Numerous Vedic gods are mentioned in the Tipitaka, some of them being Inda also called Sakka, Aggi, Suriya, Canda, Varuna, Pajapati, Sri, Venhu (Sanskrit Visnu) Soma and Yama. By the 5th century BCE the god who had emerged as preeminent in Brahmanism was Brahma. He is described as “All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, Maker, Creator and Ruler, Appointer and Controller, Father of All that Are and All that Shall Be” (M.I,327). He “outshines all other gods in radiance” and “when he appears he assumes a grosser form because his natural appearance is not perceptible to the eye” (D.II,210). He was also believed to be a benign deity, loving and without anger or ill-will (D.I,247) Devotees praised Brahma, called upon him for help and worshipped him with offerings and sacrifices. The hope was to be guided and protected by him in this life and be in fellowship with him (Brahmasahavyata, D.I,235) after death. Thus in most respects Brahma is equivalent to the supreme deity of the major theistic religions.
While the Buddha acknowledged the reality of Brahma he cast doubts on nearly every one of the claims made about him, thus indirectly rendering worship of and devotion to him meaningless. Far from being immutable Brahma is subject to change and reverses (annathattam atthi viparinamo, A.V,60) like everything else. Brahma thinks he created everything but he has misinterpreted the facts (D.I,18 ff), and when the Buddha asked those who believe in his creation to explain exactly how it happened “they could not give a convincing answer” (te maya puttha na sampayanti, D.III,28). Brahma was believed to be omniscient but in his better moments he admitted being ignorant about many things (D.I,222). This supposed divine omniscience was further undermined by the Buddha’s claim that Brahma would often would come to praise him or to ask him questions about things he did not know, especially concerning spiritual matters (M.I,168; 326; S.I,139; 153).
The Jataka asked why, if Brahma is all-powerful and all-loving, he did not do something about all the suffering and evil in the world. “Why does Brahma not straighten out the world? If he really is the Controller, the Highest, Lord of All Beings, why is the whole world in such a mess? Why did he not make the world happy? If he really is the Controller, the Highest, Lord of All Beings, why is there so much deceit, lies, pride and unrighteousness? If he really is the Controller, the Highest, Lord of All Beings, then he must be unrighteous and cruel because it was he who made everything” (Ja.VI,208).
The word brahma comes from the root brh meaning highest, powerful, most excellent, and the Buddha used it as a name for some of his doctrinal categories. Thus the life of celibacy is brahmacariya, the four highest emotions are the Brahma Viharas, the Noble Eightfold Path is also called the brahmayana, and the Dhamma is brahmacakka (M.I,69; 147; S.I,5). When the Buddha said he had “become Brahma” (brahmabhuto, D.III,84) he did not mean that he has attained union with God in the Vedic sense, but rather that he had realized the highest state, i.e. Nirvana.
The idea that “there are three gods in Hinduism; Brahma the creator, Visnu the preserver and Siva the destroyer” is, curiously enough, more well-known and widely accepted in the West than it ever has been in India. In perhaps the early Gupta period an attempt was made by a few theologians to reconcile different deities, the trimurti being the best example of this. Prof. A. L. Basham correctly says that the divine trinity was an “artificial growth” which had “little real influence” and “never really caught on”. It is well-known in the West almost certainly because it is reminiscent of the Christian idea of the Trinity. In later iconography Brahma was depicted with four faces, four hands and riding on a goose (hamsa). Worship of Brahma has almost completely disappeared in India, but ironically he is still widely worshiped by Buddhists in Thailand where he is known as Phra Prom.