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As far as I know, many Buddhists believe in multiple gods. Doesn't this contradict the idea that the world is governed by the law of karma? Is praying to gods allowed?

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This seems to be two questions in one. Buddhist scriptures include the reference to deities ("gods"), but Buddhist practitioners do not pray to these gods as in theistic religions. –  FullPeace.org Jun 30 at 7:25

6 Answers 6

Most Buddhists believe in some form of "higher" being; brahmas, devas, etc. It is not an orthodox Buddhist practice to pray to these deities, but people are people. Ordinary Buddhists from most, if not all, traditions, tend to succumb to the allure of prayer and supplication; most monasteries are now called "temples", monks are often called "priests", statues of Ganesha and other mythical gods are popular in these places. Some Sri Lankan monasteries actually have dedicated areas for deity worship.

How can they? Well, Buddhism doesn't demand complete adherence to Buddhist principles. I recently taught meditation at a Catholic college to priests and they seemed to gain benefit from it; one of them is planning on coming to do an intensive meditation course with me. So, the question of whether it is "allowed" doesn't really apply. Deity-worship is not recommended, since it promotes delusion and dependency, both of which are antithetical to Buddhism practice. Someone who clings to external support, real or imaginary, will not likely take full responsibility for their future, most likely becoming complacent and clinging to positive experiences as divine intervention (and therefore worth clinging to).

Does it contradict the theory of karma? Yes, and more importantly it goes against observations; praying to gods doesn't produce any observable change except in the mind of the believer. That in and of itself might be reason to promote prayer, since faith can have beneficial, uplifting effects on the mind, if it weren't misplaced and therefore promoting delusion and clinging as well.

So, it is allowed simply because we don't disallow things (except for monks who have strict rules - a monk who encourages theistic worship should be subject to reprimand, I think), but it is (or should be) discouraged because of its relationship to delusion and clinging.

Incidentally, to show how tolerant the Buddha was, in the Ratana Sutta he says:

O beings, listen closely. May you all radiate loving-kindness to those human beings who, by day and night, bring offerings to you. Wherefore, protect them with diligence.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.2.01.piya.html

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"A monk who encourages theistic worship should be subject to reprimand, I think" - is there vinaya rule and punishment for its violation? –  catpnosis Jun 28 at 19:23
    
I can't point to a specific one off the top of my head, but the community can carry out an act of censure against a monk "defective in his views" even if he isn't teaching them. –  yuttadhammo Jun 28 at 22:38
    
Deity worship seems to be a major part of Tibetan Buddhism without which Tibetan Buddhism wouldn't be what it is. They even consider meditation on deity Chenrezig to be to be highest & quickest way to liberation. –  RBK Jun 29 at 1:46
    
@RBK Chenrezig is not a god but enlightened bodhisattva (or even buddha). Meditation on the gods is exist in Theravada too, it's called 'devatanussati' (recollection of deities). –  catpnosis Jun 29 at 5:09

(Vajrayana) Buddhism is an non-theistic teaching. All deities, yidams etc. are understood to be expressions of one's own nature, one's own mind. At the same time, it is clearly understood that "one's own" mind is not really "one's own" -- because there is no such independent entity as "I", the mind does not have boundaries between outer and inner. From this perspective the energies, deities and other inhabitants of the noosphere can indeed be considered "independent" agents (subject to caveat of universal Emptiness). As part of working on a tantra, practitioner interacts and communicates with the deities, participates in rituals etc. that may look like deity worship but are in fact psychoenergetic exercises. When involved in tantra though, we must clearly see that all these experiences are 100% real, otherwise they will not produce the intended effect on the mind. Because reality is an interpretation we make, being able to sincerely switch between alternative interpretations (materialistic, phenomenological, energy-centric, animalistic) is an important skill to be acquired towards complete mastery of the mind-made reality.

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To be pedantic, have citations? –  Hrafn Jun 28 at 19:49
    
"According to the tantric understanding, the yidam is a nontheistic deity who embodies one's innate vajra nature, the basic sanity and wakefulness of one's beeing, freed from ego-clinging." Chogyam Trungpa, The Heart of the Buddha –  Andrei Volkov Jun 28 at 21:12
    
First, that should be included in the answer. Second, that doesn't really fully back up what you are saying. –  Hrafn Jun 28 at 21:49
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The value of a programming answer is self-evident - when I read a PHP script, I know whether it does what I want it to do or not; factual claims like the ones you make here are quite different. Even if you are an authority on these matters, I think we expect you to link to your own published material on the matter. –  yuttadhammo Jun 28 at 23:15
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I'm just comparing your answer to mine, and mine is almost as bad in a way; but somehow you seem to be making claims that are not self-evident, whereas most of my claims are just general observations of Buddhist practices. As for SO, good answers to difficult questions do tend to have sources backing them up or as reference, I think. –  yuttadhammo Jun 29 at 1:56

If you pet a cat it will like you. If you respect a king he will reward you. Similarly for Devas. Buddha mentioned Deva Bali offering to the Devas in the context of how to spend what you have earned.

The concept of Deva in Buddhism is that they are just another form of life as mentioned previously.

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Multiple gods are just living beings, and god (or deva) is type of good birth. So, believing gods is easy—it is just more fortunate world, or life form, than ours. • It does not contradict idea of karma because beings rebirth as gods because of their own wholesome deeds. • Praying to gods is not forbidden as general act, but this is not Buddhist practice. Even though this is not Buddhist practice this does not necessarily contradict the Dharma, it would hugely depend on practitioner attitude and views. But if you pray for salvation or to clean sins this would contradict with karma.

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This question doesn't mention which sect.

Modern secular Buddhists are atheists and agnostics. Stephen Batchelor is probably the most famous speaker for this group.

The historical Buddha, may or may not have been a theist. He appears to have been singularly uninterested in Gods, made jokes about them, and saw the whole Hindu enterprise as a distraction from the real problems of existence. Glen Wallis's "Basic Teaching of the Buddha" makes a plausible case for this historical Buddha.

There isn't just one historical Buddha. The historical Buddha is a modern construct made up of half forgotten memories and text filtered through a lot of people. So for the Mahayana crowd, especially devotees of the Lotus Sutra, the historical Buddha was and is, a almost god like being of long life and powers we can't comprehend, who is still alive and an active force in our world.

There is also the Adibuddha and Vairocana, the primordial Buddha or the Buddha from which all other Buddha's are an emination of. This particular Buddha sounds a lot like a Judeo-Christian god.

Finally, Buddhism isn't just what the founder may have said. It's a syncretic tradition that absorbed bits of Hinuism, Bon, Chinese Ancestor worship, Japanese emperor worship, and now in the west it is absorbing new age and Christian elements. This is possible in part because the concerns of the historical Buddha were somewhat orthogonal to the concerns of a devotional religion. The eightfold path is much the same regardless to if you are also engaging in a devotional religion. This differs from say, monotheism, where there are explicit rules about participating in other religions. (Not to say that Buddhism didn't acquire similar rules-- for example Chinese Buddhist text often warn about following outer paths, i.e other religions)

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Most Buddhists pray to devas, or gods. Some because of filial piety, particular devotion, family tradition, or any combination of the three (or more) reasons. People also pray to Bodhisattvas and Buddhas in a way that is pretty much indistinguishable from prayer to devas. In Chinese Buddhism, it is a pretty common practice to repent of wrongdoings with Buddhas/Bodhisattvas as witnesses of the promise to do better as well.

Devas are still subject to karma, since the heavenly realm is still within samsara. They can be benevolent, malevolent (although this would cause them to be reborn in a lower realm), or indifferent. They are still powerful, and can protect people. The typical logic is that a person has good karma if for any reason a particular deva takes a liking to them and helps them. In Siddartha's previous lives, he had such good karma that he was protected by devas.

Devotion and supplication to Buddhas and Boddhisattvas may be considered "safer" because they are more consistent with their compassion, while devas have different personalities, which can make them more or less "fickle". Even "wrathful Buddhas" are called so because they are fierce protectors of the dharma and dharmic people.

Institutional Buddhism still respects the individual native devas of particular regions. In one essay contained in the book "Living in Amida's Universal Vow", it was pointed out that some of the earliest "Code of Conduct" rules in Jodo Shinshu temples contained the rules "Do not disparage other Buddhas [besides Amida]" and "Do not disparage the kami ["devas" of Japan]". I do not have the book with me at the moment, but when I find the exact essay I will be more than happy to edit this post with the correct citation.

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Not sure about the statement Most Buddhists pray to devas, or gods - please mention a source to a claim like that, for reference. Not so sure most Buddhists do that. –  FullPeace.org Jun 30 at 14:39
    
@FullPeace - This has been my offline experience with Buddhism, and is not a controversial claim. I do also include non-western/non-convert Buddhists when I say "most Buddhists". Although, I also include instances where native "devas" were re-tooled as Bodhisattvas as well. Maybe that is where the controversy lies? –  Sophie C Jun 30 at 14:46
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It is just beneficial to back up claims such as "most Buddhists" with a source of the claim. The intention was not so much disputing the claim, although I can see that the comment had that effect, as asking for thoroughness in the answer. Apologies for the wording. Your answer appears to refer to Mahayana practice, for instance, so that would also benefit the context of the response, imho. –  FullPeace.org Jun 30 at 15:02
    
@FullPeace.org This seems like one of those things that is easy to observe with enough experience. Also, some Theravadin Buddhists have their own devotional practices. In my area, the attendance of Theravadin and Mahayana temples is fluid. Theravadins are perfectly fine with participating in the devotional practices of other Buddhists here. Even still, Mahayana comprises the majority of Buddhist practice in the world, so to say "most Buddhists" referring to Mahayana only would be true just due to sheer numbers. –  Sophie C Jun 30 at 15:24
    
Respectfully leaving the clarification up to your discretion. No benefit in disagreeing about the details, it seems clear that opinions differ, and we can easily leave it at that. _/\_ –  FullPeace.org Jun 30 at 17:45

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