All Buddhists Are Atheists

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All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:43 am

Ok, the subject title is a bit out there, acknowledged. But I thought it might be fun to kick the ideas around a bit. So here goes.

Buddha is not God. He did not create the universe or you or me. Since it is a well established Buddhist principle that your karma is your own, Buddha cannot interfere in that and thus cannot save you, you have to do that for yourself.

God is said to reside on a celestial throne, attended by angels, ruling the world which is dependent on him for it's very existence.

Buddha on the other hand, was a disenchanted rich kid who left home to live in a swamp with five of his buddies, attained a meditational breakthrough, wandered around India for fifty years or so and eventually died in the middle of nowhere from eating a bad pork sandwich.

So you can see there's a bit of a difference there.

So it seems to me that any reliance on gods in any form is counter-Buddhist. To do so is to deny karma, to try to find a way around it, and to cast responsibility for one's welfare on others. Buddha spent most of his life teaching the Four Noble Truths, dependent origination and Eightfold Path. None of these is in the least concerned gods great or small.

So Buddhists are atheists. Opinions?
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:51 am

Buddhism is polytheist. It has been from the start. The Buddha never denied the existence of gods, and he even had dialogues with them at times. In the greater cosmology there are deities like Indra who, while ultimately mortal, still has a role to play.

Such deities are not a means to liberation, but as far as worldly affairs go they have their role to play.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:59 am

It's possible that Buddha simply went along with the existing polytheistic culture so that he could get some teaching done, rather than being burned at the stake right off.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Yudron » Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:06 am

Well, Catmoon, that would be contradicting the sutras of the Pali canon.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:08 am

Yudron wrote:Well, Catmoon, that would be contradicting the sutras of the Pali canon.


Care to expand on that?
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby plwk » Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:15 am

Catty, I would agree with yr title thread if u meant in terms of not needing the crutch of a personal/impersonal Creator God, Father of All, First Cause, Ceiling Cat thingy but I would concede to some extent with huseng only when 'polytheistic' is in ONLY in the sense of for the sake of worldly convention, those 'devas' are known as commonly as 'gods' but as a Buddhist, they are not regarded as our proper source of reverence, object of refuge and mundane propitiation nor even as how other systems and worldly people understand them.

Another reason I would term Buddhism as non-theistic rather than atheistic is because in some circles of modern atheism, it has other elements of incompatible assertions with the Dharma when it should strictly cover on the non acceptance/lack of the belief of the Creator God/First Cause thingy. I recall my little debate with Bhante Dhammanando back on E-Sangha where he defends his position as an atheistic Buddhist whereas I prefer to use non-theistic as explained earlier and he understood why. Otherwise, I have no qualms using this term 'atheistic Buddhist' and qualified with this explaination.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:30 am

plwk wrote:Catty, I would agree with yr title thread if u meant in terms of not needing the crutch of a personal/impersonal Creator God, Father of All, First Cause, Ceiling Cat thingy but I would concede to some extent with huseng only when 'polytheistic' is in ONLY in the sense of for the sake of worldly convention, those 'devas' are known as commonly as 'gods' but as a Buddhist, they are not regarded as our proper source of reverence, object of refuge and mundane propitiation nor even as how other systems and worldly people understand them.

Another reason I would term Buddhism as non-theistic rather than atheistic is because in some circles of modern atheism, it has other elements of incompatible assertions with the Dharma when it should strictly cover on the non acceptance/lack of the belief of the Creator God/First Cause thingy. I recall my little debate with Bhante Dhammanando back on E-Sangha where he defends his position as an atheistic Buddhist whereas I prefer to use non-theistic as explained earlier and he understood why. Otherwise, I have no qualms using this term 'atheistic Buddhist' and qualified with this explaination.


Aren't there those who hold that the entirety of deity practice is an expedient means for restructuring the mind and generating compassion rather than actual worship of extant beings?

Also, there is an inherent ambiguity in using the term "gods" in the Buddhist context. One might be referring to occupants of the deva realms, who can be quite lacking in enlightenment, or you could be talking about enlightened masters on the Guru Rinpoche model, you could be talking about other religions' gods, you could be talking about full blown Buddhas on the lines of the seven Buddhas of Medicine Buddha practice... it's really amibiguous.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby ram peswani » Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:34 am

Guatam Buddh gave science of Existence. Buddh means WISDOM.
Science of existence has nothing to do with Theism or Atheism.
It is later on that bhuddism was considered a religion. And religion bring the God in picture.

All the Universe of creation that we see around us (stars, galaxis, earth) is created by Wisdom Buddhas.
So says the ultimate wisdom sutra (Lotus sutra) of Guatam Buddha. Lotus sutra clearly explains that any
one of us can become a Buddha after understanding Dharmas (wisdoms) And later on go to create a universe
of his choice.Even a universe free from Death, old age and sufferings.

Modern day so called Bhuddists due to their timidness have avoided the science of Lotus Sutra. In the present
times this Lotus sutra can easily be understood by devotion either to Lotus sutra or any bhoddisattva deity or any living bhoddisattva. Lotus sutra is available on internet
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby plwk » Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:43 am

Yes catty, the term 'yidam' or 'isthadevata' or 'meditational deity' as used in Vajrayana, from my readings and hearing from numerous teachers, are not like how the worldly mono/polytheistic fellas do it but as a practice focus and essentially a realisation that it is in the end inseparable from one's own Mind/Buddha Nature and it's always an Enlightened being model used, nothing less.

Whereas, in the worldly/mundane versions, there's always a distinction between object and subject, like in one monotheistic model, one can never be the same level as the Trinity, no matter how mystical or profound the contemplation practice is. Read into the lives of the Saints and you will know, in the end analysis, it comes back to the duality of Creator and created. The Hindu models however have an interesting twist although after one convo with a Vaishnava fren of mine, he did admit that Narayana is still above and external to himself, no matter how the experience of the so called 'oneness' and I recall reading an Advaita site that also in the end analysis that the Great Brahman is still distinct despite their concepts of 'non duality'...
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Adumbra » Thu Oct 18, 2012 7:53 am

I think Buddha's teaching could be called 'nontheistic' in that the practice of Buddhism does not involve the worship of any deity. However, a great many practicing Buddhists (especially in China and Japan) have been polytheists. Chinese Buddhists pray and make offerings to Boddhisattva's like Guan Yin and Japanese Buddhists often worship indiginous Shinto dieties in addition to the Boddhisattvas.

And then there is Pureland Buddhism...
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby catmoon » Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:48 am

I'm content to leave it there for now. I thought the idea might be worth exploring a little and the discussion seems to have unearthed some ambiguities, and possibly the atheism idea is outright contradicted by the existence of Pureland. Might be interesting to ask a Purelander if he sees himself as a theist though.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby oushi » Thu Oct 18, 2012 9:15 am

Buddhists may be atheists, but Buddhas are not. Problem arises when people try to grasp God with mind. That is why It wasn't thought directly by Buddha Sakyamuni. There cannot be any fruits of debating the existence of God as "he" is not an object, and as such, he is beyond analysis. Atheism is just another karma producing attempt to express separateness of human being. Theism, on the other hand, is driven by desire to know God. Both are faulty, but to proclaim oneself an atheist is the sign of a very narrow view. A tethering post of samsara.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:13 am

Huseng wrote:Buddhism is polytheist...
I disagree. Polytheism (normally) merely gives a pantheon of creator (each responsible for their own sphere of creation) gods to be worshipped either individually or as a group. I do not believe that Buddhism encourages this at all. Meditational deities are seen as merely representing elements/qualities of ones own mind. Now, of course, there are Buddhists that actually worship meditational deities as external entities, and the samsaric gods (deva and asura). Samsaric gods are beings, somewhat like you and me, and worshipping them is not so different to showing respect to a superior. Yidam deities are a completely different story. To worship yidam deities as externally existing beings may be a skillful means, it certainly works for some people, but ultimately...

oushi wrote:Buddhists may be atheists, but Buddhas are not.
:shrug: So what are you saying? That the Buddhas are worshippers of an externally existing creator god(s)?
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby mindyourmind » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:42 am

This type of debate is so fraught with difficulty that I normally try to avoid it, as it normally gives off way more heat than light. Most of that, I believe, stems from fuzzy thinking, bad or differing definitions and hang-ups which we are not always aware of.

In general though, I tend to be a bit uncomfortable with the label "atheist", largely due to the connotations that a lot of people have with that term. If by "atheist" we are talking about an absence of a belief in a creator god, the omni-god of the Abrahamic faiths, then by all means count me in as an "atheist". If we start diffusing that into a belief in deities, in the sense that Vajrayana uses it, then no, "atheist" is too strong a word.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby oushi » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:49 am

gregkavarnos wrote:So what are you saying? That the Buddhas are worshippers of an externally existing creator god(s)?

No.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:52 am

So what are you saying exactly?
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby oushi » Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:11 am

gregkavarnos wrote:So what are you saying exactly?

That, what I wrote. Discussing God is like discussing space. Negating God is like negating space. If there is a view of objectified God, there is duality. If there is a view of no God, there is self-contradiction. And If there is no view?

"I determine all events and meanings.
Because no objects exist which are not me,
You are beyond perspective or meditation."
Samathabarda.

If you think you have perspective, and you can meditate on things, think twice.

Buddhism is all about non-duality.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:42 am

catmoon wrote:It's possible that Buddha simply went along with the existing polytheistic culture so that he could get some teaching done, rather than being burned at the stake right off.


You'll be hard pressed to find solid evidence for such a revisionist approach to things.

As I argued here...

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=10507#p133272

The gods have their role to play and Buddhist is basically polytheist. Indra for instance can no more aid you in liberation than the king of a country can, though historically in Buddhism such deities have had their place. Indra is guardian and chief of the four Deva Kings. He also is on record as having taken an interest in the Buddha's teaching:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

The four Deva Kings (Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Virūḍhaka, Virūpākṣa and Vaiśravaṇa) historically have had a role to fulfil as well. You see them at the front of gate of many traditional temples in China and Japan. They are guardians of the four directions and shown the proper respect they are entitled to.

A lot of modern people want to see the Buddha as some kind of secular humanist. He wasn't.

It also begs the question what if the Buddha was of the mind that deities like Indra and so on have their respective place in the cosmology and really do fulfil an important function in the cosmos?
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:44 am

catmoon wrote:I'm content to leave it there for now. I thought the idea might be worth exploring a little and the discussion seems to have unearthed some ambiguities, and possibly the atheism idea is outright contradicted by the existence of Pureland. Might be interesting to ask a Purelander if he sees himself as a theist though.


It's also contradicted by the fact countless scriptures have devas, Brahma and Indra appearing.
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Re: All Buddhists Are Atheists

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:51 am

gregkavarnos wrote:
Huseng wrote:Buddhism is polytheist...
I disagree. Polytheism (normally) merely gives a pantheon of creator (each responsible for their own sphere of creation) gods to be worshipped either individually or as a group. I do not believe that Buddhism encourages this at all.


Polytheist just means multiple deities. It doesn't mean necessarily they're all involved in creation. In some religions this is true, but not all.


Meditational deities are seen as merely representing elements/qualities of ones own mind. Now, of course, there are Buddhists that actually worship meditational deities as external entities, and the samsaric gods (deva and asura). Samsaric gods are beings, somewhat like you and me, and worshipping them is not so different to showing respect to a superior.


As I'm sure you're aware there are a number of deities which play an important role in protection and so on. There is nothing wrong with paying proper respects. In many religions it has often been the case that people do not so much "take refuge" in such deities, but just look for worldly benefits by interacting with them.
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