From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha's teachings.
On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, and so on, are excluded by the Buddha's teachings on anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality.
In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world: for instance, world-soul, time, nature, and so on.
God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views that deny the karmic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of humans and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.
Theism, however, is regarded as a kind of karma-teaching insofar as it upholds the moral efficacy of actions (karma). Hence a theist who leads a moral life may, like anyone else doing so, expect a favorable rebirth.
One may possibly even be reborn in a heavenly world that resembles that person's own conception of it, though it will not be of eternal duration as one may have expected.
If, however, fanaticism induces one to persecute those who do not share the same beliefs, this will have grave consequences for the persecutor's future destiny. For fanatical attitudes, intolerance, and violence against others create unwholesome karma leading to moral degeneration and to an unhappy rebirth.
Although belief in God does not exclude a favorable rebirth, it is a variety of Eternalism, a false affirmation of permanence rooted in the craving for continued existence, and as such an obstacle to final deliverance.
Among the fetters (samyojana) that one bind to birth and death, theism is particularly subject to those of personality-belief, attachment to rites and rituals, and desire for fine-material existence or for a "heaven of the sense sphere," as the case may be.
As an attempt at explaining the universe, its origin, and the human situation, the God-idea was found entirely unconvincing by the Buddhist thinkers of old. Through the centuries, Buddhist philosophers have formulated detailed arguments refuting the doctrine of [an ultimate] creator god.
It should be of interest to compare these with the ways in which Western philosophers have refuted the theological proofs of the existence of God.
But for an earnest believer, the God-idea is more than a mere device for explaining external facts like the origin of the world. For that person it is an object of faith that can bestow a strong feeling of certainty, not only as to God's existence "somewhere out there," but as to God's consoling presence and closeness.
This feeling of certainty requires close scrutiny. Such scrutiny will reveal that in most cases the God-idea is only the devotee's projection of one's ideal -- generally a noble one -- and of the fervent wish and deeply felt need to believe.
These projections are largely conditioned by external influences, such as childhood impressions, education, tradition, and social environment. Charged with a strong emotional emphasis, brought to life by mankind's powerful capacity for image-formation, visualization, and the creation of myth, they then come to be identified with the images and concepts of whatever religion the devotee follows.
In the case of many of the most sincere believers, a searching analysis would show that their "God-experience" has no more specific content than this.
Yet the range and significance of God-belief and God-experience are not fully exhausted by the preceding remarks. The lives and writings of the mystics of all great religions bear witness to religious experiences of great intensity, in which considerable changes are effected in the quality of consciousness.
Profound absorption in prayer or meditation can bring about a deepening and widening, a brightening and intensifying of consciousness, accompanied by a transporting feeling of rapture and bliss.
The contrast between these states and normal conscious awareness is so great that the mystic believes the experience to be manifestations of the divine. And given the contrast, this assumption is quite understandable.
Mystical experiences are also characterized by a marked reduction or temporary exclusion of the multiplicity of sense-perceptions and restless thoughts. And this relative unification of mind is then interpreted as a union or communion with the One God.
All these deeply moving impressions and the first spontaneous interpretations the mystic subsequently identifies with a particular theology.
It is interesting to note, however, that the attempts of most great Western mystics to relate their mystical experiences to the official dogmas of their respective churches often resulted in teachings which were often looked upon askance by the orthodox, if not considered downright heretical. More>>