What Does Buddha Dhamma Say about Creator, Satan, Angels, and Demons?

Revised February 20, 2019

1. While the concept of a Creator God is absent in Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism), there are beings who fit into some conventional ideas on satan, angels, and demons, such as “Seth” and “Ramtha”. Since some readers may not be familiar with “Seth” and “Ramtha”, let me first provide some background.

  • Jane Roberts wrote a series of popular books based on “Seth”, a being who could “possess” her body with her permission, and spoke to her husband about various things about the world; see, for example, “Seth Speaks” by Jane Roberts (1994). Seth commented on various issues and made many predictions too. I am not sure how those “predictions” worked out, but I am sure the success rate must be no better than any human making such predictions.
  • Then there is more popular “Ramtha”, who speaks through J. Z. knight; see, for example, “Ramtha -The White Book” by J. Z. Knight (2005). He is a very benevolent being, proving moral advice on how to live a better life. As I understand, there is a significant following for Ramtha.

2. Therefore, there are two issues (or concepts) to be discussed:

  • First, there is the more predominant belief of a “Creator God” in major religions. That concept is of course in direct contradiction with not only Buddha Dhamma, but also with modern science. Both Buddha Dhamma and modern science are based on the Principle of Causality: There must be a cause(s) for each and every effect.
  • On the other hand, modern science does not believe in any “unseen beings”. It is solely focused on phenomena that can be measured with physical instruments.
  • We will discuss both the concept of a creator and of the possible influence by unseen living beings.

3. Some background on the concept of a Creator God: In my early stages of learning about other religions, I read a variety of books ranging from those by C. S. Lewis (“Mere Christianity” is a good introduction) to “The Language of God” by Francis Collins (2007) to understand the “case for a Creator”; see, “The Language of God” by Francis Collins“.

  • From all those books, the books by these two authors better focus on the issue to provide a rational basis for believing in a creator God.

4. To briefly summarize the views of those two authors (as I understood), the most fundamental reason for believing in a Creator is the existence of Moral law: How can we know and feel the truth of the Moral laws unless God instilled those in us?

  • On the other side, both authors struggled with issue of Satan (or Devil), and why there is suffering.
  • Why would the God allow the existence of a Satan, and the associated immoral behavior by people? The main conclusion was that the God chose to give the man free will, and the man abused it.
  • Lewis in particular worried about the existence of suffering. Why would the God allow that?

5. Now, let us see what Buddha Dhamma says about those two issues:

  • Of course, in Buddha Dhamma, there is no Creator. Everything happens due to (multiple) causes and by definition there is no first cause (i.e., a Creator). The “world” has existed as far as one (with supernormal powers or abhiññā) can see; for details, see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma”.
  • Actually, even people without abhiññā powers can remember one or a few past lives; see, “Evidence for Rebirth“. In some special cases, some can recall multiple past lives under hypnosis; see, the book “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Brian Weiss, who is a psychotherapist.

6. In Buddha Dhamma “the good” and “the bad” in this world are all built into the nature’s laws. Any sentient being experiences “the world” with its sense faculties, and that experience comes in the form of thoughts (citta).

  • Based on those sense inputs AND one’s gati AT THAT TIME, one generates various “good” and “bad” responses. These responses are first manifested in the mind as mere thoughts, but we may act on them further by speech and bodily actions.
  • There are 52 mental factors (cētasika) that include both “good” characteristics (such as kindness, generosity, fear of wrong, shame of wrong, etc), and “bad” characteristics (such as greed, hate, shamelessness, fearlessness of wrong, etc). In the “Abhidhamma” and “Tables and Summaries” sections these are discussed, even though we are only at the early stage of such discussions at this site.
  • Without going to Abhidhamma, the key point is that until one becomes one of the “attha purisa puggala” (eight Noble Persons), one WILL have both both good and bad gati that COULD lead to births in the apāyas.

7. Thus there is no “Creator God” or a “Satan”. It is each person acting on his/her own free will that is committing good or bad acts. But it is a complex issue, because what we are today is the kind of “cumulative result” of all our actions in the deep past through our previous lives. These can be condensed as our character (or “gati” or “gathi“) or sansaric habits (or “āsavas”). There are many posts on this issue at the site, starting with “Habits, Goals, and Character (Gathi)“.

  • And these gati and āsavas are in constant flux; thus one could be a murderer one day, but then through sheer willpower can decide to be a “better person”. There is no “soul” or a fixed “self”. One cannot say there is “no-self” either, because one’s “gathi” or “āsava” are unique characteristics and are “one’s own”; see, “What Reincarnates? – The Concept of a Lifestream“.

8. And no one else can make that change but oneself. Even the Buddha can only show the way to change: how to change these “gathi” and the “āsavas” for the better. When one does that one can feel the “cooling down” or ‘niveema” or the nirāmisa sukha. This is the real goal in Buddhist meditation; see, “Introduction to Buddhist Meditation“.

  • The “moral code” comes naturally out of this big picture. One can lead a peaceful life by practicing “dasa kusala” (ten moral acts), and avoiding “dasa akusala” (ten immoral acts); see, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)” and the follow up post.

9. Let us also discuss briefly about “demons” and “angels” (or other gods). Most Creator-based religions have such entities. And they are supposed to be able to influence humans. Are there beings like that according to Buddha Dhamma?

  • Yes. In Buddha Dhamma, the world is much more complex than with just demons and angels. We can see and experience only two realms (human and animal) out of 31 possible realms in this world; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma”.
  • If someone develops abhiññā powers (see, “Power of the Human Mind – introduction” and follow-up posts), depending on the level attained one could “see” some or many of these other beings. There are people who can do this at the present time.

10. However, even the majority of people with abhiññā power can “see” mainly some beings in the lowest 11 realms which comprise the “sense world” or the “kāma lōka”: mainly the beings with less dense bodies than ours that are in the 6 dēva lōka and some of the beings in the realms below the human realm.

  • The beings in the rūpa lōka and the arūpa lōka have “bodies” even less dense than those in the dēva realms, and it is even more difficult to “see” them.
  • The 6 realms in the dēva lōka are the closest thing to a “heaven” according to the Buddha Dhamma. Those beings have bodies that are free from physical illnesses, and there is much more happiness there than in the human world. And they have long lifetimes. However, any being in any higher realm can end up in the lowest four realms (apayas) in the future unless they reach at least the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna.

11. Some of these beings can communicate with humans with or without abhiññā powers. There are beings who are benevolent and there are others who are malevolent. As pointed out in the posts on “gathi”, a being normally communicates with a human with similar “gathi” or character.

  • Thus a malevolent being (we could say “a demon”) normally tries to communicate with a human with similar bad character. They may try to impress the human and try to get their own agenda fulfilled.
  • A benevolent being (we could say “an angel” or “a god”) is usually a dēva from the 6 dēva realms. They like to help out people with good character, but usually do not try to communicate directly. Normally, the person may not even know that he/she is being helped in certain ways.

12. Therefore, there are many such beings who like to “show off” and also try to genuinely help people live a better life. But those beings themselves are “travelers of samsāra” who just happen to have a good birth for a longer time period.

  • Then there are beings that are malevolent or with bad intentions. Even though I am not aware of any prominent cases like those mentioned in #1 above, there are many reports on “hearing voices” and even committing crimes based on the instructions through such voices.

13. Those beings with bad intentions cannot influence us if our mindsets are NOT COMPATIBLE with theirs. This is an important point to understand!

  • One is ALWAYS responsible for one’s own action. If one is influenced by an “unseen evil being”, that is also due to one’s own lack of understanding (one has cultivated bad “gati“).
  • Just as in common law, ignorance of Nature’s laws is not an excuse.
  • This is why we all have been trapped in this suffering-filled rebirth process for this long. We had net been able to understand the Nature’s laws. Only a Buddha is able to understand those and we should be thankful that we live in a time when that message is still available.
  • We need to learn Dhamma, get rid of bad gati, and cultivate good gati. That will pave the way to becoming a Noble Person and thus be free of all future suffering!

14. This world is very complex and we perceive only a tiny part of it. But the point is that there is no place anywhere in the 31 realms that can provide permanent happiness.

  • There is no point in pursuing such demons or even angels. They themselves are in the same predicament, or worse, compared to us. Those benevolent beings will help us, even without seeking help, if they see the good in us.
  • As humans, we have the unique advantage of learning the truth about the dangers of this rebirth process (samsāra) and work towards getting out of it by seeking Nibbāna or “cooling down”. That was THE message of the Buddha.
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