Monday, February 9, 2015

There is no supreme creator-god in the Buddha Dharma


           
Buddha (right) preaching the Truth to Baka Brahma (left)
who had the illusion that he is supreme in the world
I am very much worried that nowadays, many people from inside or outside the Sangha spread the idea that Shakyamuni Buddha did not deny nor affirmed the existence of God. Thus, they somehow imply that the World Honored One left the door open for interpretation and that it is ok for a Buddhist disciple to believe in a Creator or supreme God.

Well, this is a great delusion and a falsification of Shakyamuni’s teaching. In fact, the Buddha clearly denied the existence of a supreme being who created the world, rules the world and will one day judge the world. In this short article and others that will soon follow, I do not have the intention to enter into any debate or polemics with followers of other religions on the existence or non-existence of such a supreme being, but just to prove that Shakyamuni Buddha clearly denied this view and considered it a false and dangerous illusion. For me the most important thing is not what monotheistic religions say, or if some chose to believe in a creator god (its their choice), but what the Buddha actually said and preached. So, if we consider ourselves to be His diciples, we ought to know His position on this topic and follow it faithfully.  

It is well known that among the many religious and philosophical traditions that were contemporary with the Buddha, the idea of a supreme being who created and sustains the world was well known and shared by many. This is exactly why, He did not kept silence, but preached against it.

            In the Discourse on Brahma’s Invitation (Brahmanimantanika Sutra) [1], Buddha tells the story of His visit to the heavenly place of a powerful god, called Baka Brahma, to convince him to renounce to his wrong view about himself and his realm:

“Bhikshus[2], once I was staying at the foot of a royal sal tree in the Subhaga Grove at Ukattha. Now at that time, an evil wrong view had arisen in the Brahma Baka thus:

‘This Brahma realm is permanent; this is everlasting; this is eternal; this is everything [complete in itself]; this is not subject to passing away, nor is this born, nor does it decay, nor die, nor pass away (from the heavens), nor is reborn; and there is also no escape beyond this.’
Having known with my mind the thought in the Brahma Baka’s mind, just as a strong man would stretch his bent arm or would bend his stretched arm, I vanished from the foot of the royal sal tree in the Subhaga Grove at Ukattha and reappeared in the Brahma world”.

Seeing Him coming, the Baka Brahma confirms to the Blessed One that he indeed shared that view:

“Now, good sir, this Brahma realm  is permanent; this is everlasting; this is eternal; this is everything [complete in itself]; this is not subject to passing away, nor is this born, nor does it decay, nor die, nor pass away (from the heavens), nor is reborn; and there is also no escape beyond this.’”

Hearing this, Shakyamuni immediately tried to correct him by stating that nothing is really permanent or eternal, not even the realm and power of the gods:

“Alas! The worthy Brahma Baka has fallen into ignorance in that he says of the impermanent that it is permanent; of the non-everlasting that it is everlasting; of the non-eternal that it is eternal; of the incomplete that it is everything; of what is subject to passing away as being not subject to passing away; of where one is born, and decays, and dies, and passes away (from the heavens), and is reborn, that this is where one is not subject to passing away, nor is born, nor decays, nor dies, nor passes away (from the heavens), nor is reborn; and when there is an escape beyond this, he says that there is no escape beyond this.’”

But then, to prevent the Buddha from stating more truths, the demon Mara[3] possessed a member of Baka Brahma’s host and entered the discussion by addressing the Buddha with the term “bhiksu” (monk), like He was just an ordinary seeker, inferior to Brahma:

“Then Mara, the evil one, possessed a certain member of Brahma’s host[4], and he told me:
‘Bhikshu, bhikshu, do not disparage him, do not disparage him. For this Brahma is the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, the Lord God, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and that will be.”

This passage is extremely important as it shows the delusion Mara tries to offer to the god Brahma and to all beings – the so called existence of a supreme creator god who rules everything. Thus, he mentions some of the titles that nowadays monotheistic religions apply to their so called “supreme god”: the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, the Lord God, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and that will be.”

In his efforts to impose this wrong view, he tries to frighten the audience by saying that before Shakyamuni, there were many other “recluses and brahmins” who were against this supreme creator god and who after death they were reborn in the lower realms[5] for their lack of faith, while others who had faith and praised the Brahma, acquired a superior rebirth and body[6]. Then, he urges the Buddha to obey this supreme Brahma and do not go against him:

“So, bhikshu, I tell you this:
‘Come now, good sir, do only as Brahma  says! Go not against the word of Brahma. If you go against the word of Brahma, bhikshu, then, you would be like a man trying to deflect approaching glory with a stick,  or, bhikshu, you would be like a man losing his hold of earth with his hand and feet as he falls down the deep chasm—so it will be unto you, bhikshu.
Come now, good sir, do only as Brahma God says! Go not against the word of Brahma. Do you not see Brahma’s host seated here, bhikshu?’ And then Mara the evil one led me up close to Brahma’s host.”

But the Buddha immediately recognized Mara under the disguise of a member in Brahma’s host, and exposed his treachery to all. Unfortunately, He was the only one there who had not fallen under Maras’s influence:

“When this was said, I told this to Mara the evil one:
‘I know you, evil one. Do not think, “He does not know.” You are Mara the evil one, and Brahma and Brahma’s host and Brahma’s retinue have all fallen into your hands; they have fallen under your power. You, evil one, think, ‘This world has fallen into my hands! He [the Buddha], too, has fallen under my power!’ But I have not fallen into your hands, evil one; I have not fallen under your power!’”

Thus, when Baka Brahma enters again in the discussions he does so only to re-assert his wrong views I mentioned above, at the beginning of this article. Then, filled with his godly pride he threatens the Buddha, trying to bring Him into submission:

“Bhikshu, I tell you this: You will find no escape beyond, and you will only reap your share of toil and trouble” but  […] “if you will hold on to Brahma [God], you will be close to me, rest in my domain, so that I may work my will upon you and make you low and humble.”

Not afraid, the Buddha speaks about the limitations of Brahma, proving to him that even if he now has (due to his previous karma) great power over a very large part of the universe, and knows everything high and low in it, still there are places of existence which are not under his domain, and gods (themselves unenlightened and not supreme) far more superior than him:

“I know your destiny (karma), Brahma, and I know your splendor [your fall]”.
As far as the sun and moon course their way, lighting the quarters with their radiance,
Over that thousandfold world, your might hold sway.
There you know the high and low, and the lustful and the lust free,
Such and such existences, the comings and goings of beings.

“Thus, Brahma, I know your reach and I know your radiance: the Brahma Baka has this much might, the Brahma Baka has this much power, the Brahma Baka has this much sway. But, Brahma, there are three other bodies and worlds[7], that you neither know nor see; but which I
know and see.

Buddha teaching to Baka Brahma and his audience
Thus, the Buddha relates to him that his present situation is in fact, an involution from higher states where he once dwelt. As everything that goes up must one day fall, Baka Brahma too, felled from previous better realms when the good karma that brought him there was exhausted. Unfortunately, due to his ignorance and limited power he cannot remember them, but the Enlightenment’s vision being all-pervading, the Buddha can see them:

“(1) There is, Brahma, the world  called Ābhāsvara  (Heaven of Supreme Light)[8], having arisen here, you fell from it. Because you have dwelt here for so long, your memory has lapsed, and so you neither know nor see it, but I know and see it. As such, Brahma, as regards direct knowledge, you and I are not of the same level at all, for how could I know less? Rather, I know more than you.

(2) There is, Brahma, the world called Śubhakrtsna (Heaven of Universal Purity)[9], having arisen here, you fell from it. Because you have dwelt here for so long, your memory has lapsed, and so you neither know nor see it, but I know and see it. As such, Brahma, as regards direct knowledge, you and I are not of the same level at all, for how could I know less? Rather, I know more than you.

(3) There is, Brahma, the world  called Brhatphala (Heaven of Greater Fruits)[10], that you neither know nor see. I know and see it. As such, Brahma, as regards direct knowledge, you and I are not of the same level at all, for how could I know less? Rather, I know more than you.”

Then, in order to prove the limitations of Brahma, the Buddha challenged him to see who among them can vanish from each other’s sight:

"'Well then, good sir, I will disappear from you.'
"'Well then, Brahma, disappear from me if you can.'”[11]

Of course, Brahma was unable to prove his superiority and could not hide himself from the Buddha’s unimpeded vision:

"Then Baka Brahma, [thinking,] 'I will disappear from Gotama the contemplative. I will disappear from Gotama the contemplative,' was not able to disappear from me." [12]

As for the Buddha, this was not a difficult thing to do, and so he disappeared from Brahma and his retinue’s sight, allowing them to only hear His voice [13]:

"So then, bhiksus, I fabricated a fabrication of psychic power to the extent that Brahma, the Brahma assembly, and the attendants of the Brahma assembly heard my voice but did not see me. Having disappeared, I recited this verse:

'Having seen danger right in becoming, and becoming searching for non-becoming, I didn't affirm
any kind of becoming, or cling to any delight.'[14]

            This amazes Brahma and his retinue who start to recognize Buddha’s superiority, but Mara again quickly intervenes and tries to convince Buddha to give up the teaching of such ideas, and to not accept disciples:

“Then Mara the evil one possessed a certain member of Brahma’s host, and he told me:
‘Good sir, if that is what you know, if that is what you have understood, do not guide your disciples and renunciants! Do not teach the Dharma to your disciples and renunciants!”

Again, he tries to frighten the Buddha by saying that those renunciants and spiritual seekers who did like Him, and preached such ideas, were reborn in lower states[15], while those who abstained and kept to themselves, had a good rebirth[16].

But the Buddha reveals the wicked intentions of Mara:

“‘I know you, evil one. Do not think, “He does not know.” You are Mara the evil one! It is not out of compassion for their welfare that you speak thus. It is without compassion for their welfare that you speak thus. You think thus, evil one: ‘Those to whom the recluse Gotama teaches the Dharma will escape from my sphere!’”

So, this is the reason why Mara tried to prevent the Buddha to teach the non-existence of a creator god, all powerful and eternal, because such a teaching would free people from his influence. In this sutra, Mara is thus regarded not only as the celestial demon of the Heaven of Free Enjoyment of Manifestations by Others (Paranirmitavaśavartin), but also as impersonating delusion, ignorance and all the internal and external obstacles that prevent Enlightenment. Thus, according to the Buddha, the belief in a supreme god, creator and sustainer of the universe, is a grave error and an obstacle to true freedom from the repeated cycle of birth and death.

In contrast to the various renunciants or spiritual seekers, who believed in the eternal god creator Brahma, or those that Mara gave as an example before, the Buddha is a truly Awakened One:

“Those recluses and brahmins of yours, evil one, who claimed to be fully self-awakened were not fully self-awakened.       But I, who claim to be fully self-awakened, am (truly) fully self-awakened.
[…] Evil one, the Tathagata has abandoned the mental influxes that defile, bring renewal of being, give trouble, ripen in suffering, and lead to further birth, decay and death. Evil one, He has cut them off at the root, made them like a palm-tree stump, done away with them so that they are not subject to further growth. In this manner, evil one, the Tathagata has abandoned the mental influxes that defile, cut them off at the root, made them like a palm-tree stump, done away with them so that they are not subject to further growth.’”

There are other discourses too, where Shakyamuni Buddha clearly denied the existence of a supreme god, and I plan to show them to you in my next articles in this category. Now, I just wish to insist a little more upon the situation described above. What we see in the sutra, is a powerful god, possessing a very long life due to his previous good karma from the past, who falls in the delusion that he is supreme in the universe and also the creator and master of the world. And the one who supports him in this deluded idea is the most powerful demon of samsara – Mara, the evil one. If we somehow, place the story of the Brahmanimantanika Sutra in modern context and relate it to the nowadays monotheistic religions, we can say their supreme God is under the influence of Satan who fooled him into believing that he is: “the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, the Lord God, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and that will be.”   This should make all those who have the tendency to mix Buddhism with Christianity or other monotheistic religions, to think twice before making their wrong assumption that the Buddha did not deny the existence of a supreme/creator god. If we carefully read the passages above from the Brahmanimantanika Sutra and other discourses, we clearly see that there is no place in the Buddhist thought for the actual existence of a supreme/creator being.

Of course, there are many powerful gods, ruling over vast realms of samsara, who might have the delusion of being supreme and eternal, just like many humans declare themselves supreme among their kind, but this is just one delusion among the many delusions of the unenlightened beings.  In truth, the prosperity, lifespan, power and abilities, as well as the realms and forms in which we are born are due to our karma, and will change according to karma. Nothing is enduring for ever, and those who are now in a position of great strength in human world or celestial worlds, will one day fall, when the karma for being there will be exhausted. Thus, even the most powerful gods die. To have faith in one of them, especially in those who have the delusion that they are all-powerful, may be beneficial in short term, and even lead to rebirth in their heavenly realms, if we also cultivate good deeds, but in long term, when those gods and their realms will disappear, or when our karma for being there will also come to an end, we’ll fall again in the lower realms. This is why, only the state of Buddhahood or Nirvana should be our single goal in the religious life, because there is no decay and fall from it:

“The enlightenment of nonbuddhist ways is called impermanent, Buddhist Enlightenment is called eternal. The emancipation of nonbuddhist ways is called impermanent, the Emancipation of Buddhist ways is called eternal”.[17]


On the powerful pretas (hungry spirits) who wish to dominate others through religion



[1] The Brahmanimantanika Sutra, which is a part of Majjhima Nikaya 49 has a parallel in the Madhyama Āgama (MĀ 78), which agrees with the Pali version in its title of “Brahma inviting the Buddha” (梵天請佛), and also that the Buddha is staying at Jeta’s forest near Savatthī. The first part of the Brahmanimantanika Sutra appears as a discourse in the Samyutta Nikaya and is called the Brahma Baka Sutra (S 6.4).3 All three versions open with Baka believing his realm to be permanent and supreme, and the Buddha aware of this wrong view thereupon visits him.
Apparently, the Brahmanimantanika Sutra is an expansion of the account of the Brahma Baka Sutra (S 6.4), or that the latter, giving only a brief account, is a summary of the former. More likely, however, both texts were built on an ur-text (common original text). Both the sutta openings are identical, but while the Brahmanimantanika Sutra is set at Ukkattha, the Brahma Baka Sutra is set at Sarvasti. It is also interesting to note that the Majjhima account is given in the first person, with the Buddha himself narrating the event, but the Samyutta account is in the third person. Both the Brahma Baka Sutra (S 6.4) and the MĀ 78 version agree in saying that the Buddha is residing in Jeta’s forest near Savatthī. Moreover, this account recurs in the Baka Brahma Jataka.
 (Introduction to the English version of the Brahmanimantanika Sutta by Piya Tan).
The passages quoted in this article are mainly from the translation made by Piya Tan, with the exception indicated in the respective footnote. 
[2] Bhiksus means “monks”. Shakyamuni begins this sutra (discourse) by addressing directly to the monks by his own accord. It is something like, “dear monks…”.
[3] The Nirvana Sutra lists four types of demons: 1) greed, anger and delusion; 2) the five skandas, or obstructions caused by physical and mental functions; 3) death; and 4) the demon of the Heaven of Free Enjoyment of Manifestations by Others (Paranirmitavaśavartin). So, in the Buddhist texts the word “demon” is sometimes used with the meaning of internal demons, or personal blind passions and illusions, but also in the sense of an actually existing being or beings that disturb others from reaching freedom from birth and death. Nowadays, there is a common mistake among many so called “modern” Buddhists, who think that maras are only internal and not external demons, too. However, I encourage my Dharma friends and readers to please not share in their misunderstandings, and single-heartedly entrust to Amida Buddha, which is the best way to be protected against the influence of such evil and powerful beings. 
[4] It should be noted here that Mara is simply using this “certain member of Brahma’s host” clearly as a fifth columnist. In fact, Mara has completely overpowered Brahma, Brahma’s host and Brahma’s retinue. (Translator’s note).
[5] “Before your time, bhikshu, there were recluses and brahmins in the world who scorned earth, loathed earth; who scorned water, loathed water; who scorned fire, loathed fire; who scorned air [wind], loathed air [wind]; who scorned beings, loathed beings; who scorned gods, loathed gods; who scorned Prajapati, loathed Prajapati; who scorned Brahma, loathed Brahma; and when the body had broken up after their breath was cut off, they were established in an inferior body.”
[6] “Before your time, bhikshu, there also were recluses and brahmins in the world who lauded earth, delighted in earth; who lauded water, delighted in water; who lauded fire, delighted in fire; who lauded air, delighted in air; who lauded beings, delighted in beings; who lauded gods, delighted in gods; who lauded Prajapati, delighted in Prajapati; who lauded Brahma, delighted in Brahma; and when the body had broken up after their breath was cut off, they were established in a superior body.” 
[7] These are the second Dhyana Heaven, the third Dhyana Heaven and the fourth Dhyana Heaven in the World of Form, together with their respective realms and beings. They are situated above the first Dhyana Heaven with its three realms, which is the only one ruled by Baka Brahma.
[8] The greatest realm in the second Dhyana Heaven.
[9] The greatest realm in the third Dhyana Heaven.
[10] The third realm in the fourth Dhyana Heaven.
[11]"Brahma-nimantanika Sutta: The Brahma Invitation" (MN 49), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 17 December 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.049.than.html
[11]Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] In other words, the act of searching for non-becoming — or annihilation — is also a type of becoming. Although the Buddhist path aims at the cessation of becoming(bhava), it does not attempt this cessation by trying to annihilate the process of becoming. Instead, it does so by focusing on what has already come to be (bhuta),developing dispassion for what has come to be and for the nutriment — the causes — of what has come to be. With no more passion, there is no clinging to or taking sustenance from the causes of what has come to be. And through this lack of clinging or sustenance comes release”. Footnote 10, from "Brahma-nimantanika Sutta: The Brahma Invitation" (MN 49), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 17 December 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.049.than.html 
[13] Before your time, bhikshu, there were recluses and brahmins in the world claiming to be worthy and
fully self-awakened, and they guided their disciples and renunciants. They taught the Dharma to their
disciples and renunciants. They craved for disciples and renunciants. And when the body had broken up
after their breath was cut off, they were established in an inferior body”.
[14] “Before your time, bhikshu, there were also recluses and brahmins in the world claiming to be worthy
and fully self-awakened, and they did not guide their disciples and renunciants. They did not teach
the Dharma to their disciples and renunciants. They had no craving for disciples and renunciants. And
when the body had broken up after their breath was cut off, they were established in a superior body.
So, bhikshu, I tell you this. Good sir, dwell unconcerned, devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now.
It is wholesome [It is better] to leave it undeclared, good sir, do not advise anyone!’”
[15] Passage from the Nirvana Sutra, as quoted by Shinran Shonin in his A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Buddha and Land Of the Pure Land Way.


4 comentarii:

Paul & Camille said...

Thank you Josho, that was very interesting and informative. This aspect was always what kept me from Buddhism in the past, but now it makes perfect sense. Amazing what can happen when the time is right and Amida steps in :) _/|\_ Gassho, Camille

Dave Kruemcke said...

A marvelous and in-depth explanation of this subject Josho. Thank you so very much for sharing this important dharma message. Namu Amida Butsu ! Gassho, Dave Kruemcke

Jeremiah Mullica said...

Very great Sensei. I'm glad I read this I needed it very much. It's Also good to know that True enlightenment Is Permanent and thru Faith in Amida we can be born in the Pureland and become Permanently Enlightened. Keep up the good Work and Namo Amida Butsu

Josho Adrian Cirlea said...

Thank you all. I am glad you found this article useful!
Yours in Namo Amida Butsu