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What Buddhists Believe
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera

The God-Idea

The reality or validity of belief in God is based on man's understanding capacity and the maturity of the mind.

The Development of the God-idea

To trace the origin and development of the God-idea, one must go back to the time when civilization was still in its infancy and modern science was still unknown. Primitive people, out of fear of and admiration towards natural phenomena, had believed in different spirits and gods. They used their belief in spirit and gods to form religions of their own. According to their respective circumstances and understanding capacity different people worshipped different gods and founded different faiths.

At the beginning of the God-idea, people worshipped many gods--gods of trees, streams, lightning, storm, winds, the sun and all other terrestrial phenomena. These gods were related to each and every act of nature. Then gradually man began to attribute to these gods, sex and form as well as the physical and mental characteristics of human beings. Human attributes were given to the gods: love, hate, jealousy, fear, pride, envy and other emotions found among human beings. From all these gods, there slowly grew a realization that the phenomena of the universe were not many but were One. This understanding gave rise to the monotheistic god of recent ages.

In the process of development, the God-idea went through a variety of changing social and intellectual climates. It was regarded by different men in different ways. Some idealized god as the King of Heaven and Earth; they had a conception of god as a person. Others thought of god as an abstract principle. Some raised the ideal of Supreme deity to the highest heaven, while others brought it down to the lowest depths of the earth. Some pictured god in a paradise, while others made an idol and worshipped it. Some want so far as to say that there is no salvation without god?no matter how much good you do, you will not receive the fruits of your actions unless you act out of a faith in god. The Atheists said, 'No' and went on to affirm that god did not really exist at all. The Skeptics or Agnostics said, 'We do not or we cannot know.' The Positivists say that the God-idea was a meaningless problem since the idea of the term god 'was not clear'. Thus there grew a variety of ideas and beliefs and names for the God-idea: pantheism, idolatry, belief in a formless god, and belief in many gods and goddesses.

Even the monotheistic god of recent times has gone through a variety of changes as it passed through different nations and people. The Hindu god is quite different from gods of other faiths. Thus numerous religions came into existence: each one differed greatly from the other in the end, and each one says that 'God is One'.

The God-idea and Creation

As each religion came into existence and developed around the God-idea, religion developed its own particular explanation of creation. Thus the God-idea became associated with various myths. People used the God-idea as a vehicle for their explanation of the existence of man and the nature of the universe.

Today, intelligent men, who have carefully reviewed all the available facts, have come to the conclusion that, like the God-idea, the creation of myths must be regarded as an evolution of the human imagination which began with the misunderstanding of the phenomena of nature. These misunderstandings were rooted in the fear and ignorance of primitive man. Even today, man still retains his primitive interpretations of creation. In the light of recent, scientific thinking, the theological definition of god is vague and hence has no place in the contemporary creation theories or myths.

If man is created by an external source, then he must belong to that source and not to himself. According to Buddhism, man is responsible for everything he does. Thus Buddhists have no reason to believe that man came into existence in the human form through any external sources. They believe that man is here today because of his own action. He is neither punished nor rewarded by anyone but himself according to his own good and bad action. In the process of evolution, the human being came into existence. However, there are no Buddha-words to support the belief that the world was created by anybody. The scientific discovery of gradual development of the world-system conforms with the Buddha's Teachings.

Human Weakness and the Concept of God

Both the concept of God and its associated creation myths have been protected and defended by believers who need these ideas to justify their existence and usefulness to human society. All the believers claim to have received their respective scriptures as Revelation; in other words, they all profess to come directly from the one God. Each God-religion claims that it stands for Universal Peace and Universal Brotherhood and other such high ideals.

However great the ideals of the religious might be, the history of the world shows that the religions up to the present day have also helped in spreading superstitions. Some have stood against science and the advancement of knowledge, leading to ill-feelings, murders and wars. In this respect, the God-religions have failed in their attempt to enlighten mankind. For example, in certain countries when people pray for mercy, their hands are stained with the blood of the morbid sacrifices of innocent animals and sometimes, even fellow human beings. These poor and helpless creatures were slaughtered at the desecrated altars of imaginary and imperceptible gods. It has taken a long time for people to understand the futility of such cruel practices in the name of religion. The time has come for them to realize that the path of real purification is through love and understanding.

Dr. G. Dharmasiri in his book 'Buddhist critique of the Christian Concept of God' has mentioned, 'I see that though the notion of God contains sublime moral strands, it also has certain implications that are extremely dangerous to the humans as well as to the other beings on this planet.

'One major threat to humanity is the blindfold called 'authority' imposed on the humans by the concept of God. All theistic religions consider authority as ultimate and sacred. It was this danger that the Buddha was pointing at in the Kalama Sutta. At the moment, human individuality and freedom are seriously threatened by various forms of authorities. Various 'authorities' have been trying to make 'you' a follower. On top of all our 'traditional' authorities, a new form of authority has emerged in the name of 'science'. And lately, the mushrooming new religions and the menace of the Gurus(as typified by Jim Jones), have become live threats to the individual's human freedom and dignity. The Buddha's eternal plea is for you to become a Buddha, and He showed, in a clearly rational way, that each and every one of us has the perfect potentiality and capacity to attain that ideal.'

God-religions offer no salvation without God. Thus a man might conceivably have climbed to the highest pinnacle of virtue, and he might have led a righteous way of life, and he might even have climbed to the highest level of holiness, yet he is to be condemned to eternal hell just because he did not believe in the existence of God. On the other hand, a man might have sinned deeply and yet, having made a late repentance, he can be forgiven and therefore 'saved'. From the Buddhist point of view, there is no justification in this kind of doctrine.

Despite the apparent contradictions of the God-religions, it is not deemed advisable to preach a Godless doctrine since the belief in god has also done a tremendous service to mankind, especially in places where the god concept is desirable. This belief in god has helped mankind to control his animal nature. And much help has been granted to others in the name of god. At the same time, man feels insecure without the belief in god. He finds protection and inspiration when that belief is in his mind. The reality or validity of such a belief is based on man's understanding capacity and spiritual maturity.

However, religion should also concern our practical life. It is to be used as a guide to regulate our conduct in the world. Religion tells us what to do and what not to do. If we do not follow a religion sincerely, mere religious labels or belief in god do not serve us in our daily life.

On the other hand, if the followers of various religions are going to quarrel and to condemn other beliefs and practices -- especially to prove or disprove the existence of God -- and if they are going to harbor anger towards other religions because of their different religious views, then they are creating enormous disharmony amongst the various religious communities. Whatever religious difference we have, it is our duty to practise tolerance, patience and understanding. It is our duty to respect the other man's religious belief even if we cannot accommodate it; tolerance is necessary for the sake of harmonious and peaceful living.

However, it does not serve any purpose to introduce this concept of god to those who are not ready to appreciate it. To some people this belief is not important to lead a righteous life. There are many who lead a noble life without such belief while amongst believers there are many who violate the peace and happiness of innocent people.

Buddhists can also co-operate with those who hold this concept of god, if they use this concept for the peace, happiness and welfare of mankind but not with those who abuse this concept by threatening people in order to introduce this belief just for their own benefit and with ulterior motives.

For more than 2,500 years, all over the world, Buddhists have practised and introduced Buddhism very peacefully without the necessity of sustaining the concept of a creator of God. And they will continue to sustain this religion in the same manner without disturbing the followers of other religions.

Therefore, with due respect to other religionists, it must be mentioned that any attempt to introduce this concept into Buddhism is unnecessary. Let Buddhists maintain their belief since it is harmless to others and, let the basic Teachings of the Buddha remain.

From time immemorial, Buddhists have led a peaceful religious life without incorporating the particular concept of God. They should be capable of sustaining their particular religion without the necessity, at this juncture, of someone trying to force something down their throats against their will. Having full confidence in their Buddha Dhamma, Buddhists should be permitted to work and seek their own salvation without any undue interference from other sources. Others can uphold their beliefs and concepts, Buddhist will uphold theirs, without any rancor. We do not challenge others in regard to their religious persuasions, we expect reciprocal treatment in regard to our own beliefs and practices.


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Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/

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