Dharma practice does not require faith in any god,
while every god requires faith in Dharma practice.
It is said in the Kevatta Sutta that a monk once wondered where the four great elements of earth (extension), water (cohesion), fire (heat) and wind (motion) cease without remainder? He then focused his mind such that he was able to approach the gods of the nearest heaven. Coming to the retinue of the Four Great (Heavenly) Kings, he asked, ‘Friends, where do these four great elements… cease without remainder?’ The retinue replied that they do not know the answer, that the Four Great Kings, who are higher and more sublime should know.
So, the monk approached the Four Great Kings to asked his question. To that, they replied that they do not know, that the gods of Tavatimsa, who are higher and more sublime should know. This went on and on, as the monk next consulted gods of Tavatimsa, its king Sakka, the gods of Yama, the god Suyama, Santusita, the Nimmanarati gods, the god Sunimitta, the Paranimmitavasavatti gods, and the god Paranimmita Vasavatti, who then advised him to approach the gods of the retinue of Brahma.
When the monk reached the gods of the retinue of Brahma, he asked them the same question, to which they said that they too do not know the answer, but that there is the Great (Maha) Brahma, who is higher and more sublime than them, who should know. When the monk asked where he was, Maha Brahma appeared, to whom the monk asked his question. Maha Brahma replied, ‘I, monk, am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All that Have Been and Shall Be.’ The monk repeated his question, ‘Friend, I didn’t ask you if you were Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All that Have Been and Shall Be. I asked you where these four great elements… cease without remainder.’ However, he received the same reply for the same question – for two more times!
After the third time, Maha Brahma took the monk by his arm aside and said, ‘These gods of the retinue of Brahma believe, “There is nothing that the Great Brahma does not know. There is nothing that the Great Brahma does not see. There is nothing of which the Great Brahma is unaware. There is nothing that the Great Brahma has not realised.” That is why I did not say in their presence that I, too, do not know where the four great elements… cease without remainder. So you have acted wrongly, acted incorrectly, in bypassing the Blessed One (the Buddha) in search of an answer to this question elsewhere. Go right back to the Blessed One and, on arrival, ask him this question. However he answers it, you should take it to heart.’
Thus, the monk swiftly disappeared from the heaven to reappear before the Buddha to ask the same question. The Buddha replied that seafaring merchants once released a shore-sighting bird, which flew to various directions in search of land, the failure of which would lead it back onboard. In the same way, the monk’s far and wide search for the truth brought him back to him, because it was futile.
He commented that his question should be rephrased as so – ‘Where do water, earth, fire, and wind have no footing? Where are long and short, coarse and fine, fair and foul, name (mind) and form (matter) brought to an end (transcended)? And the answer to that is – [enlightened] consciousness without feature, without end, luminous all around. Here water, earth, fire, and wind have no footing. Here, long and short, coarse and fine, fair and foul, name and form are all brought to an end. With the cessation of [the activity of worldly] consciousness each is here brought to an end [of suffering in Nirvana].’
This incident clearly exemplified how the Buddha’s wisdom surpasses that of all gods. As such, one of his traditional titles is ‘Teacher of humans and gods’. It also illustrates how Maha Brahma, despite being a god with great merits and certain virtues, had great pride, such that he wished to conceal his faults. (But he might have improved since.) Yet, despite his embarrassment, he came to acknowledge the Buddha’s superiority. Maha Brahma was a god who mistaken and asserted himself as an omniscient and omnipotent creator of the universe when he was reborn from elsewhere into an empty heaven with a very long lifespan. He also ‘saw’ himself as the heavenly father of humans though they manifested naturally via karmic rebirth. He assumed himself to possess an ‘eternal heaven’, to which he invites humans for entry for ‘eternal life’. However, neither that heaven nor his life is everlasting due to the limits of their merits.
The Buddha, being truly the transcendental and most sublime in wisdom, could discern the existence of even higher heavenly planes, each of which lasts longer than those below, and has even more sublime beings. Yet, none of them offer refuge that is as safe and sound as realisation of the Buddha’s teachings. If so, let us not fly too far like a bird in search of liberation and rest. Come back to the Buddha!
How so-called almighty can a so-called creator be,
if he cannot even convince all of his so-called creation
not to doubt his so-called almightiness (or existence)?