Aupmanyav.. good point, like Daoism, Gautama merely taught how to free oneself. No G!d required. In much the same manner, pantheism, panenteism and panpsychism "go beyond" G!d.
Honestly, I continue to be surprised by the readiness with which the iteration that Gautama is an atheist gets repeated so often. Perhaps, one could argue that what he taught could well be taught without reference to any deity. I can see that. But my sense is that assertions like that, while cogent and plausible in their context, are often turned into declarations of Gautama's apparent atheism. That would be misleading. The earliest texts showing Gautama's various reflections -- courtesy of the latest peer-vetted modern strictly secular research -- do not show atheism.
On the one hand, some of the Mahayana texts are now viewed by the secular scholarly community, by professional scholars in modern academe, as being much later than the Pali Hinayana texts. In addition, even the Pali Hinayana texts have now been divided into early, middle and late. For instance, The Dhammapada (sp.?) is generally judged to be in the relative middle of the textual history of the Pali Hinayana tradition; while the sermons of the Digha-Nikaya collection are generally taken to be among the very earliest in the textual history of the Pali Hinayana tradition. Even among these Digha-Nikaya sermons, roughly 15 or so of the approximately 30 sermons in the Digha-Nikaya are taken to be significantly earlier than the other 15.
It's among the earliest 15 of the 30 sermons in the D.-N. collection that we have the Mindfulness sermon and a sermon on attaining closeness to Brahma, who is the Hindu deity whom Gautama does believe in, although he does not credit Brahma with all the attributes that the traditional Vedic believers ascribe to him.
In the sermon on Brahma, Gautama says --
"Know, V¤seÂÂha, that (from time to time) a Tath¤gata is born into the world, an Arahat, a fully awakened one, abounding, in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher of gods and men, a Blessed One, a Buddha. He, by himself, thoroughly understands, and sees, as it were, face to face this universe -- including the worlds above with the gods, the M¤ras, and the Brahm¤s; and the world below with its Sama¼as and Brahmans, its princes and peoples; -- and he then makes his knowledge known to others. The truth doth he proclaim both in the letter and in the spirit, lovely in its origin, lovely in its progress, lovely in its consummation: the higher life doth he make known, in all its purity and in all its perfectness."
And in the same sermon, Gautama also says --
"Then in sooth, V¤seÂÂha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from household cares should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahm¤, who is the same -- such a condition of things is every way possible!
And so you say, V¤seÂÂha, that the Bhikkhu is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself; and that Brahm¤ is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself. Then in sooth, V¤seÂÂha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from anger, free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahm¤, who is the same-such a condition of things is every way possible!"
Again, Gautama does not ascribe to Brahma, or to the gods generally, all the attributes that traditional Vedic/Hindu believers ascribe to deity (or that believers of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition ascribe to deity either, for that matter). For instance, Gautama does not ascribe creation to any deity. But Gautama does ascribe to the basic notion of there being such a thing as the divine in the first place, and so I do feel it unfortunate that some poorly read readers do not realize that.
I am not placing any value judgement on being either a believer or an atheist. But very frankly, I am placing a value judgement on being ignorant and/or just plain wrong. I believe that's appalling. And I am placing an even more candid value judgement on glibly circulating bad-penny "information" without studying primary texts. I consider that reckless, careless and inconsiderate in the extreme.
Somewhere the misconception arose that Gautama was wholly atheistic, which would mean to me that our best and earliest information somehow indicates that Gautama proactively maintained that no deities exist. That is manifestly not what he maintained at all. If what is meant instead by some of the remarks on Gautama submitted here is that Gautama viewed all deities and the divine as ultimately irrelevant, that is another thing. I would still view that as somewhat simplistic, but at least that would be based on some degree of reading of the original sermons, however eccentrically.
I guess one can say that Gautama sometimes implies that the nature/existence/qualities of deity/the divine are ultimately unimportant. But he does believe the divine exists. His philosophy/doctrine may well be somewhat separate and apart from his beliefs with respect to the divine. But his beliefs re the divine are that it exists, but that its nature and function may not necessarily be central to true enlightenment.
In some respects, this foreshadows Epicurus, who did credit such a thing as the divine, but who reckoned that deities were ultimately uninterested in human actions.