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Buddha: A God or A Human?

By Nischhal Pradhan at
Buddha: A God or A Human
Buddha: A God or A Human?

Buddhism, in the western part of the world is known as the "atheistic religion" as compared to the religions such as Judaism, Christian and Islam as Buddhism does not take or recognize a single deity or creator. On contradiction, Buddhism does not believe in a deity-less culture but it has not one but many gods or deities.

In the traditional Buddhist belief of cosmology, the gods or devas in Sanskrit are distributed collectively among 27 heavens (Swarga) in which six of them are located in the realm of Kamdhatu along the slope, at the summit and in the air above Mt. Sumeru (the mountain at the center of the world), 17 in the meditation heavens called Rupadhatu and four in the immaterial realm of Arupyadhatu where there is no form but only consciousness. None of these realms or heavens is a permanent home of these gods and also none of them are eternal. In Buddhism, Rebirth is taken as a god based on the actions performed in a previous life. When a god's lifespan is over, the being is reborn at someplace else. Thus, we can conclude that the Buddhist gods do not have the absolute power, infinite life span and the almighty status. However, it does not mean that these gods have no powers. Their powers are far beyond those of normal humans. Similarly, the long history of Buddhism has seen many Buddhist monks, nuns conciliate to the gods for blessings. Meanwhile, there has also been the considerable part of tantric practice in Buddhism, mainly known as Vajrayana Buddhism which is devoted to invite the gods into an individual's presence, making offerings and requesting the disposal of various powers, known as Siddhi.

Then, the question remains, what is the status of the Buddha? He is a human, and is among the five other incarnations destinies in Samsara: gods, demigods, animals, ghosts and denizens of hell. But he is different from any other human, both in his relation to the gods and his physical as well as mental characteristics.

In his next to final lifetime, the Buddha-to-be was taken as a god, living where all future Buddhas live, in the Tushita heaven. It is believed that it is from the Tushita heaven that he looked into the world and chose his final birthplace, his clan, parents and his caste. Following the enlightenment, the Buddha spent 49 days meditating in the surrounding of the Bodhi tree. When he concluded the meditation, he is believed to have understood about the truth of life which was too deep for a commoner to understand, thus unsuccessful to teach to anyone. The god of creation, Bramha then descended from the heavens to urge the Buddha to teach even if many might not be able to understand but there would be some who would with "little dust in their eyes". This was a very important moment as it further makes it clear that the Buddha was aware of something the gods were not and they had been waiting for the moment of the appearance of the new Buddha in the world to teach them the path to freedom from rebirth, even the one in heaven. This is why there is one of the sobriquets of the Buddha known as devatideva - "the god above the gods".

Even if he was a human, the Buddha had a body unlike any other. There are 32 marks or lakshanas in Buddha's physical characteristics. These 32 lakshanas are also termed as mahapurusalakshana. These lakshanas are also very well depicted in various iconographic representations of the Buddha i.e. Buddha statues and Buddha images. Similarly, the Buddha's mind is very well aware of his past lives and the past lives of all the individuals in the universe. In the early Buddhist traditions and beliefs, it is said that he has the ability to live for an eon or until the end of an eon if he is asked to do so. Similarly, according to the Lotus Sutra, his lifespan is infinite and he can be present anywhere in the universe while performing almost all manners of miracles.