extracted from http://www.adishati.org….. Image pix: samantabhadra 

The Buddha and God – Buddha did not deny God’s existence


The Buddha and God 
Buddha did not deny God’s existence. He denied the limited perceptions about what that existence is. 

9/24/2006 6:35 AM 

re burl’s comments… 

thanks for the excellent research and commentary…. but again, it goes to semantics in India, in its theological history and etc. 

The “Great God” you referred to is clearly a reference to Indra…who is called the “King of the gods.” 

In Western theology there is a list of 13 archangels and that list has a hierarchy of power. I think the more well known ones like Michael and Gabriel are about half-way down the list. Indra refers to the being at the top of that hierarchy. I forgot his Western name, I know a couple of the ones near the top are Sandalphon and Metatron (sorry, spelling may be off a bit). 

What the Buddha was discussing was that even Indra, who is just slightly shy of full liberation, still exists within the karmic wheel. This is the same comment that Christ made about John the Baptist – that he had no rival among men, but in Heaven was still not a “full member” of the host of perfected beings. It is some stage of advanced spiritual development…there is moksha (Sanskrit), which is liberation and allows the being not to reincarnate. Then there is a higher experience called self-realisation – I think the Sanskrit is “siddhi.” That is, so-called full “perfection.” 

Yes, the Buddha did mock the religion as it was practiced by these “Pharisees” of his day – these faux ascetics. But he did not mock the real ascetics…and it is quite a challenge, wading through the Vedantic theological subtleties to see the differences. 

And the other statements you made, about Buddha and God are also in this context….the difference being him commenting on the limited views about God…that is true. He is not denying God’s existence. He is denying the limited perceptions about what that existence is. 

And he is going into complex Vedantic theological subtleties to do so. One really has to be quite versed in, say, the difference between Kali and Parvati (who are the same being) to understand the emphasis, metaphor and illustrative value to the teaching. 

That is why the phrase “Great God” seems to refer to the Supreme Being, when those in India at the time of his teaching would immediately recognize this as a reference to Indra.

You know, in the same way that if someone in New York referred to the “lord” of the Yankees…they would know it is a sarcastic reference to George Steinbrenner and not a reference to the deity that the Yankees worshipped. One has to know the culture of theology in India, the culture of theology in popular view in India at the time, the culture of theology of the true ascetics in India at the time, and the culture of the (fadistic and cult-like) faux ascetics of the time, in that era, in India. Unfortunately, it really is that complex to fully understand the references. 

In India there is a pervasive kind of superstition based religion and then there is, say, the priesthood’s version of religion. And the difference is like the difference between Santeria and Christianity. It is that dramatic. 

The ascetics in India have always included some “survivalist” kind of lunatics…as well as deeply religious hermits. 

The Buddha’s audience was familiar with all these distinctions and since he was speaking to them, and not a modern audience, he did not necessarily reference everything and in great detail. 

So, unfortunately, unwinding the mess of it all can be pretty complex, that example of Indra is one of the ones that I am familiar with. I am sure that there are hundreds which I am not, yet which convey a far different meaning than one that can easily be gleaned with a modern eye that does not have these references.

The Buddha was very anti-Fundamentalist, if you will. It was a response to those crazy “survivalist” kind of ascetics, the crazy “Santeria-like” religious practices of the common people, and the limited and folksy kind of worship of God (like, say, some nice church going lady in the Midwest). In his attempt to fight these trends, he used strong metaphor and language. But he was not denying God’s existence. Then, beyond that, he was trying to pass on a very advanced meditative attitude which did not want to “affirm or deny.” People have, understandably, taken this to mean a denial of God’s existence. But that is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and not his intent. He was just trying to throw out “Fundamentalism,” “survivalism,” “Santeria,” and “folksy religion.”