has enjoyed a presence in American culture sends Chinese laborers came
to San Francisco in the 1820s bringing with them their customs, new
foods, and a new religion. By
1975, it is estimated “there were 400 ‘joss houses’ in California
– usually incense-soaked, top-story dens, crowded with ancestral
relics, little lacquered Buddhas, and dusty sutra scrolls.”
Several prominent westerners had been captivated by Oriental
wisdom and were busy incorporating these new philosophies into American
culture. Henry David
Thoreau for example, "fell in love with the Lotus Sutra” which is
a third century Buddhist text. He
subsequently translated and published much of these works popularizing a
new religion and culture throughout the counterculture in America..
Buddhist gradually became incorporated into mainstream America
for more than 100 years, but it was not until the 1960s that Buddhism
gained a true foothold in this country.
Buddhist authors D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts (a former
Episcopalian priest) made Zen
(a form of Buddhism) a household name in America.
Zen Buddhism also has many
different schools and interpretations further complicating the study
of this fascinating approach to life.
There many books that spanned 30 years "opened the door for
westerners to become Buddhists, not just study its message."
Another major wave of Asian immigrants hit American shores in 1978. These new immigrants came from war-torn Southeast Asia countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma. Within only a few years, more than one million Buddhists had relocated to the United States taking with them their cultures and religion. Hundreds of small temples sprang up across the country from coast to coast drawing membership from many ethnic groups – even African-American. Eventually, two types of Buddhist groups emerged; ethnic Asian Buddhists and ethnic American Buddhists.
Buddhists were bound together not only by their religious beliefs, but
also by their shared culture and ethnic background.
American Buddhists on the other hand were drawn to the
philosophical aspects of Buddhism that they largely divorced from the
more ethnic elements of the religion.
Buddhism, once a religion confined mainly to Southeast Asia, is
now a popular faith in the West. American
converts to Buddhism number in the hundreds of thousands and included
many notable celebrities, a loan these: Joan Baez, Tina Turner, Richard
Gere, Larry Hageman, and Harrison Ford.
In 1993 there were approximately 1000 Buddhist temples,
monasteries, and centers of Buddhist learning throughout the United
States. Some of the centers
are multimillion dollar "learning complexes." These large repositories of Buddhist teachings promote
Buddhism on an unprecedented scale.
However, most temples, especially the Asian once, are very
austere and often located in private homes in residential areas were in
small industrial parks, and are supported on a marginal level by members
and community fund-raising efforts such as bingo games.
are literally hundreds of different forms of Buddhism,
and all of them may be traced back to the essential teachings of a man
named Suddhartha Gautama – the Buddha.
The Buddha is a Sanskrit title meaning "enlightened."
It can be applied to other enlightened teachers, but it "is
particularly applied to Gautama, the founder of Buddhism."
It is with Gautama that any study of Buddhism must begin.
scholars agree that a historically accurate picture of the Buddhist life
is impossible to reconstruct. The
first narratives about hand were not written until approximately 400
years after his death, and devotees greatly embellished the accounts of
his life, actions, and words. Take
for example the following story of the Buddha's birth:
child comes forth from his mother while she is standing up and holding
onto a branch of the sacred tree. He
is completely free of any after birth and is immediately able to walk
and talk. He takes seven
steps in each of the cardinal directions and proclaims himself ruler of
exaggerations of this kind about the Buddha, a rough outline of his life
can be made. However, we
must continuously keep in mind that beyond archeological evidence
proving his store coexistence, there is furry little known about the
circumstances of his life. What
we do know is that the India into which he was born had been shaped
religiously by Brahmanism, and agent religion established their more
than 3000 years ago by the Aryan conquerors of the indigenous peoples of
the Indian subcontinent. The
Aryans were "a powerful group of Indo-European speaking
people" the united them under an umbrella of religious philosophy
that became Hinduism. These
invading conquerors of the Indus Valley forced their vanquished flows to
adapt Brahmanism which later developed into part of Hinduism for two
reasons: first, to maintain Aryan ethnic purity and, secondly, to
subjugation to the native Indians both spiritually and socially.
Brahmanism was able to accomplish these goals because of its
caste system which is a rigid set of rules that divided all persons into
the following social and religious classes:
was born into this culture in about 563 B.C..
His father apparently reigned over a small district on the Indian
slope of the Himalayas in a region that now Warders between India in
Nepal, in northeastern India. Shortly
after Gautama’s birth, a hermit named Asita allegedly had envisioned
love "the rejoicing of the gods at the birth of the man supreme,
who was born for the welfare and bliss of all the world."
Asita subsequently traveled to Buddhist fatherss royal court
where he was shown in the child. The
hermit allegedly prophecy to the following:
prince, if he remains in the palace, when grown up, will become a great
King, and subjugate the whole world.
But if he forsakes the court life to embrace a religious life, he
will become a Buddha, the savior of the world.
Suddhodana, believing that contact with human misery would prompt the
boy to leave home in search of spiritual truth, immediately ordered his
service to forever shield the prince from all contact with evil and
suffering. It is said that
in order to distract him from the cares of the world, the King gave his
son many possessions including three palaces and 40,000 dancing girls.
than has its that's when the Buddha reached the age of sixteen, five
hundred women were sent to him as prospective brides.
Eventually he chose as his bride his cousin Yasodhara.
According to one account, he won her hand by performing
"twelve marvelous feats in the art of archery."
life was unfolding as his father had planned until the young prince, how
to be their curiosity or discontent, eluded his royal attendants and
ventured out into the outside world.
Over a series of several days he visited a nearby park where he
made some disturbing observations.
The prince first saw an old man, bent over by advanced age.
On the next day he saw a deceased person, possibly someone with
leprosy. During his third
visit, the prince viewed a corpse.
When he took another visit on day four, he met a monk who
practiced self-denial. The boy was never quite the same after his visits to the
park. He concluded that
life is nothing but an experience plagued by sorrow.
Why is there so much suffering and life? How can man escape what seems to be an inescapable round of
torment? Is there no end to
pain and suffering? To
answer these and other questions, he left home and began a spiritual
quest for truth. Some say
that he departed on every night that his wife gave birth to their son,
about six years, the young prince wondered about as a poor beggar
studying meditation and philosophy.
His pilgrimage eventually led him to two yogis or spiritual
teachers. He attempted to
follow their path of spirituality by eating nothing but seeds and grass,
eventually reducing his diet to only a single grain of rice each day.
In one experiment, "he ate only dung."
he met and joined the Company of five months with mean he practiced
various methods of asceticism. She
lay on thorns, or rough textured clothes, and refused to sit, choosing
instead to always crouch on his heels.
See "gave up cleansing his body until the dirt was so thick
that would fall from his body of its own weight."
He would hold his breath "until it felt as though someone
were forcing a heated soared through his goal." He even "slept in a yard where rotting human corpses
were laid out to be eaten by vultures and scavengers."
had hoped to attain an understanding of life through self-denial but
failed. He did however,
gained a realization that neither asceticism nor extravagant living
which he had experienced earlier in the royal court, brought
"truth" an ear. There
existed a better path, the Middle Way.
A good illustration of this path can be seen in a strained
musical instrument: "if the strings are strung too losely, they will
not play. On the other
hand, if they are strung too tightly, they will break."
the Buddha demonstrated this realization by eating a normal meal in
front of his fellow monks, they deserted him.
He then headed for Gaya (a major city on the northeast coast of
India). There, beneath a
full name in May, the spread a mat under a fig tree on the banks of the
Meranjana River and assumed the “lotus” position (sitting in a
modified cross laid position). He
vowed to remain there in that position until he understood life's
mysteries. It was his 36th
sitting in his mind "like a hummingbird poised in midair," the
Buddha began meditating. Within
several hours he allegedly saw an "infinite secession of deaths and
births and ever flowing stream of life."
In other words, he had envisioned that supported the doctrine of
reincarnation, a foundational teaching of the Brahmin religion in which
he had been raised.
with mind concentrated, purified, cleansed, I diverted my mind to the
passing away and rebirth of beings.
With defined, purified, superhuman envisioned I saw beings
passing away and being reborn, low and high, of good and bid color, and
happy were miserable existence is, according to their karma (in other
words, according to that universal law by which every act of good or
evil will be rewarded were punished either in this life or in some later
Buddha continued meditating until he reached complete enlightenment:
"I realized that rebirth had been destroyed, the holy life has been
lived, the job has been done, there is nothing after this." Along with his vision came an internal perception of how to
obtain liberation from samsara, where the cycle of rebirths.
The young prince had lost his ignorance about the nature of this
world and came to understand everything.
He had become the "awakened one," the "enlightened
According to Buddhist Scriptures, he remained under that tree in the state of bliss for seven weeks, after which he then faced his first dilemma: should he share what he had learned with others or keep his knowledge to himself? This may seem like an odd predicament to the Western mind, but in the eastern world, especially in Buddhist day, it was, for monks who had obtained wisdom to retreat from society with their knowledge. Blue to chose to remain in the public arena and apart what he had learned to the rest of humanity.
months later and nearly 100 miles from where he had achieved
enlightenment, the Buddha gave his first sermon.
Near the holy city of Benares (modern Veranasi) at Isipantana in
the Deer Park, and he presented an address called the "Wheel Of The
Divine." This sermon
contained the Four Noble Truths which would serve as the foundational
teachings of Buddhism.
of Buddhist teachings collectively called the dharma, deal with one
basic goal; how to escape samsara.
The samsara is the cycle of rebirths that is more commonly known
as reincarnation. Freedom
from samsara leads to Nirvana, which is commonly thought of as state of
complete deliverance from pain and suffering, a state of bliss-the
eastern equivalent of heaven.
dharma's entire purpose was to teach Buddhist's how to grass along the
path toward Nirvana. This
journey is a progressive one that can be achieved only by following the
Four Noble Truths, also called the wisdom of realization.
These truths in our brand,
The First Noble Truth
is full of sorrow and pain, and to believe that life is possible without
pain and suffering is to believe an illusion.
The first noble truth, or dukkha, is that every dimension and
part of life is saturated with pain.
According to the Buddha, most people do not accept this truth,
but rather try to alleviate this pain by deluding themselves that life
is full of happiness. However,
our happiness is only an illusion because iti s continuously overwhelmed
by pain and suffering.
anguish associated with the First Noble Truth is further magnified when
one considers the endless cycle of reincarnation associated with
Buddhist philosophy. Being
born again and again into a life full of pain and suffering is truly an
unbearable future. The
Buddha however, thought that the first step toward being released from
this cycle of rebirths was to recognize that life is but one long
experience of suffering and pain, and that all happiness is only an
The Second Noble Truth
Second Noble Truth, tanha, teaches that all unhappiness in this world is
due to “false desires of the senses that have been deceived into
clinging to the impermanent world.”
This is the center of the Buddhist doctrine; that “the cause of
suffering is desire, craving due to ignorance.”
is closely related to the Buddha’s idea that all things in life are
meaningless and insignificant because they are temporary, and upon a
reincarnation all of our reality will be different.
Ignorance of this truth (avidya) is a major obstacle that must be
overcome if one is to gain freedom from continuous reincarnations.
The first and second noble truths interact as follows:
Buddhist thinking, we are like people watching a movie who become
emotionally involved in the plot of that movie.
The movie is not real, and yet we invest emotion and time in
understanding and interacting with that unreality.
Such a relationship to unreality is caused not only by our
unfortunate attribution of reality to our experiences, but also by
affording these relationships an importance they do not have.
The Buddha taught that the “self” is nothing but a temporary
creation that suffers until nirvana is finally reached.
the “self” is merely a false image comprised of energy, memories,
thoughts, hopes, and fears and that believing that we are anything more
than this false image is the underlying cause of all greed, anger,
hatred, alienation, and aversion, as well as the destructive social
tendencies that arise from these behaviors.
The Third Noble Truth
is the Third Noble Truth, which teaches that the way out of suffering
lies in the ability to disengage oneself completely from the false
desires of the temporary and unimportant self.
We must learn to give up all the mental, emotional, and physical
cravings because these cravings are merely the expression of a
person’s delusion that the “self” is a permanent entity.
Abandonment of our earthly desires helps us recognize that the
“self” is but a brief arrangement of impersonal elements and helps
us to not invest time and energy into vain attempts to satisfy and
cultivate the self. Continued
rejection of all desires nullifies their effects upon our life and
allows us to rid ourselves of the delusion that our self has any real
long-term importance. This
understanding, along with good deeds in life, leads to the complete end
of suffering – nirvana.
Buddha’s teachings can be illustrated in the story of a Buddhist monk
named Sangamaji who also had left his wife and family in search for
truth as a homeless wanderer. His
wife approached him while he was meditating beneath a tree, and placed
his child before him. She
asked her husband to nourish her and their child.
Sangamaji remained silent until finally the woman took their
child from before him and left. The
Buddha, after observing the incident, reportedly commented, “He feels
no pleasure when she comes, no sorrow when she goes; a true Brahman
released from passion.”
The Fourth Noble Truth
Fourth Noble Truth represents the Buddhist’s life ethic that is based
upon realization of the first three truths, which provides practical
steps that will lead the aspirant along life’s journey toward nirvana.
The Buddha taught that this sacred path has eight branches that
comprise different aspects of the proper lifestyle and should be adopted
by anybody attempting to be delivered from suffering.
This is called the Noble Eightfold Path (marga):
ultimate purpose of this path is to be able to eliminate all selfish and
false desires, the key to obtaining nirvana.
Those who reach complete “purity of thought and life” become
an arahat, or somebody who is “freed form the necessity of rebirth,
ready for the peace of nirvana.”
Nirvana can only be achieved by those who rid themselves of all
is to know nirvana, to have achieved detachment and thereby liberations.
Herein is “Nothingness” experienced, awareness that true
Reality is empty of grasping, separative selfhood.
The religious life has been lived, the way out of the human
dilemma [reincarnation] has been found and followed, form this point
onward human life on earth is presumed to be lived in a new dimension of
who reach nirvana are freed forever from all the anxieties, fears, and
desires that plague others, for they have denounced and separated
themselves from all worldly desires and emotions.
They therefore will not be affected (at least to the same degree)
by the evil and sorrow that infects the world for they have separated
themselves from the world. They
are also freed “from the eternal round of decay, suffering, and
death.” They will never
again be reborn. It is a
state of mind marked in this life by a “sense of liberation, inward
peace and strength, insight into truth, the joy of complete oneness with
reality, and love toward all creatures in the universe.”
death, there is total annihilation.
This is the goal toward which Buddhists move; not toward an
afterlife with the Creator, but rather toward an annihilation which ends
the ageless cycle of being constantly reborn into pain and suffering.
This concept of nirvana is slightly different from the one
embraced by the Hindu. For
the Hindu, nirvana is reached when an individual soul is united with the
Universal Soul. This might
be considered the comparable to a raindrop (an individual soul) being
united with an ocean (Universal Soul).
The Buddha, on the other hand, believed that nirvana is reached
when, like a candle flame being blown out, a soul’s elements, along
with all individual identity, are extinguished.
is another idea that is shared between Hindus and Buddhists – but in a
slightly different fashion. According
to the Hindu concept of karma, one’s actions in this life determine
the kind of life into which the self or “soul” is reborn.
Thus, there is a kind of celestial justice at work, whereby
evildoers are reborn as some lowly creature while a great person in this
life might be reborn into even better circumstances.
According to the Buddhist concept of karma, however, one’s
“self” is not reborn in the next life; rather, what is reborn is
nothing but rearranged karmic matter that was once a particular
individual. The person, or the original self, that once lived no longer
exists. Eventually, through
successive rearrangements of karma, even those elements that comprised
the various persons will be extinguished forever – this is the
Buddhist idea of nirvana.
for most Buddhists, becoming a Buddhist monk is the only way to reach
nirvana from this present life. A
person must “abandon ordinary social living and join the monastic
community, which Buddha established for those sincere int heir quest for
liberation.” A person can
only reach nirvana by leaving behind family, friends, and occupation,
and joining a sangha (an alms-dependent order of Buddhist monks).
One might note therefore, that a Buddhist who is trying to
achieve nirvana and separation from the wheel of incessant reincarnation
is supported entirely by the voluntary donations of less righteous
are many different branches of Buddhism, each one interprets the
Buddha’s teachings a little differently and holds a number of
distinctive views. Various
Buddhist sects sometimes rely on their own holy writings which are not
recognized as authoritative by other Buddhists.
The three major sects within Buddhism are: Theravada (“more
monastic and conservative”), Mahayana (“more liberal and
lay-oriented”), and Vajrayana, or Tibetan (“the most esoteric”).
Theravada versus Mahayana
members of Buddha’s original sangha (or monastery) sought to organize
their master’s teachings into a system of doctrines upon which they
might agree. They
successfully did this and then began to share their beliefs with others.
Differences in understanding as to what the Buddha said or meant
inevitably arose because in accordance with the Indian tradition or oral
preservation none of his words were written down in his lifetime.
Such writings were not written down and compiled until about four
hundred years after the Buddha’s lifetime.
A severe fragmentation of Buddhism ensued due to differences in
interpretation and understanding over the dharma or doctrine of
Buddhism, and the first major rift occurred from about 200 B.C. or about
200 A.D., which led to the formation of two traditions still in
existence today – Theravada and Mahayana.
Theravada school teaches strict interpretation of the Buddha’s
teachings and is often termed the “fundamentalist branch” of
Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism includes individuals and schools who
subscribe to teachings that are “modifications and amplifications of
themes already present in the Teravadin heritage.”
When this division took place, the newer more liberal form of
Buddhism called their belief system Mahayana, which means the
“greater vehicle” of salvation, or the “expansive way.”
They then disdainfully labeled the original form of Buddhism the
Hinayana or the “lesser vehicle’ of salvation or the “exclusive
in both traditions look to the Buddha as their primary sourse of
inspiration and truth. But
Mahayanists, unlike Theravadins, recognize numerous other Buddhas and
bodhisttvas (those who help others toward enlightenment and nirvana).
These personalities are said to be manifestations of the Absolute
and along with the Buddha, are regularly prayed to for assistance –
and some are even worshipped as gods.
Theravada and Mahayana scriptures are different also. The Theravada tradition looks to the Pali Canon (written
about 80 B.C.) which was written in the Pali language.
The Pali Canon is divided into a number of suttas – is called
the Tripitaka or “three baskets.”
It is about eleven times as large as the Bible and arranged in
three main divisions: 1). The Sutta Pitaka (disrouces of Siddhartha); 2)
the Vinaya Pitaka (precepts and rules for the Sangha); and 3) the
Abidhamma Pitaka (esoteric and philosophical interpretations of the
Mahayana tradition accepts as authoritative an extensive list of textx
called sutras which were composed primarily between 600 and 100B.C.
The Chinese canon alone encompasses about 5,000 volumes.
Unlike the Theravadin suttas which are about 20 pages each, the
Mahayana sutras are very long. They
cannot be found in original form in only one language, but instead are
written in Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit.
Also, there is no clear limit to the Mahayana canon, recent
writings are constantly being added to the Mahayana scriptures.
This has forced most sects to choose favorite texts for their
The fact is that some such selection is necessary, for this extreme bulk
of and breadth of the scriptures make it impossible for believers to be
acquainted with, let along understand and practice, the often
contradictory teachings found in them.
of Mahayana also take a different view of Scriptures than do followers
of Theravada. The latter
ascribe value to the Pali Canon because of its literal message.
Mahayana Buddhists, however, attribute value to their holy
writings not only because of the message contained therein, but also
because they believe that the texts themselves possess magical powers
which may be drawn upon for protection and material success.
difference exists between Mahayana and Theravada traditions when it
comes to nirvana. To
Theravadins, escape from samsara – or the continued cycle of rebirth
– is nirvana. It is a
state marked by complete deliverance from all suffering and sorrow.
However, in the Mahayana tradition, the whole purpose of becoming
a bodhisattva is not to escape life, but to remain in life in order to
help others reach enlightenment. Thus,
the Mahayana may forsake escape from samsara in order to help others,
and believe nirvana means a “true state of spiritual perfection”
rather than escape from rebirth.
Thus the perfect Bodhisattva becomes aware that just by being a
Bodhisattva he is already in nirvana … For him nirvana and Samsara are
not two different realms … Paradoxically put … to renounce nirvana
for ourself, in love for others, is to find oneself in nirvana, in its
Despite their many differences, Theravada and
Mahayana Buddhists share many beliefs in common: 1) reincarnation, 2)
karma; 3) the world is constantly changing and is impermanent, 4) the
world’s changing nature brings suffering 5) liberation from suffering
is possible; 6: deliverance from rebirth and suffering takes place
through a change in consciousness; 7) a liberating change in
consciousness can be obtained only through following the teaching of the
Buddha and/or reliance upon the Buddha’s love and mercy.
Tibetan Buddhism – the Vajrayana
Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, and Lamaism is called the “diamond way”
which means by implication the precious, changeless, pure and clean way.
It developed during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. as
Buddhism spread through northern India, Nepal and finally Tibet.
that time, the predominant form of religion in Tibet was the Bon
religion which was a “mixture of shamanism [a form of witchcraft],
magic, and primitive nature worship.”
Vajrayaan was born when these practices along with magical
formulae designed to obtained magical powers, were incorporated into
Buddhism. Included in the
Tibetan Buddhist tradition are a number of advanced meditative
techniques: yoga, special hand gestures (mudras), spells, and chants.
The Tantras are a serious of sixth century scriptures associated
with the worship of Shakti, Mother of the Universe.
They are made available only to initiates of various Tantric
religions (Tibetan Buddhism is only one of the many Tantric belief
systems). The word
“tantra” basically means “loom” and refers more specifically to
the threads of a loom. This
expresses the foundational teaching of Tantraism – that all things are
interwoven into one ultimate reality.
Tantraism is also based on a variety of sex rituals that involve
“breathing exercises, meditation, and the prolonged sexual contact
known as maithuna.”
sexual philosophy within Tantric Buddhism is linked to a number of
ideals. There is the belief
that erotic love is a profound experience that “opens the mind to a
sense of awe and wonder akin to religious experience.”
Also present is the idea that during sexual intercourse there is
a transcending of boundaries between participants leading to an
experience of oneness with each other.
There exists the notion that the bets way to escape blinding
passion – in this case sexual lust – is to “go into the act that
is desired rather than to retreat from it.”
According to Walt Anderson, author of Open Secrets: A Western
Guide to Tibetan Buddhism, the Tantric Buddhist ideal is to yield: “Go
ahead and do it, whatever it is, if you think you must and it doesn’t
harm somebody else. But pay
attention; be fully aware of what goes on in your mind and body, of how
it really feels.”
agrees with Christianity in several areas.
First, most Buddhists are taught to live according to several
precepts that are in harmony with Christian Scriptures such as
refraining from stealing, not committing adultery, and not lying.
Buddhists believe in absolute morality, and do not believe sin
can be justified according to the circumstances.
Second, Buddhists believe that life is temporal and that nothing
that exists in this life has any eternality.
All things are limited, finite, and unable to sustain their own
existence. Indeed, to the
Buddhist, so fleeting is our life here that to attach any importance to
it is to manifest one’s ignorance of reality.
This sentiment is reflected in the words of Solomon,
Buddhists teach that all people are subject to suffering – indeed, the
issue of mankind’s suffering originally led the Buddha to his
conclusions regarding life. The
Bible again supports this belief. Pain,
affliction, and human misery are spoken of often in the Scripture
(genesis 3:16-19; Job 2:13; Hebrews 11:36-39).
Scripture teaches that while suffering is never a pleasant
experience, it can be used to our benefit. Honorable character traits
such as patience, humility, compassion, strength, faith, and repentance
are all encouraged under the stress of suffering and adversity (Psalm
119:67, 71; Lamentations 3:19-20; 2 Corinthians 1:4, 12:7; 1 Peter 1:7;
there are probably more differences between Buddhism and Christianity
than similarities. Buddhists
find no redeeming value whatsoever in suffering; rather, suffering is
only something to escape. One
does not grow through the experience of suffering; rather, it is
something to avoid if possible – but unfortunately, it is not
Buddhism does not intermittently intrude into human life; life is
on the other hand, view a redemptive purpose in suffering whether it be
through injury, illness, disappointment, or whatever cause. To the Christian, suffering is allowed by God (not caused by
God) and used by Him to shape and refine us for His eternal purposes.
The lessons that we learn through out suffering accumulate for us
an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17).
We are told to understand that there is good that can come out of
trials and tribulations (James 1:2) even though this good is frequently
unable to be understood at the time of our suffering..
most decisive difference between Buddhism and Christianity involves the
mode of deliverance from suffering and sin of this impermanent world.
According to the Buddha, everybody must escape reincarnation
through accumulation of good karma via good works, plus mental
disengagement from the false desires of the world.
Self-effort is the key to obtaining this good karma and
eventually nirvana – a state most often described as bliss marked by
the annihilation of the karmic elements that once comprised a temporary
personality. To the
Buddhist, there is not even a “self” to enjoy the deliverance that
will supposedly be gained through these efforts.
concept of reincarnation is clearly rebuffed by the Bible that indicates
that we only have one lifetime, after which comes the judgment of our
souls (Hebrew 9:27). Scripture
further points out that those who have come to faith in Christ- and only
those – will be in God’s presence immediately after death and not
reincarnated (Philippians 1:21-25; 2 Cor. 5:8).
Alternatively, those who have not known Christ will go to a place
of punishment (Job 21;30-34; Matthew 26:41; 2 Peter 2:9).
Ultimately however, both believer and unbeliever will be
resurrected bodily from the grave while each person’s soul is reunited
with their body in a glorified state (1 Cor. 15:51-52, 1 Thess.
4:14-18). Those who are
followers of Christ will be judged worthy to dwell with God throughout
all eternity based upon Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on the cross
as atonement for their sins (Hebrews 2:9).
Through faith in Christ, we receive the gift of God – eternal
life in His presence (John 3:16, Romans 6:23, Rev. 22:5). Alternatively, unbelievers who have rejected God and the
sacrifice of Christ either directly (through rejection of the gospel),
or indirectly (through rejection of the light of truth given to them
through revelation of God in nature), will be told to depart from the
presence of God (Matthew 7:12, Rev. 20:10-14).
The concept of a positive or negative judgment is foreign to the
Buddhist because they do not believe in a personal God.
The Buddha rejected subservience to a God and, although he did
not deny the presence of many equal gods, he felt that the worship of
any such beings simply put another obstruction on the path to nirvana.
the Buddha, gods were inhabitants of the cosmos who were impermanent
just like all other living things.
The gods too must eventually escape the cycle of rebirths.
According to the Bible, however, there is only one personal,
infinite, all-powerful God who is infinite and eternal, unchanging and
transcendent (Psalm 90:2;
Isaiah 43:10; Malachi 3::7; Mark 12:29; James 1:17).
Furthermore, Scriptures indicate that God is a being to whom we
are accountable, unlike the impermanent gods of Buddhism.
Buddhists often link their cultural, ethnic, and family loyalties to
their religious beliefs making acceptance of Christianity particularly
Buddhism is particularly difficult for those who come to America because
of the intolerable living conditions in their homelands.
Buddhist teachings provide the worldview framework through which
they can understand and make sense of the calamities which have befallen
themselves and their families and loved ones.
Buddhist philosophy dictates how they think about their personal
identity in relationship to the rest of the world and may be the only
remaining tangible remainder of their native environment.
many Buddhist immigrants to America have difficulty with the language
and culture of their new land, and have difficulty understanding the
gospel message when communicated to them by a native Ame5rican who only
speaks English. Many Asian
Buddhists have little experience with western culture, Christian
concepts (such as sin, atonement, repentance, resurrection,
sanctification, etc.), Christian practices, Christian ethics, and the
Bible. Western Christians
often believe they are communicating one message when in fact another
message is being understood. Tissa
Weerasingha, a Christian scholar in Sri Lanka, illustrates.
If a Buddhist were to be asked, “Do you want to be born again?,” he
might likely reply, “Please no! I do NOT want to be born again.
I want to reach nirvana.”
The Buddhist quest is for deliverance from the cycle of rebirths.
If a Buddhist confuses “new birth” with “rebirth,” the
Christian message will be completely lost.
American Christians can more effectively communicate the gospel by
defining terms carefully, avoiding “Christian” vocabulary, and
focusing on personal righteous living, complete forgiveness, and God’s
compassion. Reaching out to American Buddhists can present and even
more difficult challenge because Westerners tend to be “far more
interested in what they can experience mystically then what they can
understand theologically." Furthermore, American Buddhists tend not
to follow all of Buddhism but rather tend to pick and choose pieces of
the religion that seemed to be particularly appealing to them.
Indeed, many of them seem to have little idea as to the real
meaning behind the words they may chant.
Nevertheless, simply the idea of being a Buddhist is
exhilarating, especially for those who have become disillusioned with
cultural Christianity. There is a kind of rebellion resident in the
words "I am a Buddhist.”
order to evangelize Asian Buddhists and their American counterparts
effectively, a Christian must be able to answer some basic Buddhist
questions effectively. Some of these questions include: What is the
difference between Buddha and Christ?
How is Jesus different from a bodhisattva? Why
is Christianity superior to Buddhism?
It has been correctly pointed out that if a Christian "can
only point to the strengths of Christianity while dismissing Buddhism as
mere superstition, the Buddhist will reject you as to subjective and
refused to talk to you."
a Christian must discover how deeply involved in Buddhism the
prospective convert is. Some Buddhists have little understanding of
their religion, while others may be quite familiar with the basic
doctrines of their faith. Second,
a good interpersonal relationship with the Buddhist must be established,
as is the case with any prospective convert to Christianity.
The next step involves evangelism and they be accomplished not
only by pointing out the philosophical errors and shortcomings of
Buddhism but also in explaining the superiority of Christianity.
One method is to explain the Buddhists concept of his or her
ultimate destination – nirvana.
final stage of existence presents innumerable problems for Buddhists who
cannot even agree upon what the nature of that state is. Many believe it to be extinction; others suggest it is
indescribable in nature; some hold that it actually occurs in this life
as one is liberated from all cares while others say it occurs in this
life and is akin to the idea of Utopia or even to the Christian concept
to a religious system that gives no tangible idea of one's future
destiny is like going into an airport and simply asking for a ticket.
When asked for destination, the same person responds by saying,
"I don't know just give me a ticket.
When I get there all know where it is."
Eventually the person will get somewhere, but where?
No one in his or her own right mind would do such thing when it
comes to get into a destination in this life; how much more important
should it to be to understand our destination in the next?
A description of the Christian concept of eternal life can be
shared with less preconceived rejection on the part of the Buddhist
Another way to evangelize Buddhists is to sharing
with them the Messianic prophecies fulfilled in the life of Jesus
Christ; his life, death, and resurrection.
The Bible is not merely a collection of wise sayings by an
ancient teacher, or even spiritually transforming concepts.
The Bible contains history that is fully capable of being
verified historically. But
even more importantly, the Old Testament contains hundreds of prophecies
concerning the identity of the Messiah; the sheer number of these
prophecies would make it virtually impossible for them to have occurred
accidentally in someone's life. Some
of these prophecies include Jesus’ virgin birth (Isa. 7:14), birth in
Bethlehem (Mica 5:2), sacrificial death (Isa. 53: 5), crucifixion
(Psalm22:14-18), and bodily resurrection (Psalm 16:10)
might also point out to Buddhists that their faith is built on a man
about whom we know very little historically.
In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that suggests many of
the writings about him are legends that sprang up over the course of
many centuries. It is significant that four hundred years passed before
anything was written about him. Christianity, however, is built upon the
claims and actions of prehistorically verifiable person whose followers
began to write accounts of his life within the lifetimes of his
contemporaries and eyewitnesses. This
means that the New Testament, which is authoritative to Christians, is
much more reliable then the Scriptures concerning Buddha.
series of probing questions may also be helpful to reveal the more
philosophical problems inherent to Buddhism. Nirvana again serves as a
good starting point. Reaching
nirvana is the ultimate goal for the Buddhist, and can only be reached
by removing desires for oneself. This poses an obvious problem: How can
nirvana ever be reached when wanting to obtain nirvana is itself a
desire that must be abandoned? It
seems that wanting nirvana will always prevent someone from ever
essential complement of successful evangelism of Asian Buddhists it is
recognizing the continuing legitimacy of cultural, historical, ethnic,
and familial factors that are not contrary to Christian faith.
For example, respect for one’s ancestors, honor of elders,
loyalty to family, etc., are personal and social values that are
important to the Christian as well.
The Asian Buddhist can be assured that abandoning Buddhism does
not necessitate abandoning one's Asian heritage.
Additionally, bringing Asian Buddhists in contact with Asian
Christians can insure them that even if they are rejected by some Asians
for leaving Buddhism for Christianity, Asian Christians will remain
most effective precursor to evangelism of Buddhists is prayer. The Bible
tells us that we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against
spiritual forces of darkness that blind men's minds. This holds
especially true when speaking to Tibetan Buddhist, who, through their
involvement with occult practices, might be
vulnerable to demonic influences as well.
In the eighth century, a Tibetan Buddhist master allegedly
prophesied, "when the horses go on wheels, when the iron bird
flies, my people shall scatter all over the world in my teachings show,
to the land of the red face."
teachings have spread throughout America and continue to do so in this
technologically advanced age. But a seemingly fulfilled prophecy by an
ancient Buddhist does not mean we should embrace Buddhism. Scriptures says that if someone makes a prophecy that comes
to pass, their doctrines must still be rejected if their teachings lead
people away from the true God (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
The doctrines of Buddhism, like those found in all other world
religions, promotes beliefs that guide people into a Christ-less
eternity. Christians must share the grace and peace of Jesus Christ
lovingly and generally: "uniqueness instructing those that oppose
themselves; if God peradventure shall give them repentance to the
acknowledging of truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the
snare of the devil, who are taken captive by hand at his will."
(2 Timothy 2:25-26).