Do Buddhists believe in a god?
No, we do not. There are several reasons for this. The
Buddha, like modern sociologists and psychologists, believed that
religious ideas and especially the god idea have their origins
in fear. The Buddha says:
Gripped by fear people go to sacred mountains, sacred groves,
sacred trees and shrines.
Primitive humans found selves in a dangerous and hostile world,
the fear of wild animals, of not being able to find enough food,
of injury or disease, and of natural phenomena like thunder, lightning
and volcanoes were constantly with them. Finding no security,
they created the idea of gods in order to give them comfort in
good times, courage in times of danger and consolation when things
went wrong. To this day, you will notice that people become more
religious at times of crises, you will hear them say that the
belief in a god or gods gives them the strength they need to deal
with life. You will hear them explain that they believe in a particular
god because they prayed in time of need and their prayer was answered.
All this seems to support the Buddha's teaching that the god-idea
is a response to fear and frustration. The Buddha taught us to
try to understand our fears, to lessen our desires and to calmly
and courageously accept the things we cannot change. He replaced
fear, not with irrational belief but with rational understanding.
The second reason the Buddha did not believe in a god is because
there does not seem to be any evidence to support this idea. There
are numerous religions, all claiming that they alone have god's
words preserved in their holy book, that they alone understand
god's nature, that their god exists and that the gods of other
religions do not. Some claim that god is masculine, some that
she is feminine and others that it is neuter. They are all satisfied
that there is ample evidence to prove the existence of their god
but they laugh in disbelief at the evidence other religions use
to prove the existence of another god. It is not surprising that
with so many different religions spending so many centuries trying
to prove the existence of their gods that still no real, concrete,
substantial or irrefutable evidence has been found. Buddhists
suspend judgement until such evidence is forthcoming.
The third reason the Buddha did not believe in a god is that
the belief is not necessary. Some claim that the belief in a god
is necessary in order to explain the origin of the universe. But
this is not so. Science has very convincingly explained how the
universe came into being without having to introduce the god-idea.
Some claim that belief in god is necessary to have a happy, meaningful
life. Again we can see that this is not so. There are millions
of atheists and free-thinkers, not to mention many Buddhists,
who live useful, happy and meaningful lives without belief in
a god. Some claim that belief in god's power is necessary because
humans, being weak, do not have the strength to help themselves.
Once again, the evidence indicates the opposite. One often hears
of people who have overcome great disabilities and handicaps,
enormous odds and difficulties through their own inner resources,
through their own efforts and without belief in a god. Some claim
that god is necessary in order to give man salvation. But this
argument only holds good if you accept the theological concept
of salvation and Buddhists do not accept such a concept. Based
on his own experience, the Buddha saw that each human being had
the capacity to purify the mind, develop infinite love and compassion
and perfect understanding. He shifted attention from the heavens
to the heart and encouraged us to find solutions to our problems
But if there are no gods how did the universe get here?
All religions have myths and stories which attempt to
answer this question. In ancient times, when humankind simply
did not know, such myths were adequate, but in the 20th century,
in the age of physics, astronomy and geology, such myths have
been superseded by scientific fact. Science has explained the
origin of the universe without recourse to the god-idea.
What does the Buddha say about the origin of the universe?
It is interesting that the Buddha's explanation of the
origin of the universe corresponds very closely to the scientific
view. In the Aganna Sutta, the Buddha describes the universe being
destroyed and then re-evolving into its present form over a period
of countless millions of years. The first life formed on the surface
of the water and again, over countless millions of years, evolved
from simple into complex organisms. All these processes are without
beginning or end and are set in motion by natural causes.
You say there is no evidence for the existence of a
god. But what about miracles?
There are many who believe that miracles are proof of
god's existence. We hear wild claims that a healing has taken
place but we never get an independent testimony from a medical
office or a surgeon. We hear second-hand reports that someone
was miraculously saved from disaster but we never get an eyewitness
account of what is supposed to have happened. We hear rumors that
prayer straightened a diseased body or strengthened a withered
limb, but we never see X-rays or get comments from doctors or
nurses. Wild claims, second-hand reports and rumors are no substitute
for solid evidence and solid evidence of miracles is very rare.
However, sometimes unexplained things do happen, unexpected events
do occur. But our inability to explain such things does not prove
the existence of gods. It only proves that our knowledge is as
yet incomplete. Before the development of modern medicine, when
people didn't know what caused sickness people believed that god
or the gods sent diseases as a punishment. Now we know what causes
such things and when we get sick, we take medicine. In time when
our knowledge of the world is more complete, we will be able to
understand what causes unexplained phenomena, just as we can now
understand what causes disease.
But so many people believe in some form of god, it
must be true.
Not so. There was a time when everyone believed that
the world was flat, but they were all wrong. The number of people
who believe in an idea is no measure of the truth or falsehood
of that idea. The only way we can tell whether an idea is true
or not is by looking at the facts and examining the evidence.
So if Buddhists don't believe in gods, what do you
We don't believe in a god because we believe in humanity.
We believe that each human being is precious and important, that
all have the potential to develop into a Buddha - a perfected
human being. We believe that humans can outgrow ignorance and
irrationality and see things as they really are. We believe that
hatred, anger, spite and jealousy can be replaced by love, patience,
generosity and kindness. We believe that all this is within the
grasp of each person if they make the effort, guided and supported
by fellow Buddhists and inspired by the example of the Buddha.
As the Buddha says:
No one saves us but ourselves, No one can and no one may. We
ourselves must walk the path, but Buddhas clearly show the way.