When you think of monotheism, what springs to mind? Most people think of the major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
So, where does Buddhism fit in? Is Buddhism monotheistic? The answer may come as a serious surprise.
What Is Monotheism?
Before we dive into where Buddhism fits in with the other major world religions, we’re going to take a look at what monotheism actually is.
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one god. That makes sense, right? Mono means one. A monotheistic religion believes that a single omniscient god created the world and has the power to intervene, if necessary. Christianity is a monotheistic religion.
A polytheistic religion, on the other hand, is a religion that believes in the existence of many gods or deities. (Poly = many.) One of the most well known and widespread polytheistic religions is Hinduism.
Is Buddhism Monotheistic?
So, where does Buddhism fit? Is Buddhism monotheistic? Or polytheistic? If you’re exploring how to practice Buddhism, having the answer to this question is pretty important.
And the answer is: neither.
Buddhism is a nontheistic religion. That means that Buddhism has no official god or deity.
But, wait! you cry. What about those golden statues of the smiling man with the round belly? Isn’t Buddha the god of Buddhism?
Buddha was and is an important figure in Buddhism. But the Buddha is not a god. In fact, the Buddha that many associate with Buddhism was a man by the name of Siddhārtha Gautama.
Who Was Buddha?
Siddhārtha Gautama was a man born in Lumbini, Nepal between 563 – 480 BCE. He studied under many sages of the age, learning meditation, yoga, and how to harness the power of his mind. He attained Enlightenment at the age of 35 after meditating for 49 days beneath a Bodhi tree.
After becoming Enlightened, he traveled and taught all those he could. He died at the age of 80, leaving many great teachings behind.
Hold on a minute, you say. You aren’t fooling me. I know I’ve seen statues and figures in Buddhist temples. And if there is no Buddhist god, then who are those monks in red robes praying to?
The statues frequently seen in Buddhist temples are holy figures called bodhisattvas. Like the Buddha, these figures are not divine. But they are holy.
You see, bodhisattvas were beings so wise that they were able to access nirvana, the state beyond all suffering. But these beings were so compassionate that they delayed their attainment of nirvana in order to stay on Earth and teach others how to become enlightened.
Popular bodhisattvas seen in Buddhist temples are Green Tara, White Tara, Kuan Yin, Manjushri, and Avalokitesvara.
Do Buddhists Pray?
If Buddhists aren’t monotheistic and don’t have a god, do they pray to the Buddha? Or bodhisattvas?
Buddhists do not worship a god. Instead of praying, Buddhists chants, mantras, and meditations serve as a form of devotional practice.
Do Buddhists pray? There are different branches of Buddhism and it could be argued that some Buddhist practices do involve prayer. But more often than not, this prayer is either a form of self-exploration or an effort to spread loving kindness, what Buddhists call metta.
Self-exploration can be a powerful vehicle toward deeper spirituality. Deborah King, Author of Mindvalley’s Be A Modern Master Program says, “All spiritual progress is born out of self-awareness.”
So, there you have it. Is Buddhism monotheistic? No. Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that focuses on following the teachings of the Buddha and bodhisattvas to become free from suffering.
What surprised you most to learn about Buddhism? Share in the comments below.