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Of Gods and, Well, Other Gods

Monday, November 9, 2009

People standing outside Buddhism and looking in often comment that for an allegedly nontheistic religion it has a lot of gods. Which I suppose is true, but Buddhist "gods" aren't gods as most Westerners understand the word.

There's a book review in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times that discusses the distinction from a Theravadin perspective. The book is Gods in Buddhism - Origin, Function and Relevance by Professor M.M.J. Marasinghe. The most important point, I think, comes at the very end of the review. In most religions and cultures, "gods" are beings with special powers and abilities who can help or harm humans. Much of the function of religion amounts to pleasing or appeasing these beings in order to receive favor and blessings from them.

However, the reviewer writes, "The gods in the Buddhist conception are merely a class of non-visible beings who have no power or influence over man or the world." Practitioners of Vajrayana might disagree with this definition, but as I said, this is the Theravadin understanding of the gods in the early Pali texts.
People curious about Buddhism sometimes express concern about all the supernatural beings. In most schools, if the supernatural beings bother you, just ignore them. Or file them all under "allegory.



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Live in Joy, In love,
Even among those who hate.

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Even among the afflicted.

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Even among the troubled.

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Free from fear and attachment,
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