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 end- less 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.
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.
Romans 5:1–5 NKJV
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.
***Note the preceding text is adapted from a new Revised and Updated version of The Complete Bible Answer Book that is forthcoming in Fall 2023. When available for pre-order we will update this page with corresponding information. Until then you can still purchase or receive for your partnering gift the current version by clicking here for purchase or here for partnering gift. ***