A blogger named Razib, who posts on the science blog Gene Expressions, questions whether Buddhism is theistic or atheistic. Razib writes, One of the points that I run into all the time is that Buddhism is a religion without god, that is it is an atheistic religion. I admit this assertion as an ideal or elite belief, but contend that the vast majority of the world's Buddhists are theists, so one can't simply present Buddhism as an atheistic religion when most Buddhists are not atheists.
Razib presents data from a survey of self-identified American Buddhists, the majority of whom reported some belief in God. Also in Asia, Razib says, many people who call themselves Buddhists also believe in a supreme being or God. Razib continues (emphasis in original),
Razib's arguments bring together several issues I've discussed on this site, but I'd like to start with the theistic/atheistic issue.
Barbara O'Brien discusses this matter in more detail in "Atheism and Devotion in Buddhism." One of her points in that essay is that, in Buddhism, much of what looks like worship is not. Rather, acts of reverence or devotion are "skillful means" to break down the hindrance of ego. One's conceptualization of what one is being devoted or reverent to is another matter.
Many of the celestial beings of Buddhist iconography might more accurately thought of as archetypes than as gods as Westerners understand the term "gods." For more discussion of these beings and how they are understood, see, for example, "What Is a Bodhisattva?" See also "Gods in Buddhism" by Austin Cline, About.com's Guide to Agnosticism/Atheism.
Another question that has to be asked is, What is a Buddhist? Razib took some of his data from a Pew Forum study discussed last February. As said in an earlier post, one problem with data from self-identified Buddhists is that there are people who call themselves Buddhists because they are vegetarian and meditate now and then, but don't know the Four Noble Truths from eggplant.