In yesterday’s post I provided a brief overview of Buddhism in an effort to show how it answers the three most important questions (“How did we get here?”, “How did things get so messed up?” and “How do we fix it?”). While Buddhism provides answers for the three most important worldview questions, the Buddhist answers raise important questions in and of themselves. There are several topics one could engage when talking to a Buddhist in order to examine the internal and external coherence of the worldview. Let’s take a look at a few questions one might ask from a philosophical perspective and a few issues one might discuss from a theological perspective:
Let’s begin with some questions springing from basic philosophical concerns:
1. If Buddhists themselves cannot agree on which scriptural writings or traditions for practice are actually true statements from Buddha, how can Buddhism as a system claim any truth?
Even within Buddhism, there are contradictory claims related to the validity of a variety of late appearing religious texts, all of which claim to accurately represent the words of Buddha. None of these texts stands unchallenged as having come from the time in which Buddha lived. Many have very questionable origins. How are we to know which are authoritative? Many scholars believe it is impossible to say with confidence, “This is what Gautama Buddha said.” How can anyone make a claim for the truth without first establishing the foundation for Buddhistic truth?
2. If life is just suffering, as Buddhism claims, why is it some of us don’t see it this way? Why do some of us see life as wonderful rather than filled with suffering?
Buddha’s observations about the world seem to come from his direct experience; the entire religious system is built on the notion life is filled with suffering with no positive value on the individual. But what if the individual doesn’t see the world in this way? What if the individual, even though he or she experiences hardship, understands the value of this experience and does not see it as suffering?
3. If our present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, what is the real present remedy for suffering in this life?
Can all suffering be alleviated in this life through our efforts with the Eight Fold Path? Why engage in any effort related to the Eight Fold Path, if the only true benefits are to be realized in the next life?
4. Who is the Karma Judge?
If, as Buddhism teaches, there is no personal God interacting with His creation, who determines whether or not a person has done something to merit either “good” or “bad” Karma? If this decision is made at the end of one’s life, who is actually making the decision? How can an impersonal force “decide” anything? Who is the final judge of Karma, and mustn’t this judge by necessity be a personal being (capable of making a decision)?
5. If achieving “nirvana” means that we will be liberated from the illusion of consciousness, how then will we know (be conscious of) our achieving this “nirvana”? How can we be “conscious” of this, if “consciousness” will no longer exist?
Our existence outside the material, physical world, presumes a conscious existence in which we can “realize” or enlightened condition. How can we be conscious of this if consciousness will no longer exist?
6. If there is no transcendent “self” or “soul”, how do we transcend this life in order for reincarnation to be possible?
If reincarnation is true, it makes sense something of our true identity would move from one life to the next. What is this “something” if not a soul? Who (or what) moves on from this life to the next?
7. What real evidence do we have that reincarnation is true?
Why is there not consistent evidence for the notion of reincarnation? On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha? While we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul, what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?
8. If all of us are re-incarnations of prior human beings, how do we account for the growing population? Where do “new” humans come from?
Reincarnation implies all of us were here before, in a prior life. But if humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans, how is it the global population is growing? If humans can be reincarnated from other animals, does this mean the total animal population on earth has always been constant?
9. If “buddhas” and “boddisatvas” exist to help others in achieving “nirvana” what is the true value of “self-effort”?
If, as a Buddhist, I rely on the help of a “buddha” or “boddisatva” how can my assisted work be accredited to me as Karma (or even as true obedience to the Eight Fold Path)? Doesn’t assistance negate the self-effort required to establish Karma in the first place?
10. If “buddha-hood” is actually achievable in this life, how are we to know we are talking to a true “buddha” or “boddisatva”?
If there are those in our midst who have actually achieved this level of enlightenment, how are we to identify them? Why should we trust their own proclamations of “buddha-hood”? How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with “buddha-hood”?
11. If a person’s present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, why should we try to do anything to change their present condition? Aren’t they simply getting what they deserve?
Why help those who are simply paying the price for an evil prior life? Passivity and apathy seem to be a common problem within Buddhism, largely in response to a concept known as “samsara”. Take a look at this article from an online Burmese magazine:
“This passivity is largely due to the promotion of samsara. Taken from the Pali word sam (succession) sara (going, wandering), it refers to the cycle of human existence, or the cycle of life and death. Samsara poses that people are mere guests in this life, and life is just a transit point. Samsara is the flux of mind and body, of mental and physical phenomena. Humans are travelers in the realm of samsara, where nothing holds permanent. Moments of sadness and misfortune, as well as glory and happiness, are accepted as part of the natural ups and downs of life. Burma’s political and religious elite has affirmed samsara as the only indisputable Buddhist doctrine, and the public has meekly signed on. Because so many Burmese Buddhists tend to see themselves against the backdrop of samsara, it has wide reach over existing social structures, even though Burma is not religiously homogenous. Every experience, even a bad one, is seen as part of life and the impermanent nature of the world. Rather than being angered or aggrieved by unfortunate experiences, Burmese Buddhism preaches that it is best to let them go.”(by Min Zin, Engaging Buddhism for Social Change, March, 2003 Irrawaddy.org)
12. If our present existence is the result of something we could not control (from a prior life), what hope can we have related to our present situation in this life?
How do we hold on to hope for this life if our situation was predetermined for us and our present behaviors have more impact on the next life than on the present one? Doesn’t this view of our present life lead to an inevitable hopelessness? As it turns out, heavily Buddhist countries like Japan, Korea, and Sri Lanka have some of the highest suicide rates (from young to old). The top twenty most suicidal countries are almost all countries with strong Buddhist or Communist (atheist) histories.
Now let’s examine some questions related to topics directly addressed in the Bible. Buddhism makes a number of claims about the way in which the world operates. Let’s compare these ideas directly to the claims of Christianity:
1. You don’t believe in the existence of a personal God. As a Christian I do believe that God exists, and I believe Him to be a personal creator:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”
2. You don’t seem to have an answer for the origin of the universe or for us as human beings. As a Christian, I believe the universe (and all of us) were created by God and that we are therefore real:
The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), “I am the LORD, and there is none else.”
3. You seem to deny the reality of our material existence and you also deny the existence of the soul and spirit. As a Christian, I believe humans are real in body, soul and spirit:
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel. Thus declares the LORD who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him
4. You seem to devalue our present life as fleeting and illusionary. As a Christian, I believe this physical life may be temporary, but it is valuable and worth living:
A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER”
And this is the word which was preached to you.
5. You believe the goal of good living is all about the personal reward of enlightenment. As a Christian, I believe the goal of good living is to honor God and demonstrate His worth so others would desire to know Him:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
…just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God
6. You believe suffering is the result of desire (and attachment) and may even be the result of “bad Karma”. As a Christian, I believe suffering is the result of sin, our intentional rebellion against God. I believe sin is not an abstract notion or a relative concept. It is clearly defined:
2 Chronicles 6:36
“When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death
Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, For what he deserves will be done to him.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.
7. You believe suffering is something we should want to eliminate. As a Christian, I also want to eliminate sin, but I also see the positive value in suffering; it can teach, it can discipline, it can provide a contrast to joy. As a Christian, I know we can even find joy in the midst of suffering:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
2 Corinthians 8:2
that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.
1 Peter 4:13
but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
1 Thessalonians 3:7-9
for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account
8. You believe we cease to exist after death. As a Christian, I believe we do not cease to exist after our physical death, but will instead live on to be judged for our actions:
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment
9. You believe humans can achieve perfection and reach “nirvana”. As a Christian, I believe we can never achieve perfection in this life, freedom from suffering, or any permanent more noble existence by self-effort:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
as it is written,
“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit
10. You believe we can escape the suffering of this world and the limits of our material existence by observing and practicing a set of practices. As a Christian, I know tat the way of “escape” is only through faith in Jesus Christ as we are spiritually reborn with God’s life through the Holy Spirit:
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith
2 Peter 1:2-4
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
So, Could This Be True?
Every worldview has to be both internally and externally consistent. The challenge for Buddhism is to account for a system of judgment and reward (Karma) without a personal judge who has the ability to decide whether an individual has achieved something noble or committed something despicable. The very judge required by a Karma system is, in fact, lacking from Buddhism altogether. In addition, there are many open philosophical questions related to the first question of all worldviews (“How did we get here?”), and the system seems to lead (in many formations) to a sense of despair and hopelessness. In addition to philosophical difficulties, Christians must recognize that Buddhism is incompatible with the Christian worldview (for all the reasons we’ve already discussed). As our culture embraces pluralism and tries to find similarities between every view of the world, we must be clear about the concepts and claims defining us and ask the tough questions differentiating Christianity from Buddhism.