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Monday, June 27, 2016

On Gods in Buddhism

Some people insist Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy, and that there aren't any gods in it.

"While Buddhism is not a religion focused on an all-powerful creator ‘God’, it does accept a range of beings and levels of reality which go beyond our everyday world, and these will be the subject of this chapter. In the Buddhist worid—view, ultimate reality is generally not personalized, as a God, much less as a single God. It is seen in more impersonal terms as a state to be attained or realized: nirvana. The personal dimension comes in when one looks at those who experience this reality: for Theravada Buddhism, arahats (saints) and earthly buddhas; for Mahayana Buddhism, Heavenly buddbas and advanced bodhisattvas, who are on the brink of buddhahood.

All schools of Buddhism also accept a range of gods: divine beings who have attained heavenly rehirths through their good deeds, hut who will sooner or later die and be reborn. Buddhas, arahats and bodhisattvas are said to be ‘teachers of humans and gods’, and even gods are said to revere the ‘three treasures‘: the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha. Here, the Dhamma is the buddhas’ teaching, the timeless truths they point to, the path of practice, and the states realized on the path, culminating in nirvana itself. The Sarigha, as a ‘treasure’ or ‘refuge’, are those who have fully or partially realized nirvana, who are conventionally symbolized by the monastic community, also known as the sangha. Buddhism thus lacks a simple contrast between the ‘human’ and the ‘divine’. There are humans, limited gods, and, further, holy beings who have fully or partially experienced that which is truly transcendent, nirvana."

--- Portrayals of ultimate reality and of holy and divine beings / Peter Harvey in Buddhism / ed. Peter Harvey

Biography from An Introduction to Buddhism:

Peter Harvey is Emeritus Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sunderland. He is author of An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues (Cambridge University Press, 2000) and The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvāna in Early Buddhism (1995). He is editor of the Buddhist Studies Review.
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