Reviews: Becoming Enlightened and Jesus & Buddha: The Parallel Sayings

lamaBecoming Enlightened

Becoming Enlightened is a practical introduction to and handbook for anyone wanting an understanding of the practices and beliefs of Buddhism.

The information in the book is presented in prose, and twice again in “contemplations” or abbreviated lists itemizing the information. The first of these lists appears in the chapter initially presenting the information, and then all the contemplations are repeated again in a single chapter at the end of the book for quick reference.

Buddhist practices emphasize selflessness, altruism, kindness, tolerance, and compassion. Topics regarding karma, death and reincarnation, the impermanence of life, being a positive force for change, and developing wisdom are discussed.

Speaking of Buddha, the Dalai Lama states,

People the world over, regardless of whether they are Buddhist or not, are aware that there was someone called Gautama Buddha, praised for his profound and unique presentation on the nature of persons and objects and for his related teaching of the altruistic intention to become enlightened, in which others are cherished more than oneself. (page 216)

This accessible and matter-of-fact approach of presenting the steps for advancing toward enlightenment in every area of life is designed to assist the reader with making the practical day-to-day changes. For the non-Buddhist, it is an illuminating look into the philosophical underpinnings and practices of Buddhism.

It was written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D., who was his translator for ten years.

borgJesus & Buddha: The Parallel Sayings

Editor Marcus Borg set out to list parallels between Jesus and Buddha’s teachings and lives, by demonstrating parallels between their sayings and in the events surrounding their lives. He outlines parallels in numerous areas of their teachings and life stories, such as compassion, wisdom, materialism, inner life, and temptation, to name just a few.

 

The primary purpose of the parallels collected in this volume is not to make a scholarly case for similarity. We would need to include many more, as well as the debate whether and to what degree the dissimilarities count against similarity. Rather, the purpose of this collection is to provide opportunity for reflection and meditation. . . .

And so I invite you to ponder the parallels between these two enlightened teachers of an enlightenment wisdom. The path of which they both speak is a path of liberation from our anxious grasping, resurrection into a new way of being, and transformation into the compassionate life. (Editor’s Preface, page 11)

However, we take exception to his conclusions on the basis of three points:

  1. While there are a few points of comparison, many of these may be attributed to being generally accepted truths. However, many of the so-called parallels are weak at best.
  2. The author’s assumptions are deeply flawed in that he presents the parallels as though the texts he is quoting from have equal veracity. He fails to note that the New Testament authors were disciples of Jesus and eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, teaching, death and resurrection, while the sayings attributed to Buddha and the writings about Buddha were not put in written form until centuries after he lived, and many of the events attributed to Buddha as miraculous and which appear to be parallel to Jesus’ life are known to be myths that developed over the centuries and were not documented facts about his life at all.
  3. Rather than Buddha being an influence on Jesus, the author fails to observe that Solomon may have been an influence on Buddha, since Buddha would have had access to Solomon’s writings as a Prince of northern India. This premise is explored in R. E. Sherman’s book, Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?

The editor offers this book as a volume for meditation, but the basic premise is so flawed as to nullify the value of this exercise.

Reviews: Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist and Asia’s Religions

Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist

thirumalai
Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist contains an extensive description of the beginnings of Buddhism, and of the assorted forms of Buddhism and their distinctive variations by country, including very practical and appropriate approaches to take for sharing Christ with adherents to each major type of Buddhism.

Madasamy Thirumalai describes the teachings of Buddha as a “social program,” which is “geared more toward individuals than toward society.” (page 12)  While Christ offers us eternal life, “Gautama Buddha’s way focuses on extinction.” (page13)

Nirvana, appearing at the end of karma, is a condition of total freedom—total annihilation of self-beyond which there is no future birth. It is the total extinction of all desire and a final, complete release from suffering, including no consciousness (there is total peace, but no consciousness of peace). This is the goal of human beings—to have no existence. (page 29-30)

While Buddha’s individualism appeals to Westerners, Thirumalai compares the intellectualism and aloofness of Buddha to Jesus being actively involved with people and a servant to others. (38, 49-50)

The ministry of Jesus was, is, and will ever be for those who are lacking in spirit and body. Gautama Buddha represents an elaborate philosophical superiority, whereas Jesus represents the selfless servant-hood that focuses on the poor, the needy, and the dregs of society. This does not mean Gautama Buddha was haughty or boastful about his caste or his socioeconomic background or his spiritual attainment. It does mean his dominant feature was intellectualism, not service to others. (page 50)

He further contrasts “between the Buddhist insistence upon high attainments and the Christian demand for simple faith,” and presents Christianity as “message of hope and comfort rather than [the] despair and fatalism” of Buddhism. (page 61)

Additional topics covered are Idols, Relics, Animism, Pantheism, Polytheism, Magic, Divination, and Spirit Possession.

Madasamy Thirumalai is a professor of world religions and the academic dean at Bethany College of Missions in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been a believer in Jesus for over 20 years, and he writes with knowledge and an intimate understanding of Buddhism, because he grew up in India and earned his Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of Calcutta, and he taught in universities in India.

 

chang

 

Asia’s Religions: Christianity’s Momentous Encounter with Paganism

Like a man who has been rescued from the desert and tasted his first glass of water, Lit-Sen Chang writes of six different Asian religions: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Zen, Hinduism and Islam, with relationship to Christianity. Two chapters are devoted to each religion. The first puts forth an understanding of the religion describing the basic tenets, historical texts it is based on, and its influence on the world. This is done with an eye to comparison and contrasts with Christianity. The second chapter critiques the faults of each religion and ultimately how they pale in light of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, His sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and the hope that brings.

As a result, the study of pagan religions has too long been in the hands of non-evangelical or secular scholars who have stressed the similarities between Christianity and the non-Christian religious rather than emphasizing the supreme uniqueness of the Christian faith. (page XXXV)

Indeed, faced with Christ’s resurrection, all religious philosophers should give up all their disputing and vain imaginations. (page 26)

Throughout the book, he demonstrates that all of these Asian religions are paganism and states, “the chief characteristic of paganism is auto-soterism” (page 243) that is the effort of self-saving (versus the mercy and saving grace of God through Christ).

Christianity, unlike other natural ethnic religions, is not a set of philosophical systems or ethical teachings: but is “the way of life,” . . . (page 265)

Born in China and reared in a family rich in Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, he writes not as one who has studied these religions, but as one who has lived and been completely immersed in them. Intent on improving the life of people in China by promoting the culture and religion of his people, he became a lawyer and a university professor, teaching in numerous universities. During the war against Japan (1937-45), he became a political leader, and eventually a key adviser to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, advising him on matters related to the war and national reconstruction. In 1949, he was invited to lecture at a leading university in India on Buddhism. The following year, he underwent a conversion of faith, and committed his life to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Serving in various capacities in other educational institutions, he later attended Gordon Divinity School, in the United States, and received a Bachelor of Divinity (1959). He spent the remaining years of his life writing of the Christian faith.

Heaven and Nirvana

Are heaven and nirvana the same, or at least similar? In this post we look closely at this question. First, there are a number of ways that heaven, as it is described in the Bible, is similar to the nirvana that the Buddha described:

  • In each there is no suffering or death.
  • Both heaven and nirvana are luminous throughout.
  • Those who attain either transcendent state do so forever. There is perfect peace of mind. Upon approaching its entry there is a feeling of relief from a prior state of bondage.
  • Sadly, regarding both, many people exist outside of these permanent states of bliss.

STRIKING DIFFERENCES

Yet, there are very striking differences.[1]  Nirvana is purely a mental state, with no physical existence. In contrast, heaven as described in the Bible is a physical place as well as a mental and spiritual reality.

To enter heaven, one must leave the earth. In contrast, nirvana, as a state of mind, can be attained while still living on earth. The Buddha was in such a state during the 45 years after his enlightenment until his death at age 80.

In Buddhism, it is not proper to speculate on one’s status in nirvana. On the other hand, Christians are exhorted to “set your mind on things above.”[2]

Nirvana is outside of all conceivable experience. In contrast, the Bible provides many concrete, down-to-earth details about heaven. We are, however, informed that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”[3]

Those who attain nirvana are said to attain a state of omniscience. There is no evidence in the Bible that people in heaven attain that level of knowledge. ­­

There is no mention of being in the presence of God or of other people while in nirvana. In contrast, God dwells physically with the inhabitants of heaven, who can see the face of God. We are also told that the inhabitants of heaven are the “bride of Christ,”[4] implying close, frequent interaction.

Another major contrast is that the number of people who have reached nirvana may well be just a few hundred. The distinct impression the Bible makes regarding the number of inhabitants of heaven is that it is on the order of tens if not hundreds of millions.[5]

Going back to the first major difference, while nirvana does not exist physically, the Bible provides many detailed descriptions of the physical characteristics of heaven. It is a city that is 1,500 miles wide, 1,500 miles deep and 1,500 miles high.[6] This city has 12 gates, with three on each side,[7] like the current Jerusalem. In it fountains of the water of life are given freely to all who thirst.[8] There is no sun or moon, yet there is no light, because the glory of God illuminates everything.[9] Finally, it has streets of gold and gates of jewels.[10]

How far is 1,500 miles? That is about the distance from Seattle to Des Moines, or from Denver to Washington DC, or from LA to Kansas City, KS, or from London to Athens. Such a vast cube would contain 3,375,000,000 cubic miles. So, if every person alive today were to go to heaven, each would have about half a cubic mile of space to occupy. That is not to say that everyone in heaven would be that spread out, but rather that there would plenty of room for national parks and other natural wonders.

Given all the above differences, a reasonable conclusion is that heaven and nirvana are not the same.


[1] “Nirvana,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana, retrieved February 19, 2013. Information from this extensive article on Nirvana has been referenced throughout this blog.

[2] Colossians 3:2, NKJV.

[3] 1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV.

[4] Revelation 21:9.

[5] Revelation 21:24.

[6] Revelation 21:16.

[7] Revelation 21:12-13.

[8] Revelation 21:6.

[9] Revelation 21:23.

[10] Revelation 21:21.

Miracles of Buddha and Christ: Similarities

In my previous blog, I pointed out some of the differences between Buddha’s and Jesus’ miracles. In this blog, I will discuss some of the similarities. Buddha and Jesus are both known for miracles involving power over nature, over their own bodies, and the power of divine sight. In general, however, the miracles Buddha performed were not cited as benefiting anyone, or only a few people, particularly in comparison to similar miracles performed by Jesus (or Moses).

Power Over Nature

Power to Transform Water

The Buddha asked one of his disciples to get him some water, but when the disciple went to the well it was filled with grass and chaff. The Buddha asked him several times, and the answer was always that the water was not drinkable. Eventually the disciple went to the well one last time, and all the grass and chaff had been expelled by the Buddha, so the water was drinkable.[1]

Rather than making water drinkable, Jesus, while attending a wedding, turned water into wine, much to the relief of the wedding host who had run out of wine for his many guests.[2]

Dominion Over Water

The Buddha, when faced with a flood, commanded the flood waters to stand back, and he walked between them on dry ground.[3] No one was cited as being helped.

In contrast, many centuries before Buddha lived, Moses parted the Red Sea so that over two million Israelites could escape from Egypt and slavery under the Pharaoh.[4]

When the disciples were at sea with Jesus and a terrible storm hit, the disciples feared for their lives. Just by speaking Jesus calmed the storm.[5]

Buddha walked on water.[6] When Jesus walked on water, it was a faith-building exercise for Peter and the disciples.[7]

Power Over Their Bodies

Known as the Twin Miracle, Buddha transformed the top half of his body into flames and the lower half into streams of water. He alternated this from the top and bottom and left and right.[8] I could not find any reference to anyone being influenced by these miracles.

In the Gospels, Jesus’ transfiguration is described,

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.[9]

And in John’s vision in Revelation:

And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.[10]

The Buddha passed through solid objects as if through space (intangibility). He rose and sank in the ground as if in the water. He walked through mountains, dove in and out of earth.[11] The Buddha was said to travel to other worlds, like the world of Brahma, with or without his body, and traveled to the heavens to school the gods and returned.[12]

After his resurrection, the Apostles were hiding in fear and gathered in a room with the doors shut. Jesus entered the sealed room by passing through the walls or a closed door.[13] To calm their fears, he twice said “Peace to you.” After being seen by a great number of people (approximately 500[14]), he blessed his disciples and ascended into heaven.[15]

Power of Divine Sight

The Buddha was said to have the gift of Divine seeing: telepathy, the ability to see past lives, and knowing a person’s past, their present thoughts, and future events. I was unable to find any references to Buddha’s exercise of these powers affecting or influencing anyone.[16]

When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, he knew her history, that she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man that was not her husband. The woman marveled at his knowledge of her life, and told many in her village. As a result, many people in her village became followers of Jesus.[17]

Documentation

Because the documentation for the Buddha’s miracles comes from manuscripts written 400-500 years after he lived (the Pali Canon was an oral tradition until it was committed to paper in 29 CE[18]), we may consider them as legends. In contrast, documentation for the miracles of Jesus were written down by people who knew him and they wrote about them during their lifetimes. In other words, they were eyewitness accounts.


[1] “The Clean Water.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#The_clean_water, retrieved December 12, 2012.

[2] John 2:1-11

[3] “Power Over Nature.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Power_over_nature, retrieved December 12, 2012.

[4] Exodus 14:1-31.

[5] Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25.

[6] “Miraculous Powers,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Miraculous_Powers, retrieved December 24, 2012.

[7] Matthew 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21.

[8] “Twin Miracle.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Twin_miracle, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[9] Matthew 17:1-2 (NIV). Full passages on the transfiguration are found in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36.

[10] Revelation 1:13-16 (NKJV).

[11] “Miraculous Powers.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Miraculous_Powers, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[12] “Miraculous Powers.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Miraculous_Powers, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[13] John 20:19.

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

[15] Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:9-11

[16] “Other Miracles.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Other_miracles, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[17] John 4:1-30.

[18] “Pali Canon,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C4%81li_Canon, retrieved on December 24, 2012.

Miracles of Buddha and Christ: Differences

When looking at the miracles of Buddha and Christ, distinct areas of difference come to light.

In the Digha Nikaya: The Long Discourses are descriptions of miracles that Buddha performed. He defined three types of miracles,

Kevatta, there are these three miracles that I have declared, having directly known and realized them for myself. Which three? The miracle of psychic power, the miracle of telepathy, and the miracle of instruction.[1]

Further in the discourse he expressed his abhorrence for miracles,

Seeing this drawback to the miracle of psychic power, Kevatta, I feel horrified, humiliated, and disgusted with the miracle of psychic power.[2]

And he repeated the same thing about the miracle of telepathy. The only miracle of value that he found was the ability to direct a student in instruction. However, further in the text his definition of the miracle of instruction extends to other powers, such as vanishing, traveling through walls and space, diving in and out of the earth, hearing divine sounds, mind reading, recollection of past lives, etc.[3]

When confronted, Jesus refused to say under whose authority he was doing miracles.[4] However, he did them to bring glory to God and to help people.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”[5]

When Lazarus had died and Jesus heard about it he said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”[6] He said that in reference to the fact that he would raise him from the dead.

In a future blog, I’ll discuss some of the similarities, but in this blog, I’ll point out two major differences. Jesus fed and healed people. I know of no legends where Buddha did that.

Jesus fed people miraculously. On two occasions, he was moved with compassion on the crowds that came to hear him teach. He fed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and two fish,[7] and He fed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fish.[8] On both occasions there were baskets full of leftover food, far more than they started with.

In the Gospels, 37 instances of healing are documented, and the Apostle John noted that there were many other things that Jesus did that weren’t written down. Jesus healed:

The Blind (5)

  1. Two blind men at Galilee[9]
  2. Blind man of Bethsaida[10]
  3. The Blind man at birth[11]
  4. Blind near Jericho[12]

Lepers (11)

  1. One leper[13]
  2. Ten lepers[14]

Paralytics (2)

  1. The Centurion’s Servant[15]
  2. At Capernaum[16]

Women (3)

  1. Peter’s mother-in-law (fever)[17]
  2. Woman with 12 years of bleeding[18]
  3. Infirm woman[19]

Men (6)

  1. With withered hand[20]
  2. Deaf-mute of Decapolis[21]
  3. Man with dropsy[22]
  4. At Gennesaret (many men)[23]
  5. Healing the ear of the servant of the High Priest in the Garden of Gethsemane[24]
  6. Invalid at Pool of Bethesda[25]

Exorcisms (7 major episodes)

  1. At Synagogue in Capernaum[26]
  2. A mute[27]
  3. At sunset (many)[28]
  4. Gerasenes demonic[29]
  5. Blind and mute man[30]
  6. Canaanites woman’s daughter[31]
  7. Boy possessed by a demon[32]

Resurrection of the dead (3) plus his own (1)

  1. Son of the Widow of Nain[33]
  2. Daughter of Jairus [34]
  3. Lazarus[35]
  4. Jesus[36]

Plus a reference to miracles not written about . . . [37]

When you add in His own resurrection, that is a total of 38 documented healings.

In general, Buddha’s miracles were pure demonstrations of power, and his teachings turn a person inward. Jesus’ miracles and teachings are demonstrations of miraculous compassion, meetings people’s needs and healing their bodies.


[1]Digha Nikaya: The Long Discourses (1997-2012), DN11 Kevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta: To Kevatta PTS: D i 211, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.11.0.than.html, retrieved December 17, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew 21:23-27.

[5] John 9:1-3 (NIV).

[6] John 11:4b (NKJV).

[7] Matthew 14:31-21, Mark 6:31-34, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15.

[8] Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 8:1-9.

[9] Matthew 9:27-31.

[10] Mark 8:22-26.

[11] John 9:1-12.

[12] Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43.

[13] Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16.

[14] Luke 17:11-19.

[15] Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10, John 4:46-54.

[16] Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26.

[17] Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-34, Luke 4:38-41.

[18] Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:43-48.

[19] Luke 13:10-17.

[20] Matthew 12:9-13, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11.

[21] Mark 7:31-37.

[22] Luke 14:1-6.

[23] Matthew 14:34-36, Mark 6:53-56.

[24] Luke 22:49-51.

[25] John 5:1-18.

[26] Mark 1:21-18 and Luke 4:37-37.

[27] Matthew 9:32-34.

[28] Matthew 8:16-17, Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41.

[29] Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39.

[30] Matthew 12:22-28, Mark 3:20-30, Luke 11:14-23.

[31] Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30.

[32] Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-49.

[33] Young man from Nain: Luke 7:11-17.

[34] Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56.

[35] John 11:1-44.

[36] Matthew 28:1-10, 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-18.

[37] John 20:30 and 21:25.

Is Karma King?

Historian Will Durant defined karma as “that universal law by which every act of good or of evil will be rewarded or punished in this life, or in some later incarnation of the soul.”[1]  Belief in this law may have had its roots in the Jewish culture of Solomon’s time, or it may have been imported into Solomon’s culture from earlier or neighboring cultures.

The Law of Karma is not exactly the same in Judaism as it is in Hinduism and Buddhism. The different versions of the concept relate to differing beliefs about life after death. The Jewish style of application may have naturally shifted when transplanted to a Hindu culture as Hindus adapted it to their way of thinking and integrated it with their other beliefs.  Jews believed in a single life after death, if they believed in an afterlife at all, whereas Hindus believed in repeated reincarnation. It would have been an easy matter to extend the concept of good and bad consequences to the long view of many lives as opposed to one lifetime.

Hindus were captivated by the far-reaching implications of a belief in repeated reincarnation.  If you believe you are the reincarnation of a prior being, who could have been some kind of animal, and you are an heir to the good or bad karma of that prior being, you look at the tragedies and good fortunes of your life quite differently than if you did not believe you could have existed previously. To a Hindu, the misfortunes of this life are most likely the result of bad deeds from one of your prior lives.  Because of this belief, it is not uncommon in India for people to choose not to help someone who is struggling—to do so would be to interfere in the natural consequences of their bad karma.  Buddha disagreed with this perspective, calling his followers to help those in need—not to subvert the workings of karma, but to practice compassion for all sentient beings.

Buddha assumed reincarnation as a fact, not something to wonder about.  Karma is so key to Buddhism that Buddha’s first two proverbs in the Dhammapada highlight it:

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.[2]

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.[3]

The apostle Paul also believed in karma: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”[4]

So it would seem that karma is king. If you can get Solomon, Buddha and Paul to agree on something, then it likely is so. However, Jesus made it clear that karma is not always king.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.[5]

Jesus then healed the man of his blindness, giving him sight for the first time in his life. Giving sight to the blind is cited in Isaiah 35:5-6 in the Old Testament as one of the miracles that the Messiah was prophesied to fulfill. So, his performance of this healing served as a witness that he was the Messiah. One of the times that karma is not king is when some higher purpose is being served than the basic working out of karma created by past actions.

We will see in the next upcoming blog article that there are many ways in which karma is not king, and that for the Christian, this is far more true than for the Buddhist. Just as an airplane transcends the law of gravity, by respecting yet overcoming its earthward pull, so the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God can overcome the debilitating drag of bad karma.


[1] Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Part I: Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963), 427.

[2] Dhammapada 1.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Galatians 6:7 (NKJV).

[5] John 9:1-3 (NKJV).

Nirvana or Resurrection and Ascension?

Buddhists believe that the Buddha himself attained enlightenment at the age of 35 and so did not reincarnate when he died at age 80. The Buddha claimed that he entered a state of Nirvana when he died. What this state is like cannot be known since it is “outside of all conceivable experience.”[1]

In contrast, after his death by crucifixion, the Bible records that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and he appeared on numerous occasions to many people. He appeared on 14 different occasions that are recounted in the Four Gospels and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. These different appearances are summarized below in the order in which they occurred:

1) To Mary Magdalene, while she was weeping outside the empty tomb. He told her not to hang onto him, but to go to his disciples and tell them that he would be ascending into heaven.[2]

2) To a group of women who were hurrying to tell the disciples about the empty tomb. They clasped his feet and worshiped him.[3]

3) To two men on the Road to Emmaus, who without recognizing Him told Jesus about the events of His death. Jesus reminded them that the prophets spoke of the Messiah having to suffer and then entering into glory. He began with Moses and the Prophets to explain all the Scriptures that were about Him.[4]

4) To Simon Peter also known as Cephas.[5]

5) To all the disciples except for Thomas, after the two men arrived with Jesus from the Emmaus road. He showed them his wounded hands and feet and was given a piece of fish to eat.[6]

6) To the disciples and Thomas, when they had gathered together a week later. He allowed Thomas to touch his hands and side where the wounds were.[7]

7) To seven by the Sea of Galilee [Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Canain Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples], as they were out fishing. Jesus served them bread and fish.[8]

8) To Peter, when He questions Peter three times, asking him if Peter loved Him, and telling him to feed his sheep.[9]

9) To 500 men and women.[10]

10) To James.[11]

11) To all His disciples.[12]

12) To the disciples, when He commissioned them[13] to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”[14]

13) To those gathered as He ascended into heaven.[15]

14) To Paul.[16]

During appearances 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, specific details of the account make it clear that Jesus had a physical body after his resurrection and so he was not just a disembodied spirit.

 


[1] “Nirvana: Parinirvana,” Wikipedia, retrieved November 13, 2012.

[2] Mark 16:9-11 and John 20:11-18.

[3] Matthew 28:8-10.

[4] Mark 16:12 and Luke 24:13-32.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:3-5a and Luke 24:34.

[6] Luke 24:36-43, Mark 16:14 and John 20:19-24.

[7] John 20:26-29.

[8] John 21:1-14.

[9] John 21:15-23.

[10] 1 Corinthians 15:6.

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:7.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-18 and Luke 24:44-49.

[14] Mark 16:15b.

[15] Mark 16:19-20 and Luke 24:50-53.

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:8.

Possible Shift in China Re: Buddhism

In 1959, during the invasion of Tibet by China, the 14th Dalai Lama fled and has lived in exile ever since.[i] While there has been no change in China’s official stance towards the Dalai Lama, there are indications that tensions in China may be relaxing towards Tibetan Buddhism.

While corrupt business practices have been ensconced, for some of the super-rich in China there is a search for new ways to be even more successful. This longing has manifested itself as a desire for good karma through practicing Buddhism, and spending their resources promoting Buddhism, and providing for Buddhist monks.

In a New York Times interview[ii] with John Osborn, author of Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich, Osborn stated,

Now that every Shanxi coal baron’s mistress can afford Louis Vuitton, in order to differentiate themselves, other new rich are moving on to other pursuits and tastes.

I think this is part of what’s driving this interest in spiritual and moral cultivation. Some people are genuinely interested in spiritual transformation. But there’s also an element of social distinction that’s feeding this trend.

Osborn explained that some of the wealthy donating to monks and temples call it their “spiritual protection money,” but found that others have been more serious about applying Buddhist teachings to their lives. He said, “. . . I’ve encountered several people whose lives have been radically transformed by Buddhism.”

In a recent BBC article, “China’s Super-Rich Communist Buddhists,”[iii] BBC Journalist John Sudworth described being invited into a former senior Communist Party official’s home. There he witnessed Xiao Wunan sitting with Buddhist monk Geshe Sonam and beneath a portrait of the Dalai Lama and a Buddhist shrine. He explained that the idea of seeing a former official doing this would previously have been “preposterous” or “laughable,” yet it was exactly what Xiao was doing.

Further in the article, another wealthy Chinese businessman, Sun Kejia, said, “I was once confronted with great difficulties and problems in my business. I felt they couldn’t be overcome by human effort and that only Buddha, ghosts and God could help me.”

Thirty-six year old Sun’s fortune is estimated at over $100 million. He runs a chain of clubs, and he pays for Buddhist gurus to come and teach his clients. Sun said, “I desire influence.”  He describes his friends coming to his club as being “attracted to this place. I can use the resources they bring to do my other business. From that angle, it is also my contribution for spreading Buddhism. This brings good karma and so I get what I want.”

According to the Cultural China website[iv], Chinese worship the Tibetan Gods of Wealth, such as the:

  • Heavenly King of Wealth
  • Yellow Wealth God
  • Black Wealth God
  • White Wealth God
  • Umbrella Heavenly King

In addition, “Each time of the Spring Festival, every family will hang a picture of the god for blessings of great luck and large wealth.”

It is unknown when China as a nation might officially recognize the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism, but it is evident at this time that the people of China have already begun to do so, and in particular many of the super-rich are in pursuit of karmic blessing and transformation.


[i] “Dalai Lama,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalai_Lama, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[ii] Ian Johnson, “Q and A with John Osburg on China’s Wealthy Turning to Spiritualism,” New York Times. (December 18, 2014), http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/q-and-a-john-osburg-on-chinas-wealthy-turning-to-spiritualism/?_r=1, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[iii] John Sudworth, “China’s Super-Rich Communist Buddhists,” BBC.com. (February 7, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30983402, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[iv] “Tibetan Buddhist Gods of Wealth,” CulturalChina.com, http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/html/en/Traditions29bye115.html, retrieved February 10, 2015.

Tibet, Tibet: Book Review

At age 16 Mr. French met the Dalai Lama in 1982 when His Holiness visited the Catholic school for boys he attended. He was quite fascinated by the Dalai Lama’s style and exoticism. “Joy poured from him; there was no trace of piety, the great Christian virtue.”[1] Later French’s fascination led to his becoming one of the leaders of the Free Tibet Campaign and editor of the Campaign’s magazine.[2]  “The Tibetan cause became a central part of my life, and many friendships and relationships developed from it.”[3]

And it was, and is, a very worthy cause. In 1950 the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet. They destroyed 6,000 monasteries and killed 1.2 million people, one-fifth the entire population. Only 70 monasteries remained.[4] The Communists looted the monasteries, confiscating their money, gold, carvings and grain reserves.[5] They told the villagers that “religion was poison and monks were parasites.”[6] And the Communists made sure that the monks who remained were of ill repute.[7]

Before finishing the book Mr. French was very empathetic toward, if not fully persuaded about, Buddhism.

For me, Tibetan Buddhism was a workable approach. Leaving the Roman Catholic faith of my childhood was not hard. Buddhism appeared to create contentment among its followers, and reincarnation seemed a fair explanation of what happened to the spirit after death. So my admiration was partially utilitarian: it felt good to be around Tibetans, and if their religion brought good to them, it was worth pursuing….It was the Buddhist explanation of life, the universe and everything that drew me, rather than the ritual or the theology.[8]

In spite of the empathy and admiration of Tibetan Buddhism evident in his book, French had numerous reservations about it. Tibet, Tibet emerged out of “a gradual nervousness that the idea of Tibet, particularly the views of Tibet campaigners, was becoming too detached from the reality of what Tibet was like. So I did a long journey through Tibet in 1999.”[9]

In a book review by Pico Iyer published in The Los Angeles Times, Iyer described French as a “scrupulous and disciplined writer” who “has a decided gift for inspired and heartfelt research and a knack for coming upon overlooked details that are worth several volumes of analysis.”[10] Tibet, Tibet is a treasure trove of historical and sociological observations about Tibet and its communist oppressors.

So, what reservations did French cite about Tibetan Buddhism? Here are the primary ones:

1) “The outward aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, and the celibate male hierarchy running the show, were what I found least appealing, although I still respected the Dalai Lama.”[11]

2) “As I studied Buddhism more closely, some of the failings began to show, and I noted the schisms, bigots, frauds, hypocrites and predators that you would find in any ecclesiastical system.”[12]

3) “I was put off too by the tone of many of the foreign converts, who thought they could strip the tradition of its tough ethical underpinnings. They were implausible, with their showy accountrements of conversion, their beads and bracelets, their devotion to instant spiritual empowerment, their reliance on airport-hopping teachers who were not always taken seriously by Tibetans.”[13]

4) “…there were the prominent blunders: the teacher and promoter Sogyal Rinpoche, served with a lawsuit for seducing a student; and the Nyingmapa monk Penor Rinpoche who, in the most dubious circumstances, identified the high-kicking Hollywood action hero Steven Seagal (Marked for Death, Hard to Kill) as a reincarnation of the seventeenth-century master Chungdrag Dorje.”[14]

5) “I was also cautioned by the Dalai Lama’s own refusal to proselytise. After long observation, he had decided that conversion usually led to confusion, and that without the support of the prevailing culture, it was hard to maintain your spiritual practice: ‘In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you? Homeless inside yourself.’”[15]

The book does not provide further elaboration on why the Dalai Lama is so reticent to encourage Westerners to convert to Buddhism. This is a very important question. My own research led to comments from two other sources:

1) The Dalai Lama has said that “westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”[16]

2) What kind of difficulties might the Dalai Lama be referring to? Lorin Roche, Ph.D., a meditation instructor who has counseled thousands of people who have engaged in prolonged, intensive meditation, offered his own list on his website.[17] It includes: 1) depression, 2) a feeling of being lost, 3) trouble adapting to life in the city, 4) weird health problems, 5) bipolar disorders, 6) panic attacks, 7) psychosis, and 8) suicide. His web posting, “The Dangers of Meditation,” is an astonishingly revealing and thorough document.

Obviously, Dr. Roche’s list does not refer to issues involved in practicing short sessions of meditation, since he himself strongly advocates it. The challenge is that anyone hoping to attain liberation and enlightenment must engage in prolonged, intensive meditation. It is an essential part of the route to Nirvana. That is the conundrum that Buddhism presents to Westerners attracted to it. People in the West are so conditioned to indulge in worldly gratifications that highly disciplined self- denial is extremely difficult and debilitating. And the self-imposed isolation that such marathon meditation requires is psychologically perilous, especially for people who already have major issues.

No wonder the Dalai Lama doesn’t push conversion to people in the West. And yet, it is obvious that he wants Westerners to have a very positive view of Tibetan Buddhism. Why? He wants our support of his efforts to free Tibet.


[1] Patrick French, Tibet, Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 17.

[2] Ibid., 29.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Ibid., 63.

[5] Ibid., 43.

[6] Ibid., 44.

[7] Ibid., 63.

[8] Ibid., 24.

[9] Interview: “Nandini Lal on Patrick French,” Outlook Magazine. www.outlookindia.com/fullprint.asp?choice=1&fodname=20030310&fname=french&sid=1, dated March 10, 2003. Retrieved November 1, 2012.

[10] “Himalayan Descent,” The Los Angeles Times. articles.latimes.com/2003/oct/19/books/bk-iyer19, dated October 19, 2003. Retrieved November 1, 2012.

[11] Op. cit., French, 24.

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] Ibid., 26.

[14] Ibid, 26-27.

[15] Ibid., 27.

[16] Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2007/features/can-meditation-be-bad-for-you. Retrieved November 22, 2010.

[17] Lorin Roche, “The Dangers of Meditation,” www.lorinroche.com/dangers/homeless.html. Retrieved September 18, 2010.

More Similarities to Solomon’s Proverbs

Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?
[Excerpt from Chapter Fourteen of
Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?]

There are many examples of the words of Buddha (and of Christ) echoing the writings of Solomon.  Often, the similarities are so striking that one can only wonder whether Solomon’s influence was direct. Here are two more examples:

Generosity

Solomon (950 B.C.)

“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”[i]

“He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, righteousness and honor.”[ii]

 

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“Hard it is to understand: By giving away our food, we get more strength; by bestowing clothing on others, we gain more beauty.”[iii]

“With generosity and kind words, always doing to others what is good, he treats all people as the same. His compassion for the world is like the hub that makes the wheel go round.”[iv]

 

Christ (A.D. 30)

“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”[v]

“. . . you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”[vi]

 

Buddha’s words here carry the same essence as Solomon’s two verses, as do the words of Jesus. Again, there is no reason to posit a direct relationship between Buddha and Jesus, because Jesus clearly was echoing Solomon, and Buddha may well have been echoing Solomon as well.

Further, the following excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is reminiscent of Solomon’s teachings on generosity:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.[vii]

In this passage Jesus even mentions Solomon by name, providing further evidence that he had Solomon in mind as he was speaking. Solomon, too, taught the great importance of pursuing, or “treasuring,” righteousness and love.

 

Practice Charity

Solomon (950 B.C.)

“There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.”[viii]

“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth.”[ix]

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”[x]

 

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“The greatest reward in the world is to provide for others.”[xi]

“Because he gives a gift at the right time, wherever the result of that gift ripens he becomes rich, affluent, and wealthy, and benefits come to him at the right time, in abundant measure.”[xii]

 

Christ (A.D. 30)

“. . . you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”[xiii]

“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”[xiv]

 

Buddha’s quote draws an analogy from farming—the planting of trees that will “ripen” to provide shade, flowers, and fruit.  His imagery is similar to Solomon’s third quotation, which refers to fruits, crops, and vats of wine.  As usual, Buddha leaves out any reference to God, implying that the universe (via karma) will naturally bring blessings to those who are generous toward the needy.  In contrast, Solomon and Jesus saw a personal God as the one who provided blessings to those who were charitable toward others in need.


[i] Proverbs 11:24–25 (NIV).

[ii] Proverbs 21:21 (NIV).

[iii] Nitin Kumar “Buddha and Christ: Two Gods on the Path to Humanity,” Exotic India, November 2003, www.exoticindiaart.com/article/buddhaandchrist, retrieved February 3, 2011.

[iv] Richard Hooper, Jesus Buddha Krishna Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings (Sedona, AZ: Sanctuary Publications, 2007), 117.

[v] Luke 6:38 (NIV).

[vi] Acts 20:35b (NASB).

[vii] Matthew 6:25–34 (NIV) (emphasis added).

[viii] Proverbs 13:7 (NKJV).

[ix] Ecclesiastes 11:1–2 (NKJV).

[x] Proverbs 3:9–10 (NIV).

[xi] Hooper, Jesus Buddha Krishna Lao Tzu, 120.

[xii] Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed. In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005), 170–171.

[xiii] Acts 20:35b (NASB).

[xiv] Luke 6:38 (NIV).