Creator in Buddhism
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Buddhist thought consistently rejects the notion of a creator deity. It teaches the concept of gods, heavens and rebirths in its Saṃsāra doctrine, but it considers none of these gods as a creator. Buddhism posits that mundane deities such as Mahabrahma are misconstrued to be a creator. Buddhist ontology follows the doctrine of Dependent Origination, whereby all phenomena arise in dependence on other phenomena, hence no primal unmoved mover could be acknowledged or discerned.
Early Buddhist texts
According to Buddhologist Richard Hayes, the early Buddhist Nikaya literature treats the question of the existence of a creator god "primarily from either an epistemological point of view or a moral point of view". In these texts the Buddha is portrayed not as a creator-denying atheist who claims to be able to prove such a God's nonexistence, but rather his focus is other teachers' claims that their teachings lead to the highest good.
Citing the Devadaha Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 101), Hayes states, "while the reader is left to conclude that it is attachment rather than God, actions in past lives, fate, type of birth or efforts in this life that is responsible for our experiences of sorrow, no systematic argument is given in an attempt to disprove the existence of God."
In the Tittha sutta (A.N. 3.61), the Buddha while describing the three heretical doctrines, mentions Issaranimmāṇavada (doctrine of the divine creation) as one of those three:
'There are brahmans & contemplatives who hold this teaching, hold this view: 'Whatever a person experiences — pleasant, painful, or neither pleasant nor painful — that is all caused by a supreme being's (Issara) act of creation.'
Buddha further explains this doctrine and refutes it as a false belief:
Having approached the brahmans & contemplatives who hold that... 'Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by Issara's (supreme being) act of creation,' I said to them: 'Is it true that you hold that... "Whatever a person experiences... is all caused by Issara's (supreme being) act of creation?"' Thus asked by me, they admitted, 'Yes.' Then I said to them, 'Then, in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of Issara's (supreme being) act of creation. A person is a thief... unchaste... a liar... a divisive speaker... a harsh speaker... an idle chatterer... greedy... malicious... a holder of wrong views because of Issara's (supreme being) act of creation.' When one falls back on creation by a supreme being as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought], 'This should be done. This shouldn't be done.'
Mahabrahma as a false creator
According to Peter Harvey, Buddhism assumes that the universe has no ultimate beginning to it, and thus sees no need for a creator God. In the early texts of Buddhism, the nearest term to this concept is "Great Brahma" (MahaBrahma) such as in Digha Nikaya 1.18. However "[w]hile being kind and compassionate, none of the brahmās are world-creators."
According to Harvey, "[a]fter a long period, the three lowest form heavens appear, and a Streaming Radiance god dies and is reborn there as a Great Brahmā." Then "other Streaming Radiance gods die and happen to be reborn, due to their karma, as his ministers and retinue." The retinue erroneously believes Mahabrahma created them. When one of these ministers "eventually dies and is reborn as a human, he develops the power to remember his previous life, and consequently teaches that Great Brahmā is the eternal creator of all beings."
The Chinese monk Xuanzang (fl. c. 602–664) studied Buddhism in India during the seventh century, staying at Nalanda. There, he studied the Yogacara teachings passed down from Asanga and Vasubandhu and taught to him by the abbot Śīlabhadra. In his work Cheng Weishi Lun (Skt. Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi śāstra), Xuanzang refutes a "Great Lord" or Great Brahmā doctrine:
According to one doctrine, there is a great, self-existent deity whose substance is real and who is all-pervading, eternal, and the producer of all phenomena. This doctrine is unreasonable. If something produces something, it is not eternal, the non-eternal is not all-pervading, and what is not all-pervading is not real. If the deity's substance is all-pervading and eternal, it must contain all powers and be able to produce all dharmas everywhere, at all times, and simultaneously. If he produces dharma when a desire arises, or according to conditions, this contradicts the doctrine of a single cause. Or else, desires and conditions would arise spontaneously since the cause is eternal. Other doctrines claim that there is a great Brahma, a Time, a Space, a Starting Point, a Nature, an Ether, a Self, etc., that is eternal and really exists, is endowed with all powers, and is able to produce all dharmas. We refute all these in the same way we did the concept of the Great Lord.
The 7th-century Buddhist scholar Dharmakīrti advances a number of arguments against the existence of a creator god in his Pramāṇavārtika, following in the footsteps of Vasubandhu. Later Mahayana scholars such as Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla continued this tradition.
The 11th-century Buddhist philosopher Ratnakīrti at the then university at Vikramashila (now Bhagalpur, Bihar) criticized the arguments for the existence of God-like being called Isvara, that emerged in the Navya-Nyaya sub-school of Hinduism, in his “Refutation of Arguments Establishing Īśvara” (Īśvara-sādhana-dūṣaṇa). These arguments are similar to those used by other sub-schools of Hinduism and Jainism that questioned the Navya-Nyaya theory of dualistic creator.
- Taliaferro 2013, p. 35.
- Blackburn, Anne M.; Samuels, Jeffrey (2003). "II. Denial of God in Buddhism and the Reasons Behind It". Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia. Pariyatti. pp. 128–146. ISBN 978-1-928706-19-9.
- Harvey 2013, p. 36-8.
- Hayes, Richard P., "Principled Atheism in the Buddhist Scholastic Tradition", Journal of Indian Philosophy, 16:1 (1988:Mar) pgs 5-6, 8
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- [https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.061.than.html Tittha Sutta: Sectarians ]
- Tittha Sutta: Sectarians
- Harvey 2013, p. 37.
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- Harvey 2013, p. 36-7.
- Hayes, Richard P., "Principled Atheism in the Buddhist Scholastic Tradition", Journal of Indian Philosophy, 16:1 (1988:Mar.) pg 11-15.
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- Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research (January 1999). Chʿeng Wei Shih Lun. 仏教伝道協会. pp. 20–22. ISBN 978-1-886439-04-7.
- Hayes, Richard P., "Principled Atheism in the Buddhist Scholastic Tradition," Journal of Indian Philosophy, 16:1 (1988:Mar.) pg 12
- Hayes, Richard P., "Principled Atheism in the Buddhist Scholastic Tradition," Journal of Indian Philosophy, 16:1 (1988:Mar.) pg 14
- Parimal G. Patil. Against a Hindu God: Buddhist Philosophy of Religion in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. pp. 3-4, 61-66 with footnotes, ISBN 978-0-231-14222-9.
- Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (2nd ed.), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521676748
- Taliaferro, edited by Charles (2013), The Routledge Companion to Theism, New York: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-88164-7