Shiva in Buddhism



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.

8 thoughts on “Shiva in Buddhism

  1. This is amusing to say the least. Hinduism predates Buddhism by so many 1000s of years and yet Buddhists have been taught not to respect Hinduism….time will show however that the only religion to last forever will be Hinduism. This has been said by no less a Divine personage than Sai Baba.

    1. “Hinduism” didn’t exist per se back then.

      Buddhism and the modern “Hinduism” all arose from the same substratum (along with Jainism), so there are mutual borrowing along the course of two millennia. This just shows the both religious tried, in a way, to accommodate each other, nothing else.


    2. I am a Hindu by birth and believe that Buddhism is an evolved form of Hinduism and hence both share lots of principles and co-exist peace fully. How many other religions in the world can claim this ?

  2. It doesnt matter which doctrine came first…what matters is that they are truly linked and in my belief both religions are skewed to favour their own. That being said all the Gods are one and the same so with that being said a truly accurate weave must accomodate all and not what suites purpose. Every belief structure that is based around human interpretation will always have error. The only truly correct way is through direct connection to source and expression of heart….not mind….persae. what is truly concerning is when one belief puts one over another when they are all one and the same just different shades….balance in all things.

  3. The Prediction of Buddhism

    [From the 29th chapter of the Pratisarga Parva]

    Long ago in the country known as Citrartha, the inhabitants of the heavenly planets used to come to play during the time of autumn. One day a heavenly apsara know as Manjughosha came to that place where the sage Shuka was residing. Seeing this beautiful boy, she tried to attract him while singing and dancing, being overwhelmed by lusty desires. She praised him with a beautiful prayer holding her hands and bowing down. Somehow, she pleased the muni. Then the glorious Shuka, hearing this auspicious prayer asked her to request a benediction.

    Manjughosha humbly said: ”O lord, you are the protector of those who came to your shelter, therefore I’m at your shelter, please become my husband”. The sage accepted her and after some time they produced a son named ‘Muni’ who performed austerity very strictly upto 12 years. He married the daughter of Svarnadeva, the god of gold. They gave birth to a daughter named Kinnari. She was very young and beautiful. She performed austerity to please Lord Shiva, and as a benediction lord Shiva instructed her to a sober sage Makaranda.

    Then her father, Muni, asked lord Shiva to bless her, so that they will successfully make progress in this world.

    Lord Shiva said: Upto 30 years you will enjoy your country in the middle of the earth, then it will be destroyed. After hearing this Muni went to his place with Makaranda and resided there. As soon as the 29th year started the battle took place among those kings who took birth as the incarnations of the associates of Krishna.

    Bauddha, the lord of nyuhas (the lessened people) attacked the beautiful city of Netrapala, thinking that this city is wonderfully decorated with various kinds of jewels. The powerful king Bauddha-simha who had seven-million soldiers, fought with those kings who had only three million soldiers. The fight went on terribly between the armies for seven days and nights. The great powerful kings, who killed all the inimical armies protected by Baudha-simha, were Yoga-simha, Bhoga-simha and Vijaya.

    After that more Buddhists came from the countries known as Shyama and Japaka, and all of them were magicians. Again they had a large battle which lasted for one month. Then Netrasimha arrived with seven million soldiers protected by eight generals, for the destruction of the Buddhists. Being afraid, all the Buddhists left India completely and went to China to continue the war from there. The opposite army also continued following them. When they arrived on the bank of the Huha river, it was the month of Magh, the second half part of the month of January, the fight took place again. There were one million soldiers each from the countries of Syama and Japaka, and ten million soldiers from China assembled for a fight. On the other side, Krishnamsa, Deva, Netrapala, Mandalika, Dhanyapada, Lallasimha, Talana and Jana nayaka were the generals, each of them having one million soldiers.

    There was a terrible battle between the Buddhists and the Aryans. In that war seven million Buddhists, and two million Aryans were killed. Being afraid the Buddhists ran away from the battle and went to their home to produce a wooden army with the help of a machinery arrangement. They made ten-thousand elephants (made out of wood) along with warriors, one million horses, one thousand buffaloes, one thousand hogs, one thousand tigers, one thousand swans, and seven thousand camels. All these creatures had wooden warriors on their back. Thus with the wooden army which was 125,000 in number, they killed two million soldiers protected by Krishnamsas. Seeing this wonder Jayanta, the expert fighter shot fire arrows toward the wooden armies, so that they were immediately destroyed, being burnt to ashes. Only three million kshatriyas (warriors) were left, and they glorified the proficient warrior Jayanta again and again.

    Then the Buddhists from China, made a twenty thousand strong iron horse calvary and sent them to fight. The powerful warrior Yogasimha, riding on an elephant held the bow and arrows in his hands and shot to the neck of the iron warriors. Being afflicted by the arrows of Yogasimha five thousand soldiers were killed. Seeing this, Bauddhasimha made an iron tiger and sent it to Yogasimha. By the attack of that iron tiger the brave Yogasimha was finally killed, and then Bhogasimha riding on a horse, went to fight with the tiger. He killed the tiger by throwing a missile, and roared loudly. Then a lion was sent to him by Bauddhasimha and thus he (Bhogasimha) was killed by a lion. When the son of Swarna-vati (Jayanta) saw that his maternal uncles were already dead, he rode on a powerful horse and went to Bauddhasimha. He took illusory arrows and put the opposite army into delusion along with Bauddhasimha. He captured ten-thousand kings including Bauddhasimha, and returned to Krishnamsas having destroyed the mechanical armies.

    Then all of them happily went to the city and forcibly “looted” the wealth from the palace, which was very opulent, and came back the fort of the king. Jayanta came and released Bauddhasimha. After being released he offered his daughter Padmaja to Jayanta and also offered 100,000,000 golden coins for the pleasure of his in law. After that all the Buddhists made their vows there itself saying “We will never go to Arya-desa to invade the country.” Then they offered their homage and left. They went to Netrapala with their three million remaining soldiers.

    WE SEE THAT ANCIENT VEDIC RELIGION A PARENT OF MODERN ORGANISED HINDUISM WAS PRESENT THOUSANDS OF YEARS BEFORE BUDDHISM. Even though followers say that Buddhism existed before Gautum Buddha, the founder…its just a misconcept. Buddhism turned into an organised religion with basic principles and thoughts after the teachings the Buddha. Buddha himself was born in a Hindu family. Buddha is come times seen as not an avatar but “amsha” of Vishnu like Veda Vyasa. Shiv is the formless consciousness. Dont compare him with some lower deity.

  4. Hinduism (Vaishnavism, Shavism and Shaktism) survived the test of time – centuries long violent persecution by Islam. But in contrast, Buddhism vanished within 200 years in all those lands conquered by sword of Islam. Buddhism as a faith does not inspire its followers to sacrifice and suffer for a higher ideal.

  5. 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). < unquote /\ .

    hello , shiva followers arent called as fools its the people of kali yuga in general typified as foolish *
    i detect an anti shiva bent , when clearly the people of kali yuga are such ignorant fools /\ . JC

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