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Barbara O'Brien

What Buddha Didn't Say About God

By October 15, 2012

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I smacked into a couple of blog posts today on the question of what the Buddha said about God. And since the websites seem to think my comments are incoming spam, I am responding to one of the posts here.

A blogger named Akasaskye writes,

"As far as I can tell, there are Western Buddhists out there who believe God doesn't exist. Period. Some even go so far as to say that the Buddha said so, too. My challenge is: how do you know? I mean, do you really know what the Buddha said on the matter? I have to say, after doing some research on this topic, I don't have any idea, and I'm surprised that so many American Buddhists are completely certain.

"Did the Buddha say 'There is no God,' directly?

No, he did not, but it's important to understand why that is true.

The concept of God as a unique and supreme transcendent being and creator of the world appears to be the work of Jewish scholars of the mid-1st millennium BCE. For example, the familiar creation story in Genesis probably was written in the 6th century BCE, according to Karen Armstrong's A History of God. Before that, Yahweh was just one tribal deity among many.

This development in Judaism was happening at about the same time as the life of the Buddha, but in a different part of the world. The timeline suggests to me that it was unlikely any teachings about the Abrahamic God as is understood today ever reached the Buddha or the Buddha's disciples. If you were to have asked the Buddha if God exists, he might have said, "Who?"

Yes, there is a "complex pantheon of Brahmanic gods" (quoting another blogger) in the Pali texts. But the role they play in what we call "Buddhism" is very different from the role of gods in standard polytheistic religions.

Most of the time, in what we might call "classic" polytheism, gods are beings who have charge of specific things, such as the weather or harvests or war.  If you wanted to have many children (or vice versa) you would make offerings to a fertility deity, for example.

But the Brahmanic gods of the Pali texts aren't in charge of anything connected to humans. It makes no difference whether one believes in them, or not. There is no point in praying to them, because they rarely interact with humans and aren't interested in your prayers or offerings. They are characters who live in other realms and who have their own problems.

(Yes, one can find examples of Asian laypeople relating to icons of Buddhism as if they were polytheistic deities. In many parts of Asia, laypeople for centuries were taught very little about the dharma except to keep the Precepts and give alms to monks, and people "filled in the blanks" with local folk beliefs and bits of other Vedic traditions. But that's a whole 'nother post; let's stick to the teachings of the Buddha for now.)

The tantric deities of Vajrayana are something else again. Of these, Lama Thubten Yeshe wrote,

"Tantric meditational deities should not be confused with what different mythologies and religions might mean when they speak of gods and goddesses. Here, the deity we choose to identify with represents the essential qualities of the fully awakened experience latent within us. To use the language of psychology, such a deity is an archetype of our own deepest nature, our most profound level of consciousness. In tantra we focus our attention on such an archetypal image and identify with it in order to arouse the deepest, most profound aspects of our being and bring them into our present reality." (Introduction to Tantra: A Vision of Totality [1987], p. 42)

So when you speak of God or gods in Buddhism, it's important to not define the word "god" as westerners usually do but to understand the word in the context of Buddhism. And when you wade into Mahayana, asking if God exists is a double non-starter. Never mind what you mean by God; what do you mean by "exist"?

Akasaskye continues,

"I think the gist is that the Buddha did not say anything about a creator deity existing or not. He did mention what he does and doesn't declare about the nature of existence, but he does not mention the existence or non-existence of a God."

The Buddha did not speak of a creator deity, but he did speak of creation. The Buddha clearly taught that all phenomena are "created" by means of cause and effect determined by natural law. Further, the course of our lives is determined by karma, which we create. Karma is not being directed by a supernatural intelligence but is its own natural law. This is what the Buddha taught. For more explanation, see "Dependent Origination," "Buddhism and Karma," and "The Five Niyamas."

So while he did not specifically say there is no creator god, in Buddhism there is nothing for a creator god to do.  God has no function, no role to play, either as an original source or as an instigator of current events. Every task that God does in the Abrahamic religions was assigned to various systems of natural law by the Buddha.

So, while the Buddha never explicitly said "There is no God," it's not incorrect to say that God-belief is not supported by the Buddha's teaching.

Awhile back I wrote a blog post called "Determining the Dharma," which addressed a line from the Vimalakirti Sutra -- determine the dharma according to the dharma. A commentary on these lines attributed to Sangharakshita said,

"For us in the West it means, not determining, not understanding the Dharma, according to Christian beliefs, whether conscious, unconscious, or semiconscious. It means not determining or understanding the Dharma in accordance with modern secularist, humanist, rationalist, scientific, modes of thought. It means not determining or understanding the Dharma in accordance with the fanciful ideas of the worthy, but woolly-minded people who organize such things the Festival of body, mind and spirit."

In the Abrahamic religions, the existence and nature of God are all-important. In Buddhism the existence and nature of God (as usually understood in the Abrahamic religions) make no sense, and shoe-horning God-belief into Buddhism just makes a mess.  If you want to understand Buddhism, if you are trying to "determine the dharma," you must put aside Christianity or Judaism, and you must put aside Sam Harris and Deepak Chopra. Make no assumptions about what things "mean" in any other context. Determine the dharma according to the dharma.

Comments
October 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm
(1) DavidR says:

I’m glad you offered this clarification for those folks who stubbornly cling to the notion of God, believe that Christianity is somehow compatible with Buddha-dharma, and insist that the word “God,” a term loaded down with too much dogmatic baggage to be useful, is acceptable in Buddhist dialogues.

Fortunately, we also have Nagarjuna who proved that the idea of a creator being is completely illogical.

October 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm
(2) Sean Robsville says:

The Abrahamic God is Samsaric and anthropomorphic , since he suffers from such delusions as hatred, attachment, jealousy, egocentrism etc http://seanrobsville.blogspot.com/2009/12/samsaric-worldly-gods.html

October 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm
(3) Mila says:

Just one more example of how “god” is understood very differently in Buddhism than in the Abrahamic religions: The God Realm

October 16, 2012 at 5:33 am
(4) Hein says:

The Abrahamic God had made deep inroads into our psychic or conscious being of Western people. Whether we can eradicate it easily remains an open question. To illustrate: if “God” was part of your personal consciousness say for thirty or forty years are you able to rid yourself of that concept within a small time frame? Perhaps the eradication process (and with that I mean the process to eradicate the absolute reverence one has for the Abrahamic God) is a gradual one and over years (if not sooner) one gravitate towards the perceiving that “…there is nothing for a creator god to do. God has no function, no role to play, either as an original source or as an instigator of current events. Every task that God does in the Abrahamic religions was assigned to various systems of natural law by the Buddha.” Part of my process was to be very blasphemous and totally disrespectful towards the Christian belief system. That process is now finished (I hope). And although helpful in the one sense (ridding myself of God), in another it caused a rift with people close to me. Well, nobody said the Way will be an easy one to traverse, but I may add that some of those relationships I was able to mend. The end result now is that nobody engages with me about God and all the ancillary matters related to him. So thinking about God appears very rarely (like now) on my radar screen. What people wrote about God in a desert thousands of miles from India about a jealous and angry desert god can in no way assist me to understand reality or the Dharma. The sooner we as Western Buddhist realise the unhelpfulness of God in our daily struggle with dukkha, the sooner a firmer immersion into the Dharma will take root

October 16, 2012 at 9:48 am
(5) Barbara O'Brien says:

Hein — I agree with you about eradicating God from personal consciousness. It takes most of us a long time, I suspect.

October 16, 2012 at 8:51 am
(6) Sean Robsville says:

The Abrahamists themselves have different understandings of God. For example, the Quaker idea of the ‘Inner Light’, which has more resemblance to ‘Buddha Nature’ than to the violent tribal warlord of the Old Testament and Koran. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_light

October 16, 2012 at 9:46 am
(7) Barbara O'Brien says:

Sean — right; “God” can be just about anything, which makes talking about “God” rather frustrating. The question “Does God exist?” is meaningless on several levels, and one of those levels is that it assumes “God” is a specific thing with agreed-upon attributes, and that has never been true.

The Christian theologian Paul Tillich described God as the ground of being, which makes God out to be something like the Trikaya. But from Tillich’s perspective it would be foolish to ask if God exists, because God is existence itself. Some of the great Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages seem to have touched on an understanding of God that was very different from the standard view and might, arguably, have made God out to be something like Buddha Nature. So there is very little one can say about God that all monotheists would agree is true. But the God-believers themselves mostly seem oblivious to that and speak of God as if everyone is on the same page about what the word “God” means.

October 16, 2012 at 10:51 am
(8) Yeshe says:

I think the ultimate reality, i.e. the truest awareness, is completely loving and wise. I just don’t think this reality is someone else seperate from my own mind, your own mind, or any being’s own mind.

October 17, 2012 at 9:08 am
(9) Lee says:

regardless of the word used to describe that which is greater than the individual most beings understand there is more to life than the individual (after all there is you and there is me and there is us… i was once taught “I am not god … but every part of me is of god’ “you are not god but every part of you is of god’ … regardless of the word used to describe something that is beyond words or conceptualization attaching to the word god is already separating you from god.

October 18, 2012 at 5:50 am
(10) Paul says:

We are so caught up in words, and in beliefs. As you say, there is no agreement on a definition of ‘God’, even within major theistic traditions. The question of the existence, or non-existence of God, is indeed meaningless. I suspect that this is one of those questions that the Buddha would simply not have answered. Even if meaningful, and answerable, how would the answer help us?

Each side of the God/No-God argument is a wrong view.

“Our actions are our only true belongings” – here is where we can find common ground: the actions of one who practices buddhist compassion and loving-kindness are indistinguishable from those of one who follows Christ’s teachings. (Apart from in matters of observance).

October 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm
(11) Joram Arentved says:

If You All for instance talk about, why there is anything divine about, whyever The Buddhism IS The True Perfection, The Divination as
such is just A PURPOSE of self personafication, An Issue, whereon I pers. feel no idea, whatsoever that I can ‘testify(!)’ to being happy with, why that money ideal exists, even if it can stoop to feeling against me beig just myself, i.e. about & happy with ‘this & that.’ Money IS per sé the root of whatever evil act, e.g. an f. face, looking to treat me like one’s
‘relevant’ conflict, = to a very perxxdious problem, on the other hand, if
God can’t exist without being against me being just(!) myself, for all, I care, This Pig can still take an f. hike, so that I can of course become &
believe in & so on, greetings, a Danish buddhist philosopher, who after
all & by nobody’s eye claims that I can exist as any totally perfect man,
on the other hand: What IS The True Perfection? That’s A Universal
Purpose, An All Important Issue That just & never ‘offered’ me any
right, whatsoever that I could start by being perfect about & on accoun
of ‘this & that.’ If I was born to be perfect, I was, however, the 1st one,
who saw no idea, whatsoever that I could START by being perfect, since others WERE against me being myself!

October 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm
(12) Billy Wetherington says:

Who cares?

October 18, 2012 at 6:01 pm
(13) Phra Ajahn Bill says:

Wow.. I was going along with pretty much everything you were saying here until the very end. When you put down Sam Harris and Depak Chopra, I stopped. I personally like most of the stuff you put on here, even though it’s mostly Mahayana stuff. But your zen take on most of Buddhism is way off the mark.

October 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm
(14) Barbara O'Brien says:

When you put down Sam Harris and Depak Chopra, I stopped.

I don’t mind Sam Harris, although at times Chopra gets on my nerves. But they won’t help you with dharma.

I personally like most of the stuff you put on here, even though it’s mostly Mahayana stuff. But your zen take on most of Buddhism is way off the mark.

Yeah, says you.

October 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm
(15) Kelley Mata says:

I was a person with whom “god” was a huge part of my life for over 40 years. I would say that leaving that concept behind took place over about the last 10 years of that forty, and it is only in the last 2-3 years that I have let go completely of that idea as having any reality to it. Previous to that I was bumping into contradictions, questions and frustrations about theistic belief and specifically the Christian version of that type of belief. Currently I have my daily meditation practice and I read extensively when I can about Buddhism and feel very comfortable with the world and life from that perspective. I have had many conversations with people who think that theism and Buddhism are compatible, but when I point out that in Buddhism there is only dependent existence not independent, thus excluding the idea of an all powerful being the is independent in themselves, I get a lot of funny looks and responses. Thanks for this article!

October 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm
(16) Anjaneya Reddy says:

Buddhism is not an atheistic but a non-theistic belief; it has no use for God but has many gods who are as un-enlightened as we are!

October 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm
(17) chelsea says:

I would add one sub clause… If you have had an experience of being in the presence of God or something undefinable, it’s no good denying it. For myself, o have seen a white light which was all loving and is everywhere and everything. That’s my experience as a non Christian. Was is ‘god’? Who knows, but I couldn’t think of a description that describes it better. It was what it was and it does not deter me from ny budhist practice.

October 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm
(18) Frank says:

Hi Phra Ajahn Bill
Can you explain in simple terms the basis upon which you say that Barbara’s ” zen take on most of Buddhism is way off the mark.” ?

I have to say that Barbaras article above deals with the God issue with great clarity .

October 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm
(19) George Deane says:

The Buddha also thought that the question of God was irrelevant to his main concern. . He would have said to the question of whether God exists that the wrong question is being asked. His concern was the concrete, existential problem of human life and not speculation of abstract unsolvable matters that avoided rather than addressed the enigma and contradictions of life., namely, that man seeks happiness and yet never stops doing things that make himself miserable.

October 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm
(20) Luis says:

Should we care about coherence within Buddhist belief? I am not very certain that there is perfect coherence in any kind of belief, and I do not feel disturbed because of that. It’s ok, it’s normal.

For example, the Dhammapada mentions the reencarnation -the transmigration of the soul- when at the same time Buddhism seems to deny the concept of such soul -the atman.

I prefer to think that the silence of Buddha about God is ok. If there is God, it might be impossible for our minds to have a mental picture of H/him. If there is no God, well, that won’t stop us from seeking peace and being compassionate with others while we are alive.

October 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm
(21) KC says:

If the legend of Wesak is to be believed, then the Buddha himself spoke about God. It was in legend that after enlightenment, he was persuaded by Brahma (some say Indra) to bring the teachings to mankind at large. At that time in history and because the Brahmins were at their greatest influence, Brahma was the creator god and considered the highest One. Bear in mind however that Gautama was a Kshatriyas and Brahmins, I am sure would have added something to the story. In fact the Brahmins, in later years included the Buddha into Hinduism and put up the Buddha as a god to be worship, making him the ninth avatar of Vishnu.

October 19, 2012 at 12:04 am
(22) krishna says:

There is no GOD but only GOD!!!

October 19, 2012 at 12:21 am
(23) mita says:

Buddha has been called the ‘teacher of gods and humans.’ And Gods and Titans (asuras) are part of six-realms of samsara driven by craving, hatred and delusion. http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/tp/Six-Realms-of-Existence.htm

Also the Buddhist notion of anatta (no separate permanent self) rejects the notion of ‘God’ as a separate almighty external entity out there that so many seem to believe.

October 19, 2012 at 2:08 am
(24) Leah says:

Being a person who has struggled with many religions since being born a Catholic, I have always been completely mystified with the idea of “God”, a concept that seemed decidedly odd to me – what was this vengeful ‘Person”, who wreaked such havoc in the Old Testament? Why was he so seemingly unkind, and unsympathetic, and certainly non-empathetic? I was very scared NOT to believe in God – what if that led to hell? I find my previous concepts gently amusing, but have never had any kind of reasonable (to me) description of what God may or may not be. Well, everyone has given me terrific answers here – certainly something to meditate on. I’m 68 now, and it seems as if my struggle is settling down into being something quite bearable, thanks largely to this site. I tend not to read overmuch in any kind of religious books, including those on Buddhism. I sort of try to just “be”, whether mistakenly or not. I find I no longer care very much about all the semantics, there’s something utterly beautiful about the world that I live in (country Queensland, Australia), and I feel more “me” at this stage of my life than I ever have before. I suppose “All roads lead to where I stand”. I’ve done SOMETHING self-empowering on my own journey, and mostly feel completely content in letting everything to be what it is, myself included.
Thank you so much for your posts, and for this site in general.
Leah.

October 19, 2012 at 8:10 am
(25) buddhist says:

Lord Buddha mentioned about gods in his pirith and suththara( chants)
but never said about a mighty one and only god. once he has mentioned that he visited his mother (who was dead after 7 days of the delivery of Buddha,) and was a goddess. also buddha mentioend that once the karma is over , the gods also will have to leave the place they are and reborn as a human/ animal etc.

October 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm
(26) Kelley Mata says:

This is a little on a different subject, but I wonder if the idea of and all powerful and independent god is not attractive because it reinforces our own delusions about being an independent being (in the subject/object dualism)? I know in the Christian religion, that “independent God” knows “me” recognizes “me.” It seems the whole thing seems to support the delusions of self. As humans we don’t like to let go of those delusions. it would seem natural to migrate toward a religious belief that establishes “self” if the delusion of self has not been recognized.

October 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm
(27) Taizenziggy says:

What importance is it to your salvation? Whether there is a “God”, in the classic sense of the word, or not, is simply not relevant. If one is to accept the concept of the classic biblical God; you either worship him and his egotistic creations or you go to hell and suffer. Try a dose of the direct perception of EMPTINESS-it’s potentiality is unlimited! God, then becomes wholly irrelevant.

October 22, 2012 at 11:00 am
(28) kelley mata says:

Taizenziggy,

I agree with you, in my comment, to which you replied, I intended to say that Christians (which are beliefs I no longer adhere to nor believe) are drawn to a belief in a god who knows them, because it reinforces their own delusion of independent existence. They are drawn to their version of theism because it supports the delusion of their concrete views of self. I say this because I, too, subscribed to these perspectives, but now through daily practice I am learning to recognize my clinging to my views of self and being increasingly mindful of these, I am letting go of these mental constructions and am seeking to experience the emptiness of which you pointed.

October 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm
(29) Taizenziggy says:

As a child I was raised in a “Catholic” environment and even attended their grade school. Thus, a belief in “God” and the related trinity aspects were mandatory. But I questioned the core of such beliefs and investigated it’s basis.
The typical, “because we said so” reasoning just did not comport with the realities of life as I had experienced it. The typical “believe in me and worship me God or go to hell” just doesn’t make the grade with me as a “loving, benevolent, merciful God”. After over 20 years of study and practice of the Buddhist path (along with related monastic level studies), I agree there is a “God Realm” with it’s inherent inhabitants.
Review of history and civilizations reflects there have been many “Gods”. Each related to a civilization and period in history. Some are still considered to be “active” or presently worshiped. Others are not presently worshiped by people. Many “Gods” have passed into antiquity. Accordingly, even the “Gods” are subject to the eternal condition of change. Yes, even the “God Realm” is subject to cause and effect! Understanding this-merely move onward.
Don’t agonize over imperfections. Remember, the fact that we have a solid human form which encompasses all of it’s flaws as well as benefits, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. What Buddha did not say about “God” is a reflection upon his level of understanding of the matter. And perhaps he also reasoned that no matter what one says about the “Gods” while being a message of enlightenment to some- would surely be a controversial statement to another person.

October 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm
(30) Ibutina says:

Bravo! Thank You for clarifying this issue. Your articles have helped me understand things I don’t fully comprehend in Buddhism. I appreciate your research and explanation of the deeper stuff – like this one.

November 3, 2012 at 1:22 am
(31) bullet bob says:

I have thought about the concept of god often. Wow, there is a huge history of gods, and all seem to have some mystic supernatural powers. Often they are asked for earthly help. Somehow a profit comes along who has direct connection, and declares all should behave in accord with a menu inspired by the devine. Even reward and punishment is addressed.

Well, first of all, I agree with many that “nobody knows”, and maybe the answer is today beyond thought or just unthinkable. So, the way I see it is “we create our own gods”, and that is because we have the mind power to create. Yes, our wordly experience and environment have a huge impact on the god we create, but I believe there is a need and some comon elementary ideas and other seeds planted by birth which are shared by all. Like the feel of a spirit and an embryo of a moral and ethical system.
Well, the god creations and composition of moral and ethical levels and adherence are infinite. That is why the earth is so darn interesting and diverse.
So, you have a choice. Create a god , adopt a god, or no god. But your moral and ethical system will evolve and always change, and your adherence to it as well as secular law, will create some level of heaven or hell right here on earth.
So, if you feel that spiritual need to create your god, I suggest you spend some time with meditation, reading, thinking and getting experience in a spiritual environment. In fact many spiritual environments so you create the your ideal god. Hopefully, your god and it’s moral and ethical component will not violate societys laws with subsequent punished by society.
Lastly, the great news is “you get the god that you create” , and the associated heaven and hell as well. So, create wisely!
Maybe Lord Buddha had some thoughts about God or that unthinkable power which is referred to in Hinduism. Surely he was aware of the “Upanishads”, but maybe did not buy all of the philosophy.

November 9, 2012 at 6:40 am
(32) Mathusla says:

Greetings. The Buddha would seem to hav beeen fairly definitive about the non existence of an eternal absolute God-creator.
When he expounded what became later known as the “Heart Sutra” on vulture peek mountain.
Many of those present ‘especially ‘ monastics died on the spot from shock. Some heads exploded. Some hearts burst blood vessels. Some people simply went mad. Why ?!!!
Because this particular teaching denies the existence of an eternal knowable presence. Instead it would seem to validate the existence of an eternal presence in the form of the ever present moment perceived through and by the five senses, These senses are explained in some stunning detail by some of the greatest Tibetan Teachers of the last century as: (Hearing and the consciousness of hearing. Seeing and the consciousness seeing. Smelling and the consciousness smelling. Touching and the consciousness of touch. And above all, perception and the consciousness of perceiving).
These senses it would seem are treated and extolled as part of an intellectual system that formulates and explains the self and other as the ever-present eternal God-Head family. Thus putting man-woman center stage in the universal god creation myth. All the best. Mathusla

November 9, 2012 at 6:50 am
(33) Barbara O'Brien says:

Mathusla — As a Zen student I know the Heart Sutra well; it’s the single most important sutra in Zen. We give it more of a Madhyamika reading than a Yogacara one, though. Also, the Heart Sutra is believed to have been written in the 2nd century CE by an unknown author, and it was not something the historical Buddha Shakyamuni himself said. The opening paragraphs about Vulture Peak Mountain were added in about the 8th century CE and appear only in the Tibetan version.

November 9, 2012 at 9:06 am
(34) Mathusla says:

Greetings. Dear Barbara. As you probably know the Heart Sutra Is considered to be a condensation of most if not all of the other Sutras taught by The Historical Buddha at some point in his 50 year teaching .career throughout India.
According to the writings on the historical Buddhas teachings. Apart from the canonical stuff discussed and explained at the major gatherings of the first Buddhist patriarchs. After Shakayamunis parinarvarna.

The collection of what later became known as the Vulture Peek Mountain teachings were never openly touched on at these events, because of there potency. They had the power to kill or cure. As was experienced and proved when the Buddha taught on the emptiness and interdependent nature of everything.

After expounding these major insights for the first and last time The Buddha entrusted these profound teachings to care of his second in command Kasyapa to be reveled at a later time. Along with other stuff that would become part of the Sakya Linage. These very important teachings would later become the material of magic-myth and legend in the hands Padmasambva who the Tibetans consider to be the second Buddha.

If this is true the time frames would roughly correspond to the CE era periods and dates you allude in your response to my contribution.
So the basic thrust of what centuries later became known as the heart sutra was a condensed expatiation of the” Vulture Peek Mountain Teachings” delivered by the conqueror. All the best. Babs. Mathusla

November 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm
(35) Barbara O'Brien says:

Greetings. Dear Barbara. As you probably know the Heart Sutra Is considered to be a condensation of most if not all of the other Sutras taught by The Historical Buddha at some point in his 50 year teaching .career throughout India.

Well, no the standard legend is that it’s a distillation of the entire mahaprajnaparamita canon, which go beyond what Buddha Shakyamuni taught that was acknowledged at the Buddhist Councils. The tradition is that the mahaprajnaparamita texts were dictated by Shakyamuni and kept hidden, guarded by nagas, until they were discovered by Nagarjuna, ca. 200 CE. So, these texts would not have been recited by Ananda at the 1st Buddhist Council, even if they existed at the time, because what was revealed at the Council was included in the Tripitika, and none of the prajnaparamita sutras are part of the Tripitika.

You can believe the legends if you wish to, but you’ve got them jumbled up a bit.

Modern scholarship says the prajnaparamita sturas probably weren’t written at all until the early 1st millennium CE, by unknown authors, and Zen is OK with that. Zen doesn’t bother with the naga-Nagarjuna legends; I think that’s mostly a Tibetan thing. It’s also pretty certainly true that the Vulture Peak introduction wasn’t written until the 8th century CE, because it doesn’t appear in earlier versions of the Heart Sutra dated before the 8th century. Modern scholarship also leans in the direction of thinking that the shorter texts, the Heart and Diamond, were written first, and the longer prajnaparamita texts came later, although I don’t know if that’s settled on universally.

Sorry if that messes up your belief system, but I don’t think the legends add anything to the wisdom of the sutra. Arguably, they detract from it.

May 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm
(36) Cyrus says:

“The beliefs we have about the eternal are as useful as the ideas an unhatched chick might have about the outside world” — The Buddha

My understanding is the Buddha took a different approach to God. His position on this point, as I understand it from scripture, is that we can’t understand the truth until we *see* it for ourselves. What would be the point of explaining snow to someone who hasn’t seen it? You can talk about it all you want, but ultimately there is no substitute for experience. For that, you have to make the journey.

June 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm
(37) wilson britto says:

thank you,nicely explained.always wait to read your newsletter,thanks again.

August 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm
(38) Shaun says:

I appreciate your moderate researches about this. But there is some thing wrong Buddha has clearly mentioned there is no Creator. But there is separate definitions for term God which is another form of species in this parallel universe.

At the time of buddha there were Brahmas who believed there is a creator called Maha Brahma. Budda stated there is no creator but the nature. If there is a creator for humans or animals that would be Mother & Father.

Different people and as time evolves can add ambiguous opinions to dharma and make it popular which is a detraction from true dharma.

As per Buddhism which is for intelligent people, “Our mind is the creator, (as per karma) Every action has a reaction (Buddha said way before Newton) The present and the future is a result of the past. That is how everything is created by nature. No creator

November 4, 2013 at 10:42 pm
(39) Sheri Southern says:

Jesus the Christ meditated. Most Christians, unfortunately, leave that out of their practice, but ones who do don’t lean toward disbelieving in God, but in fact seem to be more fruitful as Jesus was. The anti-christ is religion itself and I don’t think Buddha would like being a statue, or that Buddhists cling to spiritual materialism (incense and object-worship, and yes, I’ve been to many Buddhist retreats) any more than Jesus would like it. It’s idolatry that comes between man and Essence: superstition, not “being.” As for all those saying that Christian’s want to reinforce a sense of self so that’s why they make God separate: please don’t stereotype. In my meditations, I have been told we are soul, body and self, and that “self” is thoughts. We are not our thoughts, but our thoughts can take us away from whom we are when we are Soul. Soul is our connection to our Creator. Grace is being connected to Omniscience and Omnipotence, even for a short while. In our bodies, especially if we don’t meditate, we have not the “not-self.” Most people worship their “self,” and I see a bit of that here with everyone loving their “thoughts” and lording them over another’s, no matter what religion they ascribe to. How do I follow Jesus and Buddha at the same time? I meditate. I pray for compassion and patience. I listen. And sometimes I am what I pray for. And then I’m grateful. Then I start over.

December 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm
(40) Tim Lenard says:

Mankind in our fear of death & the unknown has always had a need for a God or gods. Such a belief clearly existed in Buddha’s time. It was the very belief that he abandoned when he walked away from his family’s Brahmatic beliefs. The Buddha did comment on god when asked. He said simply,”I do not care to know your various theories about god. What is the use of discussing the many subtile doctorines regarding the soul? Do good & be good. This will lead you to freedom & to whatever truth there is.”

Westerns do well to seek emptiness & emancipation from such an enslaved & controlled view of existance. I look forward to the day when more African Americans like myself are able to seek true liberation from such confining beliefs. Lord Buddha taught using expedient means in according to man’s
mental limitations. Understanding our fear & attachments, he never said there is no god outright but the implications were written on the walls & throughout the various sutras.
Happy Holidays everybody!

December 14, 2013 at 4:22 am
(41) gus soeth says:

I was raised a Catholic, attended Catholic Schools. I have been mediating for over 40 years. Whatever belief system you find is Ok. Just do the right thing. Remember the Golden Rule. Don’t waste time and energy in theological discussions.

January 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm
(42) rob says:

When Buddha talked of the divine nature, primal essence, and that creation comes from natural laws, for me that is synonymous with an intelligence principle. Natural laws are ordered, and order does not come from randomness, but from an intelligence, or an intelligence principle for those who like to avoid the tendency found in some religions to anthropomorphize. This principle, in certain traditions is referred to as the Absolute, as well as other terms. It is Source, yet formless, entirely without attributes, yet all creation springs from it. The minute we speak of it we have limited it, yet we do speak of it because of a craving for intellectual understanding of existence. Yet, as Buddha, and other enlightened ones taught, the only way to understand it is through direct experience, through deep and prolonged meditation. Intellectual discussion can never put us anywhere close to the “primal essence.”

January 7, 2014 at 10:06 am
(43) Barbara O'Brien says:

rob — show me where Buddha talked of “the divine essence.” I doubt he ever did. I’m not even sure the concept of “divine” as we understand it now was part of his culture.

January 8, 2014 at 11:37 am
(44) rob says:

Hi Barbara,

As I have only a basic knowledge of Buddhism, I was using some of the statements that others in this article and conversation have used regarding what Buddha said. Those terms that posters stated, for me, were synonymous with an intelligence principle which many call God. If none of those statements about primal essence, creation coming from the laws of nature, etc. were used by the Buddha, then my contention that Buddha’s statements seem to be in agreement with an intelligence principle may not be valid. Many of the posters seemed knowledgeable about Buddhism, so I deferred to their correctly sharing statements by the Buddha.

January 8, 2014 at 3:06 pm
(45) Barbara O'Brien says:

“Those terms that posters stated, for me, were synonymous with an intelligence principle which many call God.”

The historical Buddha was very clear that the processes of the universe, including creation, come about by natural law and not by an “intelligence principle.” If some followers persist in trying to sneak a god back into the dharma that doesn’t mean it belongs there.

January 8, 2014 at 4:08 pm
(46) rob says:

Barbara,

As I said in my first post, and was clear to say “for me,” in other words, from my view, and from the teachings that I accept, observation tell us that laws of nature are ordered and not random, and order comes from an organizing principle. For me, that is an intelligence from which all springs. If the Buddha said that creation comes from the laws of nature, then, I was merely stating my belief that he would have accepted that order comes from an ordering principle, an intelligence principle. I respect any interpretation and belief you have about Buddha’s teaching. That which is will always be regardless of our beliefs.

January 10, 2014 at 11:37 am
(47) Barbara O'Brien says:

“laws of nature are ordered and not random, and order comes from an organizing principle.”

That “organizing principle” is not necessarily an intelligence, however. Ask any quantum physicist about that.

And what the historical Buddha taught about this is not debatable. He went on and on about it. Phenomena come into and out of existence according to something like natural law, like physics. Things are the way they are because of natural law. Even karma and the dharma itself are ordered by natural law; there is no intelligence “directing” any of this. You may wish to see an intelligent director behind this if you choose to, but this is not what the Buddha taught, and he would not have accepted your interpretation.

Beware of believing things because you want to believe them; in this case, believing that the Buddha taught something that he didn’t. Now, it’s always possible Buddha was wrong. He was not a god, but a human being. I’m just saying don’t build a fantasy about him because it flatters your views.

February 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm
(48) Jonathan says:

Interesting essay and discussion. Particularly like that you picked up on the meaning of ‘exist’ in relation to deity. As regards what is ultimately real, my current view is that whatever it is, is more a ‘you’ than an ‘it’. In other words, the fundamental constituent or ground is more like ‘mind’ than like any manner of object or inanimate force. In fact even when you say that things come into and go out of existence according to ‘natural law’ that doesn’t explain what that law is say anything about whether it’s intelligently directed or not.

But I do concur with the basic idea of the article itself.

April 20, 2014 at 8:36 pm
(49) Juan says:

Sure the many millions followers of vishnu,shiva,hanuman devi etc,would have something to say about your nonsense article.

April 21, 2014 at 9:47 am
(50) Barbara O'Brien says:

Juan — however, since this is a Buddhism site, what people of other religions think really isn’t my concern. The point is to educate people about Buddhism.

May 21, 2014 at 10:58 am
(51) Jonathan Berman says:

‘Buddha didn’t come out and say there is no God was the point.’ In fact he did, on numerous occasions, though that’s a common misconception that he didn’t. He characteris

May 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm
(52) Barbara O'Brien says:

Jonathan — you are mistaken. If you are certain the Buddha explicitly said “there is no God,” please cite where exactly in the Sutta-pitaka or the Vinaya he said that.

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