Buddhism and God

Jan 2012
217
Pleasant Plains, Arkansas
Usually Buddhism is described as being atheistic. Baha'is, of course, believe that Buddhism was originally theistic, as the Buddha is seen as a Manifestation of God. But almost everyone else, including most Buddhists, are under the impression that Buddhism (modern Buddhism, of course) is atheistic.
This is not exactly true.
There are forms of Buddhism, such as Tibetan, which are polytheistic, and some which are atheistic. But the main Buddhist groups, Theravada and Mahayana, are non-theistic, meaning that they don't necesarrily teach that there is a God, but they don't teach that there is not one either.
Well, usually it isn't taught that there is one. These guys say there is:
(YouTube) How does the concept of God figures in Buddhism
 
Nov 2012
601
United States
I must confess, my knowledge of Buddhism is rather pedestrian. But what I do know, I've always been impressed with.

My thoughts on Buddha Siddartha having been an "atheist" are this:

In the West, we see with Christianity, human dogma has left many with the impression of a literally real trinity, and Jesus as a literal God-man. Also, many believe in Heaven and Hell as literal places, Satan as a literal being... and so forth.
Clearly, Christ Jesus did not intend for that. Instead, people latched on to overly-simplistic, literal interpretations of things Christ Jesus was putting into abstract, symbolic teachings.

Likewise, I think in the East, there was a similar misunderstanding of the teachings of Buddha Siddartha. I think He was trying to get people to see past what had become very literal incarnations of the various "gods" of Hinduism. In other words, He was trying to get people to jettison all that clutter from their minds. Baha'u'llah does something similar, I think, in His teachings of God being beyond any concepts or images -- so we should clear our minds of such things.

People might have mistook this for Buddha saying there is no God (or creator, First Cause -- whatever) at all. I don' think that was really the case. Rather, I think He was simply trying to get people to clear their minds of trying to worship conceptions and images, and instead, seek spiritual purity as a worthy pursuit in and of itself -- instead of trying to win the favor of this or that conceptual god or collection of gods.

Likewise, many in the East believe in a literal doctrine of reincarnation -- which I think is another literal mistaking for a teaching that was actually allegorical in nature.

Again, in my view, what we see are mistakes or misunderstandings in the East, similar in nature to those we have seen in the West -- arising from peoples' tendency to take things too literally, or only at face value.
 
Last edited:
May 2013
1,786
forest falls california
Insight

I must confess, my knowledge of Buddhism is rather pedestrian. But what I do know, I've always been impressed with.

My thoughts on Buddha Siddartha having been an "atheist" are this:

In the West, we see with Christianity, human dogma has left many with the impression of a literally real trinity, and Jesus as a literal God-man. Also, many believe in Heaven and Hell as literal places, Satan as a literal being... and so forth.
Clearly, Christ Jesus did not intend for that. Instead, people latched on to overly-simplistic, literal interpretations of things Christ Jesus was putting into abstract, symbolic teachings.

Likewise, I think in the East, there was a similar misunderstanding of the teachings of Buddha Siddartha. I think He was trying to get people to see past what had become very literal incarnations of the various "gods" of Hinduism. In other words, He was trying to get people to jettison all that clutter from their minds. Baha'u'llah does something similar, I think, in His teachings of God being beyond any concepts or images -- so we should clear our minds of such things.

People might have mistook this for Buddha saying there is no God (or creator, First Cause -- whatever) at all. I don' think that was really the case. Rather, I think He was simply trying to get people to clear their minds of trying to worship conceptions and images, and instead, seek spiritual purity as a worthy pursuit in and of itself -- instead of trying to win the favor of this or that conceptual god or collection of gods.

Likewise, many in the East believe in a literal doctrine of reincarnation -- which I think is another literal mistaking for a teaching that was actually allegorical in nature.

Again, in my view, what we see are mistakes or misunderstandings in the East, similar in nature to those we have seen in the West -- arising from peoples' tendency to take things too literally, or only at face value.
Very good insight here.
In other words, "He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays" Jethro Tull
 
Nov 2012
601
United States
Very good insight here.
In other words, "He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays" Jethro Tull
Thanks.

I've listened to a bit of Jethro Tull here and there (I love Thick as a Brick, for example), but I had not yet come across that particular lyric. It's brilliant.
 
Jan 2012
217
Pleasant Plains, Arkansas
I must confess, my knowledge of Buddhism is rather pedestrian. But what I do know, I've always been impressed with.

My thoughts on Buddha Siddartha having been an "atheist" are this:

In the West, we see with Christianity, human dogma has left many with the impression of a literally real trinity, and Jesus as a literal God-man. Also, many believe in Heaven and Hell as literal places, Satan as a literal being... and so forth.
Clearly, Christ Jesus did not intend for that. Instead, people latched on to overly-simplistic, literal interpretations of things Christ Jesus was putting into abstract, symbolic teachings.

Likewise, I think in the East, there was a similar misunderstanding of the teachings of Buddha Siddartha. I think He was trying to get people to see past what had become very literal incarnations of the various "gods" of Hinduism. In other words, He was trying to get people to jettison all that clutter from their minds. Baha'u'llah does something similar, I think, in His teachings of God being beyond any concepts or images -- so we should clear our minds of such things.

People might have mistook this for Buddha saying there is no God (or creator, First Cause -- whatever) at all. I don' think that was really the case. Rather, I think He was simply trying to get people to clear their minds of trying to worship conceptions and images, and instead, seek spiritual purity as a worthy pursuit in and of itself -- instead of trying to win the favor of this or that conceptual god or collection of gods.

Likewise, many in the East believe in a literal doctrine of reincarnation -- which I think is another literal mistaking for a teaching that was actually allegorical in nature.

Again, in my view, what we see are mistakes or misunderstandings in the East, similar in nature to those we have seen in the West -- arising from peoples' tendency to take things too literally, or only at face value.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts.
However, if you read my post and watched the YouTube video, then you would see that I was specifically saying that not only was the Buddha not an atheist, modern Buddhism itself is not atheist as a whole. Thus the comparison between atheist Buddhism and trinitarian Christianity is not as good as it may seem at first, since Buddhism as a religion is not atheist but Christianity as a religion is trinitarian. There are sects of Buddhism which are atheistic. And there are sects of Christianity which are not trinitarian. But as a whole, Buddhism is non-theistic (neither teaching the existence nor the non-existence of God) and Christianity is trinitarian. In fact, it is in the East, which is where you are claiming the mistake was made, that Buddhists are saying the there -is- a God in Buddhism. The mistake was not made in the East. It was made in the West. It is here that Buddhism is practiced as an atheistic religion the most, not the East.
In fact, only one "atheist" sect comes immediately to mind that is in the East. Zen. And Zen is not actually atheistic. They just don't care.
Oh, wait, there is another one that could be called atheistic. Nichiren. Nichiren Buddhism, originating in Japan, does get rid of pretty much all the prophetic and supernatural aspects of Buddhism, except for the Bodhisatvas, Buddhas, and such. They do not, however, believe in a Fifth Buddha. They treat Maitreya as a metaphor. That may be one reason why a Nichiren Buddhist friend of mine was not as impressed with Baha'u'llah's claims as I was. I still believed that my Messiah would return. He did not believe another Buddha would come.
 
Nov 2012
601
United States
Might be from Aqualung. Probably on You Tube.
It would make sense for it to be from the Aqualung album, which deals with God and religion. I'm not sure the particular song. Guess I'll just have to listen to the entire album again sometime... :D
 
Nov 2012
601
United States
I enjoyed reading your thoughts.
However, if you read my post and watched the YouTube video, then you would see that I was specifically saying that not only was the Buddha not an atheist, modern Buddhism itself is not atheist as a whole. Thus the comparison between atheist Buddhism and trinitarian Christianity is not as good as it may seem at first, since Buddhism as a religion is not atheist but Christianity as a religion is trinitarian. There are sects of Buddhism which are atheistic. And there are sects of Christianity which are not trinitarian. But as a whole, Buddhism is non-theistic (neither teaching the existence nor the non-existence of God) and Christianity is trinitarian. In fact, it is in the East, which is where you are claiming the mistake was made, that Buddhists are saying the there -is- a God in Buddhism. The mistake was not made in the East. It was made in the West. It is here that Buddhism is practiced as an atheistic religion the most, not the East.
In fact, only one "atheist" sect comes immediately to mind that is in the East. Zen. And Zen is not actually atheistic. They just don't care.
Oh, wait, there is another one that could be called atheistic. Nichiren. Nichiren Buddhism, originating in Japan, does get rid of pretty much all the prophetic and supernatural aspects of Buddhism, except for the Bodhisatvas, Buddhas, and such. They do not, however, believe in a Fifth Buddha. They treat Maitreya as a metaphor. That may be one reason why a Nichiren Buddhist friend of mine was not as impressed with Baha'u'llah's claims as I was. I still believed that my Messiah would return. He did not believe another Buddha would come.
Thanks for the information. As I said, my knowledge of Buddhism is rather pedestrian.

I have heard from others, that "atheistic" Buddhism is primarily a Western incarnation.
 
Jan 2012
217
Pleasant Plains, Arkansas
Thanks for the information. As I said, my knowledge of Buddhism is rather pedestrian.

I have heard from others, that "atheistic" Buddhism is primarily a Western incarnation.
Very much so.

Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism is polytheistic, at least on the surface.

Zen is... Well, Zen is Zen. :p Only way to describe it.

Theravada is, I will admit, mixed on this. Theravada describes many devas, which are taken from Hinduism, but they are viewed as something similar to what would be called angels in the Abrahamic tradition, except that they are subject to birth and death. And thus they would actually be closer to Baha'i belief. Not in that we believe that spirit beings die, but that devas move through the various worlds according to their karma, in the same way that Baha'is believe that our souls move through the worlds of God. But Theravada does argue against the existence of God in many of it's writings. I have not read these though, so I do not know the context. It is possible that they are arguing against the existence of an anthropomorphic deity. In which case, we'd be in agreement. Somebody who is more knowledgeable about Theravada would have to explain this.

Mahayana as a whole does not teach atheism, does not argue against the existence of a God, and many of its sects do believe in God or in gods. Other sects of Mahayana though are specifically atheistic.

But overall, Buddhism does not teach that God does not exist, nor that He does not. In its massive cannon (I'm including both Theravada and Mahayana cannons here) there can be certain books, paragraphs, or single lines which can be used to argue for either point of view. And thus, neither point of view actually exists in the religion as a whole.
 
Nov 2012
601
United States
Very much so.

Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism is polytheistic, at least on the surface.

Zen is... Well, Zen is Zen. :p Only way to describe it.

Theravada is, I will admit, mixed on this. Theravada describes many devas, which are taken from Hinduism, but they are viewed as something similar to what would be called angels in the Abrahamic tradition, except that they are subject to birth and death. And thus they would actually be closer to Baha'i belief. Not in that we believe that spirit beings die, but that devas move through the various worlds according to their karma, in the same way that Baha'is believe that our souls move through the worlds of God. But Theravada does argue against the existence of God in many of it's writings. I have not read these though, so I do not know the context. It is possible that they are arguing against the existence of an anthropomorphic deity. In which case, we'd be in agreement. Somebody who is more knowledgeable about Theravada would have to explain this.

Mahayana as a whole does not teach atheism, does not argue against the existence of a God, and many of its sects do believe in God or in gods. Other sects of Mahayana though are specifically atheistic.

But overall, Buddhism does not teach that God does not exist, nor that He does not. In its massive cannon (I'm including both Theravada and Mahayana cannons here) there can be certain books, paragraphs, or single lines which can be used to argue for either point of view. And thus, neither point of view actually exists in the religion as a whole.
The Baha'i Faith seems to describe God in personal terms, and call for the individual to interact with God. This is evident, for example, throughout the Hidden Words.

As such, it would be at odds with much of Buddhism as you describe it, at least on that particular point.

However, the Baha'i Faith also teaches against conceptual God, as such.

So, again, I suggest there might be some misunderstanding, or drifting away from what Buddha Siddartha taught. In watching the video, those gentlemen make it clear, they don't reject the idea of ultimate causality -- which is quali-theistic. Or, at least not atheistic, in the sense of, say Hitchens and Dawkins.

But at the same time, I don't see them embracing the concept that existence does, in fact, have an intelligent and aware Creator. An actual Being who wishes to be known and loved, and toward which the individual should strive.

And that concept is central to the Baha'i Faith.