deification of the buddha

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DEIFICATION OF THE BUDDHA IN THERAVADA BUDDHISM ANKUR BARUA The Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Corresponding address: Dr. ANKUR BARUA BLOCK – EE, No. – 80, Flat No. – 2A, 1

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this research article explores the possible reasons for the glorification and subsequent of the Buddha in Theravada Buddhism

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Page 1: Deification of the Buddha

DEIFICATION OF THE BUDDHA IN THERAVADA BUDDHISM

ANKUR BARUA

The Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Corresponding address:

Dr. ANKUR BARUA

BLOCK – EE, No. – 80, Flat No. – 2A,

SALT LAKE CITY, SECTOR -2,

KOLKATA – 700 091

WEST BENGAL, INDIA

Tel: +91-33-23215586

Mobile: +919434485543

Email: [email protected]

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DEIFICATION OF THE BUDDHA IN THERAVADA BUDDHISM

Introduction

Buddhism is commonly described as a "spiritual philosophy", because it discards the notion of an Absolute

Creator God or any self-entity. The denial of the existence of a creator God has been seen as a key point in

distinguishing Buddhist from non-Buddhist views.1 In the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha analyzed the

problem of suffering, diagnosed its root cause and prescribed a method to dispel suffering. He taught that

through insight into the nature of existence and the wisdom of "not-self" or "selflessness" (anatta) all sentient

beings following the noble eightfold path can dispel ignorance and thereby suffering. Thus, Buddhism

stresses upon the personal practice of ethics, meditation, and wisdom1,2. Considering the deep implications

of these thoughts of the Buddha, the renowned scientist, Albert Einstein had predicted Buddhism as the

“Cosmic Religion of Future”.3,4 However, in all Buddhist traditions, veneration of the Buddha as a teacher of

Dhamma is significant and an important part of spiritual development. Though the Buddha objected

deification according to Theravada Buddhism, but in some streams of Buddhism, the Buddha is worshipped

essentially as an omniscient divinity possessed of many supernatural attributes and qualities. Though the

process of deification of the Buddha started from the Pāli Cannons in early Buddhism, but it gained greater

momentum in the later commentaries.5

God Concept in Early Buddhism

The Buddha had clearly stated that reliance and belief in creation by a supreme being leads to lack of effort

and action from individual perspective which poses a significant hindrance in the path to liberation.6 It should

be noted that the Buddha did not criticize veneration of the noble, veneration of the wise and learned, but

only discouraged the acceptance of a Creator God which causes lack of individual initiatives for any action

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and restraints the mind to samsara. However, the presence of some of the Brahmin gods was found in early

Buddhism. But it is important to keep in mind that gods in Buddhism have no role to play in liberation. It is

certainly true that the dhamma had very little to do with devas. Though their existence is assumed in early

Buddhism, but the truths of religion were not dependent on them. Attempts to use their influence by

sacrifices and oracles were deprecated as improper practices.5,6

Brahma was among the common Brahmin gods found in the Pāli Canon. All other devas, including Brahma,

are subjected to change, final decline and death, just like all sentient beings in samsara. All gods are

considered as heavenly beings and are in reality not yet free from self-delusion and the processes of rebirth.

Samsara is considered to be the plane of continual reincarnation and suffering. According to the Buddha,

the world of gods presents with many pleasures and distractions. It is not in an aptly suited realm of the

world of radiance where beings could exist without form.6,7

Often as the Devas figure in early Buddhist stories, the significance of their appearance nearly always lie in

their relations with the Buddha or his disciples while explaining the Dhamma. The gods, though freely

invoked as accessories, are not taken seriously. The Kevaddha Sutta of Pāli Canon relates a story on how a

monk was puzzled by a metaphysical problem applied to various gods and finally accosted Brahma himself

in the presence of all his retinue. After hearing his question pertaining to where do the elements cease and

leave no trace behind, the Great Brahma took him by his arm and led him aside and confessed that he did

not know the answer to his question and advised him to refer the Buddha instead.6,7,8 This story is an

evidence of deification of the Buddha who was hailed superior to the Brahmin Creator God Brahma.

However, the Pāli Canon confirms that omnipotence cannot be ascribed to any being. So, one should keep

in mind that no god or an enlightened being (including the historical Buddha) is ascribed with the powers of

creation, granting salvation and judgment. In Theravada Buddhism, there are no lands or heavens where a

being is ensured nirvana. In Early Buddhist tradition, there is no equivalent of the Mahayana "Pure Land" or

magical abode of Buddhas where one is destined to be enlightened. Therefore, instead of believing in the

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existence of a Creator God, it is wise for human beings to practice the Dharma (spiritual truth) of the Buddha

and follow the Noble Eightfold Path which would lead to the spiritual Liberation and Awakening.1,7,8

Attitudes towards theories of Creation

The basic fallacy in the concept of a Creator God is, if we presume that he had created the universe, then

the questions arise as to who had created him, where does he come from and why did he create the

universe? If human beings start believing in the existence of a Creator God, then no one would have any

moral responsibility and motivation to undertake any initiative or activity and every duty and moral

responsibility would be dumped upon the Creator God. Since, Buddhism believes in the doctrine of

Dependent Origination and Kamma, it is indifferent to all theories related to the origin of the universe. It is

important to note that the Buddha did not categorically say that creation did not occur or there was no

creator. The Buddhist attitude towards every belief is one of critical examination from the perspective of

what effect the belief has on the mind and whether the belief binds one to samsara or not. So, mere

speculation about the origin and extent of the universe was discouraged in early Buddhism.2,6,7

Brahmins and their close association with God

The Brahmins apparently claimed that they were the link between humans and devas. They tried to place

the priestly class at an advantageous position. But the Pāli suttas dismiss the folly of these religious

practitioners, who lead others to what they themselves do not personally know.6

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Biography of the Buddha from Pāli Canonical Texts

The biography of the Buddha is not presented in the canonical texts in a chronological and systematic order.

The earlier disciples of the Buddha apparently did not feel any need of compiling the Master’s biography.

This would probably because of the fact that they were repeatedly admonished by the Buddha himself that

the Dhamma be first emulated. The Buddha had often emphasized the fact that one, who sees the

Dhamma, sees the Buddha. He wanted his disciples to remember him through the correct interpretations of

his doctrines.2,9

However, the Buddha occasionally referred to his personal life during the course of giving discourses or

prescribing disciplinary rules for his disciples. According to H.Masutani, the Buddhists had a separate but

unofficial tradition of collecting events and anecdotes associated with the Buddha’s life from the earliest

times. This tradition was the hypothesis behind the origin of a third collection besides the Sutta Pitaka and

the Vinaya Pitaka, which was never recited at the First Buddhist Council. Literary evidences show that

attempts were made only several centuries after the demise of the Buddha to compile a systematic and

coherent biography of the Buddha including the genealogy of the Sakya clan. The sources utilized for the

purpose were not only those scattered in the canonical texts, but also those collected as a result of the

interaction with other religionists. Thus, the works of the Nidanakatha of the Jataka Atthakatha came into

existence and later considered to be the standard biography of the Buddha in Theravada Buddhism.7,9

The Buddhavamsa, one of the late canonical texts, is unique in the study of the biography of the Buddha. It

contains probes into the past existences of Gotama Buddha from the time of Dipankara Buddha from whom

he received a definite assurance. He made a vow front of him to become a Bodhisatta. By fulfilling the

Perfections (parami) for an immeasurable length of time, he finally attained Buddhahood. The

Buddhavamsa also describes the number of past Buddhas is twenty-four as against the six previous

Buddhas mentioned in the Canon; and provides a list of ten Perfections (parami) that must be fulfilled by

Gotama Bodhisatta for the attainment of Buddhahood. All these concepts associated with the career of

Gotama Bodhisatta were never mentioned in the Canon before the Buddhavamsa. Later canonical texts

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such as the Buddhavamsa, the Cariyapitaka in which some Perfections (parami) are detailed, etc., seem

therefore to have been meant to unravel a long career of Gotama Bodhisatta. This is a markedly late

development in the Canon, which made the followers understand the fact that it was very difficult to achieve

the Buddhahood than thought earlier.2,6,9

This was how the Buddhological development steered its course towards higher amplitude of deification in

subsequent times and the Bodhisatta concept came into prominence. However, E.J.Thomas had expressed

that the Bodhisatta doctrine in Theravada Buddhism was introduced from another school. He had

emphasized that the Buddhavamsa existed in a Sanskrit form, and it was probable that the doctrine in this

developed form was introduced along with this work. After comparing the stories of Mangala Buddha

depicted in the Buddhavamsa and the Mahavastu, the scholar Nanavasa observed a striking resemblance

in phraseology between the two versions. These circumstantial findings might suggest the possibility that

there existed a common source or sources from which both the Pāli and Sanskrit traditions derived their

materials.9,10

Human Nature of the Buddha

Through a comparative study, it had been convincingly brought out that the Buddha in early sources was

depicted simply as a religious mendicant. Though at the beginning, he vigorously undertook the austere

practices in order to lead a higher religious life, but he finally abandoned such a course of practice and

adopted the middle way, without physically torturing oneself or indulging too much in self comfort. He was

just one of mendicants who followed a similar method of practice in India at that time. He was addressed as

‘marisa’ (sir, or one like me) by a Brahmin youth and some mendicants or ‘bho’ (friend), or was simply called

‘Gotama’, the term used even by the Buddha’s own disciples.1,2,10

Epithets given to the Buddha provide a good glimpse into the historical development of his personality.

According to Nakamura, such epithets as isi, muni, naga, yakkha, kevalin, ganin, mahavira or vira,

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cakkhumantu, etc., are equally applicable to other mendicants and there is no distinction between the

Buddha and others as far as these epithets are concerned. He further stated that the gathas in which they

are included would have been composed not later than the time of King Asoka. He expressed that the

Buddha was then respected only as the founder of a religion. But faith in miracles or supernatural powers of

the Buddha was not particularly emphasized in the oldest stratum of Buddhist texts.9,11

In the earliest phase of Buddhism, the Buddha exemplified by leading a virtuous and austere life to other

mendicants who merely thought him to be one of them as they could see and listen to him in person. When

the community of such mendicants became larger, the Sangha came to be physically divided into small

groups for the convenience of movement and the leader of such a group was chosen from among eminent

persons in that group. The Buddhist monastic development began to provide opportunities for non-

Buddhists to form the opinion that the leader of the Sangha was not the Buddha but someone else. One

instance of this misrepresentation can be seen in the Isibhasiyaim, a Jaina source, which claims Sariputta to

be the leader of the Buddhist community instead of the Buddha. This could be due to the fact that they had

probably never seen the Buddha in person and had only maintained their close contact with Sariputta.9,10

Evolution of the Buddha-Concept in Theravada Buddhism

Early Buddhist sources persistently depict Gotama Buddha as an ideal human being. He was a lover of

silence (muni) and led a simple life uncharacteristic of any superhuman being. He was respected by all who

followed him not only as a teacher, but also as an excellent human being. This sentiment can be gathered

from some epithets and attributes given only to the Buddha as purisuttama, isisattama, sabbasattanam

uttama, appatipuggala, devamanussa settha, sadevakassa lokassa agga, etc.9,10

The Buddha was regarded as a sage during the earlier part of his life after attaining Nibbana. In a study on

the development of notion of “Buddha” (as a term), Nakamura had classified the evolution of the term

“Buddha” into six phases, which are as follows:9

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(1) In early Janism as reflected in the Isibhasiyaim, all sages irrespective of their faiths were called

‘buddhas’. Uddalaka, Yajnavalkya, Mahavira, Sariputta, etc., are all buddhas.

(2) Emphasis is laid on the fact that Sariputta was the only “Buddha” in the eyes of the Jains.

(3) In the old gathas of the Parayana vagga of the Suttanipata, no mention of the word ‘buddha’ is found.

This could be due o the fact that the disciples of the Buddha during that time did not specially think of

Sakyamuni as a Buddha. They also did not aspire to be called buddhas themselves.

(4) The next phase was the time when those who should be respected in general were called buddhas, isi

(sages) or brahmanas.

(5) As time went on, however, ‘buddha’ came to be thought as an especially eminent person and the term

was used as an epithet for such a person.

(6) Finally, ‘buddha’ came to be used for no one other than Sakyamuni (or anyone equal to him). This

tendency persists prominently in the new strata of gathas of the Suttanipata.

The Buddha identified with the Dhamma

After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha not only exemplified his teachings, but also endeavoured to show

people the way leading to the emancipation from the cycle of births and to the attainment of the supreme

bliss of Nibbana. The life of the Buddha was an expression of the Dhamma he had preached. The Buddha

once said: “Whosoever sees the Dhamma sees me. Whosoever sees me sees the Dhamma” (Yo

dhammam passati so mam passati. Yo mam passati so dhammam passati).2,11 Though he had expressed

this to make his disciples understand the importance of his doctrine rather than worshipping him as God, but

this was accepted in a different way by his followers and later used for the glorification.

The Supernatural Elements in Buddhism

Buddhism does not deny the existence of supernatural beings like “gods” or “devas”). But it does not ascribe

powers to them for creation, salvation or judgment. They are regarded as having the power to affect worldly

events in much the same way as humans and animals have the power to do so. Just as humans can affect

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the world more than animals, devas can affect the world more than humans. While gods may be more

powerful than humans, none of them are absolute or unsurpassed. Like humans, the gods are also suffering

in samsara, the ongoing cycle of death and subsequent rebirth. Gods have not attained nirvana, and are still

subject to emotions, including jealousy, anger, delusion, sorrow, etc. Thus, since a Buddha shows the way

to nirvana, a Buddha is called "the teacher of the gods and humans". According to the Pāli Canon the gods

have powers to affect only so far as their realm of influence or control allows them. In this sense therefore,

they are no closer to nirvana than humans and no wiser in the ultimate sense. A dialogue between the king

Pasenadi Kosala, his general Vidudabha and the historical Buddha reveals a lot about the relatively weaker

position of gods in Buddhism.1,8,10

The Pāli Canon also attributes supernatural powers to enlightened beings (Buddhas), that even gods may

not have. In a dialogue between king Ajatasattu and the Buddha, enlightened beings are ascribed

supernormal powers (like human flight, walking on water etc.), clairaudience, mind reading, recollection of

past lives of oneself and others. According to the Buddha, an enlightened person realizes the uselessness

of these mundane powers and instead unbinds himself completely from samsara through discernment. The

Arahants were never allowed to exhibit their supernatural powers in public.1,8

Evidences of Glorification of the Buddha from Arahant

It should be kept in mind that the Buddha too was an Arahant and in the earliest sources, the Buddha was

presented more closely to the Arahant in terms of attainments. The sole difference between them is often

described that the Buddha is the discoverer of the path to enlightenment, while his disciples were the

followers of that path. Namikawa in his study had shown that some of the expressions used for the Buddha

were equally applicable to the Arahants such as Sariputta, but some were not. The words like cakkhumantu,

lokanatha, sugata, appatipuggala, adiccabandhu, etc., were used only for the Buddha even in the gathas of

texts like the Suttanipata, Sagathavagga of the Samyutta Nikaya, Dhammapada, Theragatha and

Therigatha which were considered to belong to the old stratum of the Canon. But if the question is raised on

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whether or not any Arahant has the same depth of knowledge of the world as the Buddha is supposed to

possess, then the answer is negative.9,10

In the early Buddhism, the simile of simsapa leaves was specified to elaborate the difference between the

Buddha and Arahants. It was mentioned that the Buddha had illustrated the vastness of his knowledge with

the simile of simsapa leaves. One day, he picked up a handful of leaves in a wood of simsapa trees and told

his disciples that things the Buddha had known by direct knowledge were like simsapa trees in the forest,

whereas what he had taught to bhikkhus was like the few leaves in his hand. This episode proved that the

Buddha revealed only a fraction of his knowledge to others, because he knew that it was sufficient for

anyone to attain Nibbana. According to De Silva, the Buddha is far superior to other Arahants regarding

knowledge about extra-nibbana oriented matters. ‘Sabbannu’ was another epithet attributed only to the

Buddha. The first four Nikayas taken as a whole also discuss such distinction between the Buddha and the

Arahant. 2,9,11 But there is no evidence available to verify this statement as to whether this was actually

expressed by the Buddha himself or later added by the contributors of Buddhist texts.

Veneration of the Buddha

Although an absolute “Creator God” is absent in most forms of Buddhism, veneration or worship of the

Buddha and other Buddhas does play a major role in all forms of Buddhism. All the schools of Buddhism

taught that being born in the human realm is best for realizing full enlightenment, whereas being born as a

God presents one with too much pleasure and too many distractions to pose hindrance for serious insight

meditation. In Buddhism, one venerates Buddhas and sages for their virtues, sacrifices, and struggles for

perfect enlightenment, and as teachers who are embodiments of the Dhamma. This supreme victory of the

human ability for perfect enlightenment is expressed in the concept of “Arahant” which means "worthy of

offerings" or "worthy of worship" because he overcomes all defilements and obtains Nibbana.5,7

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Probable Reasons for Deification of the Buddha

Religion is an outcome of the psycho-socio-cultural needs of the community. It serves as a means of human

existence and influence the confidence and motivational levels of individuals along with their moral

upliftment. So, a religion can never be separated from its psycho-socio-cultural background and community

needs. While probing into the various reasons behind the deification of the Buddha, we must keep in mind

that all the factors analyzed so far are subjected to mere speculation and nothing could be proved in the

light of absolute evidence. Whatever efforts had been made for deification had some psycho-socio-cultural

relevance related the historical background of India at a given point of time. There was definitely some

justification in undertaking these activities to meet various social and cultural causes. But due to the

haphazard arrangement of old and new texts in the Pāli Cannons and commentaries, it is now difficult to

correlate a particular instance of deification with its corresponding historical background.9 However, some of

the probable psycho-socio-cultural factors responsible to deification of the Buddha are mentioned below:

(1) At the very beginning, we should keep in mind that there is no authentic autobiography or biography of

the Buddha available till date. All we have for reference are the Pāli Cannons and commentaries

composed by many of his renowned disciples. The oral tradition of transmitting the Dhamma from one

person to the other was carried on for many years till the final compilation of the Cannons and some

commentaries after the conclusion of the third Buddhist council during the 3rd century CE.2,10,11 Since

many people had added many texts at different points of time, there is a high possibility that sometimes,

the personal opinions and emotions of the contributors were incorporated as original teachings of the

Buddha. There was no single editor or a panel of editors to edit these texts and arrange them in

chronological order of appearance at the time of compilation. So, the initial glorification elements in

early Buddhist texts could be a result of unintentional bias from the part of these contributors.

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(2) However, the bias of glorification of the Buddha could be intentional also. While compiling the Pāli

Cannons, the senior disciples of the Buddha who had close association with him for many years, could

have intentionally deified him, as a gesture to express their profound respect and gratitude. This trend

might have been amplified later in the Pāli commentaries.

(3) After the mahaparinabbana of the Buddha, when the sanga was still large, there were many new

disciples who had never seen the Buddha in person. It would have been difficult to describe the

appearance of the Buddha to them.2,11 The senior monks might have felt the need of constructing

statues of the Buddha which would give visual satisfaction to the followers to see the Buddha in front of

their eyes and perceive that the teachings were directly coming from him. This attempt would have

helped in familiarizing the appearance of Gotama Buddha to those who knew little about him in person

and also to exalt him, by adding extraordinary happenings associated with his life, for popularizing his

teachings.

(4) Some of the disciples might have found difficulty in concentrating their minds in an abstract vacuum

during meditation.2,11 So, an image of the Buddha could have served the purpose of enabling the

followers to concentrate their minds during meditational practices.

(5) In absence of the Buddha, a large sangha might have faced stiff challenges from ego centric issues

related to various group leaders and could have faced administrative problems due to the lack of unity

of command. The deification of the Buddha could be a probable outcome in order to counter this

problem. The disciples might have thought that if the Buddha was deified and his image was kept at the

centre of the sangha, then it would create some visual impacts on the minds of disciples. Thus, his

active physical presence would be felt all the time. As a result, no one would rebel in presence of the

Buddha and the sangha would still remain united in spite of differences of opinions.

(6) There could be a possibility of intense competitions from the followers of other religions in India. All the

gods of Brahmanism were believed to have superhuman powers and were omniscient. All the spiritual

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leaders of Jainism were also considered as omniscient. So, it must have been difficult for the Buddhist

sangha to convince the common people that the Buddha was an ordinary human being without any

supernatural power or omniscient knowledge.10 In an attempt to ensure the continuity of the sangha and

influence common people to adopt Buddhism, the ancient Buddhist monks must have intentionally

deified the Buddha, to match the powerful Brahmin gods and spiritual leaders of Jainism.

(7) There might have been a keen initiative taken by the sangha to spread Buddhism in every nook and

corner of the Indian subcontinent after the mahaparinabbana of the Buddha. In this attempt to expand

the sangha, many uneducated and lay people might have been included in the sangha. There could be

a possibility of lapse on part of the sangha to correctly assess the intellectual capacities of these new

devotees and decide on who should receive how much knowledge at a particular stage of training. As a

result, these people might have lacked the intellectual capacity and failed to decipher the correct

interpretation of the doctrines of the Buddha.2,11 They might have misinterpreted the Dhamma and tried

to glorify the Buddha like all other Brahmin deities. We must not forget the fact that there were many

Brahmins among the disciples of the Buddha. Since, by birth they were Brahmins and were brought up

amidst the Brahmin traditions and cultures, there is a high possibility that they were unable to give up

their earlier beliefs of the Brahmin religion. Some of them might have failed to interpret the true essence

of Buddhism and could not understand the difference between Buddhism and Brahmanism.10 They

might have hailed the Buddha as one of their Brahmin gods and started praying to him instead of

devoting time to understand the true meaning of his doctrines.

(8) Buddhism never went for any outright conflict with the existing culture and traditions of the society and

easily got mixed with them by retaining all their core aspects.1,7,8 So, there is a high probability that

common people mistook the teachings of the Buddha as the same messages of Brahmanism Doctrine,

but in a different brand name. In order to influence lay people to accept Buddhism, some members of

the sangha could have added supernatural stories related to the life of the Buddha which became

identical with the stories related to the popular Brahmin deities. This irrational act had opened the door

for the Brahmins, who took the complete advantage of this situation and started incorporating many of

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the finer aspects of Buddhism into their own system so as to win over the "lower" caste Buddhist

masses. However, they made sure that this selective appropriation and incorporation of Buddhism, did

not undermine the Brahminical hegemony. This process went on for many centuries and nearly around

12 CE, Buddhism completely lost its individual identity and became a part of Brahmanism in India. As a

result, the Buddha was accepted by the Brahmins as one of the incarnation of the ancient Vedic God

Vishnu and was thus, transformed into just another of the countless deities of the Brahminical

pantheon.10

(9) It should be borne in mind that no religion could prosper in ancient India without the initiative of royal

patronage. The Buddha himself had sought the confidence of royal patronage to preach his doctrine.

On many occasions he had to seek permission from these powerful rulers before inducting some their

followers to the sangha.8,10 So, there is also a high possibility that the sangha might have tried to glorify

the Buddha to influence the existing rulers in order to gain their trust and support. This would have

helped them in ensuring protection for the sangha and also to practice and propagate the Buddhist

doctrines in the society. The Buddha might have been glorified as a protector of wellbeing, harmony

and peace throughout the empire of these powerful rulers. Thus, the possibility of deification of the

Buddha as a result of social insecurity perceived by the sangha could not be ruled out.

(10) The glorification of the Buddha was followed by the glorification of the Bodhisattas. The glorification of

Bodhisattas was more in Mahayana than in Theravada traditions. Here, we must remember that the

Sakya clan was completely destroyed by that time and no image of Siddhartha as a price was found to

start with. As a result, the visual form of Maitreya Bodhisatta was based on mere imagination.12,13 So,

the images of Maitreya Bodhisatta in Theravada Buddhism could have an influence of the existing

rulers who acted as patrons for the propagation of Buddhism. Portraying the rulers and royal patrons as

Bodhisattas would have helped in satisfying their egos and kept them in good confidence. This would

have also made the rulers become more compassionate and understanding and helped them to solve

most of their administrative problems in a non-violent and peaceful environment.

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Since, there is no documentation available till date as authentic proof of reasons behind the deification of

the Buddha; we need to consider all these above psycho-socio-cultural factors as probable reasons of

deification. Some of these factors would have operated in isolation, while others acted synergistically during

specific time frames for a particular place and community. The notion of insecurity on existence and the

urge of meeting social needs and cultural demands might have hastened the deification of the Buddha.

Social Impact of Deification of the Buddha

Though the effect of deification of the Buddha made Buddhism lose its identity in India and finally merged

with Brahmanism, but it had served some good purpose as well. Since the Buddha was strongly against

deification, the initial images of the Buddha during the early part of the 1st century CE were symbolic with the

Bodhi tree, wheel of the Dhamma, lotus and scenes from the deer park of Saranath. But following the strong

current of deification, the images of the Buddha, followed by the Bodhisattas and other attendants came into

existence from the early part of the 3rd Century CE. Monasteries, stupas and several works of Buddhist art

reflected the artistic tastes, skills, culture and religious practices of the society during different stages of

civilizations. It provided occupation and source of income for many architectors, artists and sculptors during

the Buddhist era. So, we must appreciate the fact that Buddhist art was the golden outcome of the process

of deification of the Buddha.12,13

Many powerful rulers and emperors, who became patrons of Buddhist Art, took pride in making Buddhist

monasteries, stupas and giant status of the Buddha in an attempt to accumulate merits for the path of

Nibbana. These giant structures of architectural excellence had projected their pride and valour and served

as places of attraction for travellers and pilgrims during the subsequent period of time.12,13

Buddhist Art has become a subject of interest to many modern scholars and archaeologists. The giant

Buddha statues all over the world in modern era are considered as holy places of pilgrimage for Buddhist

followers. They also provide an opportunity of social gathering of people from different communities in the

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world. Providing historical evidence and serving as great works of art for tourist attraction, indirectly they

helped the global economy to prosper.12,13

Many people throughout the world, who are non-Buddhists and do not accept Buddhism as their own

religion, are often found collecting expensive statues of the Buddha as works of art and showing keen

interest on studying the Buddhist doctrines and philosophies. Many modern scientists are also influenced by

the early Buddhist teachings and uphold Buddhism as having a modern scientific platform.3,4,8 Thus, we find

that the process of deification had indirectly helped in the spread of Buddhism throughout the world and

made it popularize among other communities.

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Conclusion

Before we arrive at any finite conclusion, we should always keep in mind that the data, from major portions

of the Canon on which we had attempted to analyse the Buddha-concept, belonged to the last phase of its

development according to Nakamura’s classification (i.e. No.6). By the time the Canon was put to writing,

Buddhism had already undergone several phases of transformations. The Buddha concept had already

undergone significant deification by that time. What we have today in the Canon is a mixture of old and new

materials. If the sources quoted for any conclusion are mixed up haphazardly, then such a conclusion would

be unconvincing and more likely to be misleading.9

So, our first and foremost important work would be to systematically arrange the data in a chronological

order and review its historical and psycho-socio-cultural background. The methods already adopted for

stratification of the canonical texts by some scholars in the past must also be re-examined for their content

validity and reliability. A strict and clear methodology of the stratification of sources is therefore indis-

pensable before arriving at any conclusion with regard to the development of the Buddha-concept. Though

the concept of deification was never desired by the Buddha, but it had attracted various communities across

the world for centuries and served as an invisible and inseparable bond of unity and harmony in the society.

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Page 18: Deification of the Buddha

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