The Buddhas are perfectly capable
‘Teachers of Humans and Gods’
as they have perfected their humanity
and transcended the compassion and wisdom
of even the greatest yet unenlightened gods.
Can there be a creator of the universe, who is omnipotent (all-powerful), omnibenevolent (all-good) and omniscient (all-knowing) at the same time? According to the Buddha’s direct and detailed scrutinisation of all realms of existence, such a being does not and cannot exist. This can be realised through simple yet irrefutable reasoning too. If there is a creator with the three attributes above, there should be no creating, permitting or sustaining of the causes, conditions or effects of suffering as this being is supposed to exercise boundless ability (omnipotence) with boundless compassion (omnibenevolence) and boundless wisdom (omniscience) for the welfare of all beings. Yet, there is much major suffering around us. For example, while this is being written, we are in the aftermath of a typhoon that killed thousands and injured many.
As Epicurus the Greek philosopher eloquently argues by asking – ‘Is God [as an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator] willing to prevent evil [and suffering], but not able? [If so,] Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? [If so,] Then he is malevolent [or not benevolent]. Is he both able and willing? [If so,] Then whence cometh evil [and suffering]? Is he neither able nor willing? [If so,] Then why call him God [since omnipotence and omnibenevolence are the expected attributes of such a being]?’ Thus are all four possible combinations of how we can look rationally at the God idea. We might want to add these lines too – ‘Is God aware of the need and means to prevent evil [and suffering]? [If not,] Then he is not omniscient.’ This timeless so-called ‘problem of evil’ can never be solved by adhering to the ‘God’ idea.
The proposal that suffering does not arise from an existing creator but from humans’ disobedience of this creator does not make sense as such a creator must have created the possibility of such disobedience in the first place, which should not be the case if there is almighty power, compassion and wisdom to prevent so. The existence of even a split-second of minor suffering means there is no all-powerfulness to prevent it, and/or no all-goodness to prevent it, and/or no all-knowingness to prevent it. The prevalence of suffering means anyone with the three omni attributes does not exist anywhere. But if such a godhead with these three attributes cannot exist, who are the ones next in line, with the most of them, even though not all of them? According to the Buddhas’ complete surveys of the cosmos, they themselves are the ones.
While no Buddha is a creator of the universe or its suffering, as they are naturally and collectively and individually sustained by the karma we create, the Buddhas have perfect compassion (omnibenevolence) for all beings and wisdom (omniscience) of all physical and mental phenomena. Although they do not have boundless power (omnipotence) to eradicate all suffering in one go, they are nevertheless the most powerful ones possible – with immeasurable meritorious virtues and inconceivable supernormal powers from total mastery of their minds. They are always doing their utmost in using all kinds of skilful means according to our karmic affinities and needs to guide us to the ultimate liberation of Buddhahood. (We too should emulate their example.) As a wondrously shining example of a truly great skilful means, is the manifestation of blissful Pure Lands, which are sanctuaries free from all suffering, to most efficiently inspire and expedite our spiritual progress via direct guidance of perfect teachers – Buddhas!
He who has eyes can see the sickening sight;
Why does not Brahma [here equivalent to the creator God idea] set his creatures right?
If his wide power no limit can restrain [if he is omnipresent and omnipotent],
Why is his hand so rarely spread to bless?
Why are all his creatures condemned to pain?
Why does he not to all give happiness [if he is omnibenevolent]?
Why do fraud, lies, and ignorance prevail?
Why triumphs falsehood — truth and justice fail [if he is omniscient]?
I count your Brahma one the unjust among
Who made a world in which to shelter wrong.
- Bhuridatta Jataka, No. 453
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