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Book: Buddhism in Five Minutes

Chapter: 8. Is Buddhism Atheistic, Non-theistic or Theistic?

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.40745


Buddhism is not focused on the idea of an eternal creator God, but from its beginning has included belief in a range of mortal gods (devas), who are seen as part of the round of rebirths along with humans, animals, ghosts, and beings in hell. None of these rebirths is seen as lasting forever, although some are seen as very long-lasting. The Buddha did not see himself as an incarnation of a god, but as a human who had been radically transformed by becoming enlightened, and as a “teacher of humans and devas.”

Although Buddhists do not believe in a creator God, they do believe in an ultimate, transcendent reality: nirvana. Nirvana is beyond time, change, and death—a transcendent reality the peace of which is beyond that of even the subtlest heaven. Like the God of theistic religions, it is eternal, at least in the sense of being beyond time, rather than lasting forever in time. It is not seen as creating the world, and is a seen as a state to be experienced rather than a being.

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