10 Big Questions About Buddhism, Answered

Do Buddhists Believe in God (or Gods)?
Isurumuniya is an ancient Buddhist temple situated near to the historic city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It was built around 300 BCE. Here we see a triptych of statues including a standing and seated Buddha. Apexphotos/Getty Images

Buddhism does not support the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, singular God like the one worshipped in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But over the centuries, Buddhism developed an extensive cosmology of gods and demigods that populate its religious texts. And today, Buddhists across Asia appeal to various gods for protection, good crops, wealth and more [source: Jaffe].

In Buddhism, gods are called deva and live in a separate realm of existence consisting of 27 heavens or svarga [source: Buswell and Lopez]. The gods of the 27 heavens have nothing to do with the human realm. Stories about the gods appear in early Buddhist texts, but mostly serve as allegorical tales for teaching Buddhist principles [source: O'Brien].

Tantric Buddhism is the path most often equated with polytheism, because tantric practices often involve the invocation of a god or goddess associated with a certain spiritual power. Yet Tantric Buddhists don't perform these rituals to receive direct blessings from the gods like the ancient Romans, but rather to assist the practitioner in embodying the power and wisdom that the god represents.

Was the Buddha himself one of these gods? Some ancient Buddhist texts teach that the Buddha was a god before choosing to be being reborn as Siddhartha Gautama [source: Buswell and Lopez]. Gods in Buddhism aren't eternal or freed from the cycle of death and rebirth. That's what makes the Buddha so remarkable. He was the first among the gods or man to achieve nirvana and teach the path of enlightenment to both humans and deity.