Gautama did not envisage himself as establishing a religion. Buddhists have no belief in higher deities, but propose a path towards freedom from suffering, or individual enlightenment, through deep reflection on the nature of existence. This focus on self-redemption makes it qualitatively quite different from other belief systems which base themselves around concepts of divine mercy or grace.
Introducing the Buddha to the modern world is not a simple matter.To say that the Buddha was a “man” is not good enough, it is blasphemous.To say he is “a god” is also blasphemy because a Buddha is one who has transcended the level of all gods.Fortunately the proper answer to this question is found in the Buddha’s own words.
Once, a Brahmin met the Buddha for the first time.This Brahmin could judge a person by reading his footprints.He happened to be walking behind the Buddha by accident and he observed the footprints of the Buddha, which were very different from the usual footprints of a normal human being.The Buddha was able to read the mind of this Brahmin who was walking behind him.So he moved out of the road and sat under a tree to let this man come and talk to him.So the Brahmin came to him and asked a question (Ang. Vol.II, 36):
Is your Reverence an Angel (deva)?
No Brahmin, I am not an Angel.
Then are you a devil (yakka)?
No Brahmin I am not a devil.
Then are you a spirit (gandabba)?
No Brahmin, I am not a spirit.
Then are you a human being?
No Brahmin, I am not a human being.
You have answered no to all my questions
Then who are you?
“Whatever be the conditions when present, a person could be called an Angel, Devil, Spirit, or human being; those conditions are not present in me. Just as a lotus, though born in the water, grown up in the water, rises above the water and remains unsoiled by the water, even so, though I was born in the world, grew up in the world, I transcended the world, and remain unspoiled by the world.
There is only one word you can use to refer to me. It is – Buddha (The Awake One).”
This awakening of the Buddha is an awakening from the “dream of existence,” just as the lotus rises above the water and remains unsoiled by the water.It is also a transcending of the human level to a superhuman “Divine” level.This is also the ultimate solution of the problem of existence, through a process of evolution of the human consciousness to a supernormal level.
In the Aggañña Sutta (Dig. Vol.III, 27) the Buddha points out:“These Brahmins claim that they are the true children of God (Brahma), born of his mouth.But every Brahmin knows that he is born of his mother’s womb.If my disciples, however, claim that they are the true children of God, born of his mouth, they are justified in saying so, because I am God become (Brahma bhuto) and these are my children, born of my mouth.”Modern writers on Buddhism say that the Buddha never claimed to be God.But here we have it clearly stated.A similar statement is also found in the Itivuttaka (Itiv. 100).Of course it is a metaphorical statement, and so was the statement of Jesus, as it is found in the Gospels.
The Buddhist traditional commentaries speak of three kinds of gods (deva):
God by convention (sammuti deva) – This is the deification of natural phenomena
God by birth (uppatti deva) – These are the angels who inhabit the heavens
God by being immaculate (visuddhi deva) – These are the transcendent terrestrial beings
The Buddha and his perfected disciples come under the third category of gods (deva) namely, immaculate gods (visuddhi deva).The Buddha becomes the God who is all knowing (sabbaññu), most powerful, (vasavatti), the defeater of Mara (maranudo), attained to genuine goodness (sugato), the greatly compassionate (maha karuniko), the saviour of the world (loka nata) (Ang. Vol.II, 23,24,25.).