Is it right to describe Buddhism as atheistic? Many people do, pointing to the fact that Buddhism doesn’t refer to a creator God. Yet it’s not so simple.

In the earliest Buddhist texts, the Buddha tells some stories that make fun of Brahma, who thinks he is the supreme deity. But in some versions of Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha himself eventually became elevated from “a person who is awake” (the literal meaning of Buddha) to a more celestial figure. Whereas Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) emphasized the importance of “being a lamp unto yourself,” it was believed that Amitabha Buddha could inter-cede at the time of death and take us to his Pure Land in the West, far beyond our world. This led to the development of more devotional types of Buddhism, which still predominate in East Asia. In some ways this Pure Land...

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