Ultimate Reality, God and Gods in Buddhism - Denise Cush - RE:ONLINE (2023)

Resources//Concepts of God and the Supreme

Buddhism differs from many other major religious traditions in that it is based not on belief in God but on human potential. The concept of 'religion' in the West tends to be dominated by the model of the Abrahamic monotheistic traditions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - so much so that some (within and outside of Buddhism) prefer to refer to Buddhism as a 'philosophy' or 'way of life'. lifetime'. '. However, Buddhism shares many other characteristics associated with 'religion', such as belief in a reality beyond the senses, life beyond death, rituals, moral precepts, paths of spiritual development. , monastic organizations and has temples, sacred texts and social relations, cultural and political impacts, so it is perhaps better to call it an 'atheist religion'. Both Jainism and some Hinduism schools of thought can also be classified in this way.

ultimate reality

Where monotheistic religions are centered on God, Buddhism is centered on Dharma, or the ultimate truth about how things really are. Human beings delude themselves about the true nature of reality, for example, thinking that impermanent things can make us eternally happy, and enlightenment is seeing reality as it really is. The title 'Buddha' means one who has 'awakened' to the truth. The truth is that life, as we normally experience it, is characterized by suffering, impermanence, and lack of an enduring self. We came into this life out of ignorance and selfishness. However, there is an alternative state, nirvana, free from suffering, which can be achieved by living a life of morality, meditation and wisdom. However, it is impossible to describe the truth in words, it can only be experienced, and the Buddha is the one who experienced it.

However, there are many different forms of Buddhism, often streamlined into the Theravada/Mahayana division. The above paragraph would be accepted by most Buddhists, but it is couched in language characteristic of Theravada Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhist traditions have broader and more varied ideas about "ultimate reality," but tend to agree that nirvana is not so much an alternate state as a different way of looking at reality.samereality. The Madhyamaka philosophy teaches "emptiness": that nothing has a real independent existence, but only a relative and interdependent existence. Yogachara philosophy teaches that we think there are separate real things, but there is only a flow of mental constructions. Other Mahayana traditions speak of 'Buddha nature', not referring to the individual or individuals bestowed with the title of Buddha, whether they are earthly or heavenly beings, but rather that the ultimate reality behind all of that, potentially or actually, is in all of us. Therefore, ultimate reality in Buddhism can be seen as seeing the truth about life, as nirvana, as "emptiness", as "mind only" or "Buddha nature". These may be different ways of describing the same achievement, but you'd have to be enlightened to know!

No god

Of course, there is no personal monotheistic God in Buddhism, transcendent and separate from the material world that is his creation. There is no need for a creator, either because there never was a beginning (Theravada) or because in ultimate reality, nothing really "exists" (some Mahayana thought forms). A story told by Buddha in the Theravada Pali Canon mocks the idea of ​​a single creator God. According to the story, the great god Brahma, traditionally the Indian creator god, was reborn just before the start of a certain world cycle. When Brahma saw this world being born, he imagined that he himself had created it. Modern Theravada Buddhism, in particular, rejects the monotheistic concept of God. Some forms of Mahayana Buddhism can be interpreted as including concepts of ultimate reality that begin to resemble some ways of understanding God (see below), but never as a separate transcendent being.

Gods and Goddesses

Although some forms of modernist Buddhist thought downplay the role of gods and goddesses in Buddhism, both early ancient texts and contemporary Buddhist societies feature "supernatural" deities and beings in abundance. The deities we associate with 'Hinduism' and other deities from countries where Buddhism has spread are not denied, but are seen as other inhabitants of the universe or complex, multidimensional universes we inhabit. However, they are best understood as another life form, superior in powers to humans, but not immortal or ultimate. One can be reborn as a god or goddess, as well as in human, animal, ghost or demon form or in a (temporary) hellish world. However, they can help within their sphere of influence, so Buddhism in practice includes the worship of a variety of such beings. Some may dismiss them as "folk religion" but they seem to show up at the highest levels of text and practice. In fact, a traditional story of the Buddha's enlightenment says that the god Brahma was the one who persuaded the newly enlightened Buddha that it would be worth teaching others. Indian deities like Ganesha and Vishnu can be seen in temples in Sri Lanka, and even as far away from India as Japan, Benzaiten, a version of the goddess Saraswati, remains a popular deity.

Buddhas and bodhisattvas[1]like 'deities'?

The simplest answer to the question 'Do Buddhists believe in God or in gods?' However, particularly in some forms of Mahayana Buddhism, the multitude of different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can functionally resemble gods and goddesses as they are worshipped, portrayed, and prayed to. Amitabha/Amida Buddha, who in the ways of Pure Land Buddhism saves those who have faith in him to join him in the Pure Land after death, might sound a bit like a Christian idea of ​​God. Various bodhisattvas such as Avalokiteshvara/Chenrezi or Tara can be prayed for for worldly benefits and spiritual progress. The crucial difference to be understood is that neither human Buddhas nor heavenly Buddhas and bodhisattvas areby lastreal, and they are not separate from us. All beings have the potential to become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and in some forms of Mahayana philosophy, from the ultimate eternal perspective, they already are.

Buddha as God?

Some forms of Mahayana Buddhism use the concept of the 'trikaya' or 'three bodies' of the Buddha. The Buddha can appear in earthly form, for example, as the human Gautama, or in heavenly form, for example, Amitabha. However, the supreme form of the Buddha is the Dharmakaya, or true form, which is the supreme reality behind everything. This may start to sound like God as understood by some modern Christian theologians, such as those who prefer to describe God as "being itself" rather than "a being", or like the concept of Brahman in Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, or the Goddess in paganism, or mystical traditions in the three Abrahamic traditions where unity with God is spoken of. Even more divine is the idea of ​​the Adi-Buddha, or "original Buddha" in some forms of Nepali Buddhism. This "approximation" of the concepts of Buddha and God has been useful in interfaith dialogue between Christians and Mahayana Buddhists. However, the Buddha understood as ultimate reality is not a being separate from us, not a creator, not transcendent, and very different from the God of monotheism as generally understood. So the quick answer to whether Buddhists still believe in God is "no" instead of "yes".

[1]The term bodhisattva (enlightened being) is used in Theravada Buddhism to refer to a being on the way to becoming a Buddha, such as Gautama before his enlightenment experience. However, in Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva can be considered an enlightened (or near-enlightened) being who "postpones" his final Buddhahood in order to help all other beings on their path to enlightenment.


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