By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the above-headed article by Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara (Dr. CN) in the Daily Mirror of 6th January, 2023. I am reluctantly compelled to respond because there are contradictions and misconceptions of religion and God. Firstly, the above title “Concept of God in Buddhism “is inappropriate. Dr. CN states that “Buddhism is basically a non-theistic religion, also considered a philosophy and moral discipline”. The antithesis of theism is atheism and not non-theism. This means there is no room for a God in Buddhism. If there is no God in Buddhism, how can one have “a concept of God in Buddhism”? Isn’t it contradictory? Therefore, the appropriate title of the Article should read as “Buddhist view of the Concept of God”. Furthermore, there is an inherent conflict in the phrase “non-theistic religion” as a definition of Buddhism. As said before, one cannot call Buddhism non-theistic and at the same time a religion. It is contradictory. The words non-theistic and religion cannot co-exist. Therefore, Buddhism sans God cannot be called a religion. The word religion comes from the word “religio”, which is a binding relationship between man and God. Buddhism in my view is quintessentially a philosophy, a moral or ethical Code. There are Morals and ethics in all religions. But there is no religion in ethics and morals. Thus, moral or ethical Codes cannot be called a religion. But Buddha did not either accept or reject God positively.
Having clarified the contradictions let me refer to the specifics.
Concept of God
The concept of God in Christian and Islamic religions is of monotheism. That is, Christianity has its God and accepts no other. Likewise Islam has its God and accepts no other. Both respective Gods are sitting in Heaven and ruling the Universe, all Beings and non Beings, rewarding the virtuous and punishing the wicked. Their concept of God is a Personal God in human form. Associated with this idea of God is the existence of eternal states of Heaven and a Hell, where the virtuous and the wicked are consigned forever, respectively. There is only one birth and one life.
The Hindu concept of God is greatly different. God is both Impersonal and Personal. It appears contradictory but not so. God is Impersonal, Nameless, Formless and infinite. The Cosmic Energy and Intelligence is considered the Ultimate or Absolute Reality. The Absolute Reality is referred to as the Brahman. The Brahman manifest in different forms and names as God Brahma ,the Creator, God Vishnu as sustainer and preserver of Existence, God Shiva as Destroyer of Existence .The Impersonal Brahman manifest in the forms and names of Personal Gods as Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. There are no Eternal States of Heaven and Hell. There is only the Brahmaloka of celestial Gods.
The atheists, including the Buddhists, derisively refer to the Gods of theistic religions as “Creator Gods”. This description is applicable to Christianity and Islam, which have Personal Gods. Christianity and Islam believe the phenomenal material world and all beings were created out of nothing by God, by a stroke of the magic wand, as it were. On the other hand, Hinduism has a Cosmological Theory of Creation, which is in accord with modern science. At the beginning, there was neither Existence nor Non-Existence. There was only emptiness and Akash (ethereal Matter) and Energy (which Science calls as Atoms, Protons, Electrons). This Infinite Cosmic Energy and Intelligence is the Impersonal Brahman. It is the play of this Cosmic Energy (Force against Matter, Akash), that gave rise to all existential formations, both material and consequent life forms. Creation is cyclical. The Material world goes through process of Creation, Evolution and Dissolution. One cycle is considered to have a period of 24,000 years and composed of Four (4) Yugas or periods called Satya Yuga, Creta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. We are now in the last stage of Kalii Yuga, which started with the end of the Mahabharatha War around 5560 years B.C. Dissolution of the World will take place at the end of the Kali Yuga, followed by a period of quiescence, and followed by another new Creation. All this happens by the Cosmic Energy and Intelligence of the Personified God Brahma.
It is not the Buddha but the neo-Buddhists of Sri Lanka who debunks the Concept of God. But they have nothing to offer, as an alternative explanation for the Creation of all Existence. Despite the contemptuous rejection of a God-Head, Dr.CN makes the ironical statement that “although Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, it does not specifically negate Gods, as Buddha talked of many and other celestial divine deities, but did not mention anything about the creator God.”This is another contradictory statement. If “many and other celestial divine deities” are admitted, why not a higher Divine God? There is no distinction between God and Divine Deity. It is synonymous and matter of nomenclature. The Buddha addressing his disciples said “O Bhikkhus, if not for the un-originated, uncreated and the uncompounded, there is no escape for the originated, created and the compounded.” From the foregoing, it could be inferred that Buddha had a lurking sense of God.
Dr. CN states that Buddha believed that religious ideas and notion of God have their origin in fear, and quotes the Buddha “Gripped by fear men go to the sacred mountains, sacred groves, sacred trees and sacred shrines.” Thus, Buddha is self-indicting himself. Whereas Buddha renounced the mundane world and went to the sacred Bo-Tree seems out of fear, and not due to pain and suffering he saw around him, to seek the Truth (Divine Enlightenment). Dr. CN states that “although many theistic religions and other faiths for many centuries tried to prove the existence of God, there is still no real, concrete, substantial, irrefutable or conclusive scientific evidence available to prove its existence”. As far as Hinduism is concerned no spiritual Master or realized human being ever attempted to prove the existence of God by a feeble Intellect. God is not a tangible object to be proved by the scientific method in a laboratory or by logic of the Intellect. God has to be experienced and realized. One has to transcend the material intellect to know and experience God. Nirvana is the end purpose of Buddhism. Nirvana has to be experienced. Has anyone given real, concrete, substantial, irrefutable or conclusive scientific evidence to prove the existence of Nirvana? Nirvana is an attainment after death. Dr. CN says that “theistic religions maintain that belief in God is a necessary prerequisite to lead a happy and meaningful life”. Hinduism does not subscribe to this view. Hinduism is not a belief based religion, but a seeking Inquiry to the Truth. Knowing God consciousness and one’s true Self, contribute to inner peace and meaning to life. Dr.CN refers to “people worship the Buddha not as a God or deity but merely as an act of commemoration of the founder of the great tradition and Buddha is not an object of prayer”. The crucial word in the forgoing is “worship”. Human beings do not worship a fellow human being .They worship God or deities only. If people are going to the Buddhist temples for “commemorating” the Buddha, it must be manifested in secular form of veneration and reverence. But are not the people offering incense, flowers and praying and worshiping? Isn’t the chanting of Pirith by Buddhist priests, an act of praying and invoking the Buddha for spiritual purpose? The Buddhists, not the Buddha, think Man and his Intellect is higher and supreme over God. If this is so, is it the Man who created this phenomenal Existence of all sentient beings and the material world? Can the Buddhists explain how the well conceived and designed biological and complex process in all life forms created? The biological principle underlying all life forms is the same. Could this have been by a process of Self-Creation? No. Where there is order and a system, there cannot be a chance creation. What a pre-determined complex and systemic creation, which only can be conceived and created by an Extra-Cosmic entity that is called God. As an analogy, can an automobile vehicle with all its orderly functions conceived and made by itself. No, it needs a Creator we call an Engineer. The Divine Engineer of all creation is God. The atheists and Buddhists call for concrete evidence for the existence of God. Can they give concrete evidence how the bodies of humans and animals with biological processes were created and who created them?
Human suffering and Evil
Dr. CN argues that there is so much human suffering and calamities in the world. He says such “suffering is incompatible with an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, all-good being.” Further that “if God is omniscient, omnipotent and morally perfect, he would have created morally perfect human beings in the world”. This is to say the least is laughable. This is an indictment of God that He is responsible for the suffering of the 7000 billion human beings and calamities of the world. Dr. CN laments that God had been incapable of “creating morally perfect human beings in the world”. There is a difference between “creation and birth”. God is the originator of creation, the First Prime Mover of the genesis. God is not the reproducer of human births and other living beings. This is the result of reproduction. The operation of the Law of Karma in Hinduism is the explanation for all inequalities and differentiations. The Law of Cause and Effect determines the life one leads. One by his own actions rewards or punishes himself. Life has a series of births and deaths. Thus the Law of Karma and Law of Rebirth are interconnected. In every life one accumulates Karma and dissolves one’s Karma in the cycle of births and deaths in the Samsaric life, until your liberation from the chain of rebirths and become one with the Universal Soul, God. The Effect returns to the Cause. Dr. CN states that “of the founders of the world’s major religions, the Buddha was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than an ordinary human being.” It is implied that other founders of religions as Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad claimed they are extra-ordinary Beings. This is a fallacy. The followers of these religions only claimed they were extra-ordinary beings as Son of the Holy Father and Messenger of the God Allah, respectively. In case of Hinduism, there is no Founder at all. However, even though truly Buddha did not make such a claim, the fact The concept of Rebirth and Soul are interconnected. Dr. CN states ”Buddhism believes in the existence remains that followers of Buddhism claim that Buddha was an Extra-Ordinary Being.
Concept of Rebirth and Soul
The concept of Rebirth and Soul are inter-connected. Dr. CN states that “Buddhism believes in the existence of neither God nor an eternal and immutable soul”. The concept of Rebirth is a Hindu one. The Buddha was a born Hindu and naturally inherited the doctrine of Rebirth from Hinduism. Buddha refers to his past births. How can one reconcile the idea of Rebirth with non-existence of an “eternal and immutable Soul”. Isn’t this contradictory? Rebirth means one is born again, which means there is continuity. The physical material body dies, what then continues in next birth? There should be something to be reborn. Without that something there cannot be rebirth. This something is only referred to as the Soul in English and Atman in Hinduism. There is continuity to the Soul. That means the Soul never dies at death of the body. It is eternal and immutable. The Soul transmigrates and takes a new body. The Soul is not matter as all matter perishes. The Soul is Life Energy, the infinite Spirit which is referred to in Hinduism as the Atman. When a living being dies and attains Samadhi by dissolution of his all accumulated past Karma he attains Moksha, which is union with the Universal Soul, Brahman (God).
Dr. CN States that “according to Buddhism man’s position is supreme, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgement over his destiny”. That is to say, Man, Mind and Intellect alone, is supreme. But these three components being Matter, is perishable. Denied of a Soul or Atma, Buddhism is only a materialistic philosophy.