Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Santi253
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Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by Santi253 »

As a Buddhist, I don't believe there's an all-loving, all-powerful creator God. I don't want to believe that an all-loving, all-powerful creator would allow for so much suffering and evil in the world.

The Buddha said that such a creator god would be either evil, indifferent, or incompetent. I can't find the Buddha's quote right now, but it's on dhammawiki.com.

As sort of a proxy to theistic belief, many Mahayana Buddhists pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, while many Theravadins pray to Brahma, Indra, etc.

Regardless of whether gods or Buddhist deities are real beings, what do you think of the comfort and sense of purpose to life that praying to these deities provides to people? Does it do more good than harm?

As a Mahayana Buddhist, I believe in Dharmakaya, which is sort of a compassionate cosmic principle (not a creator god or personal god), which ultimately leads all beings to enlightenment. The concept of Dharmakaya was originally inspired by the historical Buddha:
Even before the Buddha's parinirvāṇa, the term Dhammakāya was current. Dhammakāya literally means Truth body.
In the Pāli Canon the Buddha tells Vasettha that the Tathāgata (the Buddha) was Dhammakāya, the 'Truth-body' or the 'Embodiment of Truth', as well as Dhammabhuta, 'Truth-become', 'One who has become Truth' [2][3]

The Buddha is equated with the Dhamma:
... and the Buddha comforts him, "Enough, Vakkali. Why do you want to see this filthy body? Whoever sees the Dhamma sees me; whoever sees me sees the Dhamma."[4]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trikaya#P.C4.81li_Canon
Many Mahayana Buddhists believe that Dharmakaya is within all things, and that our own Buddha-nature is a manifestation or expression of Dharmakaya, similar to the Hindu teaching that Atman is Brahman.

Also, the Lotus Sutra presents the Buddha as, after his parinirvana, remaining active in the world out of compassion for us all, as some sort of cosmic or spiritual being. Are there Theravadins who believe this too?

Buddhism might offer something better than theistic belief, the law of karma.

Instead of petitioning an external being to solve our problems, we can instead take personal responsibility for the present life and for subsequent lives, by changing our thoughts and actions here and now.

The good we do will come back around to us as good, and the evil we do will come back around as evil, either in the present or in subsequent lives.

If you want to express a devotional attitude, you can cultivate karmic merit in Buddhism by making offerings and prostrations to the Buddha:
Acts performed for the acquisition of merit (e.g., offerings made in the name of the Buddha) calculated to provide a basis for achieving Nibbana, release from the cycle of becoming (samsara); such acts of merit are, at the same time, expected to offer semi-temporal rewards of comfort and happiness here and in the heavenly worlds in future lives. These supplementary forms of religious activity have arisen out of a natural need to augment the more austere way followed by the world-renouncing disciples...

Almost all the religious activities that have a ceremonial and a ritualistic significance are regarded as acts for the acquisition of merit (Sinh.: pinkama, from Pali: punnakamma, Sanskrit: punyakarma). In this sense, all the religious activities of lay Buddhism can be explained as being oriented towards that end. Accordingly, the first two types of rituals basically have a merit-generating character and thereby receive religious sanction. For instance, the idea of acquisition of merit through a religious act and its transference to the deities and soliciting their help has the scriptural sanction of the Maha-parinibbana Sutta itself (D.ii,88-89). Here the Buddha says that wise men, when residing in a particular area, first offer alms to religious recluses and then transfer the merits to the deities of the area, who help them in return. This seems to indicate the early beginning of adoring vatthu-devata or local deities in Buddhism.

Merit (Pali: punna: Sinh.: pin) earned by the performance of a wholesome act is regarded as a sure way of obtaining a better life in the future. The performance of these is also a means of expiation in the sense that the meritorious deeds have the effect of countering and hindering the operation of unwholesome kamma previously acquired and inherited. Thus the range of merit is very wide.

For the ordinary householder, Nibbana is a goal to be achieved through a gradual process of evolution extending over many lives, and therefore until he achieves that sublime state at some future date he continues to perform these acts in order to lead a happy life. All merit-generating rituals are performed mainly with this end in view.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el402.html
Instead of praying for other people, you can instead dedicate acts of merit to their behalf:
This merit-sharing ceremony, according to the Tirokuddha Sutta, was introduced by the Buddha himself in order to help King Bimbisara of Magadha in sharing merits with his deceased relatives who had been reborn among the spirits who subsist on the offerings of others.
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/his ... tion05.htm
Other scholars have pointed out that the doctrine of the transfer of merit can be found early in the Theravāda tradition, and that the doctrine is in fact sanctioned by the early suttas.[5][34][35] Then there also scholars who propose that, although the transfer of merit did not exist as such in early Buddhism, early doctrines did form a basis for it, the transfer of merit being an "inherent consequence" (Bechert) of these early doctrines.[36][37][38]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfer_of_merit#Origins
Last edited by Santi253 on Fri Aug 18, 2017 11:50 pm, edited 13 times in total.
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bodom
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by bodom »

Santi253 wrote:. ..many Theravadins pray to Brahma, Indra, etc.
Curious as to where your getting this idea from? I personally don't know any who do...

:namaste:
This is our foundation: to have sati, recollection, and sampajañña, self-awareness, whether standing, walking, sitting, or reclining. Whatever arises, just leave it be, don’t cling to it. Whether it’s like or dislike, happiness or suffering, doubt or certainty... Don’t try to label everything, just know it. See that all the things that arise in the mind are simply sensations. They are transient. They arise, exist and cease. That’s all there is to them, they have no self or being, they are neither ‘us’ nor ‘them’. None of them are worthy of clinging to.

- Ajahn Chah
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by Coëmgenu »

bodom wrote:
Santi253 wrote:. ..many Theravadins pray to Brahma, Indra, etc.
Curious as to where your getting this idea from? I personally don't know any who do...

:namaste:
Santi253 forgot Avalokiteśvara, venerated in Thailand & Sri Lanka still.
Seated in solitude, the body and the mind are made calm and pure.
Moved by serenity, they act for each others' salvation.
The nature of the mind, like this, is alien to all corruption
when the body, as it should, sits at peace.

(T848.46b23 Vairocana Sūtra)
Santi253
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by Santi253 »

bodom wrote:
Santi253 wrote:. ..many Theravadins pray to Brahma, Indra, etc.
Curious as to where your getting this idea from? I personally don't know any who do...

:namaste:
Here are some examples:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phra_Phrom

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erawan_Shrine

I can't find it right now, but I also heard or read a story of a Buddhist Sri Lankan farmer who prays to Indra for rain. I would guess this is pretty common, at least on a "folk" level.
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by Santi253 »

Coëmgenu wrote:
bodom wrote:
Santi253 wrote:. ..many Theravadins pray to Brahma, Indra, etc.
Curious as to where your getting this idea from? I personally don't know any who do...

:namaste:
Santi253 forgot Avalokiteśvara, venerated in Thailand & Sri Lanka still.
Yes, thank you.

So the question is, regardless of whether these buddhas or deities exist, does praying to them cause more harm, good, or is it neutral?
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Caodemarte
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by Caodemarte »

Santi253 wrote:...So the question is, regardless of whether these buddhas or deities exist, does praying to them cause more harm, good, or is it neutral?
I don't believe the concept of Dharmakaya is properly understood as a cosmic spirit or is such similar to Atman is Brahman in orthodox Mahayana Buddhism. As used by Madhyamaka, which used the Dharmakaya concept, both ideas would be described as heresies and logical fallacies of the first order. It is not a theistic idea of any sort in traditional orthodox Mahayana Buddhism, although it has been criticized as being easily misunderstood by literalists or in folk Buddhism as have other metaphors, including the many used by that literary and spiritual masterpiece, the Lotus Sutra (See the Lotus strategy of repeatedly saying you are about to get this wonderful teaching of the Lotus Sutra, but never spelling out in words what that teaching is. That is not by chance and makes the Lotus as powerful as it is).

I have never personally seen a quote from any canon that the Buddha said that a creator god must be " evil, indifferent, or incompetent." It would seem atypical. I can't see how it would be harmful to pray in any case. Praying is done for a variety of reasons. Prayer for good reasons (not curses) seems useful to the one who prays regardless of belief in a God or spirt who answers. And much like nembutsu recitation or metta one does not have to have a simplistic materialist view (for example, that metta travels on magic waves or the Pure Land validates parking) to reap or spread the benefits. So one can "pray" to the Buddha or Indra without any sense they are actual spirits or validate parking.
Last edited by Caodemarte on Fri Aug 18, 2017 8:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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Caodemarte wrote:Prayer for good reasons (not curses) seems useful to the one who prays regardless of belief in a God or spirt who answers.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book about this called The Energy of Prayer:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/957 ... _of_Prayer

As a Zen Buddhist, he believes that Dharmakaya is the boundless wisdom and compassion within and transcending all things. But as an ecumenical thinker, he also says it doesn't matter whether non-Buddhists call it god or not.
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by bodom »

Coëmgenu wrote:
bodom wrote:
Santi253 wrote:. ..many Theravadins pray to Brahma, Indra, etc.
Curious as to where your getting this idea from? I personally don't know any who do...

:namaste:
Santi253 forgot Avalokiteśvara, venerated in Thailand & Sri Lanka still.
Venerated sure. Praying too? Not so sure it's as common as the OP suggests. Could be wrong tho. Guess it really depends on how one interprets prayer in this case.
Then Anathapindika the householder went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there the Blessed One said to him: "These five things, householder, are welcome, agreeable, pleasant, & hard to obtain in the world. Which five?

"Long life is welcome, agreeable, pleasant, & hard to obtain in the world.

"Beauty is welcome, agreeable, pleasant, & hard to obtain in the world.

"Happiness is welcome, agreeable, pleasant, & hard to obtain in the world.

"Status is welcome, agreeable, pleasant, & hard to obtain in the world.

"Rebirth in heaven is welcome, agreeable, pleasant, & hard to obtain in the world.

"Now, I tell you, these five things are not to be obtained by reason of prayers or wishes. If they were to be obtained by reason of prayers or wishes, who here would lack them? It's not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires long life to pray for it or to delight in doing so. Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires long life should follow the path of practice leading to long life. In so doing, he will attain long life, either human or divine.

"It's not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires beauty to pray for it or to delight in doing so. Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires beauty should follow the path of practice leading to beauty. In so doing, he will attain beauty, either human or divine.

"It's not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires happiness to pray for it or to delight in doing so. Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires happiness should follow the path of practice leading to happiness. In so doing, he will attain happiness, either human or divine.

"It's not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires status to pray for it or to delight in doing so. Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires status should follow the path of practice leading to status. In so doing, he will attain status, either human or divine.

"It's not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires rebirth in heaven to pray for it or to delight in doing so. Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires rebirth in heaven should follow the path of practice leading to rebirth in heaven. In so doing, he will attain rebirth in heaven."


Long life, beauty, status, honor,
heaven, high birth:
To those who delight
in aspiring for these things
in great measure, continuously,
the wise praise heedfulness
in making merit.

The wise person, heedful,
acquires a two-fold welfare:
welfare in this life &
welfare in the next.
By breaking through to his welfare
he's called prudent,
wise.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

:namaste:
This is our foundation: to have sati, recollection, and sampajañña, self-awareness, whether standing, walking, sitting, or reclining. Whatever arises, just leave it be, don’t cling to it. Whether it’s like or dislike, happiness or suffering, doubt or certainty... Don’t try to label everything, just know it. See that all the things that arise in the mind are simply sensations. They are transient. They arise, exist and cease. That’s all there is to them, they have no self or being, they are neither ‘us’ nor ‘them’. None of them are worthy of clinging to.

- Ajahn Chah
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Post by Caodemarte »

Santi253 wrote:
Caodemarte wrote:Prayer for good reasons (not curses) seems useful to the one who prays regardless of belief in a God or spirt who answers.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book about this called The Energy of Prayer:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/957 ... _of_Prayer

As a Zen Buddhist, he believes that Dharmakaya is the boundless wisdom and compassion within and transcending all things. But as an ecumenical thinker, he also says it doesn't matter whether non-Buddhists call it god or not.
I would humbly agree with that (not that TNH needs my agreement!). Please note that TNH is not saying that the Dharmakaya concept is some kind of spirit. When Christians say, "The Truth is within you," they do not mean you have a rock in your heart labeled "Truth" that can be removed by an operation. Who they mean by "God" is far more subtle. As the Pope pointed out believing in God as some kind of white bearded magician who lives in the sky and waves his wand to make bunnies, is a hersey in Catholicism. So when says one goes not beleive in God one should define what concept of God (Thor?) one does not beleive in. Defining God is to impose limits so one is already close to another Christian heresy! Fortunately, one does not have to define terms in prayer or in meditation (one reason some Catholic priests can also be recognized Zen teachers).
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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bodom wrote:Guess it really depends on how one interprets prayer in this case.
Asking buddhas or deities for spiritual protection or material blessings, etc. I'm speaking of popular or "folk" Buddhism in traditionally Theravada countries.
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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Caodemarte wrote: So when says one goes not beleive in God one should define what concept of God (Thor?) one does not beleive in.
Yes, that point was also discussed between Deepak Chopra and Robert Thurman:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ11g4H8IKo

If the question is whether Buddhists believe in "God," the answer is "yes," if one means boundless compassion, rather than a personal creator.
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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As much as I'd like to believe or would want to believe that there's a benevolent being, whether a buddha or a god, watching over us, I just don't believe in it. Maybe I've just been jaded in that way.
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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Buddhism might offer something better than theistic belief, the law of karma.

Instead of petitioning an external being to solve our problems, we can instead take personal responsibility for the present life and for subsequent lives, by changing our thoughts and actions here and now.

The good we do will come back around to us as good, and the evil we do will come back around as evil, either in the present or in subsequent lives.

If you want to express a devotional attitude, you can cultivate karmic merit in Buddhism by making offerings and prostrations to the Buddha:
Acts performed for the acquisition of merit (e.g., offerings made in the name of the Buddha) calculated to provide a basis for achieving Nibbana, release from the cycle of becoming (samsara); such acts of merit are, at the same time, expected to offer semi-temporal rewards of comfort and happiness here and in the heavenly worlds in future lives. These supplementary forms of religious activity have arisen out of a natural need to augment the more austere way followed by the world-renouncing disciples...

Almost all the religious activities that have a ceremonial and a ritualistic significance are regarded as acts for the acquisition of merit (Sinh.: pinkama, from Pali: punnakamma, Sanskrit: punyakarma). In this sense, all the religious activities of lay Buddhism can be explained as being oriented towards that end. Accordingly, the first two types of rituals basically have a merit-generating character and thereby receive religious sanction. For instance, the idea of acquisition of merit through a religious act and its transference to the deities and soliciting their help has the scriptural sanction of the Maha-parinibbana Sutta itself (D.ii,88-89). Here the Buddha says that wise men, when residing in a particular area, first offer alms to religious recluses and then transfer the merits to the deities of the area, who help them in return. This seems to indicate the early beginning of adoring vatthu-devata or local deities in Buddhism.

Merit (Pali: punna: Sinh.: pin) earned by the performance of a wholesome act is regarded as a sure way of obtaining a better life in the future. The performance of these is also a means of expiation in the sense that the meritorious deeds have the effect of countering and hindering the operation of unwholesome kamma previously acquired and inherited. Thus the range of merit is very wide.

For the ordinary householder, Nibbana is a goal to be achieved through a gradual process of evolution extending over many lives, and therefore until he achieves that sublime state at some future date he continues to perform these acts in order to lead a happy life. All merit-generating rituals are performed mainly with this end in view.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el402.html
Instead of praying for other people, you can instead dedicate acts of merit to their behalf:
This merit-sharing ceremony, according to the Tirokuddha Sutta, was introduced by the Buddha himself in order to help King Bimbisara of Magadha in sharing merits with his deceased relatives who had been reborn among the spirits who subsist on the offerings of others.
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/his ... tion05.htm
Other scholars have pointed out that the doctrine of the transfer of merit can be found early in the Theravāda tradition, and that the doctrine is in fact sanctioned by the early suttas.[5][34][35] Then there also scholars who propose that, although the transfer of merit did not exist as such in early Buddhism, early doctrines did form a basis for it, the transfer of merit being an "inherent consequence" (Bechert) of these early doctrines.[36][37][38]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfer_of_merit#Origins
Last edited by Santi253 on Fri Aug 18, 2017 11:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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what do you think of the comfort and sense of purpose to life that praying to these deities provides to people? Does it do more good than harm?
Sure, because it doesn't do any harm to begin with. :smile:
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Re: Theistic Belief/Believing in God/Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

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seeker242 wrote:
what do you think of the comfort and sense of purpose to life that praying to these deities provides to people? Does it do more good than harm?
Sure, because it doesn't do any harm to begin with. :smile:
I think it can create harm in several ways. Please let me explain.

If we pray to an external being to solve our problems, that might cause complacency, where we're not taking personal responsibility for our actions and fate. It also might create an unrealistic faith in the outcome of such prayer, which almost always can end in disillusionment and disappointment.

Instead, Buddhism teaches us the law of karma, that we can take control of our fate. We can also create and dedicate merit on behalf of others:
This merit-sharing ceremony, according to the Tirokuddha Sutta, was introduced by the Buddha himself in order to help King Bimbisara of Magadha in sharing merits with his deceased relatives who had been reborn among the spirits who subsist on the offerings of others.
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/his ... tion05.htm
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