This is an article from the November-December 2014 issue: The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism

The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism

Could a New Approach to the Way We Look at Buddhism be a Key to Breakthrough?

The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism

Typically Christians attempt to understand Buddhism1 by trying to compare it with biblical doctrine. We quickly come to the conclusion that Buddhism is quite different from Christian beliefs. We believe in God, Buddhists do not. We believe in a savior, they have to rely on self-effort. This line of reasoning can develop until we are solidly convinced that there could not be any two belief systems further apart from each other than Buddhism is from biblical Christianity. And because we know we are in the light, they therefore must be in the darkness, from which we have to rescue them by proclaiming the gospel. And by gospel I mean our understanding of the gospel, because to a Buddhist our good news does not sound like good news. The biblical doctrine seems so far removed from their concepts that rarely does any understanding occur, even after 200 years of Protestant mission efforts. The only way for a Buddhist to believe what we believe is to reject everything “Buddhist”2 and jump camp. 

But could it be that how we are interpreting Buddhism puts us off target altogether? Could it be that we have never really understood Buddhism and what it is all about?

Do we actually believe what Paul wrote that God’s “eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen” (Rom 1:20, NIV)? How does this apply to Buddhism? Can we find eternal and divine fingerprints in Buddhism? Instead of dismissing everything Buddhist as untruth, let us try the opposite, finding some truth within Buddhism. Such a new approach might actually hold the key to breakthroughs among Buddhists.

First, a few words of what we can not expect. We can not expect that Buddhists have a fully and completely developed concept of “God.” Neither can we expect that a savior concept exists in the sense of a savior who overcame death to make a deathless life possible for all of creation. Even the Jews who had all the revelations of God in their Scriptures weren’t able to identify Jesus as the Savior of the world. Both concepts-- of God and of a savior--are part of the good news. 

Let us believe that God gave some profound wisdom and understanding of godly truth to Buddhists, then build on that foundation laid by God himself and see what will happen!

For a Christian to dive into anything Buddhist leads to much confusion early on. An easy way to declutter our understanding is to study how Buddha saw reality.

The Buddhist world is basically divided into two spheres with unique and opposite attributes.

There is kamma (Pali; karma in Sanskrit) on one hand and nibbana (Pali; nirvana in Sanskrit) on the other. While nibbana is deathless and includes no suffering, in kamma there is death and suffering.3 Humans are in the kamma realm, we are conditioned by death and suffering, we are under the condition of change. We want to attain nibbana, which is unconditioned.4 While living this kind of life within the kamma realm we desire what we do not have, while within the nibbana realm this kind of desire is absent. God, however, is not conditioned by death and suffering, he is not under the condition of change, he is unconditioned.

In short, all that is absent in nibbana is present in kamma, and it makes our lives miserable.

Life in the Buddhist understanding is strictly defined as life under kamma. It is a life that is under death. Buddhists do not have a concept for life without death. It is like a fish without water, while the fish is living for a short while on the dry table (after hopping out of the glass), his life is full of suffering and will surely lead to death quickly. If he would be in water, he would actually live. This is one reason why Buddhists are not very appreciative of being told about “eternal life” as for them it means this miserable life on earth, experiencing suffering and death again and again without any escape eternally. That is bad news, the worst imaginable. What we want to find words for is the biblical concept of “life without death.”

The concept of kamma always includes the ideas of reincarnation or rebirth.5 The reasons are that humans have to experience some kind of result for what they do. They cause something to happen and this has to have an effect, which in a certain way is simply how we experience life. We see people doing good and good comes back to them or people doing evil and bad things come to them. We also experience, however, that bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people. While there seems to be some kind of “justice” going on, it clearly does not all happen in this life. Therefore if we do not experience all the good effects in this life and there are some effects “left over,” the only way to experience them is in another life. Unless of course we get out of kamma into nibbana. Justice from God is absent simply because God is absent in their worldview. Kamma is a concept which includes the absence of God while it preserves some kind of justice concept, although Buddhists would not use that term because justice implies the idea of another being administering this justice. 

Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths. Here are some possibilities of understanding them from the perspective of a shared foundation:

  1. “All is suffering.” This refers to the kamma realm. Nothing in the kamma realm excludes suffering. Suffering is an all-pervasive concept and goes way beyond what Christians understand suffering means. In biblical concepts the first Noble Truth would best be translated as, “Everything is under the curse.”
  2. “The cause of suffering is desire.” Just like suffering, the word desire or craving (tanha in Pali) does not mean the same as the English word. Tanha can best be understood by the desire Adam and Eve had when they desired to be like God--knowing good and evil. Adam and Eve did not trust God; they desired something that was not meant for them. Acted out in an unwholesome act (akusala in Pali), this desire led to the fall, to death and suffering. Tanha and akusala pair up in something that the Bible calls sin (although, of course, it lacks the component of having a connection to “God”).
  3. “The cessation of suffering is possible.” The good news: There can be an end to this suffering, and an end of death. The cessation of suffering (and death) means attaining nibbana. This cessation happens by extinguishing tanha (desire).6 When “not trusting God” is tanha, then “trusting God” practically has extinguished tanha. In biblical terms “trusting God” is the same as “believing in God.” 7 Not believing is the same as “not coming from faith” (which is sin8). The implications of this are far-reaching, and need to be explored further. 
  4. “The Noble Eightfold Path leads to the end of suffering.” Interpreting this path correctly can be a bit tricky; however, without getting lost in details, all eight steps9 have the element of “not-self” in it. “Not-self” (anatta10 in Pali) is probably the most difficult Buddhist concept to comprehend. Understood from a biblical perspective, there is no such thing as a permanent unchanging self. Permanent and unchanging is in the realm of God. We cannot make ourselves into a permanent and unchanging entity, and thereby become a “self” (i.e. atta). And here is the intersection of us being in Christ: “he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17, NIV) We can not “better” our atta; we have to come to the understanding that there is no ultimate transcending self beyond Christ. And Christ is the way to God, the way to deathlessness, the way to nibbana. This Noble Eightfold Path is personified in Jesus Christ. This path, which is Christ himself, leads to the end of suffering, to the end of death.

Much more can be said about this. Some readers may feel uneasy as the above sounds like mixing Buddhism and biblical truth. Finding the fingerprints of God within Buddhism is like putting an engine into a car that does not have an engine; it is putting God into a belief system called Buddhism. To extend this analogy, a car is a car even if there is no engine inside. When someone puts an engine into a car it does not become a tractor. In the same way Buddhism stays Buddhism with or without God. What Buddhists are talking about is a world without God. Will it also make sense if we put God inside of it? Yes, it will, if we connect the different pieces of the engine to the right pieces of the car. We need to get an understanding of what Buddhism really is. To continue the analogy, it is like a car that waits for the engine to be put in and all the pieces properly connected. We do not need to approach Buddhists with the attitude “I’m a tractor, you are a car; I have an engine, you don’t. In order to get anywhere you have to become like me, a tractor with an engine.” We just need to bring them the good news: There is an engine and it makes you drive. There is a path to God and it is Jesus, and He will get you to nibbana, to deathlessness.

All concepts in Buddhism are not fleshed out with God in mind, but they can be. In other words we are adding meaning to Buddhist concepts without taking pre-existing meaning away.

When this happens, Buddhists can understand what we mean based on their previous knowledge of truth. They see how Buddha’s teachings were like a masterful preparation for the good news of Christ. They do not have to become non-Buddhists (i.e. a tractor) in order to believe in Christ and trust God. Before, they only had to depend on themselves because they did not know Christ and were stuck in kamma. There was no reliable source to depend on. None of the Hindu gods worked out for Buddha. Neither can anyone rescue someone else while being stuck in the same mud (kamma). They can depend on Christ as Buddhists precisely because Christ was always enlightened.11 Here is the climax of the analogy. Buddhists, as cars without an engine, believed that they had to depend on themselves, but now they can depend on the engine that fits into their cars. They can depend on Christ. This is the good news.

Many Buddhist concepts are so biblical that it is possible to think they are straight from the Bible. 

Metta is unclinging love, pure kindness, absolute benevolence with no hint of any selfishness involved. Metta is basically what the Greeks called agape. Unfortunately, there are still Bible translations out there that use a desire-clinging love word, putting the love of God straight back into the realm of kamma.

While metta and nibbana make God personal, the word that makes God divine is nicca, permanence. Kamma, and all conditioned phenomena, are characterized by impermanence, anicca. Nibbana is not conditioned and thereby permanent. This permanence is what Buddhists see as ultimate, while according to biblical truth God is ultimate. The reason why Buddha did not talk about a “personal” ultimate is because there was no person existing who was unconditioned and permanent and Hindu gods were either impermanent and personal or impersonal. An impersonal godhead would not make any difference to human suffering. The end of human suffering is what Buddha was concerned about.

Further exploring the fingerprints of God within Buddhism might lead to more breakthroughs among Buddhists as they find the permanent God who has brought nibbana to them, experiencing His metta and transforming their lives. If space would allow we could find dozens of examples of Buddhist concepts that could be employed to communicate the good news.

Once we understand Buddhism better, how it highlights the truth, we see God at work everywhere. He prepared a path to walk on. We don’t need to fight Buddhists for “wrong beliefs,” engaging in defensive apologetics because we feel threatened by their beliefs. We can explore new ways of engaging with our Buddhists friends, because God’s fingerprints do exist in Buddhism. 

Endnotes
  1. There are many schools of thought within Buddhisms; some have opposing views on different issues. “Buddhism” here is used more in the way it is used in Asia as Buddha-dhamma, the teachings of Buddha.

  2. Whatever is included in their definition of “Buddhist,” which in most cases is an amalgamation of cultural identity, national identity, moral code, etc.

  3. Suffering, dukkha in Pali, should not be understood in the normal English use of that word. It has a much deeper meaning. “Dukkha is commonly explained according to three different categories:
    • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
    • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
    • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha)
    “Without any core and substance” is hinting at the underlying unsatisfactoriness which we also see in Gen 3:17-19 (NIV). We were separated from God, meaning death in a wider sense than mere physical death, as Adam and Eve did not die physically that day. See also Rom 8:20 (NIV).

  4. “Unconditioned”: not under the influence of impermanence, not-self and suffering

  5. There is a difference between reincarnation and rebirth. Reincarnation assumes that a person exists, and that this person will die and be reborn again. Rebirth assumes that that there is no person being re-born but that a person forms out of five aggregates which disassemble at death and reassemble into another person, thus a person is reborn. While the Buddha denied reincarnation, practically, Asian Buddhists believe in reincarnation.

  6. There is a Christian confusion sometimes arising which shows a lack of understanding of what tanha (desire) means: “Don’t you need the desire of ending desire in order to end desire?” The simple answer is that the word for “desire” of ending tanha (Pali) is not tanha.

  7. The Greek word ‘pistis’ for (to believe) can also have the meaning “to trust” depending on the context.

  8. Rom 14:23b (NIV) “…and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

  9. Right understanding, right attitude, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration

  10. Not-self, anatta is the negative form of atta. For the Buddha atta (self) is the same as atman (Sanskrit) which can be understood as the “true self of a person,” which goes beyond kamma. There are different views about anatta among Buddhists; even mentioning a few of them would go beyond the scope of this article.

  11. In fact it might be good to point out that “God is light…” John 1:5, (NIV); enlightenment can only happen because God (or Christ) is light. In this sense Christ did not “become enlightened” but is the pure essence of anyone’s enlightenment.

Comments

One can note that every outside religion has trouble making inroads in any other religion.

Thank you for this enlightened article! May we come to understand that the mind of Christ, in considering others as better than ourselves, might be the antidote to the evangelical hubris that too often accompanies our evangelism and church planting, and that it might become the modus operandi in coming to engage those to whom we have been called.

Thank you Dennis for your observation. And because it is as you said, it is a good idea to simply abstain from doing so in the first place, and put an emphasis on living faith revealing Christ to everyone beyond religion. In this sense I understand religion, although a kind of artificial western construct, as ‘humans striving towards whatever is beyond the material world’.

Sam, I’m totally with you on this. And yet this is so difficult as we keep tell ourselves that we have the Good News. Asking ourselves the question “How is God already working in my friend’s life?” and observing his whole context can be helpful . It focussed me both on God as on the other person while allowing room for struggling, even failing forward, praying and staying connected. Nothing easy here. Considering other better clothes us in humility.

I do believe, as the author writes, that God’s “eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen” (Rom 1:20, NIV), but Paul also writes that “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom 1:21, NIV) and “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25, NIV). We ought to recognize the other side of the coin, that Buddhism is the result of futile thinking and a rejection of God for a lie.

The author, in addressing the charge of mixing Buddhism and biblical truth, likens Buddhism to a car without an engine, and that God can be properly wired to this car. However, the author simply states this; he doesn’t give any reasons to suppose this to be true. How do we know Buddhism isn’t more like a car that was totaled beyond repair in a car accident, and needs to be replaced? For example, the author states that “All concepts in Buddhism are not fleshed out with God in mind, but they can be.” But how do we know that all Buddhist concepts can be fleshed out with God in mind?

If we attempt to place God as an engine inside the vehicle of Buddhism, and we’re going to call this New Buddhism instead of Christianity, what we ought to be asking instead is, can all biblical concepts be fleshed out within the Buddhist religion?

And here I have my doubts. Some examples: the call of Christ followers is to model Christ in his sufferings. We acknowledge that God gives us suffering for our good. Can this view of suffering fit into the Buddhist religion? The Bible teaches that we are judged by God at the end of a single lifetime. Can this fit into a religion where there is no judge and reincarnation is taken for granted? The Buddha was concerned about the end of all suffering. Yet, most Bible-believing Christians believe that God will punish unrepentant sinners with unending torment for their sins, an act that gives glory to God. Can this doctrine fit into the Buddhist religion? And if we do fit all these biblical doctrines into Buddhism, can we rightly say that it is still Buddhist?

If we take a look at church history, God has not been concerned about the details of previously held beliefs. Certainly, any pagan religion (which is what Buddhism is) could be defined as ‘darkened, sinful mankind’ attempting to explain life and death, suffering, desire etc). Many pagan exercises found their way into the church as the church tried to accommodate the new ‘believers’. When Paul visited Mars Hill, he could see that they were very religious and found the smallest bit of common ground to explain to the Greeks what was previously ‘unknown’ to them.

These pagan religions could also be likened to cars without engines. However, instead of taking the driver out of the incomplete car and introducing them to a completed car that really works, they took the engine out of the completed car and transplanted it into the shell. This ‘frankenstein’ of a car may run and seem to transport the driver to previously unknown destinations, the truth is that it doesn’t run very well and is likely to consume the driver with mechanical issues.

Continuing along the analogy…

An engine without the shell to put it in is as useless as the shell without the engine and both are useless without fuel. To say that Christ is the engine when in reality He is the ultimate vehicle falls short of a full explanation.

When a Christian drives up in front of the temple with his complete car, he can point out to the potential drivers the differences between complete and incomplete cars. The Christian must then put them into new, complete cars and give them an owners manual (Bible) so they know how to drive and maintain it. Not gut their own car in order to give the pagan the idea that his ‘car’ can be made to work. Certainly, the pagan owners manual will do nothing to instruct them to drive complete cars and will give them apoplectic fits as they try to drive their ‘frankensteins’.

We also need to understand that all ‘religion’ is a veil that hides God. Religions run the gamut from translucent to utter darkness in their ability to obscure God. It is our job to remove the veil so that God can simply be seen instead of trying to explain to others what is behind the veil. It is when God can be seen that the person has the opportunity to accept or reject the Gospel. When we get bogged down in the minutia of whose veil is a better representation of God, we miss the point altogether.

Paul states that 2Cor14 “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Even the Jewish religion was not able to bring anyone to salvation. Turn them to the Lord and everything else will fall into place.

Don, thank you for your comment. The questions you raise are important and I want to try my best to get a it more detailed. As the article was limited, this was not possible, neither was I able to give all the dozens of footnotes that would have to be in place for a scholarly article.

There is, no doubt, futile thinking in all religions, we all make up our own way to whatever we think saves us. But did they reject God? It seems more that Buddha rejected all idolatries, gods who were no gods and could not do anything to help. Once all of those we swept off the table, he started with a clean sheet. Was God able to influence him with some godly input?

If we believe that every and anything in Buddhist thinking is futile, we might run into the problem that we run out of words to communicate anything of interest and that our message is “I reject you, so does my god!” And that, in all fairness, is not the Good News.

So why is buddhism not a totaled car? Because Buddhist think their Buddhism is fine, they don’t think it is totaled. We can declare that the car is totaled because it doesn’t have an engine, however, that is our problem, not theirs.

But let’s make a thinking experiment: What if Jesus would be here personally, and all Christians are gone and he had to deal with Buddhists, and let’s assume he knows what he is doing. Would he talk about his father being in the 4th heaven (as Thai buddhists believe in heaven and hell) implying that there are more heavens and that only humans with good karma would reach that kind of heaven? I have my doubts. So therefore me might avoid the word for God that implies exactly the above connotation. Would he try to convince people that his father desire-loves them (instead of selfless love) because he lusts for this fall world, and by doing so invalidating the Buddhist’s longing for being without death and suffering? Surely not.

Then the question is, what Buddhist concepts can be fleshed out with God in mind? Suffering and death being blown out, yes, I find that in the Bible. When the Buddhist call this nibbana, why not affirm that we believe in this, too, that in the end, death and suffering will be dealt with in a way that makes them not to come back ever.

Okay, we might be fine with nibbana, but what about kamma. Or what about reincarnation. Now what Buddhist believe reincarnation is, is clearly not what we see in the Bible, yet our task is not first and foremost to attack them on anything unbiblical. What do we expect anyways? That they already have the biblical worldview down? Then, let’s go and find out how to communicate the Good News so that they say: “Wow, that is good news!”

So how would this good news look like like? Saying they have to stay in kamma? No. Then, what about the opposite, that they can reach nibbana. Now, of course, nibbana has to be connected to God. Hence, where Jesus was there was nibbana. But then, why did Jesus die? Could he not have prevented his death if he was enlightened? Surely he could have prevented his death, as he said so himself (Mt 26:53). But then he would not have saved anyone.

Now Buddhist don’t believe in a savior. Buddha didn’t think any of the gods at his time would do it, not knowing Jesus, and not telling people they can escape their unwholesome acts, he came up with, that they had to fend for themselves. Who blames him? What else should he have come up with? Surely not with a complete savior theology that even the Jews weren’t able to believe in thou it played out in their plain view.

Don, you wrote that “We acknowledge that God gives us suffering for our good. Can this view of suffering fit into the Buddhist religion?”

This is a very good and advanced question. God gives us suffering, and if I can add this, he gives us death. How can someone die even though he is enlightened and has reached nibbana? Luckily, the buddhists are helping us out on this: Buddha did. But why? Why did Buddha have to die? Because the rest of this world is not in the nibbana realm. For Buddha not to die, death would have to be completely done with. (And here is the slight difference between Buddha and Christ: Buddha was born outside of nibbana, Christ was born within nibbana. however, the real and important question is: “How did Christ conquer death and resurrect, using Buddhist concepts?” Ultimately, death has only a grip on someone who was under the cause and effect of death which Christ never has been. Christ taking on our deeds that separate us from God voluntarily got him killed (as he paid for our effects), yet him being nibbanic, death could not hold him, and he resurrected. This means that we can suffer because of two reasons. Because of our unwholesome acts and because of others’ unwholesome acts. Yet ultimately, as we still live in a fallen world, it is not exactly god who gives us (suffering and death) but we can not avoid it. This however raises the question if the word for suffering (English) should be translated with dukkha (Pali). To my understanding, dukkha implies that it had its origin in desire (tanha), and that was not the case with Christ. In other words, some of his and our suffering comes us living out anatta (not self, understood as selflessness) in a dukkha world. What such a word would be needs to be investigated further, something like selfless suffering. Anyone who is fluent in Pali might help here.


You also raised the question of how a judging God fits into Buddhism? Suppose we have established that God is sustaining nibbana, and that He will blow out all non-nibbana (to avoid kamma) at one point in time. Then, it will sooner or later be clear that it is distrust, shown in desire (tanha), that has separated us from Him. Hence trust in Him and the one He has sent, will get us back. What will happen to the ones who insist to not trust him but want to indulge in desire? Because nibbana is permanent, and kamma is impermanent, kamma and death and suffering (dukkha) will be permanently blown out (= nibbana). So why can god do this? Because He is unconditioned, free from conditions that bind us to kamma, our fallen world. Our world does not bind God beyond his power. Therefore He is able to judge. With god you can even as a Buddhist believe in judgement, without God you can not, at least not in any kind of eternal consequence-judgement.

Now suppose that we can actually fit all biblical nocturnes into Buddhism, can we still call us a Buddhist? In other words we would betook biblical to be Buddhist. First, Buddhism although being treated here on the “religious/ worldview” side, is really more than a belief system, more than a religion. As noted in the kingdom tree video, people are Buddhists because their parents were Buddhists. Changing one’s identity is not something that is perceived as being a religious thing to do (let alone bro out of faith) by the surrounding community, it is purely being received as a cultural thing, even more like rejecting where one and their complete forefathers came from in their entirety.

Don, I didn’t answer your questions about how eternal torment which gives glory to God can become part of what Buddhist believe. How and why and even if eternal torment gives glory to God is in my opinion a question that would lead us towards a rabbit trail we might not have to go here. There are definitely parts of god’s plans I do not understand. while I whole heartedly trust that God knows what He is doing and that all is right and righteous, my brain does not fathom his complete council. However, I can imagine that Buddhists are able to understand the Good News and trust in Him without having an answer to this question. If they come up with this question is another matter altogether. There are a lot of questions and puzzles which are highly relevant to “Christians” as they are indebted in the Christian history and culture, but these kind of questions are not the ones being asked by Buddhists. I am trying to understand where Buddhists come from while at the same time open some windows for Christians to see who Buddhists can find Christ.

I am very glad to read all this comment. As I was a Buddhist and converted to Christ - I would like to put my knowledge of Buddhism to add some of my friends questions and comments. Please bear with me for not fluent in English writing.

November 07, 2014 by Don L.  Questioned:
We acknowledge that God gives us suffering for our good. Can this view of suffering fit into the Buddhist religion?
“Yes. In Buddhist view – any kind of life belongs to suffering. No life – No suffer. We “Christian” calls their “No Life” as “Eternal Life”.  That is one of God’s finger print in Buddhist teaching”

Yet, most Bible-believing Christians believe that God will punish unrepentant sinners with unending torment for their sins, an act that gives glory to God. Can this doctrine fit into the Buddhist religion?
“Yes. Biblically says – unending torment – ( Buddha taught – eight different kinds of hell one of which hell is unending torment called – a-wi-zit).  This is another fingerprint of God in Buddha’s teaching.”

And if we do fit all these biblical doctrines into Buddhism, can we rightly say that it is still Buddhist?
“Actually Buddha in Pali language means “God”.  In the belief of Buddhist there was already 4 Buddhas appeared and – according to Gaw-Da-Ma Buddha – next Buddha “Ari-Met-Te-Ya” (the one whoes love is infinitely greater than the solar universe) (To me that “Ari-Met-Te-Ya” = “Jesus” was already here) and the Buddhists never known or accept as is.”

November 10, 2014 by Chris Bauer
This however raises the question if the word for suffering (English) should be translated with dukkha (Pali). To my understanding, dukkha implies that it had its origin in desire (tanha), and that was not the case with Christ. In other words, some of his and our suffering comes us living out anatta (not self, understood as selflessness) in a dukkha world. What such a word would be needs to be investigated further, something like selfless suffering. Anyone who is fluent in Pali might help here.

“Duk-Kha is not the cause. It is an effect. Let me describe Pali reading pronouncing in English.
(Aa-Wait-Zar   pist-sa-yar   Thin-Khar-Yar) (AWZ is the cause and TKY is the effect.)
Thin-Khar- Ya in pali language mean “the universal truth” which is composed of (Aa-Nit-Sa) “nothing last forever” ; (Duk-Kha) “all lives bond to suffering and enjoying the suffering” – may need to explain more but no room here; (Aa-Nat-Ta) “No one belongs anything – have to leave behing when they die.
This concept is also the finger print of God in Buddha’s teaching.”

Min, thanks you for your insightful comment. Please write me an email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
I would love to ponder these issues in more depth with you, especially the Pali.

I have heard that some have made the connection between Ari Mettaya and Jesus. It is interesting to note that Alex Smith mentioned in his book “Siamese Gold” that early missionaries have encountered the legend of Ari Mettaya among the Lao people (pages 113 - 116). He is quoting Arthur J. Brown who is quoting Dodd (MRW 1908:343): “Most of our auditors looked upon Jesus as the next Buddha, the Saviour, Ahreya Mettai. Many lifted both hands in worship of the pictures, the book, and the preachers. Our colporteurs were treated in most places as the messengers of the Buddhist Messiah. Offering of food, flowers, and wax tapers were made to them. In return, they were expected to bless the givers. They explained that they themselves were sinners deriving all merit and blessing from god and then reverently asked a blessing from Him. Thus christian services were held in hundreds of homes.” (page 114)
Smith gives us also an idea of how the missionaries handled the legend of Ari Mettaya: “Some missionaries capitalized on these predictions “pointing to the salvation wrought out by the blessed Son of god.” They used this as a starting point of contact within the Lao culture to bridge the religion-cultural gap in meaningful communication. this was one of the bridging points. From here they went on to expound the riches of Christ.” (page 114)

This all happened over 100 years ago!

David,

your point is that neither Buddhist nor Jewish religion brings anyone to Christ. Totally agree. Neither does any of the Christian religions, be it Catholic or Protestant, bring anyone to Christ. Religion obscure God in the way, that a religion tries to find a way to worship something different then the Holy God.

The problem is that believers in Jesus have equated their belief with “Christianity”, believing and convincing themselves that “Christians” are people who are born again believers/ disciples of Christ. This however is not so outside of America. Outside of America people have no clue what a born again believer is because they have not heard the Good News. I doubt that more than 10% of German Christians have ever heard the Gospel, let alone committed their lives to Jesus. And that is true for most of Europe. So when “Christian Europe” defines “Christian” as cultural, why are we surprised that all of Asia, which has a much stronger community identity, is doing it as well. In other words, all over the world,with America being the exception, “Christian” is understood in socio-cultural connotations and has nothing to do with a faith relationship in Christ. And this means that when we use that term outside of our evangelical communities we are miscommunicating.

I fear that this simple truth will not be intellectually understood, it has to get experienced. What about everyone takes a two week vacation, goes to Germany or France or Italy, and starts talking “Christian” and “Christianity” to a few hundred people. But even that can be flawed, as people will say that a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus or God, and then the American evangelical is fooled into thinking that they do understand something about personal relationship, yet the devil believes in Jesus, too, in the same way Germans believe when they use that term.

Somehow, we have to get to the point of finally not talking about “religion” all the time, regardless what kind of religion. When we talk religious terms, we are understood as promoting religion, which again is socio-cultural. And promoting religion implies to non-American non-evangelicals that we are all about getting people alienated from their folks and join our group, and this is felt as imperialistic and truimphalistic. “Join our group, we are better than your community and your ancestors community, reject everything from your background.” This is what they understand, and this is not the Good News.

How do we expect people find to Christ, when we don’t communicate Christ but our Christian superiority?

But only once we thoroughly get this, we can go ahead and start sharing our lives with “Christians”, and Buddhists, and others. Only then we stop attacking them and understand their longing for no suffering, no death.

Living in something that we perceive as an atheistic environment, we fool ourselves into thinking all people who don’t believe in Christ are against God, as if they are atheists. Did Paul really say that everyone has rejected the Creator God? Or did he say that the Creator God was rejected a long time ago and that is why their is no knowledge of Him left, and therefore people don’t worship Him?

Now what do we do then? What about proclaiming Him so that people actually understand who He is and that they can get to know Him?
And then we don’t tell them to join our socio-cultural “religion”, but tell them to “walk with Christ”. Do we trust God actually working in their lives? do we trust God leading Buddhists who gave their lives to Christ being lead by the Holy Spirit?

Chris,

I think that you validated my point about religion. All ‘religion’ serves to obscure God. Pagan, self-proclaimed Christianity, Roman Catholic, atheism (yes, it is a religion), and all the others. I am advocating the removal of these ‘veils’ so that Jesus Christ can truly be seen. When presented with the Gospel it matters not the background of the person. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and the exercise of faith in the person of Jesus Christ and His resurrection completes rebirth. That’s the technical explanation of an extremely powerful and personal dynamic. One that I have personally experienced all of the way through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I will never be the same.

I agree that the pure Gospel is misunderstood greatly in the world. My personal belief of the persecution in the Middle East at the present time is a direct result of their indifference to the Gospel for many years. Europe is not far behind in experiencing the same issues. Indeed, in the places where the Gospel has been known the longest it finds itself discredited in favor of any number of replacements. This doesn’t change its power because it is the only truth. But there are reports of great numbers coming to Jesus Christ with ‘signs following’. I have read many reports from Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors that attest to this fact.

Now, after accepting the Gospel, the background of the believer does have effects as the ‘flesh’ attempts to reassert control over the soul. We all experience this to some extent. I avoid ‘religious’ attitudes by adhering to the teachings of the Bible and focusing on my relationship with Him. I never engage in rituals or observances as a way to please God.

The need to be ‘born again’ or ‘born from above’ is only understood through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where prayer for the lost is especially important, since no one comes to the Father unless they are called. To try to make the Gospel fit into any particular religion only serves to dilute the Gospel message instead of strengthening it. Those that label themselves Christian simply because Jesus is part of their doctrinal statements are probably in the worst danger of all. My Catholic mother used to explain to me that I was going to heaven because we are members of the church. Even as a boy, I knew that this could not possibly be true. I would venture a guess that there of those of all religions that know intuitively that there is something amiss in what they have been taught. When these hear the Gospel, they know what it is. Preach that and they will come…

Many Native American Indians accepted the Gospel when they heard. Many African peoples have similarly responded. To my knowledge, American evangelists of the 19th century didn’t dress up as Indians and learned every tenet of the local witch doctor in order to find a way ‘in’. They found an interpreter and told them about Jesus! Many rejected, many accepted. Why not Buddhists? I don’t know. But even if only one is truly born again it is worth the effort.

1Cor10 -18Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
I am very concerned with this teaching. i have seen Buddhism in Thailand and Nepal. it is demonic. that is not to say that the people are not nice people… but the devil is the author of Buddhism as he uses it to control the people and destroy them. i think it is wrong to tell people that they should mix Jesus into their Buddhism. new converts seem to know without our help that they must follow Jesus 100%, the holy spirit sets them free. They destroy the idols and stop entering the temples. God forbid that we should tell them it is OK to stay in that system. Don’t be so eager to see converts that you pollute the Gospel. rather pray and fast for the people and against the enemy which is the Buddhism that chains them.

Dear Chris,

Thank you for responding to my comment. I wrote my comment because you brought up the topic of “mixing Buddhism and biblical truth,” but never refuted it. Now that I have read your response, I am even more convinced that your approach will lead to syncretism.

In your original article, you wrote “All concepts in Buddhism are not fleshed out with God in mind, but they can be.” Yet in your comments, you admitted that this is not the case. You acknowledged that reincarnation could not be reconciled with biblical truth, but you rejected correcting their false worldview, likening it to “attacking anything unbiblical.” However, if you do not confront unbiblical ideas (as Jesus and Paul did frequently throughout the New Testament), you will end up with a worldview that mixes Buddhism and biblical truth.

Buddhists understand nibbana (after death) is the end of suffering, but nibbana is also understood to be the end of physical and mental existence of a person. We know from the Bible that we will be physical and mental beings in heaven. Nibbana is the cessation of death, but it can only be understood with regard to reincarnation, in which you continue to live, suffer, and die, in an endless cycle. In contrast, the biblical concept of the end of the death is eternal life with God in physical bodies.

If we say that Jesus is the path to nibbana, but do not correct the false concepts in nibbana, we imply all sorts of false information and reinforce their false worldviews. You will end up with a worldview that mixes Buddhism and biblical truth. And that is syncretism.

Dear Don,

syncretism is what is actually avoided by my approach, but it takes a bit of digging to see that:
Reincarnation is not a Buddhist concept but a Hindu concept. The Buddhist equivalent is rebirth. That doesn’t mean that there are not a lot of Buddhists who believe in reincarnation, there are. There are also a lot of Christians who believe all kinds of stuff. But Buddha talked about rebirth, and rebirth can be fleshed out with God in mind.

I have not seen that the practice of attacking anything unbiblical or correcting false worldviews is particularly successful. When there is no real understanding of God, it might be a good idea to start somewhere at the beginning rather than correcting what you think has to be corrected. Once Buddhist have a clear understanding of God, God might actually give more revelations.

I think you will have a hard time to convince Buddhist that they think that nibbana is the end of physical and mental existence. Buddha lived attained nibbana and he still lived on earth. After death nibbana is called pari-nibbana, but it is not possible to understand pari-nibbana without first getting a good understanding of nibbana.
So can we be physically and mentally fully alive in nibbana/ the kingdom of God/ heaven? If we are not dead, then we can because we are alive. But of course we have to understand nibbana independent of reincarnation. But Buddha managed to do this, as he introduce rebirth. So when we understand rebirth with God in mind, rebirth and nibbana are not incompatible.

The reason why Buddha did not end up with understanding “life” as the opposite of death is because “life” is only fully life once death on a complete scale is been dealt with (Rev. 20:14) and that is only possible through Jesus and his resurrection. And that has not happened at Buddha’s time, neither can we expect him to have a revelation about this as even Jesus’ disciples din’t get it for the longest time. So only after Jesus is understood and what he did, life in nibbana can be conceptualized. Hence we end up with eternal life within nibbana.

Regarding correcting false concepts of nibbana: If we don’t talk about nibbana but use sawan Thai: heaven) we have for sure messed up any understanding of what we really want to say as there is almost no biblical connotation with this word. Nibbana on the other hand has at least the most fundamental aspects of what should get communicated. On top of that, nibbana has to get experienced, so we don’t have to verbally communicate every single detail. The biggest hurdle might be that no monk would dare to say that he has attained nibbana, but this puzzle is solvable (although space does not permit me to go into too much detail here).

Dear Chris,

Please understand what I am saying. I have not advocated “attacking anything unbiblical,” or using “sawan” for heaven. I haven’t argued for any particular approach to Buddhists, so I do not understand why you are attributing such arguments to me.

What I am saying is that, if you use terms that have non-biblical connotations, and you don’t correct these non-biblical connotations, this will lead to syncretism. You’ve stated your approach avoids syncretism, but you haven’t shown it, and I am not convinced your approach will correct syncretism when it inevitably arises.

And when I say correct, I mean correct, not “attack,” in the way Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

In addition, I am greatly alarmed that you have denied the basic teaching of general revelation in the way you have applied Paul’s teaching in Romans to modern day Buddhists.

You wrote:
Living in something that we perceive as an atheistic environment, we fool ourselves into thinking all people who don’t believe in Christ are against God, as if they are atheists. Did Paul really say that everyone has rejected the Creator God? Or did he say that the Creator God was rejected a long time ago and that is why their is no knowledge of Him left, and therefore people don’t worship Him?

Paul says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 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 people are without excuse. 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. (Romans 1:18-21, NIV)

Paul says that what may be known about God has been clearly seen and understood from what has been made, ever since the creation of the world. Paul never said “their [sic] is no knowledge of him left”—modern day Buddhists can see God just as well as their ancestors did because they can also understand what has been made. But as Paul says, they neither glorify him as God nor give thanks to him. So yes, Buddhists today reject the creator God.

A proper understanding of general revelation, that everyone has knowledge of God, is essential to Christian mission today. That is why this statement was included in the Lausanne Covenant.

3. THE UNIQUENESS AND UNIVERSALITY OF CHRIST
We affirm that there is only one Saviour and only one gospel, although there is a wide diversity of evangelistic approaches. We recognise that everyone has some knowledge of God through his general revelation in nature. But we deny that this can save, for people suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. We also reject as derogatory to Christ and the gospel every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies. Jesus Christ, being himself the only God-man, who gave himself as the only ransom for sinners, is the only mediator between God and people. There is no other name by which we must be saved. All men and women are perishing because of sin, but God loves everyone, not wishing that any should perish but that all should repent. Yet those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God. To proclaim Jesus as “the Saviour of the world” is not to affirm that all people are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ. Rather it is to proclaim God’s love for a world of sinners and to invite everyone to respond to him as Saviour and Lord in the wholehearted personal commitment of repentance and faith. Jesus Christ has been exalted above every other name; we long for the day when every knee shall bow to him and every tongue shall confess him Lord.

In response to your response brother Chris, the article was about semantics as was my remark. As to religion in the strict denotation of the word we can fault James for advocating it or employ semantics when we want or simply accept that any overt Christian will be considered religious simply by being overt about living out the faith in a visible way. If I had abstained from constructs of religion all these years I never would have been imprisoned for my faith or persecuted by friends and family for making restitution for past sins and for refraining from popular behavior. I am from a culture that has no place for an openly observant Christian, aren’t we all? I am reminded that Methodists got their name from others, though they apparently got used to it.

Having evangelized among Buddhists in Thailand for the past 13 years I am in full agreement with David Satterfield’s comments above. The average Thai person doesn’t have a very firm grip on what they believe as a Buddhist, the best we can do is clearly present the gospel and let them choose. Lord have mercy.

Buddha had already told that wherever we are, its temporary. Although lifespan in heavens is very long, around billions of years in middle heavens and trillions of years in higher heavens. Its still temporary. Ultimate goal of humans is not to attain some temporary heaven but to attain liberation.
When your God was thinking that earth is 6000 years old, Buddha had already told that it is billions of years old. When your God was thinking that earth is the centre of universe,  Buddha had already told that it is as insignificant as a sand particle on the banks of Ganges river and there are countless world systems with their own suns and moons. When your God was thinking that universe is finite, Buddha had already explained his cosmology of billions of world systems in his 31 planes of existence. Google: 31 planes of existence.
Its not difficult to see that Christian God is a failure in science and anyone following him is a failure too both scientifically and spiritually. Christian God is in fact leading people to hell by making then afraid of hell thus disturbing their mind state which decides the afterlife.
Or you can belive in Buddha who is omniscient. What he said 2500 years ago, still applies today. No one has been able to prove wrong his psychology up to day. In fact christian scientist are using it to study mind during meditation.
But still you will follow your failure God because you are attached to his demonic beliefs.

Dear Surendra, Anyone who claims the earth is 6000 years old is theorizing, there is nowhere in the Bible that says that. Science is not the point of the Bible, so if a Christian starts using the Bible to make up scientific theories, it’s probably wrong. We fail as scientists, but spiritually, if we listen to what Jesus came to tell us, eternal life is no failure. Have a read of what Jesus said and see if your heart isn’t persuaded. God bless you.

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