Can Faith In Any Deity Help The Dying?

According to one doctrine, there is a great, self-existent [i.e. uncreated] deity whose substance is real and who is all-pervading [i.e. omnipresent], eternal, and the producer of all phenomena [as a creator]…. If something [or someone] produces something, it [or he] is not eternal [as it or he changes to produce change]. The non-eternal is not all-pervading [in space and time], and what is not all-pervading is not real [ultimately].

– Great Master Xuánzàng
(Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi Śāstra)

In the strictly Buddhist perspective, can faith in any god or deity lead to blessings and guidance for a better rebirth? This is possible only if the god believed in does exist, and is indeed aware and powerful enough to offer blessings and guidance. Even if the criteria is met, gods at most can lead to heavenly rebirths, which are still impermanent refuges, trapped in the rounds of rebirth. If there are insufficient merits to share with the dying, gods cannot truly provide boosts for higher rebirths. Rebirth in the heavens is then largely due to self-powered spiritual cultivation, such as doing of much good and/or practice of deeper meditation.

According to the Buddha’s teachings, there is no perfect creator god who is omnipotent (all-powerful), omnibenevolent (all-kind) and omniscient (all-knowing), due to the simple fact that there is rampant evil and suffering in this world, which no such being, if he exists, will ever allow for a single second – since he will not create possibilities for such imperfections, if fully empowered, kind and knowledgeable in the first place. Thus, faith in such an absent being is considered futile.

In a text is one stated to be jealous, at times angry, willing to kill, and punish endlessly. As these are not omnibenevolent qualities, the described does not have all three ‘omnis’. Although there is a Mahā Brahmā god named Baka Brahmā in the Buddhist sutras, who have some similar characteristics, they are not the same. ‘Equivalence’ is only in terms of mistaking himself to be an almighty (omnipotent), all-knowing fatherly creator of all, in an eternal heaven with eternal life.

In the Brahmā Nimantaṇika Sutta, Śākyamuni Buddha successfully proved to Baka Brahmā that he is not as he believed. Though Baka Brahmā was described to be somewhat prideful at first, brahmā gods had cultivated, and continue to abide in the Brahmā Vihāras, which are the Four Immeasurable Minds, of loving-kindness, compassion, rejoice and equanimity. Though they have yet to perfect them like the Buddhas, being dominant, they do not have great jealousy or anger.

If there are no perfect creators with the three ‘omnis’, how do the Buddhas fit in the picture? As amply exemplified by the Buddha’s edifying speech and actions, as history’s longest teaching founder of a world religion the Buddha(s) do indeed have omnibenevolence (which is perfect compassion for all beings) and omniscience (which is perfect knowledge of all things).

The Buddhas however, are not omnipotent. If they are, they would be able to remove all evil and suffering instantly. Yet, the Buddhas are by default the most spiritually powerful (‘maxipotent’) beings possible, thus the highest form of refuge available, who are able to clearly point out to us the path to Buddhahood. This is why Buddhists do not take refuge in any god, while taking refuge in the Buddhas, who are also honorifically addressed as ‘Teachers Of Humans And Gods’ (人天教主).

While no Buddha created the whole universe, Buddhas are able to create perfect world-systems within called Pure Lands, resulting from their accumulation of much merits and wisdom. Perhaps the most prominent example is the Western Sukhāvatī Pure Land (Of Ultimate Bliss) of Amitābha Buddha (i.e. Āmítuófó), which is the best expression of a Buddha’s omnibevolence, omniscience and ‘maxipotence’ at work. Not only is it an ideal Dharma learning and practice centre created for most swiftly expediting progress to Buddhahood, there is also the most skilful means of connection to receive sentient beings who aspire to reach it as life ends – via sincere mindfulness of his name.

If the [so-called creator] deity’s substance is all-pervading and eternal,  it must contain all powers [i.e. omnipotence]  and be able to produce all dharmas [i.e. phenomena of mind and matter] everywhere, at all times, and simultaneously [as this would be his function]. If he produces [a] dharma [only] when a desire arises, or [only] according to [changes in] conditions, this contradicts the doctrine of a single cause [of everything].

– Great Master Xuánzàng
(Vijñāptimātratāsiddhi Śāstra)

Related Articles:

Are Buddhas Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent & Omniscient?

The Buddha’s Victory Over A God & Demon

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