Basics of Buddhism
By Let Us Reason Ministries
Generally Buddhism does not believe in a personal God or a divine being, it does not have worship, praying to, or praising of a divine being (although some sects do.) It offers no form of redemption, forgiveness, no heavenly hope, or a final judgment to those practicing its system. Buddhism is a moral philosophy, an ethical way to live for the here and now of this world to gain the ultimate state. It has more in common with humanism and atheism than its original religion Hinduism it separated from. But Buddhism is not atheism just because they don’t believe in a personal God. It is more like pantheism, there is a impersonal force the void which is the ultimate.
There are 327 million Buddhists worldwide (313,114,000 in Asia) here in Hawaii the major Japanese, Korean population are Some type of Buddhist. There are numerous offshoots but their are two major branches. For us to understand and use the gospel to penetrate this religion we need to know what they teach about the Buddha and use the stories as possibly bridges to reach them. In my opinion of all religions this is one of the hardest to reach and understand, since Buddhism can be cultural, it is a lifestyle of many generations as well as a spiritual practice.
For centuries, Buddhism has been the dominant religion of the Eastern world and still remains the predominant religion in China, Japan, Korea, as well as southeast Asia. In Japan alone there are approximately 200 sects. This makes it difficult to address this religion as a whole since it can be so diversified.
Buddhism has made a tremendous impact in the United States with a growing Asian population in the U.S., thousands of Americans have been attracted to Buddhism making it their religion. There are now over one thousand Buddhist temples, monasteries, and centers in the United States.
Sangha which means the order or brotherhood (community) who are monks. Each member of the Sangha must wear a yellow robe, shave their head and practice meditation. They are to affirm the three refuges (triple gems): take refuge in Buddha who became enlightened when he discovered the true reality. The Dharma which are the laws the adhere to on the path to eliminate their suffering. These consist of the laws of the world and the teachings of Buddha. From a Christian point of view the laws of this world would be subject to the present condition of things which is fallen. And Sangha which is the community as a whole striving for the qualities of the Buddha. There are to adhere to over 225 regulations which forbid them to do many things.
There are many noble and humanitarian teachings found in Buddhism that elicit compassion and understanding for their fellow man. But these cannot be seen as a means to the end itself. The concern many have is that some Christians seem to think there is little difference in Buddhism to Christianity. There is a harmonizing of its practices incorporating its teachings into the Church. Some even have them speak inside their churches.
Comparing Buddha with Jesus
It is said Siddhartha became the Awakened one, so Jesus became the Anointed one is a common misconception. Christ was the anointed one from eternity while the Siddhartha became the Buddha by searching and self discovery became illuminated. Anointing and enlightenment are two very different concepts.
Buddha came at a time when the people were tired of Hindu sects, castes and teachings. Buddha discovers a new way and he discards some teachings and upholds others. Christ came when the people were oppressed by religious leaders also but they did not know the truth nor were they asking for deliverance spiritually. Jesus only explained what they already had in the Scriptures giving the correct interpretations and fulfilling the prophecies.
Buddha died at the old age of 80 years old by eating rotten food, his life was lived without exaggerations of either luxury or asceticism. Jesus ate fish, meat and did not have people give up their possessions unless it interfered with their relationship with God. He died at 33 years old, sentenced to death like a criminal, tortured and executed for something he did not do. Not much similarity here.
Claims are there are similarities to relics (statues, icons ) in both Buddhism and Christianity. But this is only found in the Catholic Church side. The Bible specifically addresses this as wrong and calls the usage of these as idolatrous. Throughout the Scripture this is specifically addressed as an affront to God.
Isa. 45:20-22: “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you who have escaped from the nations. They have no knowledge, who carry the wood of their carved image, and pray to a god that cannot save. Tell and bring forth your case; yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me. “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”
Buddha was passive in his outlook of humanity. He was engaged in self discovery to change himself. Which can be good if one comes to the conclusion that the answers are not found within us, and looks toward the creator of all mankind.
Christ did not have to search for wisdom since he was the wisdom and power of God before and during his coming to earth. He came from heaven as a servant to mankind. He grew in understanding in his humanity only, but even at an early age he was aware of his purpose and who he actually was.
Buddha needed to make sense of the world and its suffering for himself. He was in turmoil in his soul seeing the condition of life being unfavorable for so many. So he searched for enlightenment to have answers for the dilemma he saw in the world.
Christ exhibited love which is active, it participates in others lives. He did not tolerate falsehood or have the same reaction for one being sad or happy. He taught objective truth, the true reality of life is that it is real and there are consequences here and now as well as afterward.
Thereavada says Buddha did not claim to have a special relationship with God. The fact that Buddha did not consider the existence of God to be important shows that he is not in any way related to biblical prophets or Jesus. Buddha said it doesn’t matter whether you believe in him or not. Buddha claimed to point to the right way to escape suffering and attain enlightenment. Contrary to this, Jesus claimed to be the way. Christianity teaches there was only one incarnation of God and he came to relieve the source of all suffering sin.
Although the Buddha did not deny the existence of gods, he taught that the worship of gods obstructed one’s quest for nirvana. To him the gods inhabit the cosmos and are impermanent like all other living beings. There is no God as an eternal deity. Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, did not claim to be divine. He claimed to be the one to point the way to Nirvana. an ultimate state in the afterlife, but it was up to each individual to find his own way there. Each has their own path to walk on to discovery.
Dr. John Noss states, “… there is only the ultimate impersonal unity of being itself, whose peace enfolds the individual self when it ceases to call itself “I” and dissolves in the featureless purity of Nirvana, as a drop of spray is merged in its mother sea.”( Noss, p.183.)
They look to this ultimate elimination of self as their identity merges into the great unity. But the goal on earth is to eliminate whatever is possible now.” Regard the world as void” (Suttanipata, 119). “So one who is convinced of the emptiness of everything has no likes or dislikes. For he knows that that which he might like is just empty, and sees it just empty” (Sik-shasamuccaya, 264).
The concept of a personal God does not fit into the Buddhist system of religion. Today there are many sects of Buddhism. Many differ in their concept of the divine and of Buddha. In general, if a Buddhist believes in God he holds to a pantheistic view. Many view God as an impersonal force which is made up of all living things and holds the universe together. This is the same as the Hindu concept of Pantheism that the force is united with all living and non living thing in creation.
The late Dr. Suzuki is considered one of the greatest teachers of Zen Buddhism, said about his concept of God: “If God after making the world puts Himself outside it, He is no longer God. If He separates Himself from the world or wants to separate Himself, He is not God. The world is not the world when it is separated from God. God must be in the world and the world in God.” ( D. T. Suzuki, The Field of Zen p. 16.)
Dr. John Noss explains, “there is no sovereign Person in the heavens holding all together in unity.”( Noss, p. 183.)
Since Buddhism generally does not believe in a personal God or a divine being, it does not have worship, praying, or praising of a divine being. Although these are practiced without any reference to God. It offers no form of redemption, forgiveness, heavenly hope, or final judgment. Buddhism is, more of a moral philosophy, an ethical way of life that can have improvement on ones state.
Professor Kraemer describes the Buddhist system as “a non-theistic ethical discipline, a system of self training, anthropocentric, stressing ethics and mind-culture to the exclusion of theology.”( Taylor & Offner, p. 177.)
Christianity teaches ————— Buddhism teaches
Heaven is a reality ————————- Nirvana is the ultimate state = nothingness
personal eternal life ——————– Extinction of the self
Savior is the person of Christ ————- Savior is ones self and ones works
There is a literal hell of suffering ————- There is no hell in the biblical sense of permanency
the one God is tri-une – Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit —— the triple gem – 1)the Buddha = teacher 2) the dharma = truth 3) the sangaya = light
God is a personal being ——– Impersonal force, no God
Moral absolutes ———– No moral absolutes
World is real for us ——— World is an illusion
Sin is the problem ———– Ignorance is the problem
Desires needs redirection ——— Desire needs to be eliminated
Jesus = God is salvation, Emmanuel = God with us, Christ = the anointed one ——– Siddhartha means” he who has accomplished his objectives.” Buddha = the Enlightened One
Buddha did not claim to have a special relationship with God in fact Buddha did not consider the existence of God to be important. Buddha claimed to point to the right way to escape suffering and attain enlightenment. Contrary Jesus claimed to be the way. Christianity teaches there was only one incarnation of God. While anyone can make a belief system, it is another thing to prove it. In this Buddha and those who followed after failed and Jesus succeeded.
Christ is not a spiritual master as they claim Buddha is, Christ is his creator. If one only looks at Jesus as a human being he exemplifies the highest ideal in man, he has all the qualities Buddha taught about and sought after, but Christ is more than just a man he is our and the Buddhists creator.
Most Buddhists believe their are many ways to God. The emphasis is based on the path that we must work on by our own effort. That’s not good news. The difference between Buddhism and Christianity is that its been done, while in Buddhism they are still trying to accomplish it. One is by our own efforts the other was obtained by the perfect man.
Christ clearly offers salvation to His followers. Buddhism does not. It is said that Gautama’s last words before his death were: “Buddha’s do but point the way, work out your salvation with diligence.”
Theravada teaches that each man is responsible for their own this is reached by ones self-effort; “Be lamps unto yourselves. Be a refuge unto yourselves. Do not turn to any external refuge…. Work out your own salvation with diligence” (Mahaparinibbana-sutta 2.33; 6:10; from the Pali Canon)
The exclusiveness of Christ’s claims through the concept of reconciliation. Restoring a relationship that is broken. Lets say you broke your relationship someone you care about, how many ways are there to restore it, only one. By confessing our fault and asking forgiveness.
It is best to live a moral life. Self discipline has value. Many religions offer this for the seeker. Meditation and prayer are important, compassion, virtue are all common qualities we should develop. It is how we achieve it that needs to be understood.
The goal of each Buddhist is the attainment of the state of nirvana. This word means to extinguish or to blow out of existence. Like a candle in the wind, just like the song. This is the ultimate state where one enters nirvana with the extinguishing of the ego. Their life merges in the sea like a drop of water. Nirvana is very different from the Christian concept of heaven. Christianity teaches that ones personality continues but is perfected by Gods grace, not by anything we can accomplish. Gautama’s original teaching was that nirvana is not union with God or heaven, his system has no place for deity or ones personal self, but rather is a state of being. What exactly this is, Buddha never really articulated. Today it is known as nothingness this is not annihilation but means a release from suffering, desire, and the finite state of self. The Absolute is completely impersonal, and salvation is attained solely by self-effort.
The Buddha taught, “I had no notion of a self, or of a being, or of a soul, or of a person, nor had I any notion or non-notion.” (Vairacchedika, 14).
Personal peace will be found when we abide in that which is permanent. As christians we believe to abide in God is the only permanence to be found as he offers eternal life with him in a place as real as earth, heaven.
Reincarnation is offered as the process to give one enough time to develop the qualities and practices to enter nirvana. Buddhists hope to enter into the state of Nirvana, but there is no clear, objective proof or teaching on what occurs beyond the grave. Even Buddha himself was not certain what lay beyond death. He left no absolute teaching on the afterlife only philosophical speculations which can still be debated today. The body of Buddha lies in a grave in at the bottom of the Himalayan Mountains. The facts of life after death still are an unsolved mystery in Buddhism. Buddhism offers neither assurance of forgiveness or eternal life. In contrast Christ spoke emphatically and absolutely about an afterlife, something every religion had sought to have answers for. It would be best to listen to the one who conquered death and lives eternally than continue to speculate on it. That is what we hope Buddhists will do.