The comparative religion of Buddhism began in the 6th century B.C. with the birth of a man named Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.) in what is modern Nepal. Gautama was born into an aristocratic, Hindu168 family. As legend has it, a prophecy was made concerning young Siddhartha, claiming that he would become a great king, so long as he did not see suffering. Otherwise, he would discover a way of salvation for all mankind (Ridenour, p. 98). Desiring the former, his father built a palace and sheltered him within its confines. In time, Siddhartha got married and fathered a son. One day, he left the palace and saw various forms of suffering. This experience had such a disturbing impact upon him that it led to the “Great Renunciation,” wherein at the age of twenty-nine he renounced his wealth, left his family, became a monk, lived as a beggar, and began searching for a solution to the problem of suffering. After trying to find the solution in the Hindu Scriptures, then in the life of an ascetic, he realized that neither was the answer. Eventually, he made his way to the city of Bodh Gaya169, where he sat down under a fig tree and began meditating. While deep in meditation, he experienced “enlightenment” (aka “nirvana170”), thus becoming Buddha (meaning “the enlightened one”). He called this experience the “Middle Way,” one that avoided the extremes of affluence and asceticism (Halverson, p. 55). Buddha went on to teach what came to be called the “Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism: 1) suffering; 2) the reason for suffering (desire); 3) the solution to suffering (eliminating desire171); and 4) the way to eliminate desire and, thus, end suffering (following the “Eight-fold Path” of Buddhism: right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, awareness, and meditation).
In time, Buddhism split into two major forms: Mahayana Buddhism, the more “liberal” (and most popular) of the two, and Hinayana Buddhism (better known as Theravada Buddhism), the more “conservative” of the two.172 Another significant form of Buddhism is Vajrayana Buddhism (aka Tantra), which blends Mahayana Buddhism with the ancient occult practices of Tibet (Ridenour, p. 103). Accordingly, Vajrayana Buddhism is especially predominant in Tibet. One well-known leader of Vajrayana Buddhism is the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political leader.173One form of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism174, was imported to the United States from Japan in the 20th century. Well-known adherents include Tina Turner, Richard Gere, Larry Hagman, and Harrison Ford (Ridenour, p. 103); Jerry Brown, former governor of CA (Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, 1985, p. 261); and former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach, Phil Jackson. Zen Buddhism lays particular stress upon meditation.175 Another form of Buddhism that has also gained a foothold in the U.S. is Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.176
II. Some177 Erroneous Buddhist Beliefs178
Buddhism is essentially monistic, believing that all reality is one. In this respect, Buddhism does not really have a “god.” The “god” of Buddhism is clearly impersonal.
B. Extrabiblical revelation
The “Bible” of Theravada Buddhism is the “Tripitaka” (“the three baskets”179). The Tripitaka is approximately eleven times the size of the Bible (McDowell & Stewart, p. 310).180 Mahayana Buddhism believes in an open canon, a canon whose volumes presently number in the thousands.181 C. “Salvation” by works
“Salvation” in Buddhism comes by following the Eight-fold Path, leading to the “salvific experience” of enlightenment, or nirvana. Attaining this pinnacle is a matter of self-effort. In the Dhammadada (a collection of sayings attributed to Buddha), Buddha (cited in McDowell & Stewart, p. 313) says: “By meditation and perseverance, by tireless energy, the wise attain to nirvana, the supreme beatitude.”
Buddhist salvation is very self-oriented.182 Notice the following words from the Tripitaka (cited in McDowell & Stewart, p. 306), spoken by Buddha to a young monk named Ananda: “So, Ananda, you must be your own lamps, be your own refuge. Take refuge in nothing outside yourselves. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves. A monk becomes his own lamp and refuge by continually looking on his body, feelings, perceptions, moods, and ideas ....” Zen Buddhist Robert Linnsen (quoted in Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, 1985, p. 265) states: “We are at the same time responsible for our slavery and our freedom; the chains of our enslavement have been forged by ourselves, and only we can break them ....” Mahayana Buddhism is slightly less self-reliant than Theravada Buddhism, believing in “bodhisattvas” (Buddha being the ultimate one), exceptional Buddhists who have accrued extra karmic183 merit that can be shared with other Buddhists who look to them in “faith.” A saying of Zen Buddhism is: “Look within, you are the Buddha.”
D. Reincarnation (aka “transmigration”)
One of the many beliefs brought over from Hinduism into Buddhism is belief in reincarnation. In Buddhist thought, desire perpetuates the continuous birth-suffering-death-rebirth cycle, a cycle interrupted only when one conquers desire at the point of nirvana. One moves in this direction as he accrues more good karma than bad karma, enabling him to be reborn into higher life forms. In Theravada Buddhism, the highest form is the Buddhist monk.
As a corollary to their belief in reincarnation, Buddhists deny the reality of the afterlife. The “Buddhist Creed” (a 1981 document produced by Colonel H. S. Olcott; cited in McDowell & Stewart, p. 312) states: “Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.”
Another corollary of belief in reincarnation is a rejection of the biblical doctrines of atonement and redemption. Through reincarnation, one essentially ends up eventually saving himself; thus, he doesn’t need a redeemer to make atonement in his behalf (although the Mahayana bodhisattvas are quasi-redeemers).
E. Other Buddhist Beliefs and Practices
Mysticism is seeking for a direct, personal religious experience, bypassing the mind. While Buddhism (especially Zen Buddhism in the U.S.) has an aura of intellectualism about it, it is actually very anti-intellectual. McDowell & Stewart (p. 320) state in this regard: “Part of Zen’s attraction is that one is not required to be responsible in evaluating anything in the world or even in his own thoughts. One loses his capacity to think logically and critically. While the Bible commands Christians to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22), Zen mocks critical analysis.”
Refusal to kill any creature (including insects)
III. Our Response
There is one living and true God, the God of the Bible (see Isa 46:9 and Jer 10:10).
Contrary to the monism of Buddhism, God is transcendent, distinct from His creation (Gen 1:1 and Jer 23:23). He is also personal (see the lesson on Christian Science).
B. The Bible is the only source of divine revelation available today (seethe lesson on Mormonism).
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, not by works (see the lesson on Mormonism).
Contrary to the Buddhist belief that the cause of suffering is desire, the Bible teaches that the cause of suffering is sin.
Contrary to the Buddhist belief that desire is always wrong and, therefore, ought to be extinguished, the Bible teaches that some desires are right, most notably the desire for God184 (see Psa 73:25) and the desire for righteousness (see Matt 5:6).
D. Resurrection, not reincarnation
At the point of physical death (the separation of the body from the spirit), a person’s bodily existence ceases until his body is reunited with his spirit at the point of resurrection. The church age believer’s resurrection will take place at the Rapture (1 Thess 4:13-17). Old Testament and Tribulation saints will be resurrected at the end of the Tribulation and prior to the Millennium (Dan 12:2 and Rev 20:4). Unbelievers of all ages will be resurrected at the end of the Millennium and prior to the Eternal State (Rev 20:11-15).