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Why do Buddhists believe there is no creator?

Do Buddhists in general also believe there is no supreme being, or do they settle on that there is no intervening supreme being?

Are these the Buddha's thoughts or a deductive conclusion from some type of logical reasoning? If they are mainly the Buddha's, how come they are generally accepted - as far as I understand it, he encouraged everyone to not take his word for anything, but instead seek the truth for themselves?

As you understand I'm a total Buddhist noob, please correct me where I'm wrong and clarify where needed!

  • This question is in need of some editing. As stated, it is argumentative. – GreenMatt Sep 19 '15 at 14:54
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    @GreenMatt Thanks for the heads-up but I don't see any argument in it at all (except maybe an implied argument that Buddhist need a reason for believing there is no creator), I read it as just a question. – ChrisW Sep 19 '15 at 15:01
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    @ChrisW: Thanks for the reply. Perhaps it's an artifact of my upbringing that makes me find this argumentative. That said, those first two sentences/paragraphs are making assumptions about Buddhists that I don't think apply to all who call themselves Buddhist. – GreenMatt Sep 19 '15 at 20:05
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    I recommend Buddhism and the God-idea – ruben2020 Sep 20 '15 at 2:55
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    @ruben2020: very thorough and an interesting read, it helped a lot! – Jonas Byström Oct 5 '15 at 5:26

15 Answers 15

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First, some canonical background:

According to the Acintita Sutta, speculating on the origin of the cosmos or similar topics will lead one to confusion i.e. it cannot be understood.

According to the Cula-Malunkyavada Sutta in the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow, the speculation of the origin of cosmos or suffering or similar topics is not useful, because the more important and urgent matter is to attend to the topic of suffering.

According to the Brahmajala Sutta as quoted in this question, temporal beings who have very long lives in the Brahma realm, sometimes may think that they are the Immortal Supreme God, when that is not the case.

As described in this answer, the Acela Sutta states that the Buddha teaches neither eternalism nor annihilationism, but the middle way in terms of philosophy. Eternalism is the idea that anything (that is conditioned) can exist eternally more or less in its original form e.g. consciousness, happiness etc. Annihilationism is the idea that consciousness and existence completely vanishes at death.

Conditioning means something that is affected or influenced or conditioned by other things. For e.g. the tree grows because of sunlight, water, dropping of seed, climate etc. and does not exist as a standalone absolute entity by itself. The Buddha also said that all conditioned things are not permanent.

Now for some discussion:

The human person is conditioned, hence he does not exist eternally i.e. there is no eternal soul, but at the same time, his existence does not completely vanish, and he continues again in another birth.

The different worlds in the Buddhist cosmos are also conditioned and experience change. They too will pass away and return. In other words, there is no single point of creation and destruction for the universe. It comes and goes eternally.

Now assume that there is a Supreme Creator God. He must be a being who can observe the world, who thinks, who does things like creation and who communicates with other beings. This supreme being can be satisfied with his creation and could reward them. Or he could be unhappy with his creation and punish them. He could decide to punish, and then change his mind and grant pardon. He could communicate laws to his creation at some point, then change or update the laws later. He might want his creation to worship him and could reward them for it.

From the perspective of Buddhism, such a being displays all the marks of conditioning, hence cannot be eternal or absolute. Such a being must be within the realm of suffering just as you and I, and must at some point pass away. It is not inconceivable that there are beings with extremely long lives, who have powers and influence over other beings, but they cannot possibly be eternal, absolute or exclusively unique, according to Buddhism. Even the Buddha himself (the person who thinks and moves and communicates) had passed away.

  • This beats "Buddha said so" every day of the week! :) – Jonas Byström Oct 12 '17 at 23:01
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For most people God is a dualistic concept. Meaning, for a typical person the unspoken assumption is: "I am here and God is over there". So when I think about God, when I speak to God -- I inevitably imagine some power outside of myself. It is in this power that I place hope for good life and for salvation; it is this power that I blame for unfairness etc. According to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, by attributing to God the power to save us or to send difficulties etc. we alienate ourselves from our own power.

Instead, in Buddhism our liberation is always in our hands. As Trungpa Rinpoche said, no one is going to descent in the golden chariot to take care of you. As long as you keep looking up to some higher power, how can you be the master of your life?

Two of my teachers emphasized such "master consciousness". My Zen Master said: "People say, 'God bless you', but Enlightenment is when you bless God". My last teacher said: "Utilize God". Both remind us to take ownership of our lives.

Not that [Mahayana] Buddhists deny the Absolute. What they deny is existence of independent "I" in the absolute sense. "I" is a label, a nominal designation that only exists relatively to other things. However, because the relative is subsumed in the absolute - not opposed to it - we can't deny existence of the relative either. This (here simplified) position is known as the unity of two truths. From this non-dualistic perspective, my power and the power of Absolute is the same power, my will and the will of Absolute is the same will, and my spontaneity and the spontaneity of Absolute is the same spontaneity. Using it and being used by it refers to the same activity. As Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." So, like I said in this answer, "Could we go as far as to say that Buddhist path culminates in the first-hand knowledge ... of God?"

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    Simply "WOW"ed by this answer. – Heisenberg Feb 12 '16 at 3:24
  • I can't see why dualism means we inevitably must place our hope in God? I doubt the Greeks did. My parents had a lot of power over my life, but I can still be my own master - can't see that the two are necessarily connected. "Utilize God," that's an interesting notion, thanks! – Jonas Byström Oct 12 '17 at 22:03
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"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. [1] Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range. - Sabba sutta

So if someone claims that 'God' is something other than a sensation or an idea(that simply arises and ceases), if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief.

  • Note though that this could be the statement of hard-nosed materialists as well. – Jonas Byström Sep 15 '17 at 11:04
  • Materialists don't believe in rebirth and Karma. Buddhists do. – Sankha Kulathantille Sep 15 '17 at 12:23
  • Why, precisely, would not Karma be put to grief? There is little scientific evidence to support it (contrary to reincarnation). – Jonas Byström Oct 12 '17 at 21:56
  • @JonasByström Karma is a law on how eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas etc. etc. arise. If you start meditating, it's not hard to see. – Sankha Kulathantille Oct 13 '17 at 1:51
  • Jonas Byström observe the world around you. See people who are suffering and try to remember or reflect your own life and experiences as well. Nothing happen for no reason – TheDBSGuy Nov 21 '18 at 19:59
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For completeness, there isn't one Buddhism, there are many Buddhisms. The other questions already address the Buddhisms with either no god or no interesting and relevant gods.

By a process of fascinating evolution, Buddhism evolved from early Buddhism, which arguable didn't care or want take a stand on gods or their lack there of, to one that said Gods existed, but made a hairsplitting distinction that they were long lived, but mortal and didn't create the world. And then sometime in the Mahayana phase, Buddhas gained a Pure Land, superhuman powers equatable to a god, and with the Amitabha, infinite life, not merely stupendously long life. See Jan Nattier, "The Indian Roots of Pure Land Buddhism" for a paper about this process.

If someone is looking for a Christian-like god in Buddhism where the standard questions on atheism and theism apply, they should be looking at Amitabhism/Amidaism. Interesting to me, the typical arguments for the efficacy of Amidaism have a logical form, but make some large assumptions-- namely, The Amitabha vowed to save all beings before becoming a Buddha, the Amitabha has become a Buddha, therefore faith in Amitabha is efficacious. The question about if Amitabha is a story that we just made up isn't even addressed. Believers take this all very literally, some intellectuals like Taitetsu Unno seem to take it as somewhat metaphorical.

For the rest of Buddhism, a good argument could be made that Karma is as sort of god like the one that atheists are disbelieving. Karma can tell if you did an act intentionally or accidentally. This implies a certain amount of discretion and intelligence on the part of Karma, unlike gravity, which drops you on the nearest large object regardless to, well, anything.

In SGI/Nichiren Buddhism, people talk about the Mystic Law as if it has agency, see JM Walsh's book "Your Enlightened Mind Wants to Know" for details.

  • A really fantastic thought on Karma! According to Jim B. Tucker's book Life Before Life there is little statistically significant evidence pointing to the existence of Karma, except for saintly people who seem to receive some higher socio-economic status in their next life. This may imply a supreme being. Or something completely different. Nonetheless thanks for the heads up! – Jonas Byström Sep 27 '15 at 19:27
  • @MatthewMartin "The Amitabha vowed to save all beings before becoming a Buddha, the Amitabha has become a Buddha, therefore faith in Amitabha is efficacious" - this your assumed interpretation is erroneous, you just wrap a Christian Salvation idea you known onto the Amitabha doctrine. It would be too long to explain the subtleties here. Same is your interpretation of "Karma". – Mishu 米殊 Feb 22 '17 at 17:48
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The Buddha used to remain silent, when Hindu Brahmins used to ask him about his views on God. He used to give the example of a man carrying a lamp and walking along a village road in the night, trying to reach another village. Human knowledge is like that, he used to say, it can show you the path as you travel along, but it cannot give you the knowledge of the whole Universe, just as the small lamp cannot remove the entire darkness of the Night.

Such arguments and discussions, the Buddha used to think, is a waste of time and effort. "Since Human beings have a limited life and limited capabilities it is better to optimise their uses " -- this was the thinking of the Buddha.

This is what was taught to us in School.

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Admittedly, I'm a beginner myself. However, it is my understanding that the Buddha took no position as to the existence/non-existence of a God who created everything we see, on the grounds that there is no way of knowing - at least within this life - for certain whether such a being exists. Instead, the Buddha tried to re-focus people on what they could do in this life to improve their circumstances.

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The universe/totality is the creator itself, isn't it obvious?

We simply don't believe in a 'creator god', which is a whole nother story. Nevertheless, the three marks of existence points to the fact that 'personality' cannot exist in the ultimate reality.

  • Wouldn't that be equally 'obvious' for 'concious' entities in a computer simulation? They would have no notion of the computer they are simulated on, nor the factory which produced it. – Jonas Byström Sep 15 '17 at 11:08
  • If that's so obvious then maybe you can tell us how anything in existence can create itself? Also, your answer could be a little more more precise. If we are following the Buddha's teaching correctly then we neither believe do not believe in a creator god. The Buddha's teaching isn't about belief. – Lowbrow Sep 15 '17 at 19:36
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    We do not believe in a creator God, because it is a "wrong view", and not part of the Buddha's teaching. As for your question; "existence is empty of a self or anything pertaining to a self". This means the expanding universe is devoid of "being", and based on "becoming". This is the actual meaning of the word "sunna", that is, existence is only possible as an anarchy, simply because there is no ultimate "archon" (self) that exists in and of itself. So let's say, existence is the "will to power", and as long as there is craving for it, there is becoming. – mad buddhist Sep 17 '17 at 21:03
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When Sufis, Jains and Christian mystics point to God, I almost know for sure that they are pointing to the same thing as Nibbana anyway...or at least they are both pointing in the same direction.

A God that created the universe is irrelevant in Buddhism anyway. If God exists or God doesn't exist then either way it has no effect on the Buddha's path to end our suffering.

If the creator doesn't need a creator then the universe doesn't need a creator also. One can't say "the universe needs to have a creator because something had to create it" because they would also have to say "The creator needs to have a creator because something had to create the creator". If the creator needs no creator then why can't the universe need no creator as well?

  • The Universe is finite in time, could that not have something to do with it? – Jonas Byström Sep 15 '17 at 11:12
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Everyone whether Christians and Muslims, believes everyone has a mind. The Buddha focused on the mind. The Buddha realised that our mind is so powerful, it can "create" anything- our mind can even create God and gods. That power is the nature of the mind. Therefore Buddhist do not believe there is a creator. Buddhists believe in realising the nature of the mind - the same as what the Buddha did.

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The article Buddhism and the God-idea by Nyanaponika Thera (recommended in the comments by @ruben2020) discusses this nicely in detail.

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I think the question itself is based on a presupposition. It's akin to asking why they don't use baseball bats in golf. The rules of the game just don't require them. Buddhism's chief concern is with the surcease of suffering and there's nothing within the Buddha's eight-fold methodology for ending suffering that requires a supreme being. Any theological construct in addition to what he taught is as superfluous as a a bunch of Louisville sluggers strewn along the fairway. At best, it's just clutter. More likely, anything extra is just going to get in the way.

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In addition to being Enlightened, the Buddha had those siddhis (psychic powers) that allowed him to perceive the true nature of the mind and the world. He perceived no god and therefore taught his students to not look for a god because there was no god to be found. He suggested to his students that they could develop the same siddhis and see for themselves that this is no god.

  • Sounds reasonable, could you point me to a source? – Jonas Byström Jan 11 '18 at 9:36
  • An unusual question! Having studied and practiced mindfulness meditation for 50 years, having been a Buddhist monk for 30 years, and having developed my own siddhis, I have many good reasons to believe that the Buddha had extraordinary siddhis and that they were the necessary means for acquiring the wisdom he talked about. This is a view that I have shared with every Buddhist teacher I have met. Indeed, I would say beyond any doubt that it is a view intrinsic to all traditional branches of Buddhism. As a reference, you could look up “siddhi” in Wikipedia. – Ronald Cowen Jan 12 '18 at 15:43
  • I have little doubt that the Buddha had learned siddhis, I was merely asking for a source of him using siddhis to perceive the "no god" hypothesis. – Jonas Byström Jan 23 '18 at 7:35
  • Ronald Cowen Can you tell me what kind of siddhis you have and have you also achieved all the jhana? – TheDBSGuy Nov 21 '18 at 20:03
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    @TheDBSGuy As an ordained Buddhist monk, it is not appropriate for me to discuss such personal matters. But I have written a book that discusses insights related to the siddhis. The book is called The Path of Love. – Ronald Cowen Nov 23 '18 at 0:06
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Because to create something from something else means to go against the law of cause and effect. Buddhist believe that if one plants orange seed, one will reap oranges. One plants apple seed, one will reap apples and so forth. One can't plant apple seed and reap oranges - it is totally absurd and illogical. One can't have something totally unrelated create something else totally unrelated. Thus buddhist does not believe in a creator.

  • My question is about the planting, not about the seeds or fruit. Something obviously can create something else totally unrelated. QED? :) – Jonas Byström Dec 19 '17 at 22:14
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    We assume things can exist by itself, but truthfully, thing exists dependently on another. It takes two hands to clap. Even if one assume planting to exist by itself, it is not, because for Christians, there is a God who did the planting, thus the law of dependency still applies, and since the law of dependency applies, there is no independent Creator. – tutu Dec 22 '17 at 2:02
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I would like to add to Sankha Kulathantille's comment but I lack the reputation here to comment directly on the subthread. They suggested the Sabbasutta "Sermon on the All", and another user pointed out that a "die-hard materialist" could use the same sermon.

I do not think that that applies. In order for the "die-hard materialist" to use the Sabbasutta they have to first redefine the mind and the mind's objects, dharmas, since they do not believe these things "exist" as the Buddha has said they do.

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The concept of ultimate creator is totally illogical and out of wisdom. There is no answer to who did create the creator?

  • How can we be sure that our logic or wisdom would suffice? A million years ago we climbed out of the trees and we are still killing each other over minor differences. To me it feels like a stretch to claim that even the pinnacle of humanity's wisdom and logic is comprehensive enough to easily grasp the ultimate questions. – Jonas Byström Dec 29 '17 at 12:58

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