World Religions: Buddhism

Buddhism is the fourth largest of the world’s religions.  It numbers about 488 million (Largest Religions in the World, worldatlas.com).  Most of these live in Asia (List of religious populations, Wikipedia).  There are an estimated 1.2 million Buddhists living in the U.S.A. (Wikipedia).

Founder

The origin of Buddhism is found in 6th century Nepal/India.  Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B.C.) was born in what is today Lumbini, Nepal.  His father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of the kingdom of the Sakyas (located is what is now Nepal and India).  The story goes that soon after Siddhartha’s birth a prophecy was delivered by a group of Hindu priests.  If the prince remained at home, he would become a universal monarch.  However, if he left home, he would become a Buddha (enlightened one).  [Note: There is no record of this prophecy until hundreds of years later.]

Siddhartha remained at home for many years.  He married a neighboring princess, his cousin, Yasodhara.  They were both 16 years old.  The marriage produced a son, Rahula.  He lived with his wife 13 years.  They lived a sheltered life.

When Siddhartha was 29 years old, he ventured out of the palace grounds.  He saw four disturbing things.  (1) He saw an old, feeble man.  (2) He saw a sick man, suffering in pain.  (3)  He saw a funeral procession, and a dead corpse.  (4) He saw a Hindu monk begging for bread.  Yet, the monk had a tranquil look upon his face.  Siddhartha had been sheltered from much of the suffering which was so common to man.  He wanted to understand how to have tranquility in the midst of so much misery.

The prince left his home and family, and roamed seeking enlightened.  “For six years the ascetic Gotama wondered about the valley of the Ganges, meeting with famous religious teachers, studying and following their systems and methods, and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices.  The did not satisfy him” (Walpola Rahula, What The Buddha Taught, p. XV).  He became thin.  He is self-described in one ancient text, “My back-bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well” (Britannica, 1979, Vol. 3, p. 370).

Then, while in meditation beneath a Bodhi tree – in modern-day Bihar, India – the prince supposedly found enlightenment.  He was 35 years old when he became a Buddha.

The prince never returned to live the palace life.  He spent the next 45 years teaching his doctrine.  He died at the age of 80, in modern-day Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Teaching

What did Buddha claim was the answer?  What do Buddhists believe?

(1) The Middle Path.  One should avoid two extremes.  “One extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses… the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of asceticism” (Rahula, p. 45).

Note, extremes do lead to strong temptations.  See: Proverbs 30:7-9.

(2) The Four Noble Truths.

(a) The truth of suffering (Dukkha).  Suffering exists.  “Birth is painful, and death is painful; disease and old age are painful.  Not having what we desire is painful, and having what we do not desire is also painful” (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 307).

(b) The truth of the cause of suffering (Samudaya).  The cause of suffering is desire.  “It is the craving desire for the pleasures of the senses” (McDowell, p 307).  “The natural tendency is to blame our difficulties on things outside ourselves.  But the Buddha says that their actual root is in the mind itself” (Four Noble Truths, thebuddhistcentre.com).

(c) The truth of the end of suffering (Nirhodha).  “To be free of suffering one must give up, get rid of, extinguish the very craving, so that no passion and no desire remain” (McDowell, p. 307).  “We cannot change the things that happen to us, but we can change our response” (thebuddhistcentre.com).

Note, it is true that one can be content even with difficult circumstances surrounding him.  Consider: John 16:33; Philippians 4:11-12.

(d) The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (Magga).  The Eightfold Path is the way to free oneself of suffering.

(3) The Eightfold Path.

(a) Right Understanding (Samma Ditthi).  One must accept the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (McDowell, p. 307).

(b)  Right Thought (Samma Sankappa).  “You must renounce the pleasures of the senses; you must harbor no ill will toward anyone and harm no living creature” (McDowell).

(c)  Right Speech (Samma Vaca).  “Do not lie; do not slander or abuse anyone.  Do not indulge in idle talk” (McDowell).

(d)  Right Action (Samma Kammanta).  “Do not destroy any living creature; take only what is given to you; do not commit any unlawful sexual act” (McDowell).  One should not “Kill, steal, lie, (he is) to avoid sexual misconduct, and not take drugs or other intoxicants” (buddha101.com).

(e)  Right occupation (Samma Ajiva).  “You must earn your livelihood in a way that will harm no one” (McDowell).

(f) Right Effort (Samma Vayama).  “You must resolve and strive heroically to prevent any evil qualities from arising in you and to abandon any evil qualities that you possess.  Strive to acquire good qualities, and encourage those you do possess to grow, increase, and be perfected (McDowell).

Note, effort is needed. Consider: 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 1:5-11.

(g) Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati).  “Be observant… alert” (McDowell).  “Right mindfulness means being aware of the moment, and being focused in the moment” (buddha101.com).

Note, we should live in the now. Consider: Matthew 6:34; Philippians 3:13; James 4:13-15.

(h) Right Meditation (Samma Samadhi).  Four stages of meditation are to occur.  “in the first stage… passionate desires, and unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded… Then, in the second stage, all mental activities are suppressed… In the third stage, the feeling of joy… also disappears… Finally, in the fourth stage… all sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness… disappear” (The Noble Eightfold Path, tricycle.org).

Note, it is important that we think on the proper things. Consider: Psalm 1:2; 63:6; 77:12; 119:15, 23, 48, 78, 148; 143:5; 1 Timothy 4:15; Philippians 4:8.

(4) Buddhism compared with Hinduism.  Buddhism rejects the caste system. Buddhism has no animal sacrifices. Buddhism like Hinduism believes in karma and nirvana.  Many Buddhists believe in reincarnation.

(5)  Man is his own savior.  “Man’s emancipation depends on his own realization of truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward for his obedient good behavior” (Rahula, What The Buddha Taught, p. 2).

This is very different from Christianity.  Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).  Again, “(I) not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

As an ethical system Buddhism does set forth some good principles. Consider: (a) “Ones should not pry into the faults of others … one should rather consider what oneself has done and left undone.” (b) “As  beautiful flower that is full of hue but lacks fragrance, even so fruitless is the well-spoken word of one who does not practice it.” (c) “One may conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, yet he is the best of conquerors who conquers himself.” (d) “Conquer anger by love, evil by good; conquer the miser with liberty, and the liar with truth.”  ( This is from The Dhammapada, specifically verse 50, 51, 103, 223). We can find agreement in the Bible with such sayings (Matthew 7: 1-5; James 1:22;  Proverbs 16: 32; Romans 12:21). However, it is an ethical system without God, without grace in a Divine or cosmic sense, and without a Savior.

(6) Some Buddhist believe that truth is found within self.  Buddha reportedly told one of his followers, “You must be your own lamps… take refuge in nothing outside yourselves” (McDowell, p. 306).  Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki wrote, “If I am asked… what zen teaches, I would answer, zen teaches nothing.  Whatever teachings there are in zen, they come out of one’s own mind.  We teach ourselves; zen merely points the way” (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 264 – quoting Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, p. 38).

The Bible warns, “It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).  Our feet should be directed by the word of God (Psalm 119:105; John 12:48).

(7) God.  Buddha had little to say about God.  Nothing in Buddhism requires that one believe in God.

Christianity is different.  It is about seeking the Lord (Acts 17:27).  It is about coming to know Him (John 17:3).

Types of Buddhism

(1) Theravada (way of elders).  It is practiced mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  The goal is individual enlightenment.  Such is attained by renouncing the world and living as a monk.  (2) Mahayana (greater vehicle).  It is practiced throughout Asia, for example: Nepal, China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.  The goal is to not only help self, but to help others achieve enlightenment.  Such is attainable by members of society.  One need not become a monk.  (3) Vajrayana (thunderbolt vehicle).  It is practiced in Bhutan, Tibet, and Mongolia.  It is similar to Mahayan Buddhism, but it adds emphasis to rituals and mantras.  (4) Zen Buddhism (meditation).  It is popular in Japan and America.  It is a form of Mahayana Buddhism.  It emphasizes meditation.

Things to Consider

The goal of extinguishing desire seems impossible.  Ravi Zacharias has pointed out that even the Dalai Lama desires the freedom of Tibet (Would You Compare Buddhism and Christianity? John Ankerberg Show, YouTube).

Is a lack of desire good? Even God has desire (Hosea 6:6; 1 Timothy 2:4). Not all desires are wrong; some are good (Psalm 19:10; 27:4; Proverbs 8:11; Romans 1:11; 10:1; 1 Corinthians 14:1; Philippians 1:23; Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:1; 2 Timothy 1:4; Hebrews 6:11; 11:16; 1 Peter 2:2, etc.).

I have never met the one who does not have to daily bring himself into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27).  Have you?

One last point. Buddhists believe that Buddha’s cremated bones have been found (Have Archaeologists Found Buddha’s Remains? By Tim Collins, dailymail.co.uk).  No such remains are claimed by Christians.  In Buddhism, Buddha died and his bones are still with us.  In Christianity,  Jesus is risen.  What a difference!

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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