The year was 1893. The place was Chicago. Buddhists had arrived from the East to attend the inaugural World’s Parliament of Religions. While their contingent was sizable, they were vastly outnumbered by Bible believers from the West. One hundred years later, at the centennial celebration of the original Parliament, Buddhists outnumbered Baptists and saffron robes were more common than Christian clerical clothing. Given its growing impact, it is important to grasp basic Buddhist beliefs and use them as springboards for sharing the liberating truth of the gospel.
First, Buddhism, a historical offshoot of Hinduism, teaches adherents to seek refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Embracing the triple gem is to find refuge in Buddha who became the “enlightened one” for this age during a deep state of meditation under a bodhi tree; to find refuge in the Buddha’s teaching—dharma; and to find refuge in the community of Buddhist priests—sangha—who guide devotees along the path to enlightenment.
Furthermore, the essence of Buddhism is summed up in the Four Noble Truths: 1) all life is suffering (dukkha); 2) the source of suffering is desire and attachment because all is impermanent; 3) liberation from suffering is found in the elimination of desire; 4) desire is eliminated by following the eightfold path.
Finally, the eightfold path consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness, and right meditation. By following this path through many reincarnations, Buddhists hope to erase karmic debt and achieve the nirvanic realization of “no self,” thus attaining liberation from suffering and escaping the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth (samsara).
In sharp contrast to the Buddhist teaching that we must eliminate desire, the Bible teaches that we must exercise disciplines in order to transform our desires (Romans 6:17–19). Ultimately, suffering is not overcome through stamping out the self, but through the selfless sacrifice of a sinless Savior.
For further study, see J. Isamu Yamamoto’s four–part Christian Research Journal series on Buddhism in North America, available through the Christian Research Institute (CRI) at www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith into
this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice
in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we
also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that
suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us,
because God has poured out his love into
our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”