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25 Pages

Principled Atheism in the Buddhist Scholastic Tradition

In their systematic presentations of religious philosophy, the Indian Buddhists consistently defended the position that belief in an eternal creator god who superintends his creation and looks after the concerns of his creatures is a distraction from the central task of the religious life. This was clearly the position taken in the early Pali literature and in the Theravada philosophy based on that literature, but even in the later Mahayana writings such as the Lotus Sutra and the Lailkavatara Sutra, in which buddhahood is portrayed not as a feature of the isolated career of Siddhartha Gautama but rather as a constant feature of the entire cosmos at all times, great care is taken to try to distinguish the concept of the cosmic Buddha-nature in the forms of Dharmakaya or Tathagatagarbha from the concept of a creator god. The Buddhists were, for whatever reasons, eager to avoid falling into a theistic position. The motivation behind the present paper has been to discover what those reasons were.