Buddhism and Atheism

I’m Buddhist. Specifically, I’m an upashika in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. My religion is often described as “atheistic,” due to its disbelief in a creator deity or any overarching and eternal “Divine.”

I will flatly say that I hate this definition, because it only acknowledges a narrow definition of god: omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, and interventionist. Sounds familiar, right? That’s because it’s a very Western, Christianized definition of what a deity should be.

If one applies this same narrow definition of god to the deities of Buddhism (and they do exist…there are actually quite a lot of them!) they would all fail. In fact, so would the gods of Hinduism, and the Shinto kami. So would the Aesir and the Vanir, and countless others.

Most deities in polytheistic pantheons did not and still do not conform to the “template” of the monotheist G-D worshipped by Christians. Yet this view has somehow become the standard, even (perhaps especially?) amongst strident atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

A Note on Guanyin

Guanyin is often cited by popular (Western) authors as the Goddess of Mercy (TM), and as a manifestation of the Divine Feminine. The problem is that she’s just…not. Guanyin is a bodhisattva, not a deva. She represents unconditional compassion, not mercy…and there is no “Divine Feminine” in Buddhism (and no Divine Masculine).