I have heard this statement above from Christians and ‘Christian Buddhists’ (although calling them Christians who practice Buddhism would be more accurate) a few times, and it’s concerning since the two beliefs are incompatible. If you’re unfamiliar with Buddhism, think Dalai Lama, reincarnation, and monks in orange robes (not the ones at the airports – those are Hare Krishnas). I’ll attempt to unravel my concern by beginning with an explanation of Buddhism.
The Beginning of Buddhism (from Patheos)
Born a wealthy prince in the state of Kapilavastu, in what would become India, as a young man Siddhartha Gautama became discontented with his life. He had wealth, power, a beautiful wife, a healthy son — everything a young man could want. He came to the realization, however, that all of these things were fleeting. Someday he, like everyone else, would become sick and old, and someday he would die. He realized that all of his material things and social benefits provided only temporary happiness, so he gave it all up to become an ascetic. Leaving his wife and infant son behind, as well as the kingdom he was to inherit, he began to wander in search of the meaning and purpose of human existence.
He studied with various teachers who were also renunciants. He tried many paths, the last of which called for six years of extreme self-deprivation. Eventually, he decided that this path was not working for him, and determined that he would sit in meditation until he found an answer. After a long night of meditative visions and insights, he was enlightened, becoming “The Buddha,” or the Awakened One.
The Buddha did not represent himself as a supernatural being; he said he was simply a man who had a realization about the nature of human existence. In fact, he taught that only a human being could become enlightened. Nonetheless, after his death many legends about him arose.
Legends of his birth told that his mother was impregnated as she dreamed of a white elephant, and that she gave birth to him standing up, through her armpit. Another legend told how as a young man, he vied with others for the hand of a beautiful young woman, and demonstrated both intellectual and athletic prowess in winning her hand.
At the time of his birth, astrologers were said to have predicted that he would become either a great ruler or a great spiritual teacher. His father therefore tried to shield him from awareness of sickness, old age, and death, but the gods conspired with his chariot driver one day to take him past a sick man, an old man, and a corpse. That night he left home to spend years in spiritual study and ascetic living.
It was said that he lived on a grain of rice a day, and became so thin he could feel his backbone when he pressed upon his stomach. One day, after fainting from hunger, a young woman offered him a bowl of rice milk (or porridge) and he ate it all. This simple meal gave him the strength to continue his quest. He threw the bowl into a river, saying, “If this bowl floats upstream, I am to become a Buddha today.” The bowl floated upstream.
Coming upon a tree now known as the Bodhi tree, in the small town of Bodhgaya, he decided to sit there until he attained enlightenment. During the night, Mara, the tempter, deity of desire, appeared and put him through many trials. Mara pounded him with violent storms. He created the illusion of a massive army shooting at Gautama with flaming arrows. When these failed, he sent his beautiful daughters to tempt him. Ignoring all these distractions, Siddhartha continued to meditate through the night until at last he attained realization. At the moment he became enlightened, the Buddha touched the earth as his witness and the earth trembled.
Beliefs Within Buddhism
There are various beliefs within Buddhism – I will mention a few core beliefs which pertain to our discussion today.
1. There is no God.
Buddhists maintain their philosophy is a set of beliefs and that they do not worship a god. They also deny they are idol worshippers. However, anything that we put before God is an idol. Therefore, their ideals are what they are worshipping, and, as such, are idols.
2. Jesus was an Enlightened Master
This one has confused me. If He was enlightened and said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6), then why haven’t Buddhists converted to Christianity? Jesus spoke of His deity many times. If Buddhists reject this, then they would have to regard Jesus as a lunatic or a liar, anything but an enlightened master. Regardless, they have denied His deity and rejected His salvation (2 Peter 1:1).
3. Buddhists Believe In Veneration of the Dead
This is the belief that the dead have a continued existence and may possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. Scripture is clear that once we die, we enter eternity (Luke 16:19-31). In addition, inquiring of the dead is wrong (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
4. There is No Heaven or Hell
The goal for a Buddhist is to reach Nirvana, or Enlightenment, which is a state of mind that is free from desire. I’m not sure why we would have to incarnate in the first place only to desire to rid ourselves of desire. This is above my pay grade.
5. There are No Individual Souls
Contrary to popular belief, Buddhists believe in rebirth, not reincarnation. Their view is that we are a stream of consciousness or set of perceptions, thoughts and feelings, which, depending on karma, inhabit different states (such as the human state).
The Buddha is Older Than Jesus
This is another claim I often hear. The Buddha was born in the 6th century BC. Jesus is God, and therefore, eternal (John 17:5). Hence, Jesus is older than the Buddha by…let’s see…gee; I’m not very mathletic…eternity minus the beginning of time as we know it, as of 6th century BC…. Well, for sake of argument, Jesus is older than Buddha by eternity.
My concern with Buddhism (for the sake of this post) is not Buddhism itself. There are many lies in the world. My concern is when I hear Christians portray this deception as ‘just’ a philosophy. It’s ‘only’ a way of thinking.
From the above points, one can easily see how Buddhism differs from Christianity. To think Buddhism is just a philosophy is an illusion. Buddhism is a lie straight from hell, clothed in attractive notions of peace and tolerance. At its core, Buddhism is a futile works-based religion that denies sin, and therefore it denies the need for a Savior. Would we say atheism, Mormonism, and Satanism are ‘just’ philosophies? No. We recognize them for the damning lies they are. In addition, we are commanded not to follow philosophies (Colossians 2:8).
If you can say that Buddhism is ‘only’ spiritual adultery, and hell is ‘just’ a place of eternal torment, then yes, Buddhism is ‘just’ a philosophy.
Soli Deo Gloria,