The speaker explains his story at the end:
What's the game Gautama is trying to play?
See if you believe there is God, or if you believe there is no God, you're in the same boat: you believe something that you do not know.
"I believe this", "you believe that", it doesn't make any difference.
You can believe whatever you want, yes? Everyone can believe whatever they want, it need not have anything to do with reality as such.
If you say "I do not know", the longing to know will arise.
If the longing arises then the seeking arises.
If the seeking arises then the possibility of knowing, exists.
During the story I noticed he said that the men asked the questions because "a little doubt" had come into their minds. That reminded me about these topics, on the subject of the role of "doubt" in (Zen) Buddhism:
I've seen "doubt" elsewhere: it's one of the fetters, vicikicchā, which a stream-enterer is free from. Note though that that's free from "doubt about the Dhamma".
If the story is true (or rather, "assuming for the sake of argument that the story is true"), maybe it's saying that "existence of God" is not knowable. You can't, for example, use the standards given in the Kalama sutta to assess whether or not there's a God.
Another thing I noticed from the story-as-told is that:
- The first man uses only one word ("Ram") to say everything/anything. Gautama replies to him accordingly, with one word: "No".
- The second man is an expert arguer and missionary, no matter which of the Gods you believe in he can prove you wrong within ten minutes of formal argument. Instead of getting into an argument, Gautama answers him too with one word: "Yes".
Maybe "does God exist?" is a question that belongs in the same category as other questions in the Avyakata Samyutta.
Maybe, using the logic in SN 44.10, Gautama gave the answer which would least confuse (or best unconfuse) the person who is asking:
- The devotee was confused by their belief in God, so Gautama answered "No" (e.g. you need to see through, see beyond, see more than that belief).
- Similarly the atheist, the materialist, was confused by their belief in only-materialism, and so Gautama gave him a corresponding answer.
A bit off-topic but it does remind me of this, which I read in a non-Buddhist collection of aphorisms:
Fais que je me contredise souvent: afin d'être simple et vrai.
- Prière paienne
(my translation from the French)
Make me contradict myself often: in order to be simple and true.
- Pagan prayer