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Virtual Vinodh

Shiva in Buddhism Print E-mail
Monday, 21 March 2011 23:45


During the early days of early days of formation, Buddhism didn't have many deities to deal with. The Predominant deities of those times were Indra and Brahma. In the Tripitaka, all these deties are shown completely subservient to the Buddha. They are potrayed as waiting and attending upon the Buddha, and as receiving many teaching from the Buddha himself.  At one instance, it is even said the Maha-Brahma himself had advised a Brahmin who had reached the heavenly Brahma-realm, to clear his doubts with the Buddha instead of him !
Buddha_WatMahathatAs Buddhism evolved over times, it had to face the new Puranic Brahmanism with the influence of the Vishnu, Shiva and other deities rising over time, compared to the other Vedic deities who were now often reduced to a tutelary status. Puranic Brahmanism was highly syncretic assimilating everything that came in its way. Even Buddha himself was assimilated to the Brahmanical Pantheon as one of the Avatar-s of Vishnu. At the same time, Buddhism had also attempted in assimilation of the Brahmanical Deities into its fold. However, this part is not that much widely known.
Buddhism in its Theravada version was more orthodox, and didn't officially expand beyond the already assimilated Indra, Brahma and other early deities. [Though Sri Lankan Theravada assimilated Vishnu as a Kshetra Pāla - Protector of the Land, but that was outside the Theravada Canon]. However, Mahayana Buddhism was highly assimilative in nature. The framework of Mahayana easily enabled the direct import of deities into its fold. When Mahayana was faced with Shaivism and Vaishnavism, it also had played its part of trying to assimilate Shiva and Vishnu in Mahayana.
More specifically, we'll deal only the Assimilation of Shiva as a deity into Buddhism. Shiva was initially considered as an Emanation of Avalokiteshvara. It was also believed that Shiva himself will attain Buddhatva (i.e Buddhahood) in the future as Bhasmeshvara Buddha.  We'll see some Buddhist Sutras that directly reference to Shiva as a deity. (There are also Buddhist Tantras that deal with Shiva but thats for another day :-) )

Lotus Sutra

Lotus Sutra i.e Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra is one of the earliest Mahayana Sutra that speaks of Shiva as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. The 24th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, "The Chapter on the Universal Door [of Avalokiteshvara]" (Samanta-Mukha-Parivarta) deals with description of the various emanation of Avalokiteshvara in our Universe, the Sahā Lokadhātu .
In this Chapter, Bodhisattva Akshayamati proceeds to ask the Buddha on how Avalokiteshvara frequents this world, the various methods He teaches the Dharma and also his Skillful means (Upāyakauśalya) adopted by him to teach the Dharma to all sentient beings.
bodhisattva-avalokitesvaraatha khalvakṣayamatirbodhisattvo mahāsattvo bhagavantametadavocat-kathaṁ bhagavan avalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo mahāsattvo'syāṁ sahāyāṁ lokadhātau pravicarati? kathaṁ sattvānāṁ dharmaṁ deśayati? kīdṛśaścāvalokiteśvarasya bodhisattvasya mahāsattvasyopāyakauśalyaviṣayaḥ?
Again the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Akshayamati said to the Lord: How, O Lord, is it that the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Avalokitesvara frequents this Saha-world? And how does he preach the Dharma? And which is the range of the skilfulness of the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Avalokitesvara? 
The Bhagavan replies as follows:
evamukte bhagavānakṣayamatiṁ bodhisattvaṁ mahāsattvametadavocat-santi kulaputra lokadhātavaḥ yeṣvavalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo mahāsattvo buddharūpeṇa sattvānāṁ dharmaṁ deśayati [...] keṣāṁcit pratyekabuddharūpeṇa avalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ sattvānāṁ dharmaṁ deśayati| [...] keṣāṁcid brahmarūpeṇāvalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ sattvānāṁ dharmaṁ deśayati [...] maheśvaravaineyānāṁ sattvānāṁ maheśvararūpeṇa dharmaṁ deśayati [...]
So asked, the Lord replied to the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Akshayamati: There are [some] worlds, young man of good family, [where] the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Avalokitesvara preaches the Dharma to creatures in the form of a Buddha [...] To some [beings] he preaches the Dharma in the form of a Pratyekabuddha [...] To some [beings] he preaches the Dharma in the shape of a Brahma [...] [to those] who are to be converted by Mahesvara, he preaches assuming the form of Mahesvara. [...]
The Buddha describes that Avalokiteshvara by his Skillful means takes numerous forms like that of a Pratyekabuddha, Shravaka, Brahma, Yaksha, Gandharva including Shiva to teach the Dharma to the Sentient Beings. It must be noted that Shiva is not specifically discussed here, he is just included as a passing reference among all other emanations of Avalokiteshvara. It can be considered that, at this time the Buddhists had begun to consider Shiva as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. 

Karandavyuha Sutra

Karandavyuha is one of the major Mahayana sutras that is devoted completely to Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. It attempts at assimilation of the all the Brahmanical deities at one go, by establishing Avalokiteshvara as the progenitor of those deities. 


The Sutra starts with the Nidāna - Evam Mayā Shrutam [Thus, It was heard by me ] - The Buddha residing at Sharavasti, in the Garden of Anathapindaka along with a host of Bodhidhattvas and Bhikshus. The Deities of the heavenly realms are shown to attend the Buddha's Sermon, headed by Vishnu and Shiva. Shiva himself is potrayed as attending the Buddha's sermon. In the Fourth Chapter of the Sutra on the Creation of Moon and others [candrādyutpattirnāma caturthaṁ prakaraṇam ], the Buddha explains how Avalokiteshvara assumes the form of Srishtikarta Lokeshvara to emanate all the [Brahmanical] deities from His body 


Specifically, Buddha says that Shiva was born from Avalokiteshvara's forehead - lalāṭānmaheśvaraḥ.

[More here : Srishtikarta Lokeshvara ]


After emanation of Shiva from his Body, Avalokiteshvara tells Mahesvara that, during the kaliyuga, he will appear in a degenerate realm  and will be called the primordial god (ādideva), the creator and author of the world. The beings in this realm at that time will be deprived of the path to awakening and the talk among those foolish common people will be: "It is said that space is his linga and the earth his pedestal. He is the ground of all and is called linga because all beings dissolve into him". [1]


The Shaivaite Doctrine is directly rebuked here, those who worship Shiva as the Creator deity are criticized as "foolish common people" (pṛthagjana).


Buddha Bhasmeshvara


shiva_yoga_croppedMoving further to the narrative end of the Sutra, Shiva appears before the Buddha, prostrated before him and asks for Vyakarana [Prediction of Buddha-hood]. He is directed by the Buddha to Avalokiteshvara. Maheshvara praises Avalokiteshvara and requests Vyakarana from him.  On his request Avalokiteshvara bestows the prophecy for Buddhahood.


bhaviṣyasi tvaṁ kulaputra vivṛtāyāṁ lokadhātau bhasmeśvaro nāma tathāgato'rhan samyaksaṁbuddho vidyācaraṇasaṁpannaḥ sugato lokavidanuttaraḥ puruṣadamyasārathiḥ śāstā devānāṁ ca manuṣyāṇāṁ ca buddho bhagavān


Kulaputra ! In the future you will become in the World called Vivrita, a Tathagata named Bhasmeshvara, an Arhat, One who is perfect in knowledge and conduct, a Sugata, Knower of the Word, Unsurpassed-one, Tamer of Men, Teacher of the Gods & Men, Buddha and the Lord.


(Stotras of Shiva/Umadevi on Avalokiteshvara can be read here: Karandavyuha Stotras on Avlaokiteshvara )


The Tantra Text Sarva-Tathagata-Tattva-Sangraha also contains information of Shiva's conversion as the future Bhasmeshvara Buddha, but with a different narrative. We'll deal that along with the other Tantra references to Shiva.


Though the Shaivaite doctrine is criticized in the Beginning, ultimately at the end Shiva is accepted into Mahayana Buddhism as a future completely enlightened Buddha. 


As Shiva was considered as a emanation of Avalokiteshvara, many of Shiva's features were also attributed to Avalokiteshvara, again an attempt to subsume Shiva under Buddhism. Again, that requires a detailed study on its own. In fact, not specifically Shiva but the attributes of the dual deity Hari-Hara or Shankara-Narayana seems to have been overlaid on Avalokiteshvara. There will be some posts on the related topics as dicussed here, so do keep an eye on the Site :-P.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 01 May 2011 09:28 )


+3 #1 2011-05-16 13:01
Thank you very much for this article! It is very informative.
+12 #2 2011-05-23 06:07
You call it an "attempt to subsume shiva..."etc. It is NO insult that Shiva is part of Buddhism. It is NO insult that Buddhism, and Vedanta/Shiva, are actually one, continuous system of thought. That there is a separation is an illusion.
0 #3 2011-06-05 12:40
There is also a version of this story in the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha (an early Tantra). In this case Maheśvara refuses to submit and is first killed and then revived by Vajrapāṇi using a mantra. He then converts to Buddhism.

@AliShiva - the idea that there is no sepration is the illusion, my friend, as any Buddhist will tell you. WE certainly have no wish to be subsumed into Hinduism, believe me! Buddhists made these stories of defeating and subsuming Hindu gods to show that they are simply a part of saṃsāra and should not be worshipped.
+1 #4 2011-06-05 12:41
Whoops sorry you do mention that text right at the end. I missed it on the first read!
+1 #5 2011-06-06 00:53
Hi Jayarava,

Thanks for visiting the site

I left of the details of the Sarva Tatahgata Tattva Sangraha.. because.. Tantra unlike Sutra needs much more study. There are lots of references to Rudra/Shiva in Tantra.

They are all esoteric references. AFAIK the Rudra/Maheshvara referred is more of "ideological" nature than of literal sense. The Tantra part requires much more careful study.

+1 #6 2011-08-14 02:07
Nathayana Buddhists practice lingapuja in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and probably other places. The Eight Nathas or avatars of Avalokita are worshipped in this way.
+1 #7 2011-09-06 17:32
Very interesting post. Iconography of both religions have been freely inter-changed when both Puranic Brahmanism and Buddhism were at their evolving stages. It would have been more useful if you had quoted references to your post.
Keep writing on this topic.
+4 #8 2012-01-08 19:53
Oh Buddhists,

Please understand that we Hindus consider Vishnu, Shiva and Mother Godess as beings who fully enlightened and realised that they are the absolute truth para-Brahm. We do not consider Buddha born to Maya Dei in Nepal as completely enlightened. The Buddha who is Vishnu's avatar is born to Anjana Devi and he is connected to Bodh Gaya
+10 #9 2012-02-09 23:47
In Gita Krishna advice's Arjuna "Buddham Sharanam Anvecchi". Meaning to desire to follow the path shown by Buddha. Ever since Ashoka, Buddhism has always been the real 'Dharma' of India, be it the mighty mauryans or the very mighty Guptas. Gita just adds a little practical angle to it explaining that sometimes if your profession or survival requires killing then as a Buddhist you need not get a panic attack.
Around 1000 AD the word Hindu was synonymous to "Indian". However, the word Hinduism was coined much later by British to describe the faith of India as they knew little about 'Buddhism' and Indian History and how Buddhism was at the root of this country. Just like they described Tibetan 'Buddhism' as 'Lamaism' they called Indian 'Buddhism' as 'Hinduism'. It is not the correct word for India's root faith but only what they invented. Yes Indian buddhism has suffered at the hands of resurgent Brahamanism but that is not a religion. It is a combination of forces to unite and organize india as a society that could withstand the repercussions of everlasting wars and bloodshed that was the norm in the Arabians and middle Asians lands.
Much before this, by 600 AD Buddhism had already reached the remotest corner of earth. It was way bigger then India and did not describe India politically. The word Hindu which was used by Persians for Indians was adopted as the national identity of Indians, not the religious identity, which remained ‘Buddhism’. So in a way India was now just a part of a much bigger Buddhist world, albeit the holy land of the Buddhist world where Buddha gave his first sermons.
+6 #10 2012-05-02 23:25
shiva is the creator ,protector and destroyer of this world .Please feel shiva nama Thanks a lot.

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