This article first appeared in the in the Ask Hank column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 44, number 2 (2021). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. —the Apostle Paul (Rom. 5:1–5 NKJV)
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 the growing impact of Buddhism, 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. To embrace 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; and (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).1
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 (Rom. 6:17–19). Ultimately, suffering is not overcome through stamping out the self, but through the selfless sacrifice of a sinless Savior.
What Sets Christianity Apart from an Eastern Worldview? Although many people have tried to merge Eastern spirituality with biblical Christianity, the chasm that separates these worldviews is an unbridgeable gulf. First, in an Eastern worldview, God is an impersonal force or principle. In sharp distinction, the God of Christianity is a personal Being who manifests such communicable attributes as spirituality, rationality, and morality (John 4:24; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24).
Furthermore, in an Eastern worldview, humanity’s goal is to become one with nature because nature is God. In this sense, the Eastern worldview is pantheistic: God is all and all is God (though it is worth noting that the Buddha resisted theological speculation and considered God immaterial to spiritual enlightenment). Conversely, Christianity teaches that man is created in the image and likeness of his Creator and, as such, is distinct from both nature and God (Gen. 1:26–27).
Finally, in an Eastern worldview, truth is realized through intuition rather than through the cognitive thinking process. In contrast, Christianity teaches that truth is realized through revelation (Heb. 1:1–2), which is apprehended by the intellect (Luke 1:1–4) and then embraced by the heart (Mark 12:29–31).2—Hank Hanegraaff
Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast and the Hank Unplugged podcast. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Truth Matters, Life Matters More: The Unexpected Beauty of an Authentic Christian Life (W Publishing Group, 2019).
- For further study, see J. Isamu Yamamoto’s four-part Christian Research Journal series on Buddhism in North America, part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.
- This article is adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book — Collector’s Edition, Revised and Updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 334–36, 339.