- Beyond Belief
- A.L. De Silva
GOD OR THE BUDDHA -- WHO IS THE HIGHEST?
While Christians look to God as their lord and creator, Buddhists look to the Buddha as
their model and ideal. Although Christians have never seen God, they claim to know him by
communicating with him through prayer and through feeling his presence. They also claim
that they can know God's will by reading his words which they maintain are contained in
As Buddhists neither pray to nor acknowledge God, the only way they can get an idea of
what he is like is by reading the Bible. However when Buddhists look at what the Bible
says about God they are often shocked. They find that God as he is portrayed in the Bible
to be profoundly different from how they hear Christians describe him.
While Buddhists reject the Christian concept of God because it seems to be illogical
and unsubstantiated, they also reject it because it seems so much lower than their own
ideal, the Buddha. We will now examine what the Bible says about God, compare it to what
the Tipitaka (the Buddhist sacred scriptures) say about the Buddha, and thereby
demonstrate the moral superiority of the latter.
What does God look like? The Bible says that God created man in his own image (Gen
1:26) so from this we can assume God looks something like a human being. The Bible tells
us that God has hands (Ex 15:12), arms (Deut 11:2), fingers (Ps 8:3) and a face (Deut
13:17). He does not like people seeing his face but he doesn't mind if they see his back.
And I will take away my hands and you will see my back parts but my face you shall not
see (Ex 33:23).
However, although God seems to have a human body he does at the same time look not
unlike the demons and fierce guardians one often sees in Indian and Chinese temples. For
example, he has flames coming out of his body.
A fire issues from his presence and burns his enemies on every side (Ps 97:3).
Our God comes and shall not keep silent, before him a fire burns and around him fierce
storms rage (Ps 50:3).
Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he
heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed
some of the outskirts of the camp (Num 11:1).
When God is angry, which seems to be quite often, smoke and fire come out of his body.
The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook, they
trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his
mouth, burning coals blazed out of it (Ps 18:7-8).
When the prophet Ezekiel saw God and his attendant angels, he described them as looking
On the fifth of the month - it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin - the
word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the
land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was upon him.
I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north - an immense cloud with
flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like
glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance
their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs
were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze.
Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had
faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they
did not turn as they moved.
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right
side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the
face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two
wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering
Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without
turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of
fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and
lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature
with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled
like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel
intersecting a wheel (Ezek 1:4-21).
Christians often look at the many-armed and fierce-faced gods in Hindu and Taoist
temples and claim that they are devils rather than gods - but as the Bible makes clear the
Christian God is very similar in appearance to these. Furthermore, just as Hindu and
Taoist gods carry various weapons so too does the Christian God.
In that day the Lord will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword
The sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the
lightning of your flashing spear. In wrath you strode through the earth and in your anger
you threshed the nations (Haba 3:11-12).
The Lord thundered from heaven, the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his
arrows and scattered the enemies (Ps 18:13-14).
But God will shoot them with arrows, suddenly they will be struck down (Ps 64:7).
Then the Lord will appear over them, his arrows will flash like lightning. The
sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet (Zech 9:14).
Another interesting way in which God's appearance resembles that of non-Christian idols
is in how he travels. The Bible tells us that God gets from one place to another either by
sitting on a cloud (Is 19:1) or riding on the back of an angel (Ps 18:10). It is obvious
from these quotes that God has a savage and frightening appearance; a conclusion verified
again by the Bible where people are described as being utterly terrified by God's
Serve the Lord with fear and trembling, kiss his feet or else he will get angry and you
will perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled (Ps 2:11).
Therefore I am terrified at his presence. When I think of him I am in dread of him, God
has made my heart faint. The Almighty has terrified me (Job 23:15).
Jesus frequently says that we should fear God (e.g. Lk 12:4-5). The Bible also very
correctly says that where there is fear there cannot be love (I Jn 4:18) and so if God
creates fear in people it is difficult to know how he can genuinely be loved at the same
What did the Buddha look like? Being human, the Buddha had a human body like any
ordinary person. However the Tipitaka (the Buddhist sacred books) frequently speak of his
great personal beauty.
He is handsome, good-looking, pleasant to see, of most beautiful complexion, his form
and countenance is like Brahma's, his appearance is beautiful (Digha Nikaya, Sutta No.4).
He is handsome, inspiring faith, with calm senses and mind tranquil, composed and
controlled, like a perfectly tamed elephant (Anguttara Nikaya, Sutta No.36).
Whenever people saw the Buddha, his calm appearance filled them with peace and his
gentle smile reassured them. As we have seen, God's voice is loud and frightening like
thunder (Ps 68:33). while the Buddha's voice was gentle and soothing.
When in a monastery he is teaching the Dhamma, he does not exalt or disparage the
assembly. On the contrary, he delights, uplifts, inspires and gladdens them with talk on
Dhamma. The sound of the good Gotama's voice has eight characteristics; it is distinct and
intelligible, sweet and audible, fluent and clear, deep and resonant (Majjhima Nikaya,
God carries weapons because he has to kill his enemies and because he controls people
with violence and threats. The Buddha, on the other hand, showed enmity to no one and was
able to control people by reasoning with them. Addressing the Buddha, King Pasenadi once
I am a king, able to execute those deserving execution, fine those deserving to be
fined, or exile those deserving exile. But when I am sitting on a court case people
sometimes interrupt even me. I can't even get a chance to say: "Don't interrupt me!
Wait until I have finished speaking." But when the Lord is teaching Dhamma there is
not even the sound of coughing coming from the assembly. Once, as I sat listening to the
Lord teach Dhamma a certain disciple coughed and one of his fellows tapped him on the knee
and said, "Silence, sir, make no noise. Our Lord is teaching Dhamma", and I
thought to myself, indeed it is wonderful, marvellous how well trained these disciples are
without stick or sword (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No.89).
We can just imagine how God would react if one were foolish enough to interrupt him
while he was speaking. We can see from what has been said above that the Buddha's physical
appearance reflected his deep inner calm and compassion. People were always inspired by
the aura of peace that surrounded him.
We have seen that Buddhists do not believe in God because to them the idea is illogical
and contrary to the facts. Buddhists also reject the Christian God because, if the Bible
is correct, God appears to be so imperfect. All of the negative emotions which most
cultured people find unacceptable are to be found in God. Let us examine how the Bible
describes God's mind.
The emotion which is associated with God more than any other is jealousy. He even
admits that he is jealous.
For the Lord is a devouring fire, a jealous God (Deut 4:24).
Nothing makes God more jealous than people worshipping other gods, and he tells us we
must even kill our own children if they do this.
If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, daughter, the wife of your bosom
or the friend of your own soul, entices you secretly, saying, "Let us go and serve
other gods" which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the
people that are around you whether near or far, from one end of the earth to the other,
you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you
spare him, nor shall you conceal him, but you shall kill him. Your hand shall be the first
against him to kill him and after that the others can strike him (Deut 13:6).
The Bible tells us that God frequently loses his temper.
See, the day of the Lord is coming - a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger, to make
the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it (Is 13:9).
God is angry every day (Ps 7:11).
The Lord will cause men to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm
coming down with raging anger and consuming fire (Is 30:30).
His anger will burn against you and he will destroy you from the face of the land (Deut
God tells us to love but he is described as hating and being filled with abhorrence.
You hate all those who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and
deceitful men the Lord abhors (Ps 5:5-6).
He is further described as hating many other things as well as people (see Deut 16:22,
Mala 2:16, Lev 26:30). God has a particularly deep hatred for other religions which
probably explains why Christianity has always been such an intolerant religion. He is
often described as feeling special hatred for those who will not worship him.
Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates (Is 1:14).
The Buddha had compassion for those who were cruel, he forgave those who did wrong, and
he had respect for those of other religions. We would expect God, being capable of
jealousy and hate, to be vengeful, and not surprisingly the Bible often mentions God's
Behold, your God will come with vengeance (Is 35:4).
The Lord is avenging and wrathful, the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and
holds wrath for his enemies (Nahum 1:2).
For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay", and again,
"The Lord will judge his people". It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands
of the living god (Heb 10:30-31). (See also Rom 1:8, 2:5-6, 12:19).
What would be the use of worshipping a God who is full of the very mental defilements
which we ourselves are striving to overcome?
During the forty years after his enlightenment, the Buddha urged people to give up
anger, jealousy and intolerance and never once in all that time did he fail to act in
perfect accordance with what he taught to others.
The Lord acts as he speaks and speaks as he acts. We find no teacher other than the
Lord who is so consistent as this whether we survey the past or the present (Digha Nikaya,
In the whole of the Tipitaka, there is not a single example of the Buddha expressing
anger, hatred, jealousy, etc. because, being perfect, he was freed from such negative
Attitude to War
The Bible tells us that there is a time for hate and a time for war (Ex 3:8) and it is
widely recognized today that those great evils depend upon each other. As we have seen,
God is quite capable of hatred and, not surprisingly is therefore often involved in war.
The Lord is a man of war (Ex 15:3).
The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory (Zeph 3:17).
The Lord goes forth like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his fury, he cries
out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against the enemy (Is 42:13).
When I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take
vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with
blood while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of
the enemy leaders (Deut 32:41-42).
For centuries Christians have been inspired by these Bible passages, which encourage
and even glorify war, to use violence to spread their religion. Even today there is a
distinctly militaristic flavour about Christianity. The Salvation Army with its motto
"Blood and Fire"; the hymns that speak about "Onward Christian soldiers
marching as to war"; the saying "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition",
etc. The Bible contains dozens of examples of God helping his devotees to capture cities,
slaughter civilian populations and defeat armies (for example Num 21:1-3, Num 31:1-12,
Deut 2:32-34, Deut 3:3-7, Josh 11:6-11, etc.). Concerning captives in war God says:
And you shall destroy all the peoples that the Lord your God gives over to you, your
eye shall not pity them (Deut 7:16).
When the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them you must utterly
destroy them and show no mercy to them (Deut 7:2).
Even Christians are often shocked when they read passages like these. Buddhists simply
feel that such passages justify their rejection of God and their faith in the Buddha.
What was the Buddha's attitude to war? There is no example of the Buddha ever praising
war, encouraging war, or going to war himself. On the contrary, he urged all to live in
peace and harmony and is described in this way:
He is a reconciler of those who are in conflict and an encourager of those who are
already united, rejoicing in peace, loving peace, delighting in peace, he is one who
speaks in praise of peace (Digha Nikaya, Sutta No.1).
He set an example by being a man of peace.
Abandoning killing, the monk Gotama lives refraining from killing, he is without stick
or sword, he lives with care, compassion and sympathy for others (Digha Nikaya, Sutta
The Buddha was not content with merely speaking in favour of peace or with being
peaceful himself. He actively promoted peace by trying to stop war. When his relatives
were about to go to war over the waters of the Rohini River, the Buddha did not take
sides, urge them on, give them advice on tactics, or tell them to show no mercy to their
adversaries, as God would have done. Instead he stood between the two factions and said,
"What is more valuable, blood or water?" The soldiers replied, "Blood is
more valuable, sir." Then the Buddha said, "Then is it not unbecoming to spill
blood for water?" Both sides dropped their weapons and peace was restored (Dhammapada
Atthakata Book 15,1). The Buddha had put aside hatred and filled his mind with love and
compassion, so approving of war was impossible for him.
Idea of Justice
Justice is the quality of being fair, and a person who is just acts fairly and in
accordance with what is right. However ideas about what is fair and right differ from time
to time and from person to person. Christians claim that God is just, so by examining his
actions we will be able to know God's concept of justice.
God tells us that anybody who disobeys him will be punished "seven times
over" (Lev 26:18), that is, one sin will be punished seven times. God obviously
considers this to be fair and just. He also tells us that he will punish the innocent
children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of those who sin.
I the Lord am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the
third or fourth generation of those who hate me (Deut 5:9).
This is known as collective punishment; punishing a whole family or group for the crime
committed by one of its members. Collective punishment is condemned today as unfair and
unjust but God apparently considers it quite just.
God tells us that even minor offences should be punished by death. For example, those
who work on Sunday should be stoned to death. Once a man was found collecting firewood on
Sunday and God said to Moses and the people who caught the man:
"The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So
the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death as the Lord commanded Moses
God's idea of justice does not seem to embrace the idea that the punishment should fit
the crime. We are told that all who do not love God will suffer eternal punishment in
hell. There are many kind, honest and generous people who do not believe in God and they
will all go to hell. Is this fair and just? God apparently thinks so.
Was the Buddha just? The Buddha had attained the freedom of enlightenment and he taught
others how they too could attain this freedom. Unlike God, he was not primarily a
lawgiver, a judge, or one who metes out punishment. He was a teacher. In all his dealings
with people he was fair, mild and merciful and he urged his followers to act in like
manner. If someone did wrong, he said that one should not rush to punish him.
When you are living together in harmony, a fellow monk might commit an offence, a
transgression. But you should not rush to condemn him, the issue must be carefully
examined first (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No. 103).
In addition, when a person is being examined one should remain uninfluenced by bias or
partiality and should look at both sides of the case.
Not by passing hasty judgments does one become just, a wise man is one who investigates
both sides. He who does not judge others arbitrarily, but passes judgment impartially and
in accordance with the facts, that person is a guardian of the law and is rightly called
just (Dhammapada 256-257).
As for punishment, the Buddha would have considered stoning someone to death or any
other form of capital punishment to be cruel. He himself was always ready to forgive. Once
a man called Nigrodha abused the Buddha and later realised his mistake and confessed to
the Buddha. Full of compassion and forgiveness the Buddha said:
Indeed, Nigrodha, transgression overcame you when through ignorance, blindness and evil
you spoke to me like that. But since you acknowledge your transgression and make amends as
is right, I accept your confession (Digha Nikaya, Sutta No.25).
The Buddha forgave all whether they accepted his teachings or not, and even if Nigrodha
had refused to apologise the Buddha would not have threatened to punish him. To the Buddha
the proper response to faults was not the threat to punish but education and forgiveness.
As he says:
By three things the wise man can be known. What three? He sees his faults as they are.
When he sees them he corrects them and when another confesses a fault the wise man
forgives it as he should (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Threes, Sutta No.10).
Attitude to Disease
Disease, sickness and plagues have been the scourge of mankind for centuries, causing
untold suffering and misery. The Bible shows us that God has always considered disease a
useful way of expressing his anger and exercising his vengeance. When Pharaoh refused to
release the Jews, God caused festering boils to break out on "all Egyptians" (Ex
9:8-12). God used this affliction to punish men, women, children and babies for the sin of
one man. Later God made the first-born of every male child die. He says:
Every first-born son in Egypt will die, from the first-born son of Pharaoh who sits on
the throne, to the first-born son of the slave girl who sits at her hand-mill. There will
be loud wailing throughout Egypt - worse than there has ever been or ever will be (Ex
This is another good example of God's idea of justice and compassion. Countless
thousands of men, boys and innocent babies were killed by God because Pharaoh would not
obey. In many places in the Bible God promises that he will inflict terrible diseases on
those who do not follow his commandments.
The Lord will plague with diseases until he has destroyed you...the Lord will strike
you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation...(Deut 28:21-22).
The Lord will inflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores, and
with itch, from which you cannot be cured (Deut 28:27).
The Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged
disasters and severe and lingering illness. He will bring upon you all the disasters of
Egypt that you dreaded and they will cling to you. The Lord will also bring on you every
kind of sickness and disaster (Deut 28:59-61).
Sometimes God even inflicts hideous diseases on people just to test their faith. To
test Job God allowed all his children to be killed (Job 1:18-19) and Job himself to be
struck with a terrible disease (Job 2:6-8). So unbearable was Job's grief and suffering
that he began to wish he had never been born (Job 3:3-26).
God even created some people blind and allowed them to spend their lives begging and
groping in darkness just so that Jesus could miraculously heal them and thereby
demonstrate God's power (Jn 9:1-4). Obviously, God sees illness, sickness and disease as
useful means of punishing people and of demonstrating the extent of his power.
Now let us have a look at the Buddha's attitude to sickness. The Buddha saw sickness
and disease as a part of the general suffering from which he came to free mankind. He was
called "the compassionate physician". There are no examples of the Buddha ever
having caused people to become diseased in order to punish them or because he was angry at
them. The Buddha rightly understood that for as long as we have a body we will be
susceptible to disease. He urged all to attain Nirvana and be forever free from suffering.
While he tried to cut the problem at the root, he also did practical things to comfort the
sick and restore them to health. Rather than inflict diseases on people, as God did, he
gave practical advice on how to help and comfort the sick.
With five qualities one is worthy to nurse the sick. What five? One can prepare the
correct medicine; one knows what is good for the patient and offers it, and what is not
good one does not offer; one nurses the sick out of love not out of desire for gain; one
is unmoved by excrement, urine, vomit and spittle; and from time to time one can instruct,
inspire, gladden and satisfy the sick with talk on Dhamma (Anguttara Nikaya, Book of
Fives, Sutta No.124).
He not only taught this but acted in conformity to his own teaching. When once he found
a sick monk, neglected and lying in his own excrement, he bathed him, comforted him and
then calling the other monks together said to them, "If you would nurse me, nurse
those who are sick" (Vinaya, Mahavagga, 8). When God was angry he would inflict
diseases on people and then watch them suffer. When the Buddha saw people with diseases,
out of compassion he did all he could to restore them to health.
God created all that is good, but because he created everything, he also created all
that is evil. God himself says:
I am the Lord and there is no other. I form the light and I create the darkness, I make
the good and I make evil (Is 45:7-8). (See also Rom 11:32).
When we think of nature and we remember that God is supposed to have created everything
we understand the meaning of these words. Leprosy germs cause untold misery and they were
created by God. Tuberculosis germs kill and deform millions of humans each year and they
were created by God. God created the plague bacteria, the fleas and the rats that together
cause bubonic plague and which have throughout the centuries killed perhaps as many as a
hundred million people. In 1665, 68,000 people died of the plague in London alone. No
doubt all this is what God means when he says he created darkness and evil. But God also
created other forms of evil. He says:
When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3:4).
This undoubtedly refers to the earthquakes, fires, social strife, wars and other forms
of evil which periodically afflict mankind's towns and cities. We also read in the Bible
that even evil spirits come from God. In 1 Samuel 16:14-16 we are told that an evil spirit
from God tormented Saul.
Did the Buddha create evil? As he was not a creator God, he could not be held
responsible for 'darkness and evil'. The only thing he 'created' was the Dhamma which he
discovered and then proclaimed to the world. And his Dhamma has brought only light, good
and gentleness everywhere it has spread.
In Old Testament times when people broke God's commandments he would get angry and the
only way the sinner could make atonement and soothe God's anger was to sacrifice an
animal. God himself gave exact instructions on how the animal was to be slaughtered.
If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, he is to offer a dove or a
young pigeon. The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off its head and burn it on
the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He is to remove the
crop with its contents and throw it to the east side of the altar, where the ashes are. He
shall tear it open by the wings, not severing it completely, and then the priest shall
burn it on the wood that is on the fire on the side of the altar (Lev 1:14-17).
God tells us that when the meat, fat, skin and bone of the sacrificial victims are
thrown in the fire and burned, he likes the smell of it (Lev 1:9, 1:17). But not all the
sacrifices God demanded were animals; sometimes he demanded even human sacrifices. God
once said to Abraham:
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah.
Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about (Gen
Abraham took his son to the place God indicated, built an altar, laid his son on it and
then took up the knife. Just as he was about to slit his own son's throat, Abraham was
stopped by an angel (Gen 22:12). Presumably, Abraham was a good devotee because he
blindly, unquestioningly and willingly did anything God told him to do, even to the extent
of preparing to butcher his own son as a sacrifice to God.
In later centuries, mankind's sins became so bad that the sacrifice of mere animals
could no longer appease God's anger. God required a greater, a more valuable sacrificial
victim - his own son Jesus. Once again it was the blood of a victim which most atoned for
sin and which is able to reconcile the sinners with God. Thus modern Christians often say
that their "sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus".
What did the Buddha think of animal or human sacrifices? At the time of the Buddha, the
Hindu deities were offered animal sacrifices just as the Christian God was, and so the
Buddha was quite aware of this practice. However, he considered sacrifices to be vulgar,
cruel and useless.
The sacrifice of horse or man, the Peg-Thrown Rite, the Sacrificial Drink, the Victory
Rite, the Withdrawn Bolt, all these rites are not worth a sixteenth part of having a heart
filled with love, any more than the radiance of the moon outshines the stars (Anguttara
Nikaya, Book of Eights, Sutta No.1).
Christians believe that Jesus' sacrificial blood will wash away their sins just as
Hindus at the time of the Buddha believed that their sins could be washed away by bathing
in holy rivers. The Buddha criticised the Hindu idea just as he would have criticised the
Christian idea if he had known about it. To believe that blood, water or any other
external things can purify the heart, which is an internal thing, is foolish indeed.
In the Bahuka River, at Adhikakka, at Gaya, in the Sundrika, the Sarassati, the Payaga
or the Bahumati the fool can wash constantly but cannot cleanse his evil deeds. What can
the Sundrika, the Payaga or the Bahumati River do? They cannot cleanse the angry, guilty
man intent on evil deeds. For the pure in heart every day is lucky, for the pure in heart
every day is holy (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No.7).
This being the case, bathing in sacrificial blood or holy rivers is a poor substitute
for purifying oneself by acting in a pure way. The only sacrifice that the Buddha asked us
to make was to give up our selfishness and replace it with love, wisdom and compassion.
We are told that God is love and the Bible sometimes mentions love as one of God's
attributes. However, there are different types of love. A person can love his or her own
children but hate the neighbour's children. Someone might have a strong love for his own
country but a burning hatred for another country. Though we may love someone deeply, we
may, due to changed circumstances, grow indifferent or even hateful towards them. This is
the lower, less developed, type of love which ordinary people feel - but there is a
higher, more universal, type of love than this. This higher type of love is well described
in the Buddhist texts and also in the Bible. In Corinthians we read:
Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it
is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of
wrongs (1 Cor 13:4-5).
Does God exhibit this higher type of love? Let us have a look. We are told that love is
patient. Patience is defined as the ability to wait calmly for a long time, to control
oneself when angered, especially at foolishness or slowness. We have already seen that God
gets angry every day (Ps 7:11) and that he gets angry very quickly (Ps 2:11). Obviously
God has very little patience.
We are told that love is kind. Is God kind? Read Deuteronomy (28:15-68) where God
describes in his own words just how cruel he can be. This shocking passage proves beyond
all doubt that God is capable of truly terrible cruelty. Obviously God is not always very
We are told that love does not envy. Envy is, of course, very similar to jealousy and
God often describes himself as fiercely jealous. He says:
For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God (Deut 4:24).
We are told that love does not boast and is not proud. Is God like this? Certainly the
Bible does not give us the impression that God is modest and retiring. God spends a lot of
time telling Job how great he is (Job 40:41) and ends by boasting of himself that:
He looks down on all that are haughty, he is king over all that are proud (Job 41:34).
Next we are told that love is not easily angered. We have already seen that God is very
Serve the Lord with fear and trembling, kiss his feet or else he will get angry and you
will perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled (Ps 2:11).
Finally we are told that love does not keep a record of wrongs that are done, that is,
love soon forgives and forgets. Does God keep a record of wrongs that are done? God tells
us that he will punish the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of those
who sin (Deut 5:9). In order to do this he must keep a record of the wrongs that have been
committed and long remember them. Jesus tells us that God will never forgive those who
insult the Holy Ghost (Lk 12:10). We are told that God casts sinners and non-believers
into eternal hell. In other words, he refuses to ever forgive them. In short, he keeps a
record for eternity of the wrongs which have been done. Quite clearly, God does not
exhibit the highest type of love.
What about the Buddha? Did he exhibit the highest type of love? The first
characteristic of this highest kind of love is patience, and there is not one incident
recorded in the Tipitaka of the Buddha being impatient. Even when he was abused he
remained calm. His every action displays a calm, strong patience. When Asurinda cursed and
abused the Buddha, he calmly replied:
He who abuses his abuser is the worse of the two. To refrain from retaliation is to win
a battle hard to win. If one knows that the other person is angry but refrains from anger
oneself, one does what is best for oneself and the other person also. One is a healer of
both (Samyutta Nikaya, Chapter Seven, Sutta No.3).
As he was always patient, he was also free from anger. Even when his cousin Devadatta
tried to murder him, the Buddha displayed only pity and tolerance.
We are also told that love is kind. Was the Buddha kind? Again there is not a single
hint of the Buddha being anything other than kind and compassionate - not only to those
who accepted his teachings but also to the followers of all faiths, not only to the good
but also to the evil, not only to humans but also to animals. He says:
One should do no unkind thing that wise men might condemn and one should think,
"May all beings be secure and happy. Whatever beings there are, moving or still,
tall, middle-sized or short, great or small, seen or unseen, whether living far or near,
existing or not yet come into existence, may they all be happy." One should not harm
another or despise anyone for any reason. Do not wish pain on another out of either anger
or jealousy. Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own
life, even so, one should develop unbounded love towards all beings in the world (Sutta
Nipata, Verses 145-149).
The Buddha did not only teach this but he also practised everything he taught. God
tells us that he is jealous and by this he means that he is jealous of other gods and
other religions. He wants everyone to worship and revere him alone. So jealous is he that
he says his devotees should kill even their own children if they worship other gods (Deut
13:6) and that God hates followers of other religions.
I hate those who cling to worthless idols (Ps 31:6).
I gain understanding from your precepts, therefore I hate every wrong path (Ps
Was the Buddha jealous of other faiths? Indeed, he was not. A man called Upali was a
follower of the Jain religion. The Buddha explained the Dhamma to him after which he
decided to become a Buddhist. The Buddha did not exult nor was he anxious to 'win' Upali.
Rather, he advised him to think carefully before making such an important decision:
Make a careful investigation first, Upali. Careful investigation is good for well-known
people like yourself (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No.56).
The Buddha then advised Upali to keep offering donations to the Jain religion. He said
this because he could see the good in all religions and because he was free from envy and
Vacchagatta said to the Lord, "I have heard it said that you say that charity
should only be given to you, not to other teachers, to your disciples, not to the
disciples of other religions." Then the Lord said, "Those who say this are not
reporting my words, they misrepresent me and tell lies. Truly, whoever discourages anyone
from giving charity hinders in three ways. He hinders the giver from doing good, he
hinders the receiver from being helped and he hinders himself through his meanness."
(Anguttara Nikaya, Book of Threes, Sutta No.57).
Even today many Christians, especially fundamentalists and evangelicals, will refuse to
have anything to do with non-Christians and would certainly refuse to help non-Christian
The Buddha was not boastful or proud, he was not rude or self-seeking, he was not
easily angered and he did not keep a record of wrongs that were done to him. From the day
of his enlightenment, his every thought, word and action was an expression of love and
compassion. As one of his contemporaries said:
I have heard this said, "To abide in love is sublime indeed", and the Lord is
proof of this because we can see that he abides in love (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta No.55).