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I'm new to this site. So I'd like to ask a question about God.

Do Buddhists believe in the existence of a God?

Does Lord Buddha mention anything about this?

10 Answers 10

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Unfortunately, this is one of the first questions people ask, especially if they are coming from a theistic background. As a result, many who require the belief of a 'God' as a precondition, turn away from Buddhism without even practicing and finding out for oneself. Likewise, many atheists also get turned off when they hear about hells/heavens/rebirth in Buddhism.

To answer your question, if by 'God', you mean a creator/omnipotent/all governing entity, the answer is No.

'God' is a Christian term. At the time of the Buddha, words like 'Mahābrahmā' or 'Brahma' were used to describe such concepts. Brahmajala sutta talks in detail about how this belief was originated.

The concept goes directly against one of the core teachings of Buddhism: "Sabbe Dhamma Anatta" - all phenomena are non-self or devoid of a soul.

Even a Jataka story questions the belief in such a being:

"If the creator of the world entire 
They call God, of every being be the Lord 
Why does he order such misfortune 
And not create concord?"

"If the creator of the world entire 
They call God, of every being be the Lord 
Why prevail deceit, lies and ignorance 
And he such inequity and injustice create?" 

"If the creator of the world entire 
They call God, of every being be the Lord 
Then an evil master is he, (O Aritta) 
Knowing what's right did let wrong prevail!"

Here's a related article: Buddhist attitude towards 'God'

Buddhism teaches that all misbeliefs(beliefs that block the path to Nibbana) are variations of 2 fundamental misbeliefs.

  1. Sassata Vada - Eternalism
  2. Uchcheda Vada - Nihilism

The belief of 'God' falls under the first category.

Even though holding onto such a belief does not prevent one from being born in heavens(given that they do many good deeds), it does block the path to Nibbana(Enlightenment). That's why it is called Maggavarana. Buddhism has very little to offer to such people until they are ready to give up that belief.

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    Very good answer. You have made it clear that God is a term which comes from Christian theology. Many people get confused as ask if Buddha is God or God's messenger. And many try to say Buddha is 'like God' which is also incorrect. Buddha is Buddha. – Bharat Sep 6 '16 at 23:01
  • Even the word 'spirituality' would not technically apply to Buddhism given that atman is the same 'soul/spirit identified as breath' concept as ruach/pneuma/spiritus (cf. German Atem, Dutch adem). – Simon H Jul 22 '17 at 4:48
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The answer is yes, but in a different way.

Maha Brahma, Great Brahma:

Maha Brahma really exists, but his existence is viewed as temporary and impermanent, He is an extremely powerful being who mistakenly believes himself to be the all-knowing all-powerful Creator of the universe, who comes into existence at the beginning of the universe:

"There comes a time, bhikkhus, when after the lapse of a long period this universe contracts (disintegrates). While the universe is contracting, beings for the most part are reborn in the Ābhassara Brahma-world. There they dwell, mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the air, abiding in glory. And they continue thus for a long, long period of time.

"But sooner or later, bhikkhus, after the lapse of a long period, there comes a time when this universe begins to expand once again. While the universe is expanding, an empty palace of Brahmā appears. Then a certain being, due to the exhaustion of his life-span or the exhaustion of his merit, passes away from the Ābhassara plane and re-arises in the empty palace of Brahmā. There he dwells, mind made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the air, abiding in glory. And he continues thus for a long, long period of time.

"Then, as a result of dwelling there all alone for so long a time, there arises in him dissatisfaction and agitation, (and he yearns): 'Oh, that other beings might come to this place!' Just at that moment, due to the exhaustion of their life-span or the exhaustion of their merit, certain other beings pass away from the Ābhassara plane and re-arise in the palace of Brahmā, in companionship with him. There they dwell, mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the air, abiding in glory. And they continue thus for a long, long period of time.

"Thereupon the being who re-arose there first thinks to himself: 'I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Vanquisher, the Unvanquished, the the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Supreme Being, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and are to be. And these beings have been created by me. What is the reason? Because first I made the wish: "Oh, that other beings might come to this place!" And after I made this resolution, now these beings have come.'

"And the beings who re-arose there after him also think: 'This must be Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Vanquisher, the Unvanquished, the the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Supreme Being, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and are to be. And we have been created by him. What is the reason? Because we see that he was here first, and we appeared here after him.'

"Herein, bhikkhus, the being who re-arose there first possesses longer life, greater beauty, and greater authority than the beings who re-arose there after him. (Brahmajāla Sutta, DN 1)

The Brahma worlds are full of pleasure and last for such an extremely extremely long time that it is often mistaken as eternal by many but eventually the Brahma worlds come to an end (it's a temporary heavenly world, so it's not a solution to ending suffering). Maha Brahma is extremely powerful so He is often mistaken as all-powerful, all-knowing, etc...

Most likely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and other religions that speak of a Creator god that existed in the beginning of the universe) came from the Brahma worlds or beings influenced by the Brahma worlds.

The reason why many morals in Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions resemble Buddhism is because they lead towards the Brahma worlds which is viewed as one of the best possible destinations, but still below the Pure Abodes and nibbana.

In order to get into the Brahma worlds one has to be extremely virtuous and loving or enter higher meditative states (jhanas).

Maha Brahma and other Brahma-beings are viewed as mostly good and closer in accordance to the dhamma than most.

Maha Brahma and other extremely powerful beings in this universe-system are still influenced by the Evil One (Mara, Satan), and still experience sorrow, anger, etc...unlike arahants and Buddhas.

There is a story in the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta (MN 49) where the Evil One possesses followers of Brahma to say something like "Don't defy Brahma otherwise you'll go to hell" just like many modern day followers do.

The Evil One (Mara, Satan) prefers that people go to the temporary Brahma worlds rather than achieve arahantship knowing that it's temporary.

The Buddha says to a Brahma-being "Thus I am not your mere equal in terms of direct knowing, so how could I be inferior? I am actually superior to you" (Brahma-nimantanika Sutta, MN 49).

The Unborn / Nibbana:

"There is that dimension where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor stasis; neither passing away nor arising: without stance, without foundation, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress."

— Udana 8.1

"There is, monks, an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, emancipation from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned."

— Udana 8.3

Buddhas:

Buddhas are viewed as Supreme Beings.

Buddhas and arahants are viewed as higher (or superior) to Maha Brahma and other beings in the universe under samsara.

The Buddha also has superior supernormal powers to Maha Brahma as well.

"All-conquering, all-knowing am I, with regard to all things, unadhering. All-abandoning, released in the ending of craving: having fully known on my own, to whom should I point as my teacher?" (Dhammapada, 353)

In Pure Land Buddhism there are Buddha-lands that last for an incalculably long time. Amida Buddha seems to be the main one centered, who's light shines everywhere.

Primordial Buddha:

This Buddha is the Original Buddha, like the unborn itself inside of everything found in Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism.

"I am the core of all that exists. I am the seed of all that exists. I am the cause of all that exists. I am the trunk of all that exists. I am the foundation of all that exists. I am the root of existence. I am ‘the core’ because I contain all phenomena. I am ‘the seed’ because I give birth to everything. I am ‘the cause’ because all comes from me." - All-Creating King Tantra

So certainly Buddhism has Supreme Being concepts.

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Yes it is. Depending on the Karma (good Karma) you have gathered, you can born as a God in "God's world". So yes, Buddhism believes in the existence of God. Well, not just one God who controls everything, but plenty of Gods. You can even enter to that level if you bring your mind to a higher level through meditation. There are so many evidences in the Buddhist literature about Gods. However Buddhism doesn't say or ask to expect anything from them. That's the difference.

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Very detailed, learned and referenced answers are given above. Just want to add my two cents worth to give a simple lay answer. When people ask this question they are almost always talking about a creator god. A creator god is by definition supernatural in that he has total control over the natural order and exists outside of it. Such a god is unequivocally denied by Lord Buddha (& Buddhism). However, "divine Beings" are undeniably affirmed by Buddhism. It is made clear, however, that such beings are not above or outside nature. They simply dwell in other planes of existence, and like other living beings are subject to the Law of Karma. They also have a "lifespan", albeit much greater than ours,after which they die, and are born again, unless they achieve Nibbana, which they can only do so thru a human birth. Where do these beings come from to get to their "higher plane"? The answer is partially given in that thru attainment of jhana a person may be born in those "divine" planes. Which planes, etc., are determined by the level of jhana attained. Ven. H. Gunaratne's book, "The Path of Serenity and Insight" explains this.

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If you mean Isvara, a personal creator like Jehovah, Allah, Shiva or other such deity which exist forever and creates the world from nothing, the answer is no.

If you mean a god in the sense of Hinduism, again the answer is no. Buddhism refers to the same gods by name, but the Buddhist concept of a god (deva) are heavenly beings who are limited in existence and power. Not something we want to aspire to since they are still caught in samsara.

Buddha refered to Brahma, but his interpretation of this word is simply a state of existence, the uncreated. Similar to the concept of the Tao.

If you are looking for something similar to Christianity, then Pureland somes close. Amitabha Buddha is not a god, but you can be reborn in his pureland. And there is the story of Kuanyin (a manifestation of Amitabha) who was born as Miao Shan. Miao Shan was killed, descended into hell, rose from the dead, and rescues those who call her name.

  • Textually, El (God) of the Bible is 'nothing' i.e. not a thing. And the original sense of the English word 'thing' is an aggregation (or system) i.e. a thing has parts. God as whole and indivisible would therefore not be a thing. Hence the distinction between creator and creation in the Abrahamic traditions. Is this Brahma or Buddha nature or sunyata? I don't know. – Simon H Jul 22 '17 at 5:11
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Yes, for many schools, the idea of god exists (is not the God of Christians and Muslims and Jews, mind you). Buddhism is a big and old religion with many schools. But Buddhist religion is not centered around the idea of God. Their metaphysics is more concerned with ideas of rebirth and nirvana and such, than with describing a god or ideas of heaven and hell. In addition, in West it is more the philosophy of Buddhism than its religious aspects, that have received attention. For instance, because of its emphasis on introspection and disciplined cognitive activities such as focused attention and concentration, this philosophy has been easiest to fuse with psychological sciences.

So to get a real sense for Buddhist ideas of the supernatural, don't rely on popular books published in West because they're either trying to bring the Buddhist idea of the first cause and creator closer to Christianity to make it easier for religious readers, or to do away with god completely. Neither is true.

  • We warmly welcome you to our group Raymond, but I am very sorry to say that your is not a factual statement, and I am very sorry to have to down-vote you. – Saptha Visuddhi Sep 6 '16 at 9:51
  • @SapthaVisuddhi I didn't see anything contra-factual in this answer. If you want to post a comment to criticize it, it might be better to be more specific (i.e. identify what, exactly, is "not factual"), or more prescriptive/constructive (i.e. how to improve the answer). If you think this isn't a good answer, another alternative is to post a different (better) answer yourself. – ChrisW Sep 7 '16 at 7:26
  • @ChrisW, Unfortunately I may not get a chance to do so till the second half of October. These days I am a bit busy making arrangements for a 15 day road trip to the east coast of Canada. Now that I have made that comment, I would have to provide that 'more prescriptive / constructive' answer. That would be the first thing that I will do once I get back. Until such time I will refrain from making such comments. Sorry about that. – Saptha Visuddhi Sep 7 '16 at 9:56
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At the very outset of this post, may I make it clear to one and all that this is only an interpretation from a Buddhist Point of View, and it is not a criticism of any one of the religions that believe in a single all-powerful 'God' such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Nowhere in the scriptures is found a mention of ‘A God’, and it can be said that the concept of ‘God” is constructed by the mind due to the ignorance or "avidya" of "anicca, dukka and anatta". Because all things are conditioned and transient (anicca), the concept of ‘God’ too has no real independent identity (anatta) - so do not truly ‘exist’. Furthermore the mind that is being used to comprehend what is written here is also created due to ‘avidya’ or ignorance. What we are dealing here is relative truths, as opposed to Nirvana, Anicca, Dukka, and Anatta which are Absolute Truths that we will never fully comprehend. To make this point clear, let me take ‘Anicca’ that we have come to know as “impermanence”. Only an Arahant would fully understand ‘Anicca’. Whoever that realizes what Anicca, Dukka, or Anatta is will attain ‘Nirvana’ that very moment of understanding. So what we will ever know is kind of sort of what it is – or "rather," "partial," or "somewhat" of what it truly is.

For the people of the world, the worldlings, of a bygone era, the Sun was the Surya Divya (Sun God). From a not so distant a past, thay have created a "body less" entity in the God, Brahman, Allah or Yehovah that has taken the place ‘Sun God’ and others. According to Buddhism, these entities are created by the ‘worldlings’ / ‘sattva’ and create more ‘samskaras’ in this very act, and extending their very journey in this endless samsara.

The essence of Buddhism is the Four Noble truths. It is Buddha’s essential teachings aimed at ending dukkha in this very life, through the realizing of The Four Noble Truths. The essence of Dukkha/Suffering lies with the mind, and aging, illness, and death are its shadows. The ignorance of these truths is avidya or ignorance / unawareness. The Dharma, teaches that the essence of Dukkha / Suffering is clinging, and the most basic form of clinging is self‐identification. The Buddha advised us to seek to attain the state of non-returners. At least all should try to attain the state of stream-entrants in this very life.

I may expand on this in a couple of months. This post is in response to @ChrisW & @Raymond comment & post.

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People create all kinds of ideas about 'God', to the point where people murder in the name of 'God' or people develop ideas 'God' will give them immortality simply for taking a personal allegiance.

There were always 'gods' among the ancient peoples but the Jewish idea of 'God' (which was transmitted to Christianity & Islam also) was originally about 'Law' ('Torah'). 'God' and 'Law' were originally essentially the same thing. Many religious Jews do not personify 'G-d'. Even Muslims openly discuss/debate the issue of anthropomorphism.

Buddhism has 'Law' ('Niyama') thus has something similar to 'God', albeit, strictly impersonal.

Just like many Buddhists wrongly take the Buddha to be a 'person', so do many people take 'God' to be a 'person', particularly Christians.

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Buddhist cosmology describes 31 planes of existence, divided into the following groups:

  • Formless realm
  • Form realm
  • Sensuous World <--- we humans are here
  • Not-so-pleasant place to be

As some of the answers here explained, Buddhism is after all concerned with the cultivation of the holy life. An all-powerful god has little relevance as far as the cultivation of the holy life is concerned.

Having said that, it is interesting to note that among the 31 planes of existence one being comes very close to fitting the description of an all powerful god. This god belongs to the Form world and is called the Great Brahma, who (in the Kevaddha Sutta) is described by other lesser gods as the:

... the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.

Legend has it that great Brahma came into existence where he was alone. When other lesser deities and beings manifest into being; it so happened that he was at that time hoping for some company. He then mistakenly believed that he was the cause that willed them into existence, and thus consider himself the creator.

In Kevaddha sutta, the great Brahma shares a amusing exchange with a monk, where he couldn't answer questions of his "creations". I'm not going to spoil it for you, so I have included the link for you to find out yourself. :-)

Despite the spirit of poking fun at these deities, it is also important to acknowledge that the level of cultivation that they have achieved in their previous lives are nothing to scoff at. It is unfortunate that these beings did not have the fortune of encountering the Buddha and his teachings. Otherwise, these are beings who in their previous lives polished their virtues to the utmost; and that is worthy of praise.

  • Kevaddha Sutta certainly will inform one of what even God does not know. Maha Brahmas, like Baka, think they’ve gone beyond anything the Buddha knows, so the Buddha has to go up to their Brahma heavens and subdue their pride, to show them that they still have more to let go of, that there is something the Buddha himself has gone beyond but they haven’t. Buddha has found a level of consciousness that Baka hasn’t known, that’s not known through the senses, not experienced thru sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, or ideas sensed thru the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind. – Saptha Visuddhi Sep 10 '16 at 15:03
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I don't know much about lord buddha. Lord Buddha mainly wanted mindful of inner peace. and control mindset, and spread his thoughts to his devotees, he removed anger, anxiety, etc from him, "He showed with patience we can achieve anything in this world".

Ex:Gandhi, Dr. BR.Ambedkar, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg who followed Buddhism.

"God is nothing but believe and belief in yourself."

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    You answer is more of an comment than an answer. And your explanation of what is God has nothing to do with Buddha Dharma. – Bharat Sep 6 '16 at 22:57

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