Was the Buddha a God?

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There are some who take delight in making the Buddha a non-human. They quote a passage from the Anguttara Nikâya (II, 37), mistranslate it, and misunderstand it. The story goes thus:

Once the Buddha was seated under a tree in the meditation posture, his senses calmed, his mind quiet, and attained to supreme control and serenity. Then a Brahmin, Dona by name, approached the Buddha and asked:

"Sir, will you be a god, a deva?" "No, brahmin." "Sir, will you be a heavenly angel, a gandhabba?" "No, brahmin." "Sir, will you be a demon, a yakkha?" "No, brahmin." "Sir, will you be a human being, a manussa?" "No, brahmin." "Then, sir, what indeed will you be?"

Now understand the Buddha’s reply carefully:

"Brahmin, whatever defilements (âsavas) there be owing to the presence of which a person may be identified as a god or a heavenly angel or a demon or a human being, all these defilements in me are abandoned, cut off at the root, made like a palm-tree stump, done away with, and are no more subject to future arising.

"Just as, brahmin, a blue or red or white lotus born in water, grows in water and stands up above the water untouched by it, so too I, who was born in the world and grew up in the world, have transcended the world, and I live untouched by the world. Remember me as one who is enlightened (Buddhoti mam dhârehi brâhmana)."

What the Buddha said was that he was not a god or a heavenly angel or a demon or a human being full of defilements. From the above it is clear that the Buddha wanted the brahmin to know that he was not a human being with defilements. He did not want the brahmin to put him into any of those categories. The Buddha was in the world but not of the world. This is clear from the simile of the lotus. Hasty critics, however, rush to a wrong conclusion and want others to believe that the Buddha was not a human being.

In the Anguttara Nikâya (I, 22), there is a clear instance in which the Buddha categorically declared that he was a human being:

"Monks, there is one person (puggala) whose birth into this world is for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the gain and welfare and happiness of gods (devas) and humanity. Who is this one person (eka puggala)? It is the Tathâgata, who is a Consummate One (arahat), a Supremely Enlightened One (sammâ-sambuddho)....Monks, one person born into the world is an extraordinary man, a marvellous man (acchariya manussa)."