Buddhist answers to common questions

Kuensel Online, November 28, 2008

Timphu, Bhutan -- Lam Shenphen Zangpo answers basic questions that every Buddhist man, woman, and child on the street wants to know.

What is the difference between Buddha and god?

A god by very definition is a creator. In the same way that you cannot be an artist if you do not paint or cannot be a mechanic if you do not repair vehicles, a being cannot be a god without creating. In this way, a god exists only in relation to his creations or, to state it in another way, without creations a being cannot be a god.

To take this logic a step further, if a being does begin to create, then he is only recognized as a god at the moment the creation is born. Before that he was not a god.

Furthermore, anything that is created by joining together a number of components has a point in time when it was first formed. Take for example a table. It needs a top and four legs. When these are separate entities, there is no table. However, once they are joined together, a table is created. In the same way, a god is formed from the joining together of the two components of creations and faith.

Continuing this line of reasoning, anything that has an identifiable point in time when it began, obviously has a time of staying and then finally ending. Think about it. Everything that is compounded, whether it be something as simple like a flower, which is formed from such things as seeds, moisture and warmth, or a complex structure like the universe, it all had a point of beginning and will end. Therefore, in this respect, a god is impermanent.

A Buddha, on the other hand, does not create. He awakens to the truth and points the way for other to follow. The historical Buddha was a man, and in this form he realized the truth and became a Buddha. So, like a god there was a point of beginning and so there is a point of end. Therefore, we can say that the physical form of Sakyamuni ceased upon his death in Kushinagar.

However, ‘the truth’, or to call it by its other titles, ‘basic goodness of heart’ or ‘Buddha nature’, to which Sakyamuni awoke has no beginning. It is like space. It is all pervading. Buddha did not invent it, nor was it created by other beings or through the gathering of elements. Therefore, the essence of Buddha, which is our own minds is not impermanent. It is for this reason that Buddha, or the Buddha nature, is accepted as an ultimate refuge.

To summarize, a god exists only in relation to his creations. A Buddha does not create, and therefore dies not exist in relation to anything. He is beyond permanent and impermanent. In fact, just after Prince Siddhartha gained enlightenment and became the Buddha, he was asked by a passers-by, “Are you a god or perhaps a holy man”? The Buddha replied, “I am neither. I am awake”.