The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Agnosticism is the philosophical position that it is impossible to know anything certain about God. It is sometimes said that the Buddha was an agnostic, but this is not correct. It is true that he rarely addressed questions concerning the existence or nature of God, but this was only because such questions were not being discussed by the leading religious thinkers of the time. Neither Mahāvīra, the founder of Jainism, Pūrana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambalī nor the Buddha himself, gave the concept of a supreme being any place in their philosophies. And when the god-idea was discussed, the Buddha made his position certain and clear – he rejected it as evidentially, logically and morally untenable.
In the Aṅguttara Nikāya, for example, he discusses the problem of the contradiction between God’s supposed omnipotence and free will. ‘There are some monks and priests who believe that whatever pleasant, painful or neutral experience someone has, all that is due to a supreme god. I approached them and asked if they believed this and they said they did. Then I said, “So according to you, if someone is a murderer, thief, adulterer or liar, a foul-mouth, greedy, hate-filled heretic, all that must be due to a supreme god.” When someone falls back on a supreme god as the answer, there (should logically be) no will to do, no desire to do, no necessity to do this or avoid that. Such a person is confused, vulnerable and cannot honestly call themselves a true monk or priest. This is my rightful refutation to those who believe such ideas, such views.’ (A.I,174).
The Jātaka highlights the contradiction between the claim that God is an omnipotent, loving deity and the undeniable cruelty and evil found in the world. ‘Why does God not straighten out the world? If he really is the Controller, the Highest, Lord of All Beings, why is the whole world in such a mess? Why did he not make the world happy? If he really is the Controller, the Highest, Lord of All Beings, why is there so much deceit, lies, pride and unrighteousness? If he really is the Controller, the Highest, Lord of All Beings, then he must be unrighteous and cruel because it was he who made everything.’ (Ja.VI,208). There is nothing agnostic about these or any of the Buddha’s statements concerning God. See Determinism and Theism. Beings, then he must be unrighteous and cruel because it was he who made everything.’ (Ja.VI,208). There is nothing agnostic about these or any of the Buddha’s statements concerning God.