The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Buddhism

Title: The Three Most Shocking Beliefs of Buddhism

Text: Psalm 14:1, Genesis 1:31-2:1, Luke 23:42-43

Time: July 28th, 2012

 

Most Americans are not very familiar with the religion of Hinduism or the religion of Buddhism, although more and more Americans are encountering them through the influence of foreign teachers coming to America. For example, in the case of Buddhism, the most important teacher to the West is the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Hollywood celebrities flock to hear him speak — which draws the attention of the public, who join in to see and hear what all the fuss is about. Through books, radio, and television interviews the Dalai Lama communicates the basic teachings of Buddhism to culturally Christian populations. But what is Buddhism, and how does it differ from Hinduism? Last time, I talked about the three most shocking beliefs of Hinduism – belief in an impersonal ultimate reality or God; an inability to categorize anything as ultimately right or wrong, true or false; and belief in the transmigration of the soul or reincarnation. These are strange beliefs to the most westerners who were raised, at least nominally, on Christianity. Buddhism continues in the strange belief category with such shocking things as – an atheistic or agnostic teaching about God, reincarnation of the soul (but only rebirth back into another human life, in contrast to Hinduism, which teaches rebirth into lower life forms, such as animals), and salvation through meditation. Which is more popular in the Untied States today, Buddhism or Hinduism? That’s hard to say because of so many different groups, societies and organizations that promote one or the other or both. For example, mostly Hindu teachings are promoted by the Hare Krishna’s, and mostly Buddhist teachings are promoted by the Dalai Lama. The Beatles traveled to India to learn Hinduism decades ago drawing attention to that religion, while contemporary celebrities like Richard Gere and Steven Segal follow and promote Buddhism. Of course, Hinduism as a religion came first, then Buddhism followed, but they both share a similar worldview that is radically different from the traditional Western theistic worldview. Buddhism claims that the primary problem of life is suffering due to wrong expectations and desires about life. It then offers a spiritual path to eliminate wrong desires as a means to cope with life’s suffering and achieve spiritual salvation, which is called Nirvana. Through meditation, Buddhism teaches, one can achieve salvation by escaping the cycle of reincarnation and reaching a new consciousness. Again, all of this sounds very strange to someone raised in the West, and it is strange, confusing and even contradictory to anyone attempting to understand it. But because it’s important for Christians to understand what and why they believe what we believe, it’s also important that we understand what others believe as well. So let me take a few minutes and outline the three most shocking beliefs of Buddhism.

 

First Shocking Belief of Buddhism – Buddhists are basically either atheists or agnostics. Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” One of the most shocking beliefs about any eastern religion that I learned during college and seminary was that Buddhism teaches either atheism or agnosticism. It’s ironic that one of the great world religions actually teaches there is no God – or at least, they teach we can’t know if there is a god, or that even if there is a god it doesn’t matter, it’s irrelevant to Buddhism. Now I’m pretty sure that most people, most citizens of Europe or America or any western nation don’t realize that the religion of Buddhism teaches essentially atheism, but it’s true. If you look at the teachings of Buddhism – for example, the so-called Four Noble Truths or the Eight-Fold Path, all the essential beliefs and practices, you’ll notice that not one of these requires that there even be a God or gods. So what is the religion of Buddhism? It’s basically a self-help philosophy, plain and simple. That is not true for Christianity, which depends entirely on God for salvation. The original founder of Buddhism was a practicing Hindu, but he found it difficult, if not impossible for him to achieve self-salvation through the religion. So he reformed Hinduism and came up with a step-by-step plan for ultimate enlightenment called Buddhism. It spread and became a major world religion. But in Buddhism, there are no prayers to God, as such; there is only meditation. There is no heavenly life or spiritual paradise in the next life, only deliverance from reincarnation and suffering. Basically, Buddhism teaches a method or technique for achieving an altered state of consciousness, from which the soul can be freed from all the errors of the mind or things that lead us to believe the illusion of the material world reality. But if Buddhism is simply a self-help method for consciousness changing, might the whole religious system be replaced with some drug or high technology treatment of the mind? Many of the children of the 60s were drawn to Buddhism and to drugs in an attempt to answer that very question. From a Christian perspective Buddhists are “foolish” because they attempt to circumvent anything to do with God. In Romans 1:19-20 says, “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” There really is no excuse to come to the conclusion of atheism, or follow a religious system where the existence of God doesn’t even matter. In this, Buddhism really is a foolish religion, that maybe, for a better description, shouldn’t even be called a religion at all, but instead, a philosophy. Because of this I consider the fact that Buddhism is atheistic its first shocking belief. But there is more.

 

Second Shocking Belief of Buddhism – Buddhists basically believe that our natural perception of life is an illusion. Genesis 1:31-2:1, ”God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.” In the Christian understanding of Creation, God created the material world, including humans to inhabit the earth. It is not an illusion; it’s real. But unfortunately, mankind fell into sin when they sinned against God. But the Fall didn’t change the basic reality of the material world, it just blinded men and women of the spiritual reality of God and hindered their ability to achieve the fullness of the original created order. The material world is not an illusion, like Buddhism teaches. Nor is the material world merely the creation of our confused minds, which Buddhism also teaches. We can imagine the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, pondering the great questions of life and trying to make sense out of his existence. But unfortunately, coming from a background in Hinduism, he came up with a solution that is built on a false foundation. Starting from the Hindu religion, Buddhism might make sense as an answer, but the problem is, Hinduism was wrong about its basic understanding of reality, and so that foundational error was pasted along to Buddhism. The truth is, the world outside our mind is not an illusion; it isn’t just the confused product of our confused thinking. It’s really there; independent of and apart from anything we think or do. Some Buddhists are excited about modern quantum physics that teaches in laboratory experiments with small atomic particles that an observer may alter what is being observed simply by observing it. They say this proves that reality is really all in the mind, not “out there” independently. No, quantum physics doesn’t prove the Buddhist idea that all is mind and that material reality is illusion, although it may show that the mind may alter some things in the material world. But that’s a different thing altogether. In many respects, Buddhism is one big denial of reality. According to it, pain and suffering are only delusions of the mind. The same with truth and error, and right and wrong. In reality, all is one, yet we can’t see this because our mind and soul are supposedly divided. Part of the path to salvation in the Buddhist system is to free the mind from its delusions about the material world by taking on a new and correct consciousness through meditation. But this cannot be achieved, usually, according to Buddhism, in one lifetime; so persistent is our false consciousness. Which requires reincarnation to work ourselves toward and eventually achieve enlightenment or ultimately Nirvana.

 

Third Shocking Belief of Buddhism – Buddhists believe salvation is achieved through escaping reincarnation. Luke 23:42-43, “Then he (the thief on the cross) said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” According to the Bible, “It is appointed unto man once to die, after that the judgment,” Hebrews 9:27. There is no such thing as reincarnation, either of the Hindu variety – transmigration of the soul at death into the body of another human or even an animal; or of the Buddhist type – the transmigration of the soul at death into the body of another human only. Now we can imagine how such a belief in reincarnation came about back in days gone by in ancient times. For example, when people pondered what becomes of the soul it might be they also noticed that often things in nature repeated and returned again and again. For instance, the sun rises and sets each day; seasons come and go. The cycle and circle of life seems to spin around endlessly. So then it might be natural for someone to conclude that just as nature exhibits cycles, so too does the journey of the human soul go through cycles of life – in one body, then dies, then enters another body at birth, and so on. Furthermore, along the same lines, this same reasoning could apply to moral progress or moral regress of the individual soul. What reward is there for being good? What punishment is there for being bad? Reincarnation helps explain, in part, what becomes of the good soul – it advances to a higher life. And the bad soul? It regresses into the body of a lesser life and so loses progress on the road to enlightenment or ultimate Nirvana. This is how the eastern religious mind thinks, and there is some logic to it. Unfortunately, it’s wrong. Not only is it wrong, but the whole eastern religious worldview is wrong. God exists as an infinite, yet personal Being who has a divine plan for all of reality. He has revealed himself through the prophets of the Bible. Buddhism is a product of deep, dark spiritual ignorance. It’s a prime example of why we need divine revelation from the Bible, and why it was important for God to give it. Without God’s revelation we are all in the dark, lost in a confusing world of conflicting ideas and practices. The Apostle Paul teaches, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened, Although they claimed to be wise, they became as fools,” Romans 1:21-22. Buddhism and its founder claim to lead men and women to enlightenment and salvation through practicing spiritual techniques, but instead they foolishly lead mankind into darkness and despair.

 

According to the Apostle Paul, it is clear enough from nature that there is a personal God that orders the material world. By way of analogy, therefore, it is possible through philosophy to “prove” the existence of the Christian God by reason alone. One can start with the qualities and attributes of man, minus his imperfections, and extend them into infinity, for example. One can examine the orderliness of the universe and the natural systems on earth and conclude that a super-intelligence must be responsible for it all. Through reason alone, we can roughly come up with the general concept of God. Of course, we’d need special biblical revelation to know more details about God and his will, such as a comprehensive understanding of right and wrong, true and false, and of course, the specifics about the way of salvation, and other important things. But, according to the Apostle, the general truths of God can be known by reflecting on his creation. So then why didn’t people in lands of the Far East come up with something closer to the Judeo-Christian worldview instead of arriving at such radical views like reincarnation? Again, Paul has an answer for this as well, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their own wickedness,” Romans 1:18. The sinful heart of man suppresses and denies the truth of God and instead believes lies. Somewhere in times past men started believing the lies of Hinduism. Then later, still others started believing the lies of Buddhism. Now we shouldn’t come down too hard on either the people who originated Hinduism and Buddhism, or those who have and are practicing these religions, because after all, “There, but by the grace of God, go I,” as the saying goes. The truth is, we are all blind and sinful. We are all easily led astray. For example, we in the West have had the glorious truths of Christianity for two thousand years, yet it looks like we’re ready to throw it all away for a little pleasure and prosperity in our secular world today. Who is the greater fool, he who never knew the truth (Hindus and Buddhists), or he who knew it yet disregarded it (Western Christians)? As Christians in a secular society of our own creating, we need to return to the truth of God and be witnesses of it once again. It’s not enough to criticize the poor people of the Far East. Yes, Hinduism and Buddhism are false spiritual paths leading millions, even billions into darkness, death and damnation. Yes, Christianity is the truth. Jesus is the light of the world. As Christians we need to rededicate ourselves to living out the truth of Christianity instead of ignoring it. If we start showing forth the truth of God in our own lives we just might attract the attention of those caught in the false doctrines and practices of Hinduism and Buddhism. They might listen to us and eventually find the true path of salvation in Jesus Christ. But if we neglect the truths we already have, or fail to shine forth its light, the Hindus or Buddhists would really have no reason to listen to us. We owe it to them to shine the light of Christ in this dark world.

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