Do Buddhists Believe in God?
Once, when I was on a live radio show being interviewed by a Christian talk show host, her first question to me was, "Do you Buddhists believe in God?"
I had only a few seconds to think of an answer.
"Yes," I said.
"Good!" the host said. "And how do you pray?"
I said that we prayed in silence to reach our divine nature.
"I like that!" the host said.
When I have told this story in talks, some of my Buddhist listeners say, "Oh, that's nice. It's good to be polite."
But I wasn't just being polite. I was raised in a Christian church and went to Christian Sunday school. My favorite song as a child was "God is Love." After graduating from college, for a year I attended Christian seminary, with the idea of becoming a minister.
I didn't become a dedicated Buddhist until some time after that. I am comfortable with the word God.
It's true that by saying "Yes" I was also making an effort to establish some common ground. It was live radio, our time slot was 20 minutes and I was there to discuss a just-released book. I didn't want to spend the whole time trying to explain what Buddhists believe.
Also, I felt that a more nuanced answer, however I couched it, would have come across as some version of "No." I sensed the need to give a definitive answer. The answer I gave came closest to what was so for me -- understanding that I was not trying to speak for the world's 320 million Buddhists, but only for myself.
The host knew I was a Buddhist; I was on her show to discuss my book, Healing Lazarus: A Buddhist's Journey from Near Death to New Life. I sensed from the way she posed her question that all she really wanted to know was whether I was a person of religious conviction and belief -- a person of faith. And I am.
I'm an ordained Buddhist priest -- a religious professional. My daily religious practice is the center of my life. I lead meditation groups, I am training and ordaining other priests. In that context, "Yes" is the best answer. More
- Early Buddhism and the God-Idea
- Buddhism in Books, Newspapers, Film, and TV
- VIDEO: The Root of All Evil: The God Delusion
Does Buddhism Believe in "God"?
Wisdom Quarterly (COMMENTARY)
Buddhists generally believe what they like. God in particular is a popular subject. But Buddhists are not Buddhism. And Buddhism is nontheistic. That is, there may or may not be a God; nevertheless, it has nothing to do with liberation.
There are, in fact, many "gods" (devas and brahmas, deities and divinities). There is, however, no ultimate "creator God," creator of the universe and its lawful (regular and dependable) operations such as karma, physics, chemistry, metaphysics, and the like.
For example, nature has "shining ones" (beautiful elementals, woodland fairies, dryads, sea nymphs). The skies are inhabited by tangible celestial rulers in spacecraft (vimanas). A second celestial plane, on a planet or platform known as the Realm of the Thirty-Three, there are other higher order beings generally superior (longer life, greater beauty, more influence, etc.) to the many varieties and species on Earth and below.
The archangelic devas of the Thirty-Three have one being in particular, the "god of Buddhism" -- Sakka, King of the Devas. He is famous for casting out the unruly elements in heavens, an act that demonized them, at least in terms of their anger. This would make Sakka the "St. Michael" of Christian lore. Why is he called "Michael"?
The most telling piece of evidence for this connection was turned up by Wisdom Quarterly's ongoing research. Before Sakka became Sakka (which is more of a station or office than a single individual in time and space), the Buddha points out, he was Magha of Macala.
The Buddha revealed the nature of the good karma that led to Magha's rebirth as a "king of kings" (maharajika devas), a "lord of lord" (archangels in the Realm of the Thirty-Three), and the "son of god" (devaputta, which is a common term that simply means he's a deva).
His fame on Earth is widespread and well known throughout Europe in various mythologies. Long before that, in India he was known as Indra. But cultures stretching back to Egypt and Sumeria (Sumer), Assyria and Babylonia, the imprint and theme of a "Sakka" is consistent.
But Sakka is by no means the only God in Buddhism. There is Maha Brahma, Sahampati Brahma, Baka Brahma. Buddhist cosmology recognizes 31 planes of existence, most of them deva realms corresponding karmically to the attainment of various levels of meditative absorption.
Such attainments are weighty karma that, if held at the time of death, lead to rebirth in those planes. In a very real sense, anyone capable of mastering these states can be a "god" (brahma). Rebirth in the six lower "heavenly" (sky, space) worlds is attained by wholesome karma coming to fruition as one passes away.
Keeping the Five or Eight Precepts -- when those acts of abstaining from harming or engaging in their positive counterparts of helping come to fruition at the moment of passing away -- naturally results a fortunate rebirth. This includes rebirth in the human world, which is an extremely rare event. Such is the power of karma, of reaping what we sow.
The brahmas are well born. Maha Brahma is great among devas, hailed by Earthlings, and may represent itself as the "creator" of all. Buddhists do not believe in this God in the sense of depending or asking things of it. But many do ask things of earthbound and celestial devas. It was a long standing tradition in India.
The Buddha discouraged it, instead encouraging humans to remember the devas and rejoice in the good they have accomplished bearing in mind that they are capable of the exact same thing. It is quite within reach to be born among the devas (sons and daughters of the gods).
But there is an advantage to being born a human: It is said that this is the easiest world in which to attain final liberation, enlightenment, nirvana. Such an accomplishment is praised by the devas.
Gods, no Gods, theists, atheists, or non-theists, Buddhists may believe what they like. But liberation has little to nothing to do with a belief in gods. Coming across or experiencing the Dharma is far more rare than any belief.
Letting Go of God (yoism.org)