4

Is the Buddha an historic person (did he really exist)?

If yes, was he a human being or a God, or both, or a human that became a god or God?

Do Buddhists regard him as an emanation of God (for example, as Christians regard Jesus of Nazareth), or a prophet of God (as Muslims regard Mahomet), or an angel?

My question is honest and is asked with a friendship intend of peaceful dialogue to lower the tensions between religions, philosophies and esoterisms (rare private philosophies). My goal is to learn better and to show to others how to speak publicly about spirituality lowering the violence; not increasing it and not making money on it. I believe it is very important today to learn those skills.

  • The Moderation policies for Questions doesn't allow "broad religious comparisons" -- and, "what's the difference between the Buddha and Jesus" is an example of a question that's too broad. I edited it to try to focus the question on what people believe about the Buddha. – ChrisW Mar 14 '16 at 19:47
  • 1
    Also, Stack Exchange sites (including this one) are intended for a question-and-answer format (i.e. finite-sized answers to answerable questions), not for "dialogue" (I'm not saying dialogue is bad but this site exists to support people asking and answering questions). – ChrisW Mar 14 '16 at 19:49
  • Read this book "God is Not One" The author makes a compelling case that the differences among the religions are not superficial and that perennialism is not a useful or accurate viewpoint: amazon.com/gp/product/B003F1WMAC/… Buddhism gets a chapter as do all the other major world religions. – MatthewMartin Mar 14 '16 at 20:04
  • Or read this one. 'The Transcendent Unity of Religion' by Frithjof Schuon. It's excellent and well-informed. – PeterJ Oct 28 '18 at 12:06
9

The Dona Sutta might be helpful:

On one occasion the Blessed One was traveling along the road between Ukkattha and Setabya, and Dona the brahman was also traveling along the road between Ukkattha and Setabya. Dona the brahman saw, in the Blessed One's footprints, wheels with 1,000 spokes, together with rims and hubs, complete in all their features. On seeing them, the thought occurred to him, "How amazing! How astounding! These are not the footprints of a human being!"

Then the Blessed One, leaving the road, went to sit at the root of a certain tree — his legs crossed, his body erect, with mindfulness established to the fore. Then Dona, following the Blessed One's footprints, saw him sitting at the root of the tree: confident, inspiring confidence, his senses calmed, his mind calmed, having attained the utmost control & tranquility, tamed, guarded, his senses restrained, a naga. On seeing him, he went to him and said, "Master, are you a deva [a god]?"

"No, brahman, I am not a deva."

"Are you a gandhabba?"

"No..."

"... a yakkha?"

"No..."

"... a human being?"

"No, brahman, I am not a human being."

"When asked, 'Are you a deva?' you answer, 'No, brahman, I am not a deva.' When asked, 'Are you a gandhabba?' you answer, 'No, brahman, I am not a gandhabba.' When asked, 'Are you a yakkha?' you answer, 'No, brahman, I am not a yakkha.' When asked, 'Are you a human being?' you answer, 'No, brahman, I am not a human being.' Then what sort of being are you?"

"Brahman, the fermentations by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be a deva: Those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. The fermentations by which — if they were not abandoned — I would be a gandhabba... a yakkha... a human being: Those are abandoned by me, their root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising.

"Just like a red, blue, or white lotus — born in the water, grown in the water, rising up above the water — stands unsmeared by the water, in the same way I — born in the world, grown in the world, having overcome the world — live unsmeared by the world. Remember me, brahman, as 'awakened.'

"The fermentations by which I would go to a deva-state, or become a gandhabba in the sky, or go to a yakkha-state & human-state: Those have been destroyed by me, ruined, their stems removed. Like a blue lotus, rising up, unsmeared by water, unsmeared am I by the world, and so, brahman, I'm awake."

4

Is the Buddha God?

No. Although in Mahayana, the Buddha gains qualities of a God such as immortality and superpowers. But these are the same immortality and qualities than anyone who successfully completes the Bodhisattva path would have. This is different from an Abrahamic mono-god that works a lot more like Brahman, the pre-Buddhist entity that is sort of like a god or a universally shared soul.

Is Buddha an historic person (did he really exist)?

Yes, historians don't have as much evidence as they would like, but we don't have any evidence that he was a myth. The early suttas are written in plainspoken, realistic style. The later suttras (Mahayana) are written in a grand mythic style-- no space to discuss if everyone literally believed them as history.

If yes, was he a human being or a God, or both, or a human that became a god or God?

God doesn't even mean the same thing in Buddhist cosmologies as in an Abrahamic one. The Buddha was not a jealous god, nor a long lived god, nor anything else because those are realms where the practice of Buddhism isn't practical because existence is so comfortable you have no incentive to practice. Gods are mortal & they die and regret having lost what they had. There is no parallel in Christianity. AFAIK, in Christianity, adherents don't believe that they will be reincarnated as Gods nor that they used to be gods (and many other beings).

Do Buddhists regard him as an emanation of God (for example, as Christians regard Jesus of Nazareth), or a prophet of God (as Muslims regard Mahomet), or an angel?

There is a trikaya theory, which in Mahayana says that an Enlightened Buddha has multiple bodies. It solved the problem of how a Buddha could provide aid at a distance. The Dharmakaya is the body that is the most abstract and "fuzzy" and could be recognized as an Abrahamic style God.

The Buddha most similar to the Christian God is the Amitabha of Pure Land Buddhism. That said, there are numerous differences. In Pure Land, you are still working on the same practice based project, except you expect to complete the project with assistance in the next life in the Pure Land. In Christian Heaven, you don't have a rigorous monastic program leading to Enlightenment, the end of suffering & the end of the cycle of rebirth.

3

Is the Buddha God?

No, he is/was not.

He was a human being reaching the highest potential a being can reach, i.e. becomming a fully enlightened Buddha (Sammasambuddha).

Is the Buddha an historic person (did he really exist)?

Yes he did. When practicing insight meditation it becomes very clear that the Dhamma can only come from a fully enlightened Buddha.

Do Buddhists regard him as an emanation of God?

They regard him as a teacher.

2

Is the Buddha an historic person (did he really exist)?

There are historians who stand in the "existed" and in the "not enough evidence" positions. I don't know of any serious arguments from people who claim he did not existed though.

The second group expects more archeological evidence or external records and accounts from other groups that lived during his life to be convinced (however, no period or place is equal in being able to -- or interested in -- producing evidence for events, and no event is safe from being disintegrated or lost with time). This is a similar position to those who are skeptic of the existence of Jesus.

Like Jesus, Buddha lived in a period and carried a life that could, indeed, produce very little material evidence for further generations -- a lot of the preserved historical records where materialized after their death.

Like Jesus, the prime evidence of Buddha's existence is what his disciples memorized -- and eventually wrote down -- about his life. A skeptic would be inclined to disregard such materials as evidence claiming these have an intrinsic bias, while historians point out that this is precisely the group of people who would produce the greatest number of evidence for events and existence of someone -- since they are the primary witnesses.

Now, considering the archeological material and the texts we have, there are compelling evidence in them that they are indeed authentic and, consequently, do describe the teachings of a single personality, that of the Buddha1.

Do Buddhists regard him as an emanation of God (for example, as Christians regard Jesus of Nazareth), or a prophet of God (as Muslims regard Mahomet), or an angel?

Buddhists cosmology/universe is populated with animals, humans and devas (spiritual beings). Together, they are simply "beings": these die and become other kind of being (e.g. humans die and may become devas, devas die and may become humans -- same with animals).

So, while buddhism acknowledge "gods" -- long-lived spiritual beings -- it does not acknowledge or identify a God, a Creator, who created everything and who never ever dies. So the Buddha does not say he is the Creator, nor does he say he represents a Creator2. He declares he is a teacher and he declares he represents his teaching: that of eliminating suffering for beings.


1 See Bhikkhu Sujato's and Bhikkhu Brahmali's The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts

2 though as @MatthewMartin said in his answer there are buddhists who consider the Buddha to be immortal.

2

This question is a category error; the premise of the question is such that, either a "yes" or "no" answer implies additional information that is not correct. To say that Buddha = God, and Buddha != God, are both wrong. Try to understand.

In Abrahamic faiths, God is the ultimate authority; any action that contradicts the will of God is sin, and can be punished by God. In Buddhism, the Buddha is called "the Blessed One" and "perfectly enlightened", "most excellent among persons" -- the first of the Three Jewels. Any action that contradicts the dharma he taught (which coincidentally is the second Jewel) is unskillful, and leads to suffering.

There is nonetheless a radical difference between Buddha, and God in monotheism, because they have a radically different basis of authority. In monotheism, God deliberately caused the physical universe to exist, by giving a spoken order; just like a bronze-age warlord could cause a city or fortress or palace to exist by ordering his troops and servants. In monotheism, God is all-seeing and immortal, and has the ability to send curses, cause plagues and take life. Therefore, God must be unconditionally obeyed.

The Buddha, on the other hand, was just an ordinary human, who revealed to us the wisdom he had accumulated in countless, infinitely-many past lives. He had previously lived (at various times) as a monk, philosopher, king, commoner, as various kinds of animal, and as a spirit in the worlds of the devas. Thus, he had ample qualifications to share with us the Four Noble Truths, before he died his last death, never to return.

The Buddha never threatened to take away life, or advocated for violence; he always advised against war, or use of the death penalty, whenever a ruler asked for his advise. He never attempted to coerce conversions from the unwilling, with the threat of punishment in the afterlife, although he did tell people there was a hell waiting for them if they committed acts that they already knew were wrong. He was understanding and sympathetic whenever a person did not accept his claims of Buddhahood; he advised lay followers to never trust a teacher until they have thoroughly evaluated that teacher's honest mode of living, mental stability, compassion towards others, and dispassion towards his own interests. He understood that, for the ordinary human without memory of past lives, naturalism, and skepticism of supernatural claims, is highly appropriate.

The teachings of the Buddha included a very strict moral code for the monks of his order. Poverty, celibacy, strict vegetarianism, teetotalism, non-violence, refraining from use of any kind of jewelry, stylish clothing, fragrances or cosmetics. All standard fare for ascetics in most religions. It is not a life for everyone. But the Buddha taught highly practical advise for people in every walk of life: kings, commoners, merchants and professionals, women and children. The Noble Eightfold Path, which leads to an end of all suffering, touches on every part of one's life.

A major part of the Eightfold path is attained through the use of mindful meditation. This can be practiced with the thought of focusing the mind on gods, spirits, ancestors and the like, but mindfulness, rightfully understood, is the decision to not let uninvited thought processes initiate themselves. It is the exercise of choosing to think about, either nothing at all, or only one thing at a time. Chants and breathing exercises are an end to that goal; completely shutting out foolish, selfish, or fearful thoughts, or considering them one at a time. If an idea occurs to you that is obviously bad, do not attack it, and do not feel bad about it; just choose to passively forget it.

You do not have to be Buddhist to do this; modern psychology, psychiatry, and yoga/fitness professionals are skilled in using these techniques, and they are no less authentic for having been adopted in a secular, Western context.

Although the Buddha passed on, the he set into motion the wheel of dharma, by sharing and propagating the laws which he discovered. It is said that these laws, once universally known, will lead to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

  • Nice answer. Maybe not "strict vegetarianism", though, for monks (see e.g. here, or here, etc.). – ChrisW Oct 28 '18 at 12:55
1

Is the Buddha an historic person (did he really exist)?

See: Did Gautama Buddha exist?

If yes, was he a human being or a God, or both, or a human that became a god or God?

See (Pāda) Doṇa Sutta as pointed out in one of the other answers,

Do Buddhists regard him as an emanation of God (for example, as Christians regard Jesus of Nazareth), or a prophet of God (as Muslims regard Mahomet), or an angel?

No. You have to liberate yourself through your own pratice of Vipassana. Nobody else can give you liberation.

1

The question here: "Is the Buddha God?" Here goes the story...

Once the Buddha was asked... if he was a God?

The Buddha replied that no, he was not a god.

Then was he an angel? No. ​ A spirit? No.

Then what was he?

The Buddha replied that he was awakened.

Since the Buddha, by his own assertion, is not a god, we do not worship him. We respect and are grateful to him for teaching us many different methods to help us find the way to be liberated from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and like him, to become perfectly enlightened.

One of the methods that the Buddha taught is Pure Land Buddhism. Buddha Sakyamuni had repeatedly taught his followers about Amitabha Buddha and the Western Pure Land, the Land of Ultimate Bliss, and encouraged us numerous times to vow to reborn in the Western Pure Land. So we need to understand what Pure Land Buddhism is.

See Pure Land Principles to understand the fundamentals.

Buddha-name chanting is the practice of Pure Land Buddhism by calling for the help of Amitabha Buddha. For those who are interested in the practice of Buddha-name chanting, see here for more information on how to practice.

Pure Land practice would seem to be the most suitable practice in modern days for several reasons.

First, it is relatively easy to practice in almost any environment: alone, with other practitioners, or even amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Second, there are no difficult entry-level criteria. Even if one's abilities and knowledge are modest, with belief, vows, and practice, we will be reborn in the Pure Land.

Belief means that we need to believe in the Buddhas and their teachings, and in causality. We need to believe in ourselves and that we have the same true nature as the Buddha. We need to believe that by living a moral life and being mindful of Amitabha Buddha we will be born into the Western Pure Land and become a Buddha in one lifetime.

Third, due to the vows of Amitabha, achievement through this method can be attained more quickly and more easily than with other practices. We can understand this better through an analogy. We come to a river that we wish to cross. We can swim across but our baggage is very heavy and the water is treacherously deep.

​By continuously practicing (Amitabha) Buddha-name chanting, the ultimate goal is to seek the help of Amitabha Buddha to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss at the end of this lifetime!

0

This are actually improper questions of what the Buddha is/was/... but to lay out a trace to his path one could follow:

Yes (on conventional level), the Buddha "was" a God (Brah-ma-na), in the deep sense of it's meaning. Yet not one that binds "his" "Devas", but lead them to independency if willing to bind oneself strongly to his bond (re-legion).

For some ideas of how the Sublime Buddha made clear of what makes one a real Brah-ma-n, one may gain some impressions at the Brahmanavagga

The "creator-god"-Buddha, as it should be understood:

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "I am a brahman, responsive to requests, open-handed, bearing my last body, an unsurpassed doctor & surgeon. You are my children, my sons, born from my mouth, born of the Dhamma, created by the Dhamma, heirs to the Dhamma, not heirs in material things. iti 100

(Note that this is not given for trade, exchange, stacks to keep caught in this or another Brahmā Net, but as a tiny door to escape)

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