Asian Buddhists believe in God

By Razib Khan | April 15, 2009 1:50 pm

A year ago I mentioned that the Religious Landscape Survey showed that a majority of American Buddhists believe in God. Some people wondered as to its generality as a finding. Does this apply in Asia? It seems likely. The World Values Survey has data on Buddhists in Singapore, Taiwan and Japan in terms of God belief. Here are the data:

Buddhist who believe in God, Yes/No

The Japanese data are the most important. The Japanese are a secular people, so if Japanese Buddhists generally believe in God it is a rather good bet that you can generalize this. One could rebut that this only applies to Mahayana Buddhism, but there is a fair amount of ethnographic data that the same tendency toward theism is dominant in Sri Lanka as well.


Comments (12)

  1. It would also depend on how the question was worded, since the Japanese concept of “god” does not map very well onto the English-language concept of “god” (either Christian or Greek).
    For example, the word “kami” can mean “divine” or “god”. Even the more specific “kami-sama” – literally “divine person” or “god-like person” – is not a good match of the English-language concept “god.” Part of this goes to the roots of “kami” in Shintoism, which was the prevalent religious milieu into which Buddhism (and later Christianity) was introduced. The Japanese idea of “kami” included not only the anthropomorphic deities that played a major role in the Japanese origin tales, but also local spirits, and the feelings of spirituality one had in certain places. Therefore, if the question was phrased in such a way that it favored an English-language conceptualization of “God”, then it would be difficult to determine whether the low “yes” value was due to different cultural/linguistic differences between Japanese and English concepts of “GOD” or because of theological differences.

  2. Nowhere Man

    All the Bhuddists I know are pantheists, but nearly every other theist I know believes in externalized magical deities.

  3. I’ve made a point of unscientifically questioning Thais on this point. If you give them a rough sketch of the Abrahamic creator god, they’re non-believers. There’s no “a” or “the” article in the Thai language; without the sketch, they’ll often think you’re inquiring about the existence of gods (“prajao”, plural), beings who aren’t necessarily much more elevated than garden variety angels or spirits.

  4. tbell

    I thought it was gnomes that lived in gardens…

  5. good points. i can believe that many (most) asian buddhists find the notion of a personal creator god something they don’t believe in. OTOH, from a cognitive perspective i think one can make the argument that distinctions god-like supernatural agents are semantics.

  6. Ananda

    As an Asian Buddhist, I can tell you that we think that the Christian concept of god is overly elevated. The Asian equivalent of such a deity would be Brahma, a divine but nevertheless mortal being who like other beings born in this existence will eventually pass away and take a new birth.

  7. OTOH, from a cognitive perspective i think one can make the argument that distinctions god-like supernatural agents are semantics.
    Well, you do hear arguments, for example, that there’s some innate, universal compulsion to formulate creation myths, and religion necessarily serves this drive. But that’s clearly nonsense if you include Buddhism in the mix of religions.

  8. Ananda

    God has little relevance to Buddhists. Some believe in the existence of such a deity and some don’t. Either way, god has no role in the Buddhist scheme of personal development towards Nirvana as that calls upon personal resolve.

  9. Hamugbodas

    Which Buddhists believe in God? Are you talking about the Shin Buddhists, the Pure Land or others? Thank you.

  10. Paul

    This is misleading. The question that the researcher asked is: “Do you believe in God or a Universal Spirit.” What is a Universal Spirit? Something pretty vague.
    It is not a Creator God or a Law-Giver God or a God that desires worship or rituals or that punishes and rewards. If people answer that they believe in a Universal Spirit that is a metaphysical concept not a religious concept.

  11. lisa

    I have been in search of a religion that fits my beliefs for several years now. I just finished a world religions class in college and found that buddhism fits all of my beliefs (so far) except that they generally do not believe in God and I definitely do. I think that it is possible to practice buddhism and still believe in God since Buddhism is really just about putting yourself on the right path. What do you think?

  12. miko

    Trying finding something that 4/5 of Chinese Buddhists don’t believe in.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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