When you think of Buddhism, what do you think of? Most likely you think of the statue of a chubby man sitting in an Indian style position with a big ole smile on his face. You probably assume that this religion is associated with the country of China. You might think of the Dalai Lama and a chorus of chanting. You probably do not feel intimidated or threatened by Buddhists.
Let me explain the basics of what Buddhism is and then give you a Christian perspective on the religion. Buddhism is thought of in a very high regard among the general population. This is probably because they do not evangelize their faith much, they generally keep it to themselves (especially Zen Buddhists). They are not common in America so there is a sense of mystery about the religion. Buddhists generally come across very calm and non judgemental. It calls itself the religion of infinite compassion. These combine to give Buddhism a very respectable place even in our culture.
Buddhism started with 1 man and has balloon to a minimum of 376,000,000 people today. Many estimates are well over 1,000,000,000 Buddhists. It is very common in China, Japan, and the countries Southeast Asia. Buddhists make up less than 1 percent of the United States population. We can already see from the culture’s perspective why Buddhism would have a draw on people.
The founder of Buddhism is Siddhartha Gautama (563-483BC). He was born to a rich family in a palace in northern India. He lived a very sheltered life until age 29 when he got away from his wife and family and saw the various sufferings of the world- a sick man, an old man, and a dead man. He sought council from Hindu priests, but held a lot of animosity toward Hinduism. Hinduism was the dominant religion where he lived, but Hinduism had become corrupt. The Brahmins performing the priestly rituals were charging their people a lot of money for their service. Siddhartha broke away from Hinduism but kept a lot of the same basic beliefs such as karma, reincarnation, yoga/ meditation and Nirvana.
It’s ironic that the statues of Buddha depict a very fat man, because Siddhartha was starving himself in hopes of attaining a higher understanding. After 6 years of focus and meditation (age 35) Buddhism began. Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha while meditating for days under the Bodhi tree. He had reached enlightenment. Buddha means enlightened one. How did he reach enlightenment and how did he teach others?
There are no writings about Buddha until 400-500 years after he lived. According to tradition, Buddha taught people the Four Noble Truths in his first sermon. They serve as the foundation for enlightenment. The Four Noble Truths are:
1. Life is suffering, also called dukkha.
2. Suffering is due to desire.
3. Suffering ends when we get rid of desire.
4. Follow the Eightfold Path to get rid of all desire.
What is the Eightfold Path? These are the steps the Buddhist takes to live a perfect type of life. The 8 steps are:
1. Right understanding
2. Right thought or attitude
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood (or occupation)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right meditation
If you perfect yourself in these 8 areas you will break yourself of all desire, reach enlightenment, and attain Nirvana.
Some people think that Buddha and Jesus had a lot in common. They consider the good moral teachings of the Buddha to be similar to the good moral teachings of Jesus. Buddha taught humility in a sense, Jesus taught a sense of humility. Buddha taught kindness and gentleness, so did Jesus. Several of the Old Testament Commandments are actually reiterated by Buddha.
Some of the other things that Buddha taught:
-There is no God to intervene (though most Mahayana Buddhists accept the presence of a god) in the world.
-We are to be our own light and fully rely on ourselves.
-We are to have no fear, no desire, and no self.
-Man does not possess an immaterial soul.
What does Buddhism teach as the goal of humanity? The goal of life is enlightenment, which leads to Nirvana in the afterlife. We saw how Buddha reached what he called enlightenment by depriving himself of fulfillment of desires, including starving himself and sitting under a tree for days at a time. He, along with modern day Buddhists, meditate in order to convince themselves that they are nothing. They want to convince themselves that they are desire free. The Buddha said to workout your own salvation with diligence. What is the reward for such an achievement? Enlightenment and Nirvana! Nirvana means “to blow out” or “extinguish”. Nirvana is the elimination of the self and the end of consciousness.
Now to apply some criticism and Christian thinking to Buddhism. Even though the surface actions of the Buddhist have great mystery and appeal, we can see, when we look deeper, that Buddhism ought not to have such a draw. If we grant that 85 percent of the world believes in a god, that leaves 15 percent, which usually don’t like submitting to strict rituals and regulations.
I don’t know why people want to think of Jesus and Buddha as being similar religious figures. Buddha taught to ignore or avoid suffering, while Jesus conquered suffering head on. Jesus suffered for us, while Buddha suffered for himself. Jesus taught that he himself was the only light of the world, while Buddha taught that everybody has their own light. Jesus taught that he was God and the Father and Holy Spirit are God, while Buddha taught that there is no God. Jesus taught that salvation is knowing God, while Buddha taught that salvation is knowing nothing. The very foundation of Jesus and Buddha’s way of thinking is completely different. There can be no depth of agreement between Buddhism and Christianity.
Buddhism teaches that desire is at the root of all suffering, and thus needs to be eliminated. This seems to me to be a self defeating concept, because to eliminate desire you first need to have a strong desire to eliminate it. The stronger your will to eliminate desire, the stronger your desire for desire to be eliminated. It is an unaccomplishable cycle. A more accurate and honest approach would be to discover why we have desire in our lives at all. The Buddhists will not address this question, but pretend that all desire leads you astray. Why would human desire ever even develop if a Buddhist worldview were true?
What does the Bible say about desire? It’s okay to have certain desires. First Chronicles 29:18 indicates that God gives us certain desires. Psalm 20:4 and 20:12 give us comfort in knowing that God grants our hearts desires. Job 23:13 indicates that God has desires. Isaiah 55:1-2 tells us that God is the cure for our desire. Galatians 5:16-17 tells us to desire the things of the Spirit and not the things off the flesh.
I think the Christian view of desire is clear, we have desires because we have a place to go to, the person to go to, in order to have those desires fulfilled. It’s like the desire for food when we are hungry or the desire for a drink when we are thirsty. Those desires indicate that nourishment is available and needed. That’s why Jesus called himself the bread of life, and the water that, if you drink, you will never thirst again. Jesus is desire fulfilled, not desire avoided. Buddhism is mental and emotional suicide, while the 1 true God offers life in abundance- because He created it to fulfill it.