Most theologians consider Buddhism as spiritual philosophy, not entirely religion. The reason being is the fact that in Buddhism, there is no known Absolute Creator God that serves as man’s benefactor and punisher. The focus in Buddhism is the practice of meditation and purification every Buddhist has to perform to attain Enlightenment. The Buddhist teachings are therefore, not a way to venerate and follow the orders of a Supreme Being in order to benefit from its power. The purpose of following the spiritual path in Buddhism is to attain such power by itself without having to follow any higher form of being that would bequeath or withdraw such graces.
Although Gautama Buddha (Buddhism God) is venerated amongst all Buddhist order, it is not done so because of the fact that he is indeed a Higher Being. For unlike the Christian God, who is entirely separated from the realms of man, Buddhahood is achievable by any sentient being.
The very essence of a Creator God is not an issue in Buddhism. Although Brahma once claimed being the Creator of heaven and earth, it is not something that the Buddhist put emphasis on because Brahma does not hold the answer to everything. In Buddhism, everything in the world is created by One cosmic truth. This truth is the answer to all life’s questions and since all is considered as one, the Creator of the universe can also be considered as oneself. That is why, the greatest truth in Buddhism says that all is one, one is all. Therefore, every sentient being is worthy of being a God himself, only if he is able to annihilate oneself from himself by practicing the ways of the Buddha. Annihilation of oneself can be attained through different Buddhist practices that aim towards meditation and purification. Prostration, recitation of the names of the Buddhist Gods, creating mandalas, fasting, self-exile, Kalachakra Tantra, are only a few of the ways a sentient being can do to achieve Buddhahood which means being one with the Buddha, or being one with the God.
Buddhas are therefore worshipped not because they are Supreme Beings but because they were also once bodhisattvas who attained their Buddhahood by practicing what it is to become Buddha. They are venerated because of the spiritual path they have taken which inculcates the virtues, struggles, and sacrifices they had to go through in order for them to attain the Enlightenment they now have. Buddhism therefore, emphasizes the way of life every follower should take, not on what the God has in store for his follower. It is not about the concept of the Creator Being but on the contemplation of life because life in general is part of oneself and oneself is part of life. It only goes to show that a sentient being is the creator of all things and everything creates a sentient being. Again, all is one and one is all. As Gautama Buddha himself said:
"We are what we think
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world."
Mere belief and reliance towards a Supreme Being is therefore, foolish for Buddhist practitioners as it does nothing but affirm the status quo of the world. If you say that the world is created by God then it is a no brainer that God created both the good and the bad and thus he is the only one who can change things. In Buddhism, you are the creator of your life and thus you have the choice to change it the way you want it to be – only if you are worthy. If you will think that God makes all changes in the world then there will be no more effort to make the world work for its inhabitants. In Buddhism, it does not have to be the case.
Religion therefore, should not be dependent on God and salvation but on the way of life you have to perform which is never selfish and in fact, always for the happiness of other people. This is the only way to achieve Enlightenment.
Although the Buddha once proclaimed him as the god above all gods, it was never discounted that every sentient being does not have the chance to become god. But God as we speak is the highest form and nothing can be higher than that as Buddha said. This aspect of Buddha who speaks about himself as the Eternal One is the closest Buddhism has to Christianity’s concept of God the Father – the Dharmakaya. The Dharmakaya is also very similar with the Christian concept of Trinity as He is part of the doctrine of Trikaya. It is the aspect of Buddha that asserts His presence in all phenomena and that He transcends all time and space, and thus, is eternal. It is also the benevolent aspect of the Buddha, being the Buddha who returns back to earth to grant salvation to those who are worthy of it.
In a way, the only difference would be the teachings on how such salvation is achieved. Both Christianity and Buddhism teach a way of life to follow. The only difference is that Christianity greatly emphasizes salvation as the motivation towards following such way of life. Whereas in Buddhism, it has to be otherwise, for one to achieve salvation through Enlightenment, he has to have genuine compassion and wisdom. He has to annihilate himself and instead do things for the mere purpose of other people’s salvation. There should not be any thought towards rebirth and what happiness it may bring you, instead, the emphasis should be on Awakening yourself towards the wisdom, and the practice that would give you such eternal life. That is why the concept of purification is greatly emphasized in Buddhism.
Having said it, this has to be clear that Buddhism is not at all atheistic in nature. Although it teaches that anyone can attain Buddhahood, and thus can be god, it does not mean that such consciousness asserts the non-existence of a higher being. This misconception often lies on the fact that Buddhists refuse to call it God to separate it from the concept of the Christian God. The Buddhist notion of a higher being is something experiential. It is safe to say that Buddhism is pantheism, which takes the notion of God as a totality of all the things existing. In a way, veneration of God as One is veneration of All.
List of Gods in Buddhism
Wheel Of Existence
Padmapani Chhyagna Pema
Vishwapani Chhyagnasho Dorje
Sri Devi Palden Lhamo
Mahakala Palgon Chhyag Dug
Yamantaka Shinje Shi
Chakrasambhara Demchhog Khorlo
Medicine Buddha Men Lha
Samantabhadra Kuntu Sangopo
Sahasrabhuja Chhyag Tong
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