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Faith and Devotion in Theravada Buddhism

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Faith and Devotion in Theravada Buddhism
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Item Code: IDJ942
Author: V.V.S. Saibaba
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 8124603294
Pages: 231
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.6" X 5.5"

About the Book

This is an analytical study of faith (saddha), devotion (bhatti) and worship (puja) in the Theravada school of Buddhism. It elucidates these concepts and deals with their objects, viz., gods in general and Buddha in particular, as described in the Pali canonical, post-canonical and commentarial literature.

The first chapter of this book examines the conception of the "the supernatural"; the attributes, knowledge, powers and functions of Buddhist deities; their role as objects of meditation; how Theravada Buddhism is non-theistic and how its basic concepts are incompatible to the conception of Creator God. The second chapter discusses the special attributes, knowledge, powers and functions of the Buddha in the Theravada literature which establishes His supramundane character and spiritual eminence over gods, arhants and pratyekabuddhas. It throws light on the origins of Buddha's deification, his docetic conception and other Buddhological speculations, which led him to become an object of highest reverence, adoration and devotion. The third chapter outlines the origin, nature and scope of faith and devotion for the Buddha in Theravada literature; how and why he has been regarded as the object of absolute confidence (saddha), recollection and contemplation (buddhanussati), devotion (bhatti) and worship (puja) and thereby viewed as Bhagavan and compassionate Saviour.

The book provides an authentic and comprehensive account of faith (saddha) and devotion (bhatti) in Pali canonical and post-canonical literature of Theravada Buddhist School. This work is an invaluable aid to students, teachers and researchers of Pali literature and Buddhist philosophy.

About the Author

Dr. V.V.S Saibaba (1947-), a Professor at Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, wherefrom he holds his Master's degree (1973) and Ph.D degree (1985). He was the Head in the Center for Mahayana Buddhist Studies at Acharya Nagarjuna University (1987-89). He taught Buddhist Sanskrit texts, philosophy of the Buddha, Scriptural readings, Indian philosophy and Sankara Advaita. He has participated in several International and National Conferences and supervised research on Jaina and Buddhist Philosophical texts, Buddhist history, Art, Architecture, Literature, Judaism, Catholic Christianity and Hatha Yoga. He has published the book Facets of Buddhist Philosophy: Theravada and Mahayana; many research papers in Intentional and National Buddhist journals. He was a consulting editor of the Contemporary Who is Who, American Biographical Institute, USA.


This is an analytical study of faith, devotion and worship in the Theravada school of Buddhism. It attempts to analyse and elucidate these concepts and deals with their objects, viz., and gods in general and the Buddha in particular, their nature, attributes and functions. Although on the one hand Theravada Buddhism has the authentic tradition of philosophical and doctrinal discourses, yet it should not be misunderstood as a mere academic school since it is a tradition in which monks and laity live the actual lives of various religious practices and struggle to realize the Buddhist ethical ideas. Thus, faith and devotion underlie the whole Buddhist Tradition.

The book which is divided into three chapters respectively deals with the Theravada conception of (i) Deities and supernatural, (ii) the exalted personality of the Buddha, and (iii) the concept of 'saddha' and 'bhatti'. Of these, Chapter One examines the conception of "the deities" and "the supernatural" in the Pali canon. It attempts to elucidate the Theravada attitude towards the devas of higher and lower status with reference to their attributes, knolwdge, powers and functions. It further discusses the role of these deities as the objects of contemplation (devanussati) and the benefits that can be derived from. It further delineates the fervent devotional attitude of Buddhist deities towards the Three Refuges. It also makes a comparative study of some Vedic and Brahmanical gods with Buddhist deities.

In contrast to the polytheistic gods of pre-Buddhistic Indian religion, the deities in Pali canonical texts of Theravada School are distinguished as much inferior to the Buddha as well as other arhants in respect of their virtues, knowledge, and power. In view of their absolute dependence on the Buddha as the learners of dharma and seekers of salvation, the Buddhist deities are made subservient to the Buddha - who attained the highest perfect enlightenment (sambodhi). They are the foremost beings who recognize his supremacy, admire and pay their highest reverence and devotion. Thus, they are portrayed as promulgators and heralders of the Buddhist faith and devotion.

It endeavours to point out how as a non-theistic religion Theravada rejects all forms of theism and how its basic tents, viz., noble truth of suffering, the doctrines of anicca, anatta, paticcasamuppada, the cyclic theory of universe, and the summum bonum of nibbana are inconsistent and incompatible with the hypothesis of an Absolute, Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent Creator God. The important aspect of Buddhist conception of the ultimate and supernatural is suggested indirectly in the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism by its doctrine of nibbana, by its non-denial of Upanisadic Brahman and by the Buddha's silence on metaphysical issues. These imply the fact that Lord Buddha had a clear conception of the "Transcendental reality" which he did not positively assert.

Chapter Two throws light on the exalted personality, supernormal and supramundane character of the Buddha and how he is portrayed in the Pali canonical and post-canonical literature as super-eminent over all the sentient beings, the rest of all mankind, all the Buddhist deities, saints of different gradations of spiritual eminence including those of arhant and pratyekabuddha by virtue of his special attributes, knowledge, powers and functions. The Buddha's pre-eminence is further revealed by his self-procalmation, by the conception of the members of the Buddhist Order and by the several numinous epithets attributed to him.

In the Theravada Pali canonical, post-canonical and commentarial literature there is a substantial doctrinal basis for the idealization and spiritualization of the Buddha, in his identity with truth (dhamma), in his transcending the cosmic law (kamma), in his personification of enlightenment (nibbana) and finally in his conception of prototype of the Transcendental absolute. Consequeently, similar to non-Theravadins such as Mahasamghikas and its sub-sects, Theravadins too had to allow in their religio-philosophical framework docetic and Buddhological speculations. All this ultimately led towards the Transcendental conception of the Buddha who became an object of highest reverence, adoration, irreversible faith (saddha) and devotion (bhatti).

Chapter Three discusses the origin, nature and scope of faith and devotion for the Buddha in Theravada Pali canonical, and post-canonical literature thereby elucidating how and why Buddha has been regarded as the object of Faith and Devotion; how he came to be regarded as the object of absolute confidence (saddha), as an object of recollection and contemplation and as an object of fervent devotion (bhatti) and worship (puja).

In Theravada Pali Canon, the Buddha is conceived as an object of absolute confidence (saddha), primarily in his role of Teacher of gods and men (sattha deva-manussanam) and also as the acariya - he was the first religious guardian of the Buddhist Order as well as the centre of the entire monastic life. The Buddha is also regarded as an object of meditation and contemplation. Recollection of the Buddha (buddhanussati) is the basic constituent role among the Three Refuges (tisarana), as the guide' and the "revealer of the truth" (dhamma) and the founder-father of the Buddhist Order (samgha). Although according to Pali cannon, the Buddha alone can serve as the true refuge, as the Compassionate and Omniscient Teacher, nevertheless, his saviour role is restricted in the framework of Buddhist doctrines. Yet in Theravada Buddhism the Buddha is conceived both as mundane and supramundane ideal.

As saddha in the Buddha is the merit-producing act, it serves as the means to overcome fetters, to attain heavenly birth and to attain ecstasy and concentration and as the basic ingredient and foundation of the whole Buddhist ethics, it ultimately leads an aspirant to the realization of the higher truth. Further, saddha in the sense of pasada (pasada-saddha) is stated as the indirect means for the attainment of nibbana. The rise of the divine conception of the Buddha is coupled with the transformation of Buddhist conception of saddha into bhatti which we find in the later Pali canonical works, wherein the uniformity in the meaning of saddha is lacking. It is also probable that with the growing number of laity saddha had begun to be valued as bhatti. This is plausible mainly because the large number of Buddhist laity belong to different religious sects prior to their entering the Buddhist Order. Probably their sectarian notions of faith and devotion have been insinuated into Buddhism in practice. It should be noted that all the modes of paying devotion and worship to the Buddha and other objects of faith are non-Buddhistic reverential gestures. The Buddha did not prescribe any mode of devotion and worship for the Buddhist laity as there was no necessity of emotional form of devotion form his doctrinal standpoint. However, he had approved their adopted modes of paying homage and worship. The Buddha was so liberal that he did not interfere with the religious practices of Buddhist laity. He just preached the dhamma and left it for their understanding. His non-interference led them to freely adopt ritualism and ceremonialism in their personal lives. It is an uncontroversial fact that the Buddhist order could not have survived till this day without the support of the Buddhist lay followers. It is also possible that laity of other religious sects who later became the adherents of Buddhism might have misinterpreted the specific and special connotation of the Buddhist concept of saddha.

The Pali word bhatti is differently meant as 'devotion' and also "attachment and fondness" in the Khuddaka Nikaya works of the Pali canon, viz., the Theragatha, the Jatakas, the Mahaniddesa and in the works of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. Buddha-bhatti is emphasized in the later Pali canonical works like the jatakas and the Thera-Therigatha. The Buddhist vows in the Therigatha have great resemblance to the prayers of theistic religions. Later Pali canonical works like the Udana, the Buddha-vamsa, the Apadana and the Vimanavatthu refer to loving devotion towards the Buddha.

By the age of later Pali canonical works and Pali commentaries Buddhist conception of saddha had become the seedbed of bhakti. The Samyutta, the Anguttara and the Khuddaka Nikayas of the Pali canon refer to the different derivatives of the word puja such as pujita, pujaniya. Buddha-puja which was initially conceived as a "mental ect," came to mean as a "ritual performance" in the works like the Dhammapada when it was associated with Buddhist offerings and is understood as stupa and relic worship in the works like the Vimanavatthu and the Apadana of the Khuddaka Nikaya. The Mahanidessa of this collection used the Buddhs's epithet "Bhagava" in the sense of honoured and worshipped.

The Majjhima, the Samyutta and the Anguttara Nikayas record that leaned brahmanas of orthodox type such as Janussoni, Brahmayu, Pokkarasadi, kings like Bimbisara of Magadha and Pasenadi of Kosala expressed their bhatti, showed their profound humility and paid affectionate obeisance by prostrating with their heads and kissed the feet of the Buddha. The Buddha did neither criticize nor reject such homage paid by them.

According to Acarya Buddhaghosa's Puggala Pannati commentary saddha could be developed into bhakti, by constant practice. The Digha Nikaya commentary, the Visuddhimagga and also its commentary, viz., the Paramatthamanjusa of Acarya Dhammapala interpreted the word "Bhagava" as bhattava (worshipful or adored and possessor of devotees respectively). All this leads us to conclude that in Theravada Buddhist perspective the Buddha is bhagava, the Blessed Lord and embodiment of Great compassion. Hence, modern scholars like Prof. B.M. Barua, Trever Ling and Jack Donald Van Horn in their writings contend that Buddhism had been regarded as a form of Bhagavatism since the time of Indian Emperor Asoka.





  Foreword - Sanghasen Singh vii
  Preface xiii
  Acknowledgements xxv
  Abbreviations xxvii
1. Theravada Conception of Gods and God 1
  Meaning of the Word Deva 1
  Buddha's Attitude on the Existence of Devas,their Place in his Doctrine 3
  Buddha's Utterances (Buddha Vacana) on the Existence of "Devas" 3
  Buddha's Conception of "Devas" and their Place in his Doctrine 6
  Various Means to Attain Devahood 8
  General Characteristics of Deva in Theravada Buddhsit Perspective 10
  Devotional Attitude of the Devas of Higher and Lower Status 15
  Devas of Higher Status 15
  The Attributes of the Devas 16
  The Knowledge of the Devas 19
  The Powers of the Devas 23
  The Functions and the Role of the Devas 25
  The Devotional Attitude of the Devas of Higher Status Towards the Buddha and His Order 28
  Devas of Lower Status 32
  The Nature and Attributes of the Devas 33
  The Knowledge and Powers of Devas 34
  The Function and Role of Devas of Lower 35
  Mara 37
  Recollection and Contemplation on Devas (Devanussati) 38
  The Object of Recollection of Devas 39
  Method of Recollection of Devas 40
  Fruits of Recollection and Contemplation of Devas 40
  A Comparative Study of Some Buddhist Devas Vedic and Brahmanical Gods 42
  Buddhist Devas as Distinguished from Vedic Gods 42
  Comparison between Buddhist Devas of Higher Status and Vedic Gods 43
  Vedic and Buddhist Brahma 43
  Vedic Indra and Buddhist Sakka 44
  Vedic and Buddhist Yama 45
  The Other Popular Gods 45
  Comparison between Buddhist Devas of Lower Status and Vedic Gods 46
  The Buddhist Conception of Creator God, the Absolute and the Supernatural 46
  Buddha's teaching on the Belief of Creator God 47
  How Theravada Buddhism in Non-theistic 49
  Theravada Buddhist Criticism of Theism 51
  Refutation of God as First Cause 51
  Refutation of God as "Being" and "Force" 53
  Refutation of God as Eternal, Absolute and Ultimate Reality 54
  Refutation of God as Omniscient and Omnipresent 56
  Refutation of God as Personal and Impersonal 56
  Refutation of God as Active Agent 57
  Refutation of God as Creator 58
  The Puppet Argument 60
  The Ontological Argument 60
  The Cosmological Argument 60
  The Argument from Design 60
  The Argument from Utility/Fruit Test 60
  The Theistic God is Indistinguishable 61
  The Conception of God is Unintelligible 62
  The Conception of God is Inexplicable 62
  Refutation of God as Sustainer and Destroyer 62
  Refutation of God as Benevolent 64
  Doctrinal points which are Inconsistent and Incompatible with the Conception of Creator God or the Absolute 66
  Doctrine of Anicca (Impermanence) 66
  Doctrine of Anatta (Not-self or unsubstantiality) 67
  Doctrine of Paticasamuppada (Dependent Origination) 67
  Doctrine of Kamma 68
  Doctrine of Nibbana 68
  The Cyclic theory of Evolution 68
  The Chief Purpose of Buddha's Teaching 70
2. The Buddha in the Theravada Literature 73
  Meaning of the word 'Buddha' 73
  The Exalted Personality of the Buddha 74
  The Supernormal Knowledge of the Buddha 76
  The Omniscience of the Buddha 77
  Five Eyes (Panca-Cakkhuni) 79
  Special Knowledge 81
  Ten Kinds of Knowledge 81
  Three-fold Knowledge (Tevijja) 83
  Buddha's Knowledge of the Past 84
  Buddha's Knowledge of Heavens and Hells 84
  Buddha's Knowledge of Others Mental and Spiritual Attainments 85
  Buddha's Great Compassion 86
  The Supernormal Power of the Buddha 87
  Powers of Intelligence (Nanabala) 89
  Power of understanding other's Mental Reflexions 90
  Buddha is Physical Strength and Faculty of Movement 91
  Clairvoyant Powers 91
  Prophetic Powers 92
  Miraculous Powers 93
  Powers to Water and Travel by Air 95
  Power to Visit Deva Realms 96
  Power to Appear and Disappear 96
  Power of Freedom from Environmental Disturbances 96
  Power to Overcome suffering, Sickness and Death 96
  Power to Conquer the Wicked, Superhuman, Human and Sub-human Beings 97
  Saviour Power 98
  Powers of Healing and Wish-fulfilling 98
  Buddha's Special Powers 99
  The Functions of the Buddha 101
  The Supremacy of the Buddha 102
  Buddha's Supremacy Over Deities 103
  Buddha's Supremacy Over all Other Holy 104
  Buddha as Distinguished from an Arhant 105
  Buddha as Distinguished from the Members of the Order in General 107
  Gautama Buddha's Supremacy Over other Buddhas 108
  The Pre-eminence and the Divinity of the Buddha 109
  Buddha's Self-assertion about his Pre-eminence 109
  Buddha Regarded as Pre-eminent by Others 111
  Buddha's Pre-eminent Place in the Order 112
  The Buddha's Epithets 113
  Buddha as Superman 116
  The Divinity of the Buddha 117
  The Transcendence of the Buddha 118
  Theravada and Docetism 123
  Buddhology 123
  Unity in the Plurality of Buddhas 124
  The Identity of Buddha and Dhamma 125
  The Identity of Buddha and Nibbana 127
  The Buddha and Tathagata 129
  The Buddha and absolute Truth 130
  The Buddha as Immeasurable, Unthinkable and Infinite 130
3. Saddha and Bhatti in Theravada Buddhism 133
  Part A - Saddha  
  The Meaning and Scope of Saddha 133
  Types of Saddha 136
  Aveccappasada 138
  Saddha - its Scope and Limitations 140
  Faith in the Buddha as the sattha 144
  Faith in Buddha as Compassionate Protetor 147
  Saddha in the Ti-Sarana (Three Refuges) 148
  The Origin of "Ti-sarana" and its Meaning 149
  The Meaning of the word "Buddha" in "Ti-sarana" 150
  The Place of the Buddha in the Ti-sarana 151
  Advantages of Taking Refuge in the Buddha 154
  Means of Cultivation of Saddha 155
  Cultivation of Saddha by means of Buddhanussati 155
  Benefits Derived from The Practice of Buddhanussati 157
  Advantages of Cultivation of Saddha 159
  Disadvantages of Disrespect, Disrespect, Disregard, Irreverence and harming the Buddha 165
  Harming the Buddha and its Retribution 166
Part B- Bhatti  
  Origin and Meaning of Bhatti in the Pali canon 167
  Pali terms used in the Canon for Contstituents of Devotion 169
  Nature and Scope of "Bhatti" 169
  I obectives and Scope of "Bharai" 169
  Objective of Buddha-Bhakti 170
  Buddha as Bhagavad 172
  Devotional Attitude of Laity and Monks in the Pali Canon 174
  Acts of Devotion 179
  Buddha-Puja 179
  Buddha-accana 181
  Buddha-patthana 185
  Buddha- thava and Thuti 186
  Buddha as object of Devotion after His Parinibbana 187
  Advantages of Devotion 188
  Fruits of Devotion of Laity 190
  Disadvantages of Lack of Devotion 191
  Epilogue 193
  Bibliography 203
  Index of Buddhist Works 217
  Index of Buddhist Words and Proper Names 223

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