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Every religion has a God and Satan, heaven and hell. Religion by definition means deification of a Supreme Being or worship of any deity. Monotheistic religions, like Islam and Christianity, have a single God and a single devil/Satan. While polytheistic religions like Hinduism have gods and goddesses, and male and female demons. Is there any place for God and Satan, heaven and hell in Buddhism? What did Gautama Buddha say about it?

  • Not every religion has concepts of God and Satan. Jainism and Taoism for example have no such concept. Buddhism has the concept of heavens and hells (plural) but no God or Satan that puts you there. – Codosaur Oct 31 '18 at 19:17
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There are 31 planes of existence according to Buddhism.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sagga/loka.html

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First of all, Buddhism can be thought of as more of an an agnostic religion, rather than a theistic religion, and certainly not a monotheistic religion. In Buddhism (Lotus Sutra sects excepted), the Buddha is believed to be, for lack of a better term, dead. He is non-existent, and the goal of Buddhism for the practicing lay follower is to likewise escape from being re-incarnated in perpetuity, and become (eventually) non-existent. You would be part of a perfectly tranquil hive-mind, but you would no longer exist as an individual, self-perceptive, sentient being. And because you would no longer exist in such a way, you could no longer suffer from physical ailments, emotional distress, unfulfilled fantasies, or fear of death, as people often do.

It's difficult to imagine. You've witnessed physical beings being born and dying; in fact, you yourself and been born and died countless times. You cannot begin to describe what it is like to "be" in Nirvana, because you have never "been" "there".

That is the goal of Buddhism. Even the Blessed One, the perfectly enlightened one, is "dead" as an individual and not eternal. He cannot see you, cannot hear you; "Life in any world has no protector, and no savior" -- see the Second Summary of the dharma, from Ratthapala sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 82. He cannot answer your prayers; you must meditate, and learn how to answer your own prayers. So, there is no eternal god or deity in Buddhism.

That having been said, there are lesser deities in Buddhism, borrowed from Hinduism. They are not really relevant; not part of the Four Noble Truths, not part of the Eightfold Path, but mentioned in various stories and parables, possibly for purposes of metaphor. In other words, you don't have to believe in them or take them literally in order to be a practicing Buddhist.

There is Brahma, who could be thought of a the closest thing to the Supreme Being. In the Hindu caste system (which the Buddha rejected), Brahmans derived their name from Brahma. The Buddha taught that he had, in a previous life, been in the company of Brahma; the way to be born into the world of the company of Brahma is to have a mind fully liberated by loving-kindness, fully liberated by compassion, fully liberated by altruistic joy, and fully liberated by equanimity.

There is King Yama, described in one of the suttas as being the ruler of the abode of the dead. He harshly reprimands souls in his charge that they did not honor their parents, monks, or philosophers, and reminds those damned souls that they were duly warned of their fate by Yama's three messangers: the sickly, the aged, and rotting corpses. (This particular sutta is superficially similar to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from the Christian Gospels, and The Inferno from Dante's work, The Divine Comedy.)

There is Mara, a malevolent being who is said to have tempted the Buddha with his three daughters, named Thirst, Aversion, and Passion. (Spookily corresponding to lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, from the First Epistle of John.) The temptation scene is very analogous to the temptation of Christ, after his baptism.

There are countless devas, or spirits (generally human) who have passed into a higher, blissful realm. There are "devas of Brahma's company", "devas who delight in creating" and "devas who rule over others creation". One of the realms is ruled over by "four great kings". Some have "limited radiance", some have "streaming radiance", some have unparalleled radiance. However, the Buddha did not instruct his followers to worship or obey any of those deities, but instead taught them that they could aspire to be re-incarnated into their realms, and eventually into even higher realms, before attaining Nirvana.

If you had asked the Buddha whether this particular world was created or governed by deity, and which one, he would not have answered.

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God and Satan are concepts invented by humans to personify our ideas about the qualities of omniscience and omnipotence (god) and ultimate evil to do harm (Satan). We ourselves can embody qualities of good and bad. That is, thought, speech, and action that can benefit or do harm to self and others. Heaven and Hell are not real places that you can find on google maps or some star chart. But rather heaven and hell are states of mind that we create for ourselves through out thoughts, speech, and actions.

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Yes but no.

I think that a feature of Abrahamic religions was prophets -- a prophet said, "This is what God wants, these are God's laws for us." And then the people agree that that is a real prophet (perhaps because of miracles, which imply divine intervention) and, more or less, accept the corresponding laws (or Christians accept Christ as being God Himself and not only a prophet).

Similarly, Gautama Buddha said, "Here are some laws." But he didn't say, "I know these are laws because God told me", instead he said something like (I paraphrase), "You can know for yourselves that these are 'laws', that this doctrine is true and beneficial, because it is self-evident, testable, inviting inspection" --

Dhammānussati

Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo:
The Dhamma is well declared by the Bhagavā:

sandiṭṭhiko akāliko
visible here and now, immediate,

ehipassiko opaneyyiko
inviting to come and see, effective,

paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī ti.
to be individually ascertained by the wise.

Examples of "Dhamma" include the Three poisons, the Four Noble Truths, the Five precepts.

An example of how the Buddha explains these as evident, as something you can know for yourself, is the Kalama sutta.

They are taught as being more-or-less a "natural law", rather than "God's law" -- like a boulder will sink in a lake and not float, so someone who breaks the precepts is destined for a unfortunate rebirth.

To that extent, "heaven" and "hell" exist (though some Buddhists see "heaven and hell" as states of mind in this life). Even Gods (inhabitants of the heavens ... sometimes Guardians) exist, but they too are subject to the Dhamma (i.e. natural law, including karma and impermanence), e.g. they too are subject to rebirth.

To some extent Buddhism teaches that people are responsible for their own salvation (they're "heir to their own karma", they should be "lamps or islands unto themselves"), though it also teaches that having admirable/spiritual/good friends and teachers is really important.

There's also "Mara", who in the suttas seems to act (like Satan) as a tempter or a voice of temptation, or of distraction, an obstacle.

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You've hit on the reason why many people argue that Buddhism is not a religion. What the Buddha taught was that nothing really exists or ever really happens, and this goes for Gods and Devils. These would be conceptual things, as would be all things.

EDIT: This is the dhamma as summed up by Nagarjuna. The two views 'something exists' and 'nothing exists' are both refuted leaving us with the Middle Way expression 'nothing really exists or ever really happens'. This is explained by Khenpo Gyamptso in his book on Nagarjuna The Sun of Wisdom as being a correct expression of Nagarjuna's logical result. The word 'really' would be crucial and steers us clear of both Realism and Nihilism. It signifies the dual-aspect (or no-aspect) approach of N's 'Two Truths'.

Thus the Universe is described as Unity transcending the exist/not-exist distinction which, like all distinctions, would not be fundamental.

As Nagarjuna is credited with putting in place the philosophical foundations of the sutras it seems safe to say that what Nagarjuna proves is what the Buddha taught. If this is not the case then Nagarjuna's logical argument in 'Fundamental Verses' refutes the Buddha's teachings, which is an implausible idea.

  • In which sutta did the buddha teach that "nothing really exists"? Isn't that (or mightn't that be mistaken for) a kind of doctrine that's defined as "wrong view", here? Are you maybe referring to Nāgārjuna's doctrine of emptiness, rather than the Buddha's (not that I'm saying that Nāgārjuna's doctrine is necessarily "wrong")? – ChrisW Oct 31 '18 at 14:31
  • I think I heard this, "Buddha taught was that nothing really exists", a long time ago, and didn't understand it then (see also e.g. the Zen story, Nothing Exists) so I fear this isn't enough to be an informative answer -- hence my asking for (in lieu of a more complete explanation) at least a reference. – ChrisW Oct 31 '18 at 15:30
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    @ChrisW - I added an edit to be more helpful. – PeterJ Oct 31 '18 at 16:02
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Buddhism has many brahmas and devas but they are also subject to death. Buddha is supreme among all beings. He is the teacher of divine and humans. There are 31 planes of existence and all these are real places.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sagga/loka.html

You should also read Dn 11. https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.11.0.than.html

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