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Buddha: Atheist or God?

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A common view among some Buddhist is that Buddha said there was no such thing as God. Well, he also said there is no such thing as self also. Does that mean you don't exist just as God doesn't exist? Who or what is reading this if you don't exist?

The teachings of Buddha about God have to be taken within the context of the culture of his day. Buddha grew up and became enlightened in India. Even though this event happened approximately 2,500 years ago, the religious thought of his day was already ancient. The original religion of the Indus people was Brahman worship. This is confirmed in the Vedas.

I'm not using the term Hinduism because that is a British term coined around 1830 and it inaccurately lumped all of the religious and moral teaching of India under one very broad term.

All of the quotations used here to explain the teachings of Buddha come from The Gospel of Buddha

This best selling English book was Compiled from ancient records by Paul Carus, 1894

This book combines narrative of the life of Buddha coupled with his saying as recorded in the Tipitaka (Buddhist Sacred Scripture).

If Buddha claimed there is no such thing as God, why is he discussing God with Brahmans?

The Two Brahmans

Here he is quoted as saying:

"Thus," replied the Buddha, "the Tathagata knows the straight path that leads to a union with Brahma. He knows it as one who has entered the world of Brahma and has been born in it. There can be no doubt in the Tathagata." [30]

For those not familiar with these terms:

Tathagata: The 'mind of clear and pure reflection,' or 'reality + mental body in various state of mind. The Buddha mind-nature hidden within every being.

Brahma: The creative force of Brahman

Brahman: The trancendent absolute being that pervades and supports all reality." Another definition of Brahman is that which is Absolute, fills all space, is complete in itself, to which there is no second, and which is continuously present in everything, from the Creator down to the lowest of matter. It, being everywhere, is also in each and every individual.

In the ancient Vedic religion, God was described as having three attributes. Creator, preserver and destroyer. Over time these three attributes were personalized and became known as the Gods of Brahma (creator) Vishnu (preserver) and Shiva (destroyer).

By Buddha claiming to know the path to Brahma he was also claiming to know the path to Brahman. Another way to understand the teachings of Buddha is that he taught that there are two realms. One is the Uncreated Realm and there is the Created Realm.

The Three Characteristics and the Uncreate

"There is, O monks, a state where there is neither earth, nor water, nor heat, nor air; neither infinity of space nor infinity of consciousness, nor nothingness, nor perception nor non-perception; neither this world nor that world, neither sun nor moon. It is the uncreate. [9]

This definition would also apply to Brahman, for Brahman resides in the Uncreated Realm. However, even these words are poor approximations of the Uncreate.

Buddha also stated that he became one with the Uncreate

"That, O monks, I term neither coming nor going nor standing; neither death nor birth. It is without stability, without change; it is the eternal which never originates and never passes away. There is the end of sorrow. [10]


"There is, O monks, an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed. Were there not, O monks, this unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed. [12]

"Since, O monks, there is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, and unformed, therefore is there an escape from the born, originated, created, formed." [13]

When Buddha said he knew the path that lead to oneness to Brahma, he was stating that through Brahma one accesses Brahman (Uncreated Realm).

Another important concept to keep in mind when contemplating Buddha is that his quest and subsequent message was how to achieve the permanent cessation of Sorrow. Buddha discovered that unless complete non-attachment to desire and the material created world was achieved, one would still cling to the illusion of self and would inevitably be drawn back to the created realm and be reborn to explore whatever it was that was still desired.

This is explained in:


There is self and there is truth. Where self is, truth is not. Where truth is, self is not. Self is the fleeting error of samsara*;

it is individual separateness and that egotism which begets envy and hatred.

Self is the yearning for pleasure and the lust after vanity. Truth is the correct comprehension of things; it is the permanent and everlasting, the real in all existence, the bliss of righteousness. [17]

The existence of self is an illusion, and there is no wrong in this world, no vise, no evil, except what flows from the assertion of self. [18]

The attainment of truth is possible only when self is recognized as an illusion. Righteousness can be practised only when we have freed our mind from passions of egotism. Perfect peace can dwell only where all vanity has disappeared. [19]

Blessed is he who has understood the Dharma. Blessed is he who does no harm to his fellow-beings. Blessed is he who overcomes wrong and is free from passion. To the highest bliss has he attained who has conquered all selfishness and vanity. He has become the Buddha, the Perfect One, the Blessed One, the Holy One. [20]

Samsara is where;



passion and

attachment exist.

Nirvana by definition is free of Samsara/Illusion.

Buddha discovered that everything within the Created realm is an illusion. Especially the concept of self. The reason we are caught in the cycle of death and birth is this: As long as we participate in the illusion called reality and believe in the individual self, we will constantly incarnate and play in the illusion. If, like Buddha we can achieve total non-attachment, we too can become one with the Uncreate. Once Buddha was free from desire and saw past the illusion of self, he became the omniscient enlightened one. In western terms he became totally one with God.

"Reality is an illusion; albeit a very persistent one!" Albert Einstein

So why do some Buddhist claim that Buddha said there is no such thing as God?

Once again the teachings of Buddha must be examined in context of the culture of his day.


"Who is it that shapes our lives? Is it Isvara, a personal creator? If Isvara be the maker, all living things should have silently to submit to their maker's power. They would be like vessels formed by the potter's hand; and if it were so, how would it be possible to practice virtue? If the world had been made by Isvara there should be no such thing as sorrow, or calamity, or evil; for both pure and impure deeds must come from him. If not, there would be another cause beside him, and he would not be self-existent. Thus, thou seest, the thought of Isvara is overthrown. [5]

This appears at first that Buddha has contradicted himself. He claimed to know the path to Brahma, yet discounts the existence of the Supreme Lord Isvara, the creator.

In the context of his day. Lord Isvara corresponds roughly to the western misconception of God as the white haired, long bearded almighty dispensing justice from his throne in heaven. The Lord Isvara is a personal, understandable God Being sitting on a throne that must be worshiped and appeased. Common practice of the day was making animal sacrifice to Lord Isvara.

Buddha also taught the futility of animal sacrifice which once again relates to the worship of Isvara.

Identity and Non-identity

Kutadanta said:

"I am told that thou teachest the law, yet thou tearest down religion. Thy disciples despise rites and abandon immolation, but reverence for the gods can be shown only by sacrifices. The very nature of religion consists in worship and sacrifice." [5]

Said the Buddha:

"Greater than the immolation of bullocks is the sacrifice of self. He who offers to the gods his evil desires will see the uselessness of slaughtering animals at the altar. Blood has no cleansing power, but the eradication of lust will make the heart pure. Better than worshipping gods is obedience to the laws of righteousness." [6]

Buddha's teachings were totally focused on how one achieves non-suffering. The laws of righteousness that he taught are called the eightfold path.

The Eighthfold path

Right View,

Right Intention,

Right Speech,

Right Action,

Right Livelihood,

Right Effort,

Right Mindfulness and

Right Concentration.

Buddha's taught why righteousness is so important

"Verily, I say unto thee:

Not in the heavens, not in the midst of the sea, not if thou hidest thyself away in the clefts of the mountains, wilt thou find a place where thou canst escape the fruit of thine evil actions. [63]

"At the same time thou art sure to receive the blessings of thy good actions. [64]

Animal sacrifices to Lord Isvara will never bring an end to suffering. Only walking the path of righteousness will bring about the end of suffering. Just as all of the Created realm and your sense of individuality is an illusion, so is Lord Isvara.

Once the fullness of the teachings of Buddha are comprehended, one can understand that Buddha was not an Athiest nor did he become a god. No, he became one with the Eternal Absolute Uncreate. In western terms he became one with God.