4 February, 2023

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Concept Of God In Buddhism By Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara: A Hindu View

By P. Soma Palan

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.

Creator God

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.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    “The antithesis of theism is atheism and not non-theism.”

    Both mean the same thing, though some people try to avoid using the word ‘atheism’ as some believers historically, but wrongly, associated it with ‘immorality,’ while ‘non-theism’ doesn’t have any such historic association with immorality.

    “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.”

    But if you can use language to argue this, then use language to describe what that experience and realization is. Instead, you act like a patient going to a doctor and saying only that ‘doctor, you don’t understand, where is my medicine,’ without even describing any of his symptoms.

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      Then there are the fence-sitters.

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        SJ,
        You completely misunderstand agnosticism and equate it with “fence-sitting.”

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    “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.”

    The commencement of the kali yuga -5560 years BC – is not correct. The duration of the four Yugas is – Satya yuga 1728000 years, Creta Yuga 1296000 years, Dwapara yuga 864000 years and kali yuga 432000 years totaling 4320000 years. It is correct that we are in the last stage of Kali yuga which actually commenced on 18 February 3102 BC. Aryabhata, Indian mathematician and astronomer confirmed this year when he celebrated his 23rd birthday in 499 AD. Astronomical evidence also confirms the year (18 February 3102).

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    “The Soul transmigrates and takes a new body.”
    The soul’s another name is Atman . Our real nature is Atman and Atman is all pervading. Our physical body (inert) which comes from the mother’s womb is perishable and gets life from the subtle body. The subtle body gets life from Atman. It is the subtle body that transmigrates and takes a new body. The physical body cannot move (meaning dead) when the subtle body is gone out of the physical body .

    “The Absolute Reality is referred to as the Brahman.”
    Yes. Brahman is formless and is referred to as Nirguna Brahman. Manifestation of different forms happens due to maya. In other words, Brahman plus maya is Eswara referred to as Saguna Brahman.

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    PSP, There is no God in Buddhism, so why this long verbosity to create a concept of God. If they dont believe in the continuity of human soul, they will soon find out after they die that man is not supreme and all are subject to the same process of spirit union to creator or separation from him. Spirit comes from breath of God at creation and bodies are reproduced through parents. Man is spirit, soul and body functioning in unity like the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and all are experiential realities.

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      dtg
      Buddhism like Jainism rejected the idea of a god creator.
      At one point the Buddha apparently said “God is irrelevant to what I have to say”.
      That I think is the wisest attitude to take for an atheist.
      It is equally wise for believers to let each find his own ‘God’ according to his/her mental capability than impose some notion that they have of ‘God’.
      The debate today is because notions of rebirth and Gods have crept into Buddhist practice.
      I expect that a fair-minded God, if exists, will be most respectful towards human beings that respect the right of others to their own beliefs and do not seek to impose their wishes and faiths on others.

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        SJ, You expect God to be fair-minded, and respecting rights of others to their own beliefs. Thats exactly who the creator God of the bible is. He is more. Gave free will choice to his created man whom he loves, with absolute goodness and mercy for man’s weaknesses, in a covenant pledge to exchange his forgiveness and mercy for our sins, his healing for our sicknesses, and many other exchanges. Bible describes it like a marriage covenant where the two become one. No human could ever have thought of this intimate relationship offered to man by Jesus.

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    The concept of God is a debatable issue. Every religion has its own version on the concept of God. According to Hinduism, ancient sages with their super-sensuous truth discovered the nature of the Supreme Being as God. It is conceived as being omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Moreover, it is a debatable issue whether God has a form. According to Hinduism, it is from the Formless to Form when both are followed both are possible and progressive. The personal God is an expression of One’s Truth and Dharmic values. It is the symbol of the representation of the impersonal God which become personal and assumes form and attributes. This is the very nature of the divine. In Christianity God is considered as the eternal, Supreme Being who created and preserves all things. Christians believe in a monotheistic conception of God, which is both transcendent and immanent. In Buddhism, it is believed that Gods were involved in the cycle of re-birth like all other beings and eventually disappear. Belief in God is not necessary to achieve enlightenment. Buddhism is a bi-product of Hinduism. Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism preach righteousness and dharma. In Hinduism it is believed that when God activates his energies, creation begins and when God withdraws his energies and remain in a state of inactivity, destruction begins.

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      According to Hinduism, ancient sages with their super-sensuous truth discovered the nature of the Supreme Being as God.
      Ather ancient “Rishis” in the Meditaranean discovered something unlike.
      Even before them the Egyptians discovered something vastly different.
      Does not this “Supreme Being” have good communication skills for people to discover Its true nature without confusion leading to conflict?
      How come that the Buddhists and Jains of India rejected the notion of a Supreme Being?
      East Asians were free of such notions too.
      Is there not something fishy?

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        SJ,
If you want to know about the Supreme Being, the difference between Science and Religion should be known. Science is the struggle of man in the outer world, whereas Religion is the struggle of man in the inner world. Science makes man struggle for Truth in the outside world and Religion makes man struggle for Truth in the inner universe. Both struggles are great, but one ends in success while the other ends up with failure. Religion begins where science ends. The whole scientific method is based upon observation and experiments, but the moment the man realizes that there is something beyond the observation and experiment, he will give up the material science behind. Science will always have to deal with finite bodies. But God is infinite. This is what Hinduism is about. Since eternal truths revolve round Hinduism, it is natural for anyone to pose the question as to who is behind the eternal truths and makes them work or activate its functions. It is the ‘Cosmic Power’ which is known as Divine Power or God, which is behind the eternal truths and activate its functions. The Vedas describe that everything is God. That divinity is One without a Second, beyond all forms, names, and qualities. That divinity is an existence that is eternally imperishable and indivisible.

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      I am of opinion that man created God for fear of death. Because nothing is known after death. To console himself he created a god and said after death man lives with GOD. This is what is told to the children too when they question what happens after death and silence them.

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        KV
        Seems a valid argument.

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          KV, SJ,

          Man faced constant danger from the time of his origin. A hunter gatherer going into a dark and dangerous forest full of wild animals had to develop some sort of an imaginary and powerful companion who could protect him. When the weather, fire, snakes, etc., were not understood, many people invented Gods in their minds and beseeched them in the face of drought, wildfire, cobra attacks, etc.

          So, there was an evolutionary part of the brain that held onto concepts of God. Even in the modern world, when an astronaut has to go into space and re-enter the earth in a rocket, facing inordinate risk and danger, he/she might appeal to a God even though most astronauts have extensive scientific training.

          The fear comes in many forms, not just the one you describe.

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          SJ & KV,
I find that Man created God is ridiculous. It is God who created the Universe and all beings. In other religions, revelations derive from some special messenger of God to a specific group of people. These religions maintain that God can be reached through their own specific paths. This amounts to some implication of someone’s will on others who have their own desired paths. But Hinduism considers a person as a part and parcel of the Almighty. In Hinduism, the authority of the Vedas is unknown. The whole fabric of thought of the Hindus centres in God. Swami Vivekananda says that religion is the idea which raises a brute into a man and man unto God. God can be realized through a tangible, exquisite and intimate personal relationship with Him by way of Bakthi Yoga meditation. Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help a person to think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. The most unique aspect of Hinduism is that any person can reach God in the path he or she chooses. The central truth in every religion is to evolve a God out of man. Hinduism is based upon eternal principles. The cosmic view of Hinduism transcends the sectarian principle and paves way for the co-existence of all creatures under the Vedic principle known as ‘the Universe is one family’.

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        Kanapathy Varunan, If nothing is known after death, we cant console with created truth. Jesus after death resurrected as he was sinless and death could not hold him in the grave and the tomb was empty with only grave clothes there. The same Jesus taught his disciples after the resurrection and they believed in that reality for humans too to go into the same spirit realm and not a rebirth back again into this world as a different person. I am forever accountable to God only as myself, the one he created and not just a mythical or floating being.

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