The Buddha Isn’t God or Superhuman

Today is Vesak (or Wesak) in South East Asia, the most prominent of Buddhist festivals and a celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha. Vesak is celebrated on a different day in South Asia.

I’ll take this opportunity to clarify a common conception—or misconception—taken up during casual comparisons between Buddhism and the Abrahamic faiths. I’ll also shed light on Buddhist gods and deities.

Was the Buddha God or Superhuman

The Buddha Never Considered Himself Savior or the Guardian of Truth

According to foundational Buddhist scriptures, Gautama Buddha claimed to be an ordinary man—not a God, superhuman, or prophet. The Buddha even denied that he was omniscient, though he did emphasize that what he knew was all that really matters.

The Buddha presented himself as a philosopher, an enlightened human being. He was only exceptional in having deeply contemplated the true nature of reality. He claimed he had identified the sources of pain and suffering.

The Buddha taught that humans are fundamentally ignorant about the nature of existence and that everything in life is unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) caused by ignorance (avidya) and selfish craving (tanha.) As a teacher, the Buddha was deeply interested in the ethical remaking of a person and declared that it lay within anybody’s capacity to follow his life experience to achieve awakening. The Buddha insisted that his teachings should not be accepted on blind faith—Buddhism is therefore a ‘religion’ of reason and meditation.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha

Do Buddhists Believe in God The entire philosophical edifice of Buddhism centers on Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment. He was born into royalty as Siddhartha Gautama during the sixth century before Christ. According to tradition, at Siddhartha’s naming ceremony, Brahmin astrologers predicted that the newborn was predestined to become an extraordinary ruler of humans, as a great king or holy man. His father desperately wished the former for his long-awaited heir. He isolated Siddhartha within their palace’s protective boundaries and took precautions to ensure that Siddhartha would never experience any trouble, sorrow, or suffering that could cast even the slightest shadow on his happiness.

At age 29, Siddhartha strayed from his palace’s simulated paradise and chanced upon an old man, a diseased man, and a corpse. He also encountered an ascetic who strove to find the cause of human suffering. Depressed by his encounters with human suffering, Siddhartha resolved to follow the ascetic’s example. Leaving his wife and infant son behind (they later became initial disciples), Siddhartha left his affluent palace and lived as a beggar. After pursuing six years of ascetic practice and arduous meditation, he attained new depths of understanding about the nature of life, ego, consciousness, and reality. He achieved enlightenment and thus became the Buddha, the “Awakened One,” or the “Enlightened One.”

Theism is Incompatible with Buddha’s Teachings

The concept of an omnipotent God does not feature substantially in Buddhism. Indeed, scholars quote verse 188 of the Dhammapada, “Men driven by fear go to many a refuge, to mountains, and to forests, to sacred trees, and shrines,” and state that the Buddha believed that the concepts of religion and godliness stem from primal fear, just as sociologists and psychologists have recently posited.

Unlike people of other faiths, Buddhists believe neither in a creator God nor in a personal God entitled to their obedience. Consequently, Buddhism does not derive its system of ethics from any divine authority, but from the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

Buddhism: Gods and Deities

Buddhism: Gods and Deities

Buddhist doctrines have evolved over the centuries. In some schools of Buddhism, the worship of the Buddha is merely an act of commemoration for the founder of their ancient tradition. Others defy the foundational Buddhist teachings that the Buddha is not an object of prayer or devotion and worship him as a deity who holds supernatural qualities and powers.

Gods in Buddhism Religion - White Tara To account for the misconception of a Buddhist God, the more-religious forms of Buddhism added gods to serve as objects of meditation. According to these schools, living beings can be reborn into various realms of existence, one of which is the realm of the gods. The Buddha was said to have taken various animal and human forms and reborn as a god several times. The gods (those born into the realm of the gods) are mortal and impermanent—i.e., they are born and die like other living beings. These gods do not play any role in the creation or sustenance of the cosmos. Adherents can meditate upon these gods and pray to them for practical (but not spiritual) benefits.

The Mahayana schools of Buddhism also believe in many supernatural beings that feature prominently in Buddhist art: various Buddha-figures, ghosts, demons, and bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are would-be Buddhas who represent various virtues of thought and action. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, the Sitatara or the White Tara (‘star’ in Sanskrit) is a female Bodhisattva. She is a meditation deity who embodies compassion, longevity, and tranquility.

Buddhist God or Deity - Pu-Tai or Budai Finally, the Laughing Buddha (Pu-Tai or Budai in Chinese and Hotei in Japanese) is a holy person per Chinese folklore. He represents a future bodhisattva and epitomizes contentment. His popular image is often mistaken for that of Gautama Buddha. Rubbing Budai’s belly is said to bring good luck and prosperity.

Recommended Books & Films

  • English poet Edwin Arnold’s “The Light of Asia” (1879,) a book that deeply inspired Gandhi. The Light of Asia illustrates the life of Siddhartha Gautama, his enlightenment, character, and philosophy.
  • German theologian Rudolf Otto’s classic “The Idea of the Holy” (1917) explores the mystic, non-rational aspects of the idea of God and contains abundant references to foundational Buddhist teachings.
  • Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha” (1993) includes an remarkable visual retelling of the life of Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Bertolucci also made the epic “The Last Emperor” (1987.)

Gandhi on the Doctrine of Ahimsa + Non-Violence in Buddhism


Non-Violence in Buddhism

“Thou shalt not kill.” This command forbids committing murder—specifically slaying a fellow human. The seventh of the Torah’s Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) allows for the execution of animals.

Non-Violence in Buddhism This specific tenet can be interpreted as comparatively lenient, even indulgent, compared to the mainstream Hinduism and the derivative Jain and Buddhist philosophies. Within these contexts, non-violence is a fundamental building block of ethics. Naturally, this idea of refraining from cruelty proscribes murder, but it also surpasses that guideline. In fact, practicing pacifism deters all varieties of violence against any sentient being, be it a human or an animal. Under the rule of non-violence, these creatures are protected from aggression, hostility, cruelty, sadism, and savagery—all unacceptable forms of conduct.

In accordance with the concept of anatta (the idea of there being no self,) Buddhism teaches us that, should we cling to the illusion of possessing autonomous ‘selves,’ we will fail to fully comprehend non-violence. Upon removal of the sense of the individual self, inflicting damage on another in turn damages the perpetrator. Should you inflict violence upon another, you too will suffer its effects.

Gandhi on the Doctrine of Ahimsa

Violence is the utmost form of asserting oneself over another. An alternative to aggression is Ahimsa or non-violence. This peaceful method was recognized as an entirely credible ethical code when Gandhi adopted it. He took up non-violence in his struggle against injustice and oppression, first as a peace leader in South Africa and then as the leader of India’s independence movement. Gandhi’s own definition of Ahimsa is as follows:

'Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work' Edited by S. Radhakrishnan (ISBN 1553940261) Literally speaking, Ahimsa means “non-killing.” But to me it has a world of meaning, and takes me into realms much higher, infinitely higher. It really means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor an uncharitable thought, even in connection with one who may consider himself to be your enemy. To one who follows this doctrine there is no room for an enemy. But there may be people who consider themselves to be his enemies. So it is held that we may not harbor an evil thought even in connection with such persons. If we return blow for blow we depart from the doctrine of Ahimsa. But I go farther. If we resent a friend’s action, or the so-called enemy’s action, we still fall short of this doctrine. But when I say we should not resent, I do not say that we should acquiesce: by the word “resenting” I mean wishing that some harm should be done to the enemy; or that he should be put out of the way, not even by any action of ours, but by the action of somebody else, or, say, by divine agency. If we harbor even this thought we depart from this doctrine of Non-Violence.

Source: ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections on His Life and Work’ edited by S. Radhakrishnan

Inspirational Quotations from the Holy Bible [#356]

In observance of Christmas, I present teachings from the Holy Bible, the principal scripture in the Christian faith.

Merry Christmas! May you all have a day filled with peace and joy.

Jesus Christ status in La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

Christmas and the Season of Goodwill

Christmas is widely celebrated to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph, a Jewish couple in Palestine in the first century AD, was the Christ (from the Greek word Khristós meaning “the anointed,” or “the chosen one of God”.)

To be precise, in the Christian tradition, December 25 is the first of the twelve days of Christmas. Traditionally, this twelve-day Christmas celebration ends with the feast of “Epiphany,” held on January 6 or on the first Sunday after Christmas.

Over the years, Christmas has transformed into a secular holiday. Historians and religious scholars believe that the December date for the birth of Christ was set around the time of the winter solstice to fit in with pre-Christian pagan traditions of feasting during the occasion of the sun’s annual rebirth, in late December. Besides, the Church of Rome (now the Vatican) did not establish the festival as Christian until the middle of the fourth century.

Christmas Spirit in Action

Christmas Spirit in Action No other holiday boasts a richer variety of rituals, traditions, and customs. Christmas celebrations vary around the world in length and style. The Christians attend midnight or Christmas day Church services and set up a Tyrolean crib at home featuring the town of Bethlehem and the manger to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The season of good will is marked by exchange of gifts and greeting cards, sumptuous dinners, familiar hymns and songs, brightly lit trees, red-ribboned wreaths, ornaments and decorations, Santa Claus, and stockings. During the last few decades, the “Christmas shopping season” has become economically imperative as the time of new product introduction and hectic shopping.

The Holy Bible

The Bible (from the Greek word ta biblia, for “the books”) is a compilation of scripture in Judaism and the Christian faiths. It is the most widely read literature in the world.

The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament contains nearly all of the same writings as the Hebrew Bible; the New Testament is a collection of writings dating from after the life of Jesus. The New Testament includes the Gospels (the central message of Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation for the faithful,) the Acts of the Apostles (the stories of the few years after Jesus’ death,) the Epistles (details of the Christian faith), and the book of Revelation (a vision for the end of time.)

Inspirational Quotations from the Christian Bible

Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
The Holy Bible

God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
The Holy Bible

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.
The Holy Bible

The entire law is summed up in a single command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Holy Bible

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
The Holy Bible

You cannot serve God and Mammon.
The Holy Bible

Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
The Holy Bible

Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
The Holy Bible

He who attempts to resist the wave is swept away, but he who bends before it abides.
The Holy Bible

The waters wear the stones.
The Holy Bible

The kingdom of God is within you.
The Holy Bible

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
The Holy Bible

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
The Holy Bible

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
The Holy Bible

Wisdom from The Talmud (Inspirational Quotations #353)

Hanukkah, Jewish 'Festival of Lights', 'Festival of Dedication'

In observance of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, I present wisdom from the Talmud, a sacred text of the Jewish faith.

Hanukkah, “Festival of Lights”

This year, the eight-day Hanukkah festival began at sunset on December 1 and concludes on December 9. Hanukkah was established in 165 BCE by the warrior-leader Judah Maccabee to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following a past desecration of the temple by invaders. Hanukkah (‘Dedication’ in Hebrew) is also known as the “Festival of Dedication,” or the “Festival of Lights.”

Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah by kindling the lights of a nine-branched candlestick called the ‘Menorah‘. They kindle one light on the first night, two on the second night and so on. Each night, they also kindle the ninth light, the ‘Shamash‘, for kindling the others. The Shamash is usually higher or lower than the other eight in the Menorah.

The Talmud

Wisdom from the Talmud, Inspirational Quotations The word Talmud is short for ‘Talmud Torah,’ which means “study of the Torah” in Hebrew. The Torah is the Hebrew term for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) The Talmud is composed of several volumes of rabbinical discussions about the interpretation of the Biblical text related to Jewish history, philosophy, ethics, and customs — the meaning and conduct of life, in general.

The central part of the Talmud is the Mishnah, a record of the core teachings of Jewish faith that were previously preserved only orally. Surrounding the Mishnah is the Gemara, the interpretation and commentaries of the Mishnah. The Talmud has no single author. Rather, it is a collection of several volumes, to which Jewish scholars have added their accumulated knowledge over the course of time since about 220 CE.

For an introduction to the significance and the development of the Talmud, I recommend the excellent video documentary, “The Talmud” (available on NetFlix.)

The world’s most recognized dictum, the “golden rule,” is based in the Talmud: “Do not unto others that which you would not have them do unto you. That is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.”

29 Inspirational Teachings from The Talmud

Silence is consent.
The Talmud

He who lives by the work of his hands is greater than he who indulges in idle piety.
The Talmud

Even for the rebuilding of the Temple the instruction of the children must not be interrupted.
The Talmud

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.
The Talmud

No Israelite is allowed to lend usuriously to a non-Israelite.
The Talmud

Sinful thoughts are even more dangerous than sin itself.
The Talmud

As a tree is known by its fruit, so man by his works.
The Talmud

All ailings, only not the ailing of heart; all evils, but not an evil wife.
The Talmud

A miser is as wicked as an idolater.
The Talmud

When the castle goes to ruin, castle is still its name; when the dunghill rises, still it is a dunghill.
The Talmud

A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.
The Talmud

First correct thyself, then correct others.
The Talmud

Learn first and philosophize afterwards.
The Talmud

Inspirational Quotations from the Bhagavad Gita (#349)

The Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs all around the world celebrate the three-day festival of Deepavali festival from today. Deepawali (literally, “row of lamps,” often contracted to “Diwali”) celebrates, among other things, the return of Lord Rama, his consort Sita, and brother Lakshmana, from a fourteen-year long exile that culminated in the slaying of demon-king Ravana. People celebrated Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom by illuminating his kingdom with lamps — hence the label Deepavali.

Happy Deepavali to all our readers!

To observe Deepavali, we present below a few inspirational quotations from the Bhagavad Gita, one of the noblest scriptures of the Hindu faith.

Inspirational Quotations from the Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita, literally 'Songs of the Lord'

“Bhagavad Gita,” literally “Songs of the Lord,” is a compilation of 700 verses rendered by Krishna, an incarnation of one of the central deities of Hinduism, to the warrior Arjuna. The occasion is the historic battle of Kurukshetra between Arjuna and his brothers on one side and their cousins on the other.

Like the great scriptures of the other faiths, Bhagavad Gita discusses various beliefs, values, and disciplines central to the conduct of a good and meaningful life: devotion, attachment, conflict of motives, ethical actions and consequences, sense of duty, and misgiving from right actions — values and teachings very much even to this day. We recommend these translations and commentaries by Sri Sankaracharya, Annie Besant, Edwin Arnold, and other free texts from the Internet Archive.

From the “‘Songs of the Lord”

Whatever the state of being that a man may focus upon at the end, when he leaves his body, to that state of being he will go.
The Bhagavad Gita

Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps, and whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.
The Bhagavad Gita

Because the fool wants to become God, He never finds him. The master is already God, Without ever wishing to be.
The Bhagavad Gita

He who sees Me everywhere, and sees everything in Me, I am not lost to him, nor is he lost to me.
The Bhagavad Gita

Set thy heart upon thy work but never its reward.
The Bhagavad Gita

In this world three gates lead to hell — the gates of passion, anger and greed. Released from these three qualities one can succeed in attaining salvation and reaching the highest goal.
The Bhagavad Gita

There are two ways of passing from this world – one in light and one in darkness. When one passes in light, he does not come back; but when one passes in darkness, he returns.
The Bhagavad Gita

Those who are interested in self-realization, in terms of mind and sense control, offer the functions of all the senses, as well as the vital force (breath), as oblations into the fire of the controlled mind.
The Bhagavad Gita

There is more happiness in doing one’s own (path) without excellence than in doing another’s (path) well.
The Bhagavad Gita

Let a man lift himself by his own self alone, let him not lower himself; for this self alone is the friend of oneself and this self alone is the enemy of oneself.
The Bhagavad Gita