Comparative Studies

Are All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Gods The Same?

[1] Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Gods

By definition, gods are spiritually lesser than Bodhisattvas, who are lesser than Buddhas. The average god has more positive karma than the average human due to past good done, while Bodhisattvas can be anyone training to guide one and all to Buddhahood, which is the attainment of True Happiness with the perfection of compassion and wisdom. (Arhats are those who attained self-liberation through the Buddha’s teachings.) Usually, the term ‘Bodhisattva’ is reserved for great Bodhisattvas like Guan(shi)yin (Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva instead of ordinary beginner or average Bodhisattvas. Buddhism does not subscribe to belief in any creator God, while the Buddha did clearly explain the origin of such a belief.

[2] Great Compassion Mantra

To understand more about possible correlations of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and gods, let us look at the Great Compassion Mantra (大悲咒), which some erroneously assume to contain all Buddhas’ names. With other embedded teachings such as salutations and instructions, the mantra (a string of sacred syllables summarising the Buddha’s teachings) contains the names of 84 possible manifestations of Guanyin Bodhisattva. This is just a sampling, as the great Bodhisattva, having immeasurable compassionate skilful means, can have boundless manifestations. Since there are countless Buddhas, it is impossible to list every one of them in the mantra. For example, more than 10,000 Buddhas’ names were taught in the ‘The Sutra Spoken By The Buddha On 10,000 Buddhas’ Names’ (佛说万佛名经).

[3] 84(000) Manifestations Of Guanyin Bodhisattva

In a sense, the 84 manifestations are an expanded list of the 33 manifestations listed in ‘The Universal Door Chapter Of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva.’ (观世音菩萨普门品: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/05/the-universal-door-of-guanyin-bodhisattva-3rd-run) As a summary, Guanyin Bodhisattva, being with perfect meritorious virtues, can manifest as any person (enlightened or seemingly unenlightened), event (e.g. supernormal and natural phenomena like the sound of falling leaves for spiritually awakening someone) or even thing. The Bodhisattva can manifest as Arhats, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, gods and even demons – so long as the form is deemed the most skilfully appropriate in the moment.

[4] Not All Are Guanyin Bodhisattva

Although Guanyin Bodhisattva can manifest as a particular being at times, it does not mean that any or every being is her manifestation all the time. For example, we know that we are not the Bodhisattva, which is why we practise to emulate her. We all have Buddha-nature similar to Guanyin Bodhisattva, but we have not realised its true and total potential yet, only occasionally in sync with and expressing the heart of compassion. This is why we should never mistaken ourselves to be equivalent to the Bodhisattva. To assume any god, human or whosoever come across to be a perfect representation of Guanyin Bodhisattva, or any other Bodhisattva or Buddha is to make the severe mistake of thinking ‘anything goes’. There are also strict rules given by the Buddha, to avoid confusion, on how true Bodhisattvas should and should not manifest.

[5] Perfect Compassion

Some beginners lacking adequate study of the Buddha’s teachings think all gods, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas are one and the same, with no need to differentiate them individually. This misunderstanding arises from thinking that they all embody and express similar compassion (goodness) and wisdom (truth). Any proficient student of religions would know that there are very different core concepts when it comes to different religions. Similarities seen are often on surface only. For example, perfect Buddhist compassion encompasses all sentient beings great and small, including animals and hell-beings, while many god-centric faiths see animals as ‘God-given’ foods and hell-beings as forever condemned and hopeless.

[6] Perfect Wisdom

Perfect wisdom (Prajna Paramita) as taught by the Buddha is uniquely found in its entirety only in Buddhism. If a Buddhist neglects the need to learn more about the nature of perfect compassion and wisdom, while superficially conflating various religions’ concepts, one will never advance towards the realisation of perfect compassion and wisdom. In short, one can never become a Buddha, a supreme ‘Teacher Of Humans & Gods’, among others. That the Buddha’s teachings are unique is exactly why we choose to take refuge in them, to be Buddhists. If one goes around insisting all religions are totally the same, not only is one not promoting religious harmony, one does injustice to each religion misrepresented.

[7] Guanyin Bodhisattva As Buddha

Back to the Great Compassionate Mantra, although it does not contain the individual names of all Buddhas, in essence it does. This is so as Guanyin Bodhisattva herself is an ancient Buddha (古佛) named ‘Tathagata Of Brightness Of The True Dharma’ (正法明如来), who chose to, out of great compassion, re-manifest as a Bodhisattva on the brink of Buddhahood to exemplify perfect compassionate activity to guide all beings to Buddhahood. As she is a Bodhisattva in name but a Buddha in essence, being one with the universal body of all Buddhas (Dharmakaya), she can thus manifest perfectly as any enlightened being. The Great Compassion Mantra also contains an embedded name of the Dharmakaya.

[8] The Name Of Amituofo

Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) also has an embedded name in the mantra. That said, mindfulness of Amituofo name, as stated in the Amitabha Sutra (Amituojing), is equivalent in effect, of being mindful of all Buddhas, as all Buddhas urge us to be mindful of Amituofo, while they are all mindfully protective of those who are mindful of Amituofo. This is a great skilful means to help us focus in our spiritual practice. Therefore, for those who find the Great Compassion Mantra difficult to memorise due to length, and difficult to practise due to the mind straying off easily, also due to length, they can simply focus on wholehearted mindfulness of Amituofo’s name to reach his Pure Land, especially when on the deathbed. (The Great Compassion Mantra can also guide beings to Pure Land.)

[9] Amituofo As Dharmakaya

Amituofo, being a Buddha, is of course of the Dharmakaya too. His name is reflected as the 89th Buddha in the ’88 Buddhas’ Great Repentance Text’ (八十八佛大忏悔文) – ‘[Homage to (and refuge in)] the Dharma realm’s Treasury Body Amita[bha/us] Buddha’ ([南无]法界藏身阿弥陀佛). This reminds us that Amituofo represents the Dharmakaya, especially since the root words of his name ‘Amita’ means ‘Immeasurable’, which means he also represents immeasurable Buddhas. Guanyin Bodhisattva can manifest as and represent Amituofo because she is already a Buddha. Also, being fully spiritually aligned, it is fitting that she does so to assist Amituofo to guide beings to his Pure Land, appearing as him when appropriate.

[10] Amituofo As Unsurpassable Mantra

Although the Great Compassion Mantra does not contain individual names of all Buddhas, in spirit it does contain all their compassion, which is why it is called the Great Compassion Mantra. That said, in ‘The Sutra Spoken By The Buddha On The Fundamental Esoteric Spiritual Mantra Of Amita Buddha’ (佛说阿弥陀佛根本秘密神咒经), the Buddha also taught that Amituofo’s name is an unsurpassable (supreme) mantra (dharani) that contains all teachings that lead to Buddhahood. Amituofo’s name thus serves as a summation of all Buddhas and their teachings, just as other Buddhists mantras do in an interconnected way.

[11] Amituofo As A Specific Name

To summarise, we must have clear understanding of the Buddha’s unique teachings. If we assume they are the same as any other teaching, the pure Dharma becomes corrupted within our minds and when they misrepresented, thus failing to truly benefit oneself and others. As Buddhists, we should stick to mindfulness of the names and/or mantras of Buddhas and/or Bodhisattvas; and not the random name of any foreign god not advocated. Although Guanyin Bodhisattva can manifest as some gods when appropriate, one cannot reach Amituofo’s Pure Land through mindfulness of gods with delusion over what they stand for, while lacking the specific Three Provisions of right Faith, Aspiration and Practice.

[12] Amituofo As Focus

Especially relevant on the deathbed, as taught in the ‘Section On Mahasthamaprapta [Dashizhi] Bodhisattva’s Perfect Penetration With Mindfulness Of Buddha’ (大势至菩萨念佛圆通章), it is stated that – ‘If sentient beings’ minds recollect the Buddha [Amitabha; Amituofo], and are mindful of the Buddha, now or in the future, they will definitely see the Buddha.’ (若众生心,忆佛念佛,现前当来,必定见佛。) Being mindful of Amituofo’s name wholeheartedly, he will definitely manifest to receive and guide us to his Pure Land.

Being mindful of Guanyin (or Dashizhi) Bodhisattva wholeheartedly, she too will definitely manifest to bridge us to Amituofo’s Pure Land too, as long as the Three Provisions are adequate. Likewise applies to other Bodhisattvas with similar vows to do so. However, mindfulness of one of them will do for focus, with Amituofo being the most direct for reaching his Pure Land. This should not be confused with other religious practices, which might include prayers to gods (who might not exist) to reach heavens (which might not exist), not reaching where liberation is guaranteed.

Related Articles:
Should We See Only Inter-Religious Similarities?
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/09/should-we-see-only-inter-religious-similarities
Why Buddhas Transcend The God Idea
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2013/11/are-buddhas-omnipotent-omnibenevolent-omniscient
How Buddhists Should Not To Be Confused By God Concepts
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/11/the-cross-manifestations-of-buddhas-bodhisattvas-gods
Are Manifestations & Mediums Of Bodhisattvas & Buddhas Around?
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/02/are-there-mediums-manifestations-of-buddhas-bodhisattvas-around
Can God-Believers Reach Pure Land?
https://purelanders.com/2011/12/16/god-believers-reach-pure-land/
Differences Between Heaven(s) & Pure Lands
https://purelanders.com/2011/12/15/the-differences-between-heavens-pure-lands/

How Is Amituofo Our Loving ‘Father’?
https://purelanders.com/2014/06/03/how-is-amituofo-our-loving-father/
Is The Name Of Amituofo Arbitrary?
https://purelanders.com/2011/12/17/is-the-name-of-amituofo-arbitrary/
Amituofo As One & All Buddhas
https://purelanders.com/2013/04/22/amituofo-as-one-all-buddhas/
The Name Of Amituofo Is The Supreme Mantra
https://purelanders.com/2011/12/16/the-name-of-amituofo-is-the-supreme-mantra/
The Three Provisions Of Faith, Aspiration & Practice
https://purelanders.com/2010/04/01/the-three-provisions-of-faith-aspiration-practice/
Section On Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva’s Perfect Penetration With Mindfulness Of Buddha
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2013/12/a-great-bodhisattvas-buddha-mindfulness-practice

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8 Comments

  • Reference to gods craving meat offering or even smell of burnt flesh. Has it ever occur to us why theistic gods have something in common? They crave meat or the scent of burning flesh. By this craving…it simply reduces them to the level of man.

    This also proves spiritual beings live on scent function which when as humans this scent is underutilised though functioning wo our awareness. That also explains the logic of smoke offering. Maybe this is also the reason..we meditate focusing on our breath aka nose.

    Come to think of it…are not the gods themselves who encouraged or allowed meat eating. Why would any divine beings who have immense divine bliss…still crave the carcass of a creation whose life is so significantly small and unworthy at times?

    Why does worldliness taste good to the divine when divinely speaking…they have moved on to better and even higher things as gods. Is it a psychological dissatisfaction or simply becos these animalistic lives are insignificant therefore…riding roughshod over them amounts to nothing much.

    Would all the powers in the universe be not enough to make one quit meat? Or is it becos you have all the power in the universe….you can abuse it for those who dun believe in karma? Or is it there is one power they dun have which is the POWER over themSELVES…over desires..craving….anger and maybe ignorance? Dun they all crave sacrifices yet never the sacrifice of desire, anger or ignorance.

    Doesn’t any form of “live or dead” sacrifice reminds you of the kraken in greek mythology or worse…demons from the fictitious Journey to the West story. Dun they all crave sacrifices yet never the sacrifices of desire, anger and ignorance?

    • According to Buddhism, gods (devas and brahmas) don’t craving meat offerings or their burnt flesh, as they are more refined beings than humans. The offering of such to them should have arisen from deluded human perception of what would please them (if the ones offered to exist at all), based on their own greedy preference.

      Smoke offerings are for transforming solid food to gaseous state to offer to spirit beings for their ingestion.

      Meditation centred on mindfulness of breathing is done as the breath is not too gross and subtle enough for training mindfulness. It is not about smell but tactile sensation (sense of touch of air on the upper lip).

      Yes, the Buddha taught that it is nobler to sacrifice our three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion than anything else, including other sentient beings’ lives. Amituofo

  • On the basis of compassion…not all gods are bad but not all gods are good either. Some gods are known to instruct mankind to kill one another on the pretext that they are your “enemies”….setting one man against another yet it is alarming why he still wins such great support.

    Whether such gods are really the devil in disguise…nobody knows and no believer dares to question his authority becos they may lose their brownie points. Ruled by fear…followers can only keep explaining why the god does what he should when logically…if a god has all the powers in the universe….why does he not have the power to solve a conflict amicably?

    If today you hear a voice claiming to be a god and you receive instructions to repeat the same atrocities as your forefathers did…would you obey becos it is god or would you disobey becos of the right you believed in?

    Animal sacrifice…child sacrifice….human sacrifice…blood sacrifice….god sacrifice.

    Humans have tried almost every form of sacrifices. However the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have gone further than men and gods. Through the sacrifice of desires, anger and ignorance…they found ultimate peace and has gone beyond gods and men. There is no sacrifice greater than that of the ego…the source of all chaos in this world and even that beyond.

    Buddhas are pure beings. By the word “pure” that means not a remnant of darkness remains in them. Any beings can be good or claim to be perfect but it may not be purely good or perfect. Therefore…there is still darkness. Historical events and even ‘spiritual’ instructions are all proofs of these.

    • Other than Mara the heavenly demon and his followers (who stand for the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion) who spiritually sabotage humans, in Buddhism, no god (deva or brahma) demands humans to kill their ‘enemies’. It’s probably deluded humans who try to justify their hateful killing in the name of god(s) of their own making for power and control.

      There is no almighty all-good, all-wise and all-powerful creator god due to these reasons: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2013/11/are-buddhas-omnipotent-omnibenevolent-omniscient/ while the Buddhas are the ones who are the most powerful ones with perfect compassion and wisdom. Amituofo

  • One very famous scene would usually surface when the Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree. While it is debatable whether the event is occuring within the mind or outside the body, we all know that Mara, the heavenly demon deployed his ARMIES to kill the buddha. 

    If we psychoanalyse this heavenly demon, one can conclude that Mara was a poisonous being filled with anger. He was warlike becos he never did resolve it with peace. He was a militant to be exact. Whether he is inside our head or outside our body.. one truth remains. 

    As long as anger, desire and ignorance exist in our minds, these poisons realised in actuality also produces the maras outside our mind as real activities. Our inner poisons can poison the outer environment. The poisons we internalise can be externalise in order to be internalise. For example…a man driven by anger, desire or ignorance in his mind actualised his anger, desire and ignorance by waging a physical war in this real world. That anger, desire and igborance also arouses anger, desire and ignorance in others to counter him.

    This is the root cause why this world will never see peace until our inner fires or poisons are extinguished by proper practice such that they won’t become outer poisons hurting others.

    • There is nothing debatable about the event – it occured both outside and inside. All battles with demons are also inner battles, while the Buddha never said it was only an outer battle.

  • Is this why Buddha is know as the teacher of man and gods? Any beings whether above or below who bears the three poisons are capable of leaving behind their ills or ill will on the face of this earth? Therefore they need to be taught.

  • There are no beings spiritually above Buddhas, as they have reached the peak of spiritual perfection. They are free from the three poisons entirely. Those with the three poisons should have the Buddhas as their ideal teachers.

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!