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America Smiles On the Buddha

by Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon

Please Note: Each coloured link within the article will lead you to a related topic on a different page of this site. However, while the text is part of the original article, the links are not. The author of this article may or may not agree with the views expressed on those
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"American Christianity must wake up and prepare itself for the coming confrontations with Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism."—1997 lecturer at the Haggai Institute, Kihei, Maui, Hawaii.
 

 The cover story of the October 31, 1997 issue of Time magazine was titled "American’s Fascination with Buddhism." It noted that Buddhism was now growing "ever stronger roots" in America and the West, pointing out that American entertainment had also "become fascinated with Buddhism." Indeed, celebrity Buddhists, or those interested, include Steven Seagal who was declared the reincarnation of a 15th Century lama by the head of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism; Richard Gere, the most famous disciple of the Dalai Lama; director Martin Scorsese of The Last Temptation of Christ fame; rocker Tina Turner, who follows Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism; Adam Yauch, the punk rock singer of the Beastie Boys; movie producer Oliver Stone; Phil Jackson, the Chicago Bulls’ coach who refers to himself as a "Zen-Christian" and is author of Sacred Hoops, and grunger Courtney Love.

Other indications of Buddhism’s increasing popularity include amazon.com, which lists over 1,200 titles on Buddhism. Living Buddha, Living Christ alone has sold over 100,000 hardcover copies. A supposedly non-religious Buddhist meditation is now taught to hundreds of business executives in such companies as Monsanto, where the potentially dangerous Vipassana meditation* is said to be offered. Finally, since 1988—a mere 10 years ago—the number of English language Buddhist teaching centers in America has increased from 429 to some 1,100—almost threefold!

The same issue of Time further observes that Jewish, Protestant and Catholic practitioners of Buddhism believe that, "Buddhist practice can be maintained without leaving one’s faith of birth." Nevertheless, insofar as Buddhist practice tends to support and/or inculcate a Buddhist world-view,* such a view would be incorrect since Buddhist practice would then tend to distort one’s faith of birth.

[See Article on the Dalai Lama ... Not what he seems and certainly not what he is made out to be.


Introduction: Buddhism in America
The reason we have selected the topic of Buddhism is our belief that Buddhism currently approximates the influence of Hinduism in the United States in the 1960s. Indeed, while the influence of Buddhism lags behind that of Hinduism in overall impact, it is today already approaching the influence of Hinduism in some areas. Hawaii and California, for example, have significant Buddhist influence and large Buddhist populations. The American Buddhist Directory, published by The American Buddhist Movement in New York, and other sources, list over 1,000 Buddhist groups and organizations currently active in the United States. (Each major school is represented—Theravadin, Mahayana and Tibetan/Tantric.) Men like D.T. Suzuki, the late Chogyam Trungpa, Daisku Ikeda and the Dalai Lama are having considerable impact through their writings and translations and/or as founders of American Buddhist religions.

The 1960s-1990s also saw an increase in academic studies of Buddhism and in the offering of numerous courses in Buddhism at American colleges and universities. A number of Buddhist schools were founded (e.g., the fully accredited Naropa Institute in Denver, Colorado, the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, and the College of Oriental Studies in Los Angeles). Publications promoting Buddhism are on the rise. One of the most influential of Buddhist publications is the quarterly Tricycle. Buddhist psychotherapy is prominent within the pages of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the most scholarly periodical of the so-called "fourth force" psychology (behind psychoanalysis, behaviorism and humanistic psychology). There are now publishers who have devoted themselves to expanding Buddhist literature and influence in the United States (e.g., Shambala of Boston). Buddhism also has many indirect influences, as in Werner Erhard’s est and The Forum.*

Perhaps all this explains why there may now be as many as 6,000,000 Buddhists in the United States, only slightly behind the Muslims. How did America come to smile on Buddha?

After the landmark meeting in Chicago of the "World Parliament of Religions" in 1893, Buddhist teachers and missionaries began to arrive, namely, D.T. Suzuki, Nyogen Senzaki and others who in turn helped originate a growing Buddhist subculture in America. The new faith was soon popularized by American devotees such as Christmas Humphreys and Alan Watts and "beat writers" Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. (Alan Watts had maintained that Buddhism enabled him to "get out from under the monstrously oppressive God the Father.") The recent waves of Indochinese war refugees continued to bring Buddhist peoples to America. Between 1970 and 1980, the U.S. population increased by 11 percent; in that same period the Asian population increased by over 140 percent. There are now an estimated 10 million Asians living in America, making them the third largest minority, behind blacks and Hispanics. These facts alone underscore the need for the evangelical church to undertake an active encounter with Buddhism.
 

Buddhism in the World
Buddhism encompasses both the teachings ascribed to Gautama Siddhartha (the Buddha) (c. 563-483 B.C.) as well as the subsequent, if questionable, development of this thought in later centuries. Almost innumerable forms exist. Some 200 sects can be found in Japan alone, many of them opposing one another in doctrine or practice. Our analysis must be recognized as being general, for there is no doctrinally precise Buddhism in the same sense that there is a doctrinally precise Christianity.** Still, nearly all Buddhism accepts certain key teachings. These are a) the four noble truths, b) the eight-fold path, c) the impermanence and/or ultimate nonexistence of all dharmas (things, events), and d) the need for enlightenment (liberation through awareness) in one form or another. We will discuss these later.

Other common beliefs in Buddhism involve the following:

    1. The Three Jewels—(also known as "the Three Refuges"), Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. These refer to 1) following the Buddha, the enlightened one; 2) accepting the Buddha’s Dharma or teaching; and 3) living in harmony with the Sangha, the Buddhist community. In other words, one finds refuge in the Buddha, his teachings and the Buddhist community.

    2. The Five Precepts—
    These involve rules of ethical practice (e.g., abstaining from harming all living things (ahimsa), false speech, sexual misconduct, etc.).

    3. The Ten Precepts—These include the five precepts but add to them the aspiration to abstain from certain activities, e.g., accepting gold or silver, taking untimely meals, dancing and singing, forms of personal adornment and taking high seats or seats of honor.

The hundreds of millions of Buddhists worldwide can be divided into two broad schools, the Theravada and Mahayana.* While the Mahayanist is by far the largest, the Theravada is generally held to be "original," i.e., "true" Buddhism. (According to the majority opinion then, Mahayanism developed centuries later.) The Theravada school is the only survivor of some 18 sects that arose in the first four centuries after Buddha’s death. The sects were collectively termed Hinayana or "lesser vehicle" by the Mahayanists (meaning "greater vehicle"). According to some, the term Hinayana was used because in the Hinayanist perspective enlightenment (or "salvation"), due to the rigors of the path, was possible for only a select few, whereas the later Mahayanists made enlightenment the possibility of all. According to others, the terms are used as follows: Hinayana Buddhists are those who seek to reach enlightenment merely for their own personal welfare, whereas Mahayana Buddhists seek to help others attain enlightenment as well, even though this involves the obligation to reincarnate time and time again until all "sentient beings" have attained enlightenment.

Geographically, Theravada is "Southern Buddhism" (the national religion of Thailand, Ceylon, Laos, Cambodia and Burma, now Myanmar); Mahayana is "Northern Buddhism" (China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Nepal). In the U.S., two typical Mahayanist schools are Zen and Nichiren Buddhism.

Although Buddhism may be broadly classified into these two schools, the Theravada and Mahayanist, many Buddhist scholars refer to three schools, adding the controversial Tibetan or Tantric Buddhism as a separate school.

The first Buddhist scriptures were written down by Theravadin monks about 400 years after the Buddha lived. These scriptures were written on palm leaves and became known as the Tipitaka or Pali Canon. The former term means "three baskets" and refers to the three-fold division of the scriptures termed Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka.

The first division, the Vinaya Pitaka, involves discipline for Buddhist monks concerning the 227 rules by which they are to live. The second division, the Sutta Pitaka constitutes the teachings of the Buddha on the four noble truths and the eight-fold path, as well as popular Buddhist literature that comprises the Dhammapada and the Jataka Tales. (The Dhammapada constitutes an anthology of the Buddha’s sayings while the Jataka Tales are stories of the previous lives of the Buddha.) The Abhidhamma Pitaka involves philosophical teachings that underscore how Buddhists understand the meaning and purpose of life.

As Buddhism spread outward in different geographical directions, a number of different doctrines and scriptures developed. The Theravada school believes that scriptural authenticity is determined by the texts that were allegedly derived from the Buddha’s teachings. However, the Mahayana school added additional scriptures it claimed were just as authoritative, even though these scriptures had little to do with the Buddha’s teaching as handed down by the Theravadin school. These scriptures characteristically seemed to have originated by mystical revelations and "vary in form and introduce both mythological and philosophical features not found in the Theravada." [3] Some general differences between the Theravadin and Mahayana schools include:

Buddha is a human teacher
Complete self-effort for enlightenment
Gods are rejected
Prayer equals meditation
Anti-supernatural
Attains the state of Buddhahood (nirvana apart from the world; one can only help oneself)
Atheism/agnosticism
Nirvana replaces Samsara (existence)

Buddha is an enlightened, supermundane, eternal being
Self-effort is necessary, however additional help from Buddha, Bodhisattvas, (Buddhist "saviors") and Buddhist gods is accepted
Gods are accepted
Prayer may also be petitionary
The supernatural is accepted
Attains the state of Bodhisattva (nirvana in the world; e.g., a Bodisattva post-pones nirvana to help others find it) 
Atheism, agnosticism and/or polytheism
Nirvana is Samsara (existence) 

Footnotes:

1. Werner Erhard Interview, New Age Journal, No. 7, p. 20.

2. William Warren Bartley, III, Werner Erhard the Transformation of a Man: The Founding of Est (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1978) p. 121, italics in original).

3. Clive Erricker, Buddhism (Chicago, IL: NTC Publishing, 1995), p. 65, cf., 61-65.

 

Calvary-Bar

 

Part 2

The Buddha and His Teaching
According to Buddhist history, Siddhartha Gautama was raised in a wealthy family, sheltered and protected from life’s unpleasantness and tragedies. One day, however, he saw the world as it really was. In observing a decrepit old man, a corpse, a diseased man and a beggar, he realized the fundamental condition of man was one of suffering. For the Buddha, the essential problem of humanity was not really one of sin or selfishness or rebellion against God, as Christianity teaches. It was suffering and misery. But how could suffering be alleviated? This occupied the Buddha’s thoughts and he eventually received "enlightenment" on the matter. Buddha formulated the foundation of Buddhism: the four noble truths and the eightfold path. [4]

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path
From a Christian perspective, Siddhartha attempted to find a solution to the symptoms of man’s problem instead of the basic or underlying problem itself. Thus, suffering and misery in life are caused largely by sin and rebellion against God. By rejecting God and the dynamics of man’s relationship to God, Buddha’s only option was to deal with symptoms (e.g., suffering) instead of causes (e.g., sin). This basic misdiagnosis conditions everything subsequent in Buddhism.

In brief, the four noble truths are, 1) all life involves suffering, 2) suffering is caused by desire (e.g., "selfish" craving defined, in part, as the desire to exist as an independent self), 3) desire can be overcome, and 4) the means to overcome desire is the eightfold path.

The eightfold path consists of the proper or correct exercise of eight conditions or actions which aim at eliminating desire and hence suffering. These include 1) right vision (knowledge or views), 2) right conception (aspirations), 3) right speech, 4) right behavior (conduct), 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right concentration or mindfulness, and 8) right one-pointed contemplation (or meditation). However, we must remember to interpret these eight requirements from a Buddhist rather than a Western or Christian perspective. Since these are defined in light of a Buddhist worldview and its presuppositions, they take on distinctly Buddhist implications. As such, they are implicitly or explicitly non-Christian. In fact, given Buddhist premises, the Christian worldview is easily considered a spiritual detriment. [5] For example, right understanding is the correct understanding and acceptance of the four noble truths and the Buddhist perception of the world and self. Right concentration or mindfulness in the sense of awareness of one’s own actions is achieved by meditation (often leading to occult states of trance and/or development of psychic powers). Right morality "does not consist in passive obedience to a code imposed by a God..." but is determined by tradition (ultimately determined by the Buddha, i.e., the first Buddhist traditions). [6]


The Law of Dependent Origination
The dilemma of man’s suffering is exemplified by the Buddhist "law of dependent origination" which asserts that, in a vicious cycle, existence itself perpetuates suffering. Thus, existence itself (which is comprised of an ever impermanent flux of phenomena, both mental and physical) causes corresponding effects. These effects result in more impermanent phenomena. These in turn cause ignorance of the permanent state (nirvana). Such ignorance of reality brings more harmful desires—which results in suffering—which brings karmic rebirth. All this causes the perpetuation of a bondage to individual existence from which there is no escape. So how does the Buddhist escape from the endless round of desire, karma and more desire? In order to understand the Buddhist solution, we must first understand how Buddhism views reality.

In Buddhism, existence is believed to be made up of extremely temporary, ever changing phenomena or aggregates. These are termed dharmas or skandhas. Dharmas constitute experiential moments, i.e., the building blocks of existence. (In another definition, Dharma means Buddhist Law, i.e., Buddha’s teachings). [7] Skandhas refer to the five aggregates making up the person—1) the body, 2) feelings, 3) perceptions, 4) volition, impulses and emotions, 5) consciousness. [8] It is maintained that existence, by its very nature, is so fleeting that none of its components can, in any sense, be held to be permanent. Such phenomena (broken down to their constituent parts) exist for so short a time (e.g., nano-seconds) that they cannot be said to constitute anything even resembling permanence. However, reality must be something permanent if it is to be real. That which is impermanent cannot be real. Hence, one must transcend all impermanence and arrive at nirvana, the only permanent and real state of existence. [9]

Naturally, if our existence is impermanent and "unreal," the logical solution is to eradicate our personal existence and achieve permanence, that alone which is real. As noted, this is the Buddhist goal: to attain the state of nirvana.

Again, the Buddhist view of phenomenal existence (things, man, the universe) is that it is in such a state of constant flux and impermanence that, ultimately, it has no reality in any meaningful, personal, eternal sense. It is not, for example, that the ego does not exist; it "exists" as the sum of its various constituents which are in constant flux, and as such it can be perceived and distinguished as a separate entity. Still, our existence has no reality in the sense of being something permanent, for the Buddhist concept of impermanence does not believe anything phenomenal can be permanent long enough to be real. Thus, even the perception of the individual self is a delusion:

Separate individual existence is really an illusion, for the self has neither beginning nor ending, is eternally changing, and possesses only a phenomenal existence. [10]

Existence consists of dharmas, things or objects, but what can be said of these objects? They are all impermanent and changing, and nothing can be said of them at one moment which is not false the next. They are as unreal as the atman [self] itself. [11]

One Buddhist scripture complains that the "foolish common people do not understand that what is seen is merely [the product of] their own mind. Being convinced that there exists outside a variety of objects...they produce false imaginings." [12] Reminiscent of advaita Vedanta, other scriptures liken conventional reality to a magical illusion, a mirage and a dream. [13] Buddhism tells us that since reality as we perceive it does not exist, one should arrive at this awareness and come to that state which alone is permanent, the state of nirvana. Ostensibly, this state lies somewhere "in-between" personal existence (which it isn’t) and complete annihilation (which it also, allegedly, isn’t). Recognition of this Buddhist truth is held to be an enlightened state of being, for one now understands what is real and what is not real.

Essentially, Buddhism is a religion with one principal goal: to eliminate individual suffering by attaining the permanent state. In attaining this goal it does not look to God for help, but, paradoxically, only to the impermanent: to man himself. And in spite of its denial of any permanent reality to man, Buddhism is essentially, if paradoxically, a humanistic faith that, in the end, destroys what it virtually worships: man as man. As Hendrik Kraemer, former professor of the History of Religions at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, asserts:

Buddhism teaches with a kind of prophetic rigour that what really matters is man and his deliverance, and nothing else.... Behind the screen of sublime philosophies and mystical and ethical "ways" to deliverance, or in the garb of fantastic textures of magic and occultism, man remains the measure of all things. [14]

In Buddhism, man has no savior but himself; hence men and women only need look inward for deliverance. "Since Buddhism does not have a God, it cannot have somebody who is regarded as God’s prophet or messiah." [15] Buddhism, then, is 1) atheistic, practically speaking, 2) agnostic, in that most Buddhists don’t really care if a supreme God exists (irrespective of the polytheism of later Buddhism) and 3) anti-theistic, in that belief in a supreme Creator God as in Christianity tends to get in the way of personal liberation.

In the next article we will turn to a discussion of Buddhist philosophy where these ideas are discussed more fully.

Footnotes:

4. For a description of these in more detail see Richard A. Gard (ed.), Buddhism (NY: George Braziller, Inc., 1961), pp. 106-167.

 5.  F.L. Woodward, trans., Some Sayings of the Buddha (NY: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 124-125.

 6. Alexandria David-Neel, Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Its Methods (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1977), p. 25; Charles Prebish, "Doctrines of Early Buddhists," in Buddhism: A Modern Perspective (ed.), Charles S. Prebish (University Park & London: Pennsylvania University Press, 1975), p. 30.

 7. See e.g., T.O. Ling, A Dictionary of Buddhism: A Guide to Thought and Tradition (NY: Charles Schribners’ Sons, 1972), pp. 96-97.

 8 Ibid., pp. 156-158.

 9. Nyanatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary (Colombo, Ceylon: Frewin and Company, Ltd., 1972), pp. 105-107.

10. J.N.D. Anderson (ed.), The World’s Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1968), p. 124. See the Dhyayitamushti-sutra quoted in The History of Buddhist Thought, Edward J. Thomas, (London: Reutledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1975), p. 223.

11. Edward J. Thomas, The History of Buddhist Thought, p. 218. He cites, Sutta-Nipata 1119; Majjhima 121, 122 Samy. iv, 54; the two Prajnaparmita-hrdaya-sutras, etc.

12. Edward Conze et al. (eds.), Buddhist Texts Through the Ages (NY: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1954), p. 212 citing Lankavatara Sutra, 90-96.

13. Ibid., pp. 215-216 citing Asanga Mahayanasamgraha II, 27, including Vasubandhu’s comments.

14. Hendrik Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publ., 1977), pp. 174-175, 177.

15. Walt Anderson, Open Secrets, A Western Guide to Tibetan Buddhism (NY: Viking Press, 1979), p. 23.

 

Part 3
The following discussion further illustrates how Buddhism seeks to eliminate that which Christianity sees as foundational: 1) the glorification of God and Christ, 2) a real permanent existence, and 3) personal individual salvation:


1) Buddhism rejects the God of Christian Worship
In his three volume Hinduism and Buddhism, Sir Charles Eliot acknowledges that: "On the whole it is correct to say that Buddhism (except perhaps in very exceptional sects) has always taken and still takes a point of view which has little in common with European theism. The world is not thought of as the handiwork of a divine personality, nor the moral law as his will." [18] As several Buddhists have told us, "the Christian God is entirely irrelevant." A former Buddhist told us, "One of my favorite Tibetan Lamas told me: ‘We simply don’t have a clue what these Jews and Christians mean when they talk about their God.’"


2) Buddhism Rejects Real, Permanent Existence
While Theravada believes normal reality is temporarily "real," it is nevertheless insubstantial, impermanent, in a continual state of flux. It is not eternally real, permanent or absolute. Thus, Theravada would deny the universe will have an eternal existence, as Christianity teaches, because only nirvana is permanent. For Theravada nirvana is set in contrast to samsara, which is the world of impermanent existence as we know it.

The Mahayanists, on the other hand, believe that in addition to its constant flux, the universe is "empty"—that is, broken down to its smallest components, the universe is "nothing" in and of itself and ultimately "non-existent." We see this Mahayanist perspective in Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Methods by Tibetan Buddhist Alexandra David-Neel:

The elements called illusion, desire, karma, and birth, which constitute the individual life, have no real existence in the absolute meaning of this word; they have none even in the restricted sense as regards the conditions of life in samsara. The rope which was taken for a snake is not in itself a snake, nor is it ever a snake, either in the darkness or in the light. What is it, then, that is called phenomenal reality (samsara)? Obsessed by the unreal demons of their "ego" and their "mind," stupid people—those who are of the world—imagine that they can perceive separate entities, whereas in reality these do not exist.... [19]


3) Buddhism Rejects Christian Salvation as Ignorance
Buddhists have no concept of a personal creator in the Christian sense and no concept of a savior in the Christian sense. In Buddhism, the concept of salvation in a Christian sense is not only irrelevant, it is even spiritually dangerous. Why? Because it seeks to save and perpetuate an illusion, the false self.

Christianity thus "glorifies" the "lower self," i.e., man created in the image of God. But according to Buddhism, any desire to affirm this image and perpetuate it eternally would logically be considered evil: "Desire in itself is not evil. It is desire to affirm the lower self, to live in it, cling to it, identify oneself with it, instead of with the Universal self, that is evil." [20] But this is the essence of what it means to be human according to Christianity.

In a clinging to temporal existence, to the personal desires which Christianity finds good (e.g., the desire to glorify God and to live the Christian life), in hoping for personal immortality—and much more that is Christian—all these, according to Buddhism, constitute an ignorant approach to life preventing enlightenment, or true salvation.

By definition then, Christianity insulates against and prevents Buddhist enlightenment through its belief in God, dualism, an individual spirit, the importance of Christian living, in its trust in an atoning Savior, even in the utility of suffering for salvation and sanctification (e.g., Romans 5:3-11; 1 Peter 4:19; 1 John 2:2), etc. The reverse is also true; Buddhism insulates against and prevents biblical salvation. Where God, Christ and the atonement are denied, there can be no salvation. How then can Buddhism look with favor upon a Christianity which opposes its first loves? More graphically, how can the serene and compassionate Buddha sit and smile unperturbed at the bloody cross? In Buddhism: "Ignorance, then, is not only lack of knowledge, but wrong knowledge; it is that which hides things and prevents one from seeing them as they are in reality." 21 And, "There is no mention of a Supreme Divinity, nor any promise of superhuman aid for suffering humanity. " [22]

In Conversations: Christian and Buddhist, Father Dom Aelred Graham (author of Zen Catholicism) talked with various Buddhists, in this case Buddhist instructor Fujimoto Roshi. Roshi is speaking:

Father Graham asked whether it is possible for a Christian to attain Enlightenment. I would say that it is. However, as long as Christians are attached to the Christianity [i.e., exclusivistic, doctrinal Christianity], as they have been, it is not possible. [23]

In light of our discussion to date, we must conclude that Buddhism and Christianity are antagonistic to one another; only when this fact is accepted will Christians feel the necessity to uncompromisingly share the truth of Christ with Buddhists; only then will Buddhists recognize an urgent choice is to be made:

    Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)

    Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

    And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

    The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (I John 5:10-12)

 

Notes:

18. Sir Charles Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism, Vol. I. (NY: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1971), p. xcv.

19. Alexandria David-Neel, Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Its Methods (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977, p. 247.

20. Stephen Neill, Christian Faith and Other Faiths (2nd ed.) (Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 117.

21. Ibid., p. 51.

22. Ibid., p. 28.

23. Dom Aelred Graham, Conversations: Christian and Buddhist (NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1968), p. 104, second emphasis added.

 

Part 5
In the following charts, we compare and contrast Buddhism with the beliefs of Christianity. These charts illustrate the problems involved when people claim that Buddhism and Christianity are compatible or complementary. These charts are listed without comment and are intended to provide a quick visual contrast outlining important differences.


Buddhist Teaching Christian Salvation..

CHART ONE
BUDDHISM VS. CHRISTIANITY (Also See Section Why Christianity?)

Seeks release from suffering.

Seeks knowledge of God and His glory.

"Unreal" (impermanent) world.

Real world

Nihilistic, pessimistic outlook.

Hopeful, optimistic outlook.

No God or Savior exists

One God and Savior exists.

Apologetic centered in subjective experience.

Apologetic centered in objective history.

Trusts self.

Trusts God.

Morality self-derived

Morality based on the infinitely holy character of God.

Devalues man (e. g., man is a bundle of flux; the body is evil, the mind is deceptive).

Dignifies man (e. g., man is made in God’s own image; the believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; the mind is good and glorifies God).

Activity and individual life are "evil" and hamper salvation.

Activity and individual life are good and glorify God.

Atheistic/polytheistic.

Theistic. Personal ultimate reality

Often anti-social.

Responsible social action.

Enlightened by works.

Salvation by grace.

Mysticism and the occult are spiritual activities.

Mysticism and the occult are rejected as evil and as being opposed to God’s best interests for mankind.

The afterlife constitutes an impersonal, uncertain nirvana.

The afterlife is clearly delineated and involves personal immortality.

Spiritual truth is discovered by disciplined effort.

Spiritual truth is revealed by God.

 

 

CHART TWO
BUDDHA VS. JESUS (Also See Section on Jesus)

Buddha is dead.

Jesus is alive.

In many ways the Buddha is a mystery (no contemporary biographies exist)—"apart from the legends we know very little about the circumstances of his life." [36]

Jesus was a historic person of whom four reliable, early biographies were penned. "It is a historic fact that Jesus Christ lived and taught what the New Testament says He taught."37

Teachings uncertain.

Teachings certain.

Buddha was only a man: "Notwithstanding his own objectivity toward himself, there was constant pressure during his lifetime to turn him into a god. He rebuffed all these categorically, insisting that he was human in every respect. He made no attempt to conceal his temptations and weaknesses, how difficult it had been to attain enlightenment, how narrow the margin by which he had won through, how fallible he still remained." [38]

Jesus is incarnate God, "I am the light of the world"; "I am the way, the truth and the Life"; "He who believes in me will never die"; "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." "I and the Father are one." "You believe in God, believe also in Me." "All that the father has is Mine." "All power and authority in heaven and earth have been given to me."—Jesus [38 ]

Non-theistic worldview. 

Theistic worldview.

A way-shower; Buddha as a person is unnecessary for achieving enlightenment.

The Savior; salvation is impossible apart from the Person of Jesus.

Encouraged men to follow a philosophy.

Encouraged men to follow Him.

Never appealed to faith.

Stressed the importance of faith in God and Himself. (Jn. 17.3)

Rejected God. 

Called God His own Father.

Undogmatic.

Dogmatic.

Offered an alleged way between the temporal and the eternal.

Taught He was the only way between the temporal and the eternal.

CHART THREE
BUDDHIST ENLIGHTENMENT VS. CHRISTIAN SALVATION (See Section on Salvation)

Man’s nature remains fundamentally unchanged; the individual Buddhist accomplishes "enlightenment" but this is only a new perspective on life undergirded by carefully cultivated altered states of consciousness (the experience of "nirvana" in meditation).

Man’s nature is changed forever. This is accomplished wholly by God and constitutes an inner change of one’s nature (regeneration) a new legal standing before God (justification) and, logically, a corresponding "outer" transformation (sanctification).

Eradicates "ignorance" of the truths of Buddhism and ostensibly, in the end, suffering.

Eradicates sin.

History is ultimately irrelevant; salvation is experientially based and possible through mysticism. Inner experience supplants historical concerns. The person of Buddha is irrelevant to the process of enlightenment.

Historically based; salvation is objectively based and impossible apart from the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The believer is ultimately saved from the problems of this life; sin is not forgiven. 

The believer is ultimately saved from divine judgment; all sins are forgiven.

Humanistic: man instituted.

Theological: God instituted.

Escapist (salvation from the world). .

Realist (salvation of the world, i.e., of all believers)

One cannot be reconciled to an impersonal nirvana, one can only "realize" it or "achieve" it; technically, one cannot even experience it.

Reconciliation to God

Eternal existence allegedly constitutes an ineffable existence somewhere in between (i.e., not comprising either) total annihilation or personal immortality (i.e., "the void").

 Eternal life constitutes personal immortality and fellowship with a loving God.

Derives from a finite source of change utilizing the power of self-perfection.

Derives from an infinite source of change utilizing the power of divine grace.

Ultimate Reality is the experience of emptiness or ineffable impersonal "existence."

Ultimate Reality is the infinite personal triune God.

Faith is denied or placed in Buddhist gods plus works.

Based on faith in Christ alone apart from works.

CHART FOUR
BUDDHIST TEACHING VS CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURE

"Those who, relying upon themselves only, shall not look for assistance to any one besides themselves, it is they who shall reach the topmost height." [39]

"Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.’" (Jer. 17:5)

"By this ye shall know that a man is not my disciple—that he tries to work a miracle." 40 

"But many of the multitude believed in Him; and they were saying, "When the Christ shall come, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?’" (John 7:31)

"One thing I teach," said Buddha: "suffering and the end of suffering…. It is just ill and the ceasing of ill that I proclaim." [41

"But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." (1 Pet. 4:13,19)

"The self we think to be true and important is pure illusion, and a lie that is the cause of a large proportion of human suffering." [42]

 "And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them…. Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." (Gen. 1:27; 2:7)

"Perhaps the greatest difference between Buddhism and Christianity is that Buddhism very explicitly does not require an act of faith." [43]

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Heb. 11:6)

"There is no permanent self in Buddhism. In fact. Nothing is permanent." [44]

 "Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and Thy dominion endures throughout all generations…. But Thou, O Lord, dost abide forever." (Psa. 145:13; 102:12a)

"Do not believe in that which you have yourselves imagined, thinking that a god has inspired it." [45]

"All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

"According to Buddhism the universe evolved, but it did not evolve out of nothingness; it evolved out of the dispersed matter of a previous universe, and when this universe is dissolved, its dispersed matter—or, its residual energy which is continually renewing itself—will in time give rise to another universe in the same way. The process is therefore cyclical and continuous. The universe is composed of millions of millions of world-systems like our solar system, each with its various planes of existence." [46]

 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1). "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." (Heb. 11:3)

Footnotes:
36. David-Neel, p. 15.
37. Norman Geisler, A Popular Survey of the Old Testament (Chicaco, IL: Moody Press, 1978), p. 11.
38. Houston Smith, The Religions of Man, p. 99.
39. Smith, p. 107, quoting E.A. Burt (ed.), The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha (NY: Mentor, 1955), p. 50.
40. Smith, p. 108.
41. Woodward (tr.), p. XXI.
42. Ibid., p. 109.
43. Walt Anderson, p. 26.
44. Ibid., p. 32.
45. David-Neel, p. 123.
46. Neill, p. 121, citing Maha Thera U Tittila in The Path of the Buddha (ed.), K.W. Morgan, (1956), pp. 77-78.

Index To Buddhism

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