eternal, omnipresent, supreme knowingness or awareness ("jnana") beyond the limitations of ordinary consciousness. The Tibetan adept, Dolpopa, writes: "It is absolute, never relative. It is the true nature ... It is gnosis, never consciousness. It is pure, never impure. It is a sublime Self, never a nothingness ... It is Buddha, never a sentient being." [cite book |title=The Buddha from Dolpo:A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen |last=Stearns |first=Cyrus |year=1999 |publisher=SUNY Press |location=New York |isbn=0791441911 |pages=pp. 149–150 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=udTfyoUKl_4C ]
In some major traditions of Mahayana Buddhism (the
Tathagatagarbhaand Pure Landstreams of teaching) there is a notion of the Buddha as the omnipresent, omniscient, liberative essence of reality. Buddhas are spoken of as generators of vast "pure lands", "Buddha lands", or "Buddha paradises", in which beings will unfailingly attain Nirvana.
Kagyuschool of Buddhism speaks of ultimate reality as pure, spotless, changeless Mind that is present in all things, all times, and in all beings and which can never die. Kalu Rinpoche elucidates: "...pure mind cannot be located, but it is omnipresent and all-penetrating; it embraces and pervades all things. Moreover, it is beyond change, and its open nature is indestructible and atemporal." [cite book |title=Luminous Mind |last=Kalu Rinpoche |first=Kyabje |year=1997 |publisher=Wisdom Publications |location=Boston |isbn=0-86171-118-1 |pages=20–21 |url=http://books.google.com/books?id=eWVgoVByVhcC ] Other Mahayana Buddhists, however, like the Gelukpaschool of Tibetan Buddhism, are averse to the idea of an absolute and speak only of a chain of ongoing causes and conditions as the ultimate truth.
In Buddhism, one venerates Buddhas and sages for their virtues, sacrifices, and struggles for perfect enlightenment (one can see this in the
Jatakas) and as teachers who are embodiments of the "Dhamma" or "Law". In Buddhism, this supreme victory of the human spirit and humanity's ability for jnana or perfect gnosis is celebrated in the concept of human saints known as Arahants which literally means "worthy of offerings" or "worthy of worship" because this sage overcomes all defilements and obtains perfect gnosis to obtain Nirvana. [cite web |url= http://www.tientai.net/teachings/dharma/buddha/10titles.htm |title= The Ten Titles of the Buddha |accessdate=2008-09-12 |last=Johnson |first=Peter |year=2001 ]
Buddhism is a way of life which does not hinge upon the concept of a Creator God but depends upon the practice of contemplation. In
Theravadaand Mahayana Buddhism, however, veneration and worship of all Buddhas, as the transmitters and embodiments of Dharmaand its blessings, is highly significant and is seen as extremely important for spiritual development. While Buddhism does not deny the existence of supernatural beings (e.g., the "devas", of which many are discussed in Buddhist scripture, and indeed the Buddhas themselves, whose powers are of a supernatural calibre), it does not ascribe power, in the typical Western sense, for creation, salvation or judgment to the "gods". They are regarded as having the power to affect worldly events and so some Buddhist schools associate with them via ritual. All unenlightened supernatural beings are caught in samsara, the ongoing cycle of death and subsequent rebirth.
The Uncreated in Buddhism
Gautama Buddhathe unborn is what allows there to be nirvana, an escape from the cycle of samsaraFact|date=July 2008.
Thought as the Creator
In Buddhism, there is no
Supreme Beingnamed that is the creator of all. However Gautama Buddha does state that our thoughts make the world. [ Dhammapada, 1.1-3]
quote|We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
God in early Buddhism
In early Buddhism, in the, Buddha clearly states that "reliance and belief" in creation by a supreme being leads to lack of effort and inaction: [Tittha Sutta AN 3.61]
quote|Having approached the priests & contemplatives who hold that...
'Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by a supreme being's act of creation,'
I said to them: 'Is it true that you hold that... "Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by a supreme being's act of creation?"'
Thus asked by me, they admitted, 'Yes.'
Then I said to them, 'Then in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of a supreme being's act of creation. A person is a thief... unchaste... a liar... a divisive speaker... a harsh speaker... an idle chatterer... greedy... malicious... a holder of wrong views because of a supreme being's act of creation.' When one falls back on creation by a supreme being as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought] , 'This should be done. This shouldn't be done.' When one can't pin down as a truth or reality what should and shouldn't be done, one dwells bewildered and unprotected. One cannot righteously refer to oneself as a contemplative. This was my second righteous refutation of those priests and contemplative who hold to such teachings, such views.
The Buddha of the Pāli suttas (discourses) dismisses as "foolish talk", as "ridiculous, mere words, a vain and empty thing" [Digha-Nikaya No. 13, Tevijja Sutta] the notion that
Brahmins (the priestly caste), who according to the Buddha have not in fact seen Brahma face to face, can teach others how to achieve union with what they themselves have never beheld. This is not a denial of the existence of Brahma, however, but merely intended (by the Buddha) to indicate the folly of those religious teachers who would lead others to what they themselves do not personally know.
Yet Brahma himself (see Brahmajala Sutta), for example, while not denied by the Buddha, is in no way viewed by him as a sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator
God. Brahma (in common with all other devas) is subject to change, final decline and death, just as are all other sentient beings in samsara(the plane of continual reincarnation and suffering). This is similar to Krishna's teaching to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita8.16. Instead of belief in such a would-be Creator God as Brahma (a benign heavenly being who is in reality not yet free from self-delusion and the processes of rebirth), the wise are encouraged to practise the Dharma (spiritual truth) of the Buddha, in which right vision, right thinking, right speaking, right acting, right living, right effort, right attentive awareness, and right meditative absorption are paramount and are said to bring spiritual Liberation.
The "God idea" forms the part of
Theravadawhere refuge in Buddha is the supreme and unequaled refuge which allows release from all suffering - with the "deathless realm of Nirvana" a hint of an impersonal, transcendental Absolute.
Sir Charles Eliot in his "Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch" describes God in early Buddhism as:
quote|The attitude of early Buddhism to the spirit world—the hosts of deities and demons who people this and other spheres. Their existence is assumed, but the truths of religion are not dependent on them, and attempts to use their influence by sacrifices and oracles are deprecated as vulgar practices similar to juggling.
The systems of philosophy then in vogue were mostly not theistic, and, strange as the words may sound, religion had little to do with the gods. If this be thought to rest on a mistranslation, it is certainly true that the dhamma had very little to do with devas.
Often as the Devas figure in early Buddhist stories, the significance of their appearance nearly always lies in their relations with the Buddha or his disciples. Of mere mythology, such as the dealings of Brahma and Indra with other gods, there is little. In fact the gods, though freely invoked as accessories, are not taken seriously, and there are some extremely curious passages in which Gotama seems to laugh at them, much as the sceptics of the 18th century laughed at Jehovah. Thus in the [Pali Canon] Kevaddha Sutta he relates how a monk who was puzzled by a metaphysical problem applied to various gods and finally accosted Brahma himself in the presence of all his retinue. After hearing the question, which was "Where do the elements cease and leave no trace behind?" Brahma replies, "I am the Great Brahma, the Supreme, the Mighty, the All-seeing, the Ruler, the Lord of all, the Controller, the Creator, the Chief of all, appointing to each his place, the Ancient of days, the Father of all that are and are to be." "But," said the monk, "I did not ask you, friend, whether you were indeed all you now say, but I ask you where the four elements cease and leave no trace." Then the Great Brahma took him by the arm and led him aside and said, "These gods think I know and understand everything. Therefore I gave no answer in their presence. But I do not know the answer to your question and you had better go and ask the Buddha."
Even more curiously ironic is the account given of the origin of Brahma. There comes a time when this world system passes away and then certain beings are reborn in the "World of Radiance" and remain there a long time. Sooner or later, the world system begins to evolve again and the palace of Brahma appears, but it is empty. Then some being whose time is up falls from the "World of Radiance" and comes to life in the palace and remains there alone. At last he wishes for company, and it so happens that other beings whose time is up fall from the "World of Radiance" and join him. And the first being thinks that he is Great Brahma, the Creator, because when he felt lonely and wished for companions other beings appeared. And the other beings accept this view. And at last one of Brahma’s retinue falls from that state and is born in the human world and, if he can remember his previous birth, he reflects that he is transitory but that Brahma still remains and from this he draws the erroneous conclusion that Brahma is eternal.
[cite web|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/e#a4887 |name=Charles Eliot|title= "Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch" |author= Sir Charles Elliot | authorlink= Charles Eliot (diplomat)|language= English]
Mahayana and tantric mystical doctrines
hakyamuni as Tathagata
In Mahayana traditions, it is believed that there are countless Buddhas, all of one essence--that of "
Tathata" ("suchness" or "thusness") – and it is in this sense that the Buddha proclaims himself as " Tathagata" and exalts himself in theistic terms beyond all other "gods" when he declares, ("Lalitavistara Sutra"), "I am the god above the gods, superior to all the gods; no god is like me – how could there be a higher?" There are also many examples in the Pāli Canon, where the Buddha shows his magical superiority over the Brahma class of gods. So this was already present in the Pāli scriptures/ agamas. The Mahayana schools take the "akalikam" ("timeless") or eternal Dhammakaya of the Buddha in the earliest Tipitika and take it to its furthest understanding.His realm ("dhatu"), of which he is the "Holy King" ("Nirvana Sutra"), is further said to be inherent in all beings. This indwelling, indestructible, incomprehensible, divine sphere or essence is called the "Buddha-dhatu" (Buddha-sphere, Buddha-nature, Buddha-realm) or " Tathagatagarbha" in such sutras as the " Mahaparinirvana Sutra" and the " Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa".
A further name for this irreducible, time-and-space-transcending mysterious Truth or Essence of Buddhic Reality is the
Dharmakaya(Body of Truth). Of this the Zen master ( Zen Buddhismis a Mahayana school), Sokei-An, says: ["Zen Pivots", Weatherhill, NY, 1998, pp. 142, 146:] quote|... "dharmakaya" [is] the equivalent of God ... The Buddha also speaks of no time and no space, where if I make a sound there is in that single moment a million years. It is spaceless like radio waves, like electric space - intrinsic. The Buddha said that there is a mirror that reflects consciousness. In this electric space a million miles and a pinpoint - a million years and a moment - are exactly the same. It is pure essence ... We call it 'original consciousness' - 'original "akasha"' - perhaps God in the Christian sense. I am afraid of speaking about anything that is not familiar to me. No one can know what IT is ...
The same Zen adept, Sokei-An, further comments: ["The Zen Eye", Weatherhill, New York, 1994, p. 41]
The Rinzai Zen Buddhist roshi, Soyen Shaku, discusses how in essence the idea of God is not absent from Buddhism, when understood as ultimate, true Reality: ["Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot", by Soyen Shaku, Samuel Weiser Inc, New York, 1971, pp.25-26, 32]
The idea of an eternal, all-pervading, all-knowing, immaculate, uncreated and deathless Ground of Being (the "dharmadhatu", inherently linked to the "sattvadhatu", the realm of beings), which is the Awakened Mind ("bodhicitta") or
Dharmakaya("body of Truth") of the Buddha himself, is promulgated in a number of Mahayana sutras and in various tantras as well. Occasionally, this principle is presented as manifesting in a more personalised form as a primordial buddha, such as Samantabhadra, Vajradhara, Vairochana, and Adi-Buddha, among others.
Mahavairocana Sutra, the essence of Vairocanais said to be symbolised by the letter "A", which is claimed to reside in the hearts of all beings and of which Buddha Vairocana declares that " [the mystic letter ‘A’] is placed in the heart location: ["The Maha-Vairocana-Abhisambodhi Tantra", p. 331]
quote|it is Lord and Master of all,
and it pervades entirely
all the animate and inanimate.
‘A’ is the highest life-energy …
The text refers to Vairocana Buddha as the "Bhagavat" ("Blessed One," a term traditionally linked in Indian discourse with "the Divine"] , "Master of the Dharma", the Sage who is completely perfect, who is all-pervasive, who encompasses all world systems, who is All-Knowing, the Lord Vairocana". [Ibid., p. 355]
The Tantric text, "The Sarva-Tathagata-Tattva-Samgraha", characterizes Vairocana as follows:
quote|He is universal Goodness, beneficial,destroyer [of suffering] , the great Lord of Happiness,sky womb, Great Luminosity …the great All-perceiving Lord …He is without beginning or end … [He is] Vishnu [God] …Protector of the world, the sky, the earth …The elements, the good benefactor of beings,All things … the Blessed Rest, Eternal …The Self of all the Buddhas …Pre-eminent over all, and master of the world.
Similar God-like descriptions are encountered in the "All-Creating King Tantra" (
Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra), where the universal Mind of Awakening (in its mode as "Samantabhadra Buddha") declares of itself: ["The Supreme Source", p. 157]
Another important primordial Buddha is Ādibuddha (
Adi-Buddha), who figures prominently in the Kalachakratantra. Ādibuddha is believed to be a primordial, self-existent, self-created Buddha who is the personification of Shunyataor emptiness [freedom from confining substance or conceptual graspability) enshrining the infinitely Knowing Mind of Great Compassion; all phenomena lack true separate existence yet still appear, and their basis is the undifferentiated and inconceivable Mind of Buddha (empty of all defects and ignorance). However, all these seemingly God-like figures, i.e Samantabhadra, Vairochana, Vajradhara etc. are traditionally understood to be personifications of emptiness-and-compassion --the ungraspable, limitless, invisible, inconceivable, unimpeded benevolent Reality of Buddha-Mind--the true nature of all phenomena. Some Buddhists see the above Samantabhadra Buddha quote as radically subjective psychology, while still others will insist that the words mean what they say and do communicate the sense of an actual sustaining Buddhic force or spiritual essence behind and within all phenomena.
God as Manifestation of Mind
One of the
Mahayana Sutras, the Lankavatara Sutra, states that the notions of a sovereign God, Atman are figments of the imagination or manifestations of the mind and can also be an impediment to perfection as this leads to attachment to the concept of "God":
quote|All such notions as causation, succession, atoms, primary elements, that make up personality, personal soul, Supreme Spirit, Sovereign God, Creator, are all figments of the imagination and manifestations of mind.
No, Mahamati, the Tathágata’s doctrine of the Womb of Tathágata-hood is not the same as the philosopher’s Atman. [Lankaavatar Sutra, Chapter VI]
Instead of a personal creator God, the sutra speaks of creative Mind, and of Suchness ("tathata" - universal Truth-as-it-is), which is defined as: "... this Suchness may be characterised as Truth, Reality, exact knowledge, limit, source, self-substance, the Unattainable". [Suzuki, "Lankavatara Sutra", p. 198]
Moreover, the same sutra also sees the Buddha reveal that he is the unrecognised One who is actually being addressed when beings project from their unawakened minds notions of Divinity and address themselves to "God". The many names for such ultimate Being or Truth are in fact said by the Buddha to be unwitting appellations of the Buddha himself. He states:quote|The same can be said of myself as I appear in this world of patience before ignorant people and where I am known by uncounted trillions of names.
They address me by different names not realizing that they are all names of the one Tathagata.
Some recognize me as Sun, as Moon; some as a reincarnation of the ancient sages; some as one of "ten powers"; some as Rama, some as Indra, and some as Varuna. Still there are others who speak of me as The Un-born, as Emptiness, as "Suchness," as Truth, as Reality, as Ultimate Principle; still there are others who see me as Dharmakaya, as Nirvana, as the Eternal; some speak of me as sameness, as non-duality, as un-dying, as formless; some think of me as the doctrine of Buddha-causation, or of Emancipation, or of the Noble Path; and some think of me as Divine Mind and Noble Wisdom.
Thus in this world and in other worlds am I known by these uncounted names, but they all see me as the moon is seen in the water.
Though they all honor, praise and esteem me, they do not fully understand the meaning and significance of the words they use; not having their own self-realization of Truth they cling to the words of their canonical books, or to what has been told to them, or to what they have imagined, and fail to see that the name they are using is only one of the many names of the Tathagata.
In their studies they follow the mere words of the text vainly trying to gain the true meaning, instead of having confidence in the one "text" where self-confirming Truth is revealed, that is, having confidence in the self-realization of noble Wisdom. [Lankavatar Sutra, Chapter XII Tathagatahood Which Is Noble Wisdom, translated by Suzuki and Goddard]
In the "Sagathakam" section of the sutra (which contains some striking statements contradictory of earlier chapters of the sutra), one also reads of the reality of the pure Self (atman), which (while not identical to the atman of the Hindus) is equated with the
Tathagatagarbha(Buddha-Essence):This Tathagatagarbha is in the "Lankavatara Sutra" identified with the root or all-containing Consciousness of all beings, the Alaya-vijnana. This Tathagatagarbha-Alayavijnana is stated not to belong to the realm of speculation, but can be understood directly by Such an all-containing Buddhic Matrix (Tathagatagarbha) or basis of universal consciousness (Alayavijnana) has resonances with a conception of divinity which posits the latter as the underlying reality behind and within all things. This "Self" is in some Mahayana Buddhist scriptures and tantras equated with the original, primal, all-sustaining cosmic Buddha himself (viewed either as Samantabhadra or Mahavairochana).
Though not believing in a creator-God, there do exist deva-realms or sometimes called god-realms in the west. Deva-realms are part of the various possible types of existence in the
Buddhist cosmology. These gods may perhaps be somewhat similar to the Greek gods; imperfect beings who live in heavenly circumstances. Like any existence within the cycle of rebirth ( samsara), a life as a deva is only temporary, without guarantee for a fortunate rebirth.
Buddha as an Avatara of Vishnu
Faith in Buddhism
* Nontheism in Buddhism
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first = Jamshed K.
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title = The God of Buddha
publisher = Casa Editrice Bahá'í Srl
location = Ariccia (RM), Italy
id = ISBN 8872140315
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year = 2003
title = The Maha-Vairocana-Abhisambodhi Tantra
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title = The Supreme Source
publisher = Snow Lion Publications
location = New York, USA
last = Yamamoto
first = Kosho (tr.)
coauthors = Dr. Tony Page (ed. and revision)
year = 1999-2000
title = The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra
publisher = Nirvana Publications
location = London, UK
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* [http://www.webspawner.com/users/bodhisattva/index.html Tathagatagarbha sutras: Several major Tathagatagarbha sutras, expressive of an ultimate, immortal spiritual Essence within all beings/phenomena]
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