One Way to God Available to All Mankind

Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?

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

By R. E. Sherman

If there is just one way to God, shouldn’t it be available to all people at all points in time? Nevertheless, Christians have generally taken the position that the only people who will be saved are those who explicitly receive Jesus by faith as their personal Savior.  This position does not provide any provision of liberation for those who have never heard the gospel.  However, the Bible does imply that there is a way for such people.[i]  We see this principle highlighted, though in a negative way, in the parable of the faithful and evil servants, where Jesus said:

And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.  For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.[ii]

While many doubt Christianity’s claims in part because Christianity doesn’t appear to offer salvation to those who have never heard of Jesus, no one seems to be bothered by the fact that Buddhism doesn’t offer liberation to those who have never encountered it.  There is, however, a Christian solution to this dilemma that is entirely consistent with biblical teachings, though it is not widely known or held.

Consider Jesus’ words in John 14:6b again. He said:

I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.[iii]

It is possible that “except through me” could mean that everyone must come before Christ to be judged, and that there is no way around that.  Such a belief gives Jesus the complete preeminence that evangelicals subscribe to.  In fact, it gives Christ more preeminence than the standard evangelical belief.  In other words, Christ is above any cut-and-dried criteria that humans think they know about who will be saved and who will not.  Who will be saved? In every case, the answer is that Jesus decides.

Such an alternative belief is also completely consistent with John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.[iv]

That verse does not preclude Christ from granting executive pardons to any person who otherwise would be condemned because of his or her absence of belief in Christ.  This would particularly be true of those who had never heard the gospel, as well as those who had never had a fair opportunity to consider and accept it.  It might even include Jews who all their lives had been taught disparaging things about Jesus. Just as Jesus, dying on the cross, pled with God, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,”[v] so Jesus may petition God for the pardon of any person who has ever lived.

Jesus is the judge of all people, including Buddha, Mohammed, and Moses.  He decides the eternal destiny of every person.  As stated in the New Testament book of Acts:

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.[vi]

Since Jesus is “judge of the living and the dead,” it could be viewed as wrong and arrogant for evangelical Christians to boldly state precisely what criteria he will use in his judgments of every person in history.

The usual interpretation of the verse where Jesus says “no one comes to the father except through me” is fraught with difficulties of application. To listen to many evangelicals, many people will be excluded from salvation who never had a chance to believe in Jesus, including those who never heard of him because of where they lived, almost everyone who lived before he was born, and even children who die young.  Evangelicals claim that the basis for salvation is faith, not works, and that it is utterly critical that this faith must be in Jesus, and in no one else.  Curiously, many of these evangelicals also maintain that Jesus was implicitly present in many different ways in the Old Testament. For example, Jesus was the Angel of God’s Presence,[vii] Commander of the Lord’s Army,[viii] Priest Forever,[ix] Redeemer,[x] and “a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples”[xi] in different Old Testament passages that are historical accounts (and not prophecies of future events).  These evangelicals also teach the Trinity, stating that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are virtually interchangeable.  And yet faith in God is not enough for salvation, in spite of the virtual interchangeability of God and Jesus.

Related to this issue is whether people who knew of Jesus, but never became Christians—and yet seem to have followed Christian principles, such as loving others, during their lives—can be accepted into heaven. Typically, someone who balks at the idea of these “good” people not going to heaven will say, for example, “So, will Gandhi be saved?”  The truth is, we will never know for sure in this life. According to the Bible, if Gandhi is saved, it will be in spite of his Hinduism and it will truly be by the grace and pardon of Christ.  Jesus will make this decision for every human being who has ever lived or who will live. In all of this Jesus is totally exalted, as is made clear in Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.[xii]

We also see the supremacy of Jesus underscored in Philippians:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[xiii]

Jesus also boldly proclaimed

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.[xiv]

That authority includes the power to judge the eternal destiny of every person.  This is not universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved.  Jesus will not grant executive pardons to everyone. Furthermore, Jesus will even reject many who claim to be Christians.[xv]

One reason Christians are often awkward in their sharing is that they may be overstepping the bounds of what mankind is authorized by God to do by trying to dictate what only God can decide: who will be saved and who will not.  Spiritual arrogance, whether it is really that or just appears to be that, is always awkward.


[i] Romans 1:18–23; 2 Peter 3:9.

[ii] Luke 12:47–48 (NKJV).

[iii] John 14:6b (NIV).

[iv] John 3:16 (NIV).

[v] Luke 23:34 (NASB).

[vi] Acts 10:42 (NIV).

[vii] Isaiah 63:9.

[viii] Joshua 5:14–15.

[ix] Psalm 110:4.

[x] Job 19:25.

[xi] Isaiah 55:4b (NASB).

[xii] Colossians 1:15–20 (NASB).

[xiii] Philippians 2:9–11 (NIV).

[xiv] Matthew 28:18b (NKJV).

[xv] Matthew 7:21–23 and Revelation 3:14–21.

No One Is Good Enough

Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?

 

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

By R. E. Sherman

At the end of our last blog posting, we noted that there are two types of religion that include belief in some kind of heaven:

  1. Those that claim that each person must earn his or her way to heaven by being a good person; and
  2. Christianity, which claims that no person, except Jesus, has ever been good enough to go to heaven.  The Christian path is to admit that we are incapable of being good enough, and that, to be saved, we must put our faith in Jesus, his divinity and perfect goodness, and his sacrifice on the cross as the basis for entrance into heaven.

If it is true that no person can be good enough to go to heaven on their own merits, then none of the religions in the first category provide a way to God.  This then leaves Christianity as the only way to God, and its claim makes clear sense.

Too many people, if pressed, might say that they are good because they obey the Ten Commandments.  In other words, they don’t steal, murder, or commit adultery.  And they may honor their mother and father, in general, not counting their teenage years.  But while there’s a good chance they haven’t specifically violated some commandments, are these people aware of the other commandments?  Most “good” people tell the truth, most of the time, except for white lies, fudging on tax returns, and so forth.  But have they never “coveted,” or desired someone else’s spouse or possessions?  Have they never sworn?  Have they always kept the Sabbath as a holy day? Have they never sought some idol (i.e., some person or thing other than God that they look to as their hope for happiness and satisfaction)?  Everyone today pursues some kind of idol, whether it is money, prosperity, power, fame, or a comfortable retirement.  These are all idols.  Very few “good” people have kept more than three or four of the Ten Commandments.

The other problem many people have with Christianity’s claim to be the only way to God is the perceived behavior of Christians.  If Christianity brings people into relationship with the one true God, it should make Christians very humble and compassionate toward people with different beliefs.  Many Christians are like that, yet they are not the ones who are highlighted in the media.  Instead, so-called Christians who judge people with other beliefs and treat them with disrespect are showcased by the media. A Mother Teresa might also be showcased, but the media rarely draws attention to common, humble Christians.

To be sure, Christianity is anything but immune from problems, weaknesses, and divisions.  But this is also the case for every other religion.  Could the difficulty here be that all religions are filled with highly fallible, wayward people?  Could it be that the real problem is that people tend to believe their own religion provides the one true way while also having an attitude of judging people of other faiths?

How could the humble Jesus be so arrogant as to claim to be the only way to God?  This is a very troubling question, unless Jesus was God himself and was just stating the truth succinctly.  According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus claimed to be one with God many times.[i]  This precludes the option that he was just a great teacher or prophet.  He could not have been a great teacher or prophet if he repeatedly blasphemed God by falsely claiming oneness with him. As numerous Christian thinkers have pointed out, we are left with two choices: Jesus was either who he said he was, or he was out of his mind.  There is, actually, one other possibility: that early Christians conspired to put words into the mouth of Jesus as the New Testament was being written and when the canon was finalized at church councils.  According to this view, he did not really say that he was one with God. However, those who wrote the gospel accounts were eye-witnesses of the events described.  If they became co-conspirators after Jesus’ death to claim he said things he did not say—and that they saw the resurrected Christ—they would not have been willing to die for their faith in the divinity of Christ.  Nearly all of them were martyred.[ii]  And so, each person is confronted with the necessity of deciding which of these options is true.[iii]


[i] Sample quotes appear at Matthew 11:27, John 3:16, John 5:17–23, John 8:19, John 10:30, 36–38 and John 14:1, 7–11.

[ii] Steven Gertz, “How Do We Know 10 of the Disciples Were Martyred?” ChristianHistory.net, August 8, 2008, retrieved May 25, 2011.

[iii] C. S. Lewis popularized this argument in his BBC radio talks in the early 1940s, which were later adapted for his book Mere Christianity, first published in 1952. The argument is sometimes called “Lewis’s trilemma.” Other Christian thinkers often go back to this same argument, saying that Jesus must be “liar, lunatic, or lord.” If Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, he could not have been a good teacher; furthermore, he did not seem to be a liar or a lunatic. The only option left is that he was telling the truth and is Lord. Either way, the option of calling him a good teacher is untenable. See C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 3d ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001).

Only One Way?

Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?

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

By R. E. Sherman

Christianity is well known for its claims that Jesus is the only way to God.  This claim is based on numerous biblical passages, including John 14:6b, where Jesus is quoted as saying:

I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[i]

What is less known is that one of Buddha’s own proverbs makes a similar assertion:

The best of ways is the eightfold; the best of truths the four words; the best of virtues passionlessness; the best of men he who has eyes to see. This is the way, there is no other that leads to the purifying of intelligence. Go on this way! Everything else is the deceit of Mara (the tempter). If you go on this way, you will make an end of pain! The way was preached by me, when I had understood the removal of the thorns (in the flesh).[ii]

In Buddhism, if you don’t have purity of intelligence, then you are deluded and lost; so, in essence, Buddha was saying that his way was the only way.

Most people intuitively disagree with the notion that there is only one true way to God.  Implicit in their thinking is the assumption that “good” people will go to heaven, regardless of their particular religion. That assumption feels logical and fair and helps to motivate good behavior. Yet this sensible notion is not without problems:

  • First, there is no clear standard as to what is good behavior.  Many wars have been fought where both sides claimed God was with them. Killing was viewed as being “good” by both sides. Standards of what is good change over time and between different nations and cultures. People in the American South used to think it was good to put down blacks and discriminate against them harshly. No more.
  • Second, there is no clear cutoff as to how good one has to be to get into heaven.  If you are 51 percent good and 49 percent bad, is that good enough?  Wouldn’t you have to be at least 90 percent good? Who knows, and who decides?
  • Third, this notion is not supported by the Bible. For example, the following verses contradict this notion: (1) “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins”;[iii] and (2) “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”[iv]
  • Fourth, it makes Jesus out to be a liar. He claimed to be the only way to God, and if people can get into heaven simply by being good, Jesus wasn’t telling the truth.

There are two types of religion that include belief in some kind of heaven:

  1. Those that claim that each person must earn his or her way to heaven by being a good person; and
  2. Christianity, which claims that no person, except Jesus, has ever been good enough to go to heaven.  The Christian path is to admit that we are incapable of being good enough, and that, to be saved, we must put our faith in Jesus, his divinity and perfect goodness, and his sacrifice on the cross as the basis for entrance into heaven.

If it is true that no person can be good enough to go to heaven on their own merits, then none of the religions in the first category provide a way to God.  This then leaves Christianity as the only way to God, and its claim makes clear sense.


[i] John 14:6b (NKJV).

[ii] Dhammapada 273–275 (emphasis added).

[iii] Ecclesiastes7:20 (NIV).

[iv] Isaiah 64:6a (NIV).

Why Are So Many Famous Actors Buddhists?

Why are so many famous actors Buddhists? Here are a few: Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, Keanu Reeves, Uma Thurman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Tina Turner, Orlando Bloom, Goldie Hawn, Jennifer Lopez and director George Lucas. Why is that? Is it that actors are smarter and more discerning? Maybe. Maybe not.

Top actors tend to have special aptitudes. And it so happens that these aptitudes lend themselves well to the practice of Buddhism. Great actors have an exceptional ability to memorize lines quickly, via repetition. The practice of Buddhist meditation involves intensive, prolonged repetition of a mantra. Most people aren’t gifted at doing that, but great actors have that gift.

Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford and Leonardo DiCaprio

There is another special aptitude that great actors have…the ability to embark on a mind trip. Isn’t that what Leonardo DiCaprio did when he tried to be Howard Hughes? Or when Harrison Ford tried to be Indiana Jones? The capability of focusing one’s mind very tightly for long periods of time is rare. And yet, that is what is required to effectively practice Buddhist meditation.

How repetitive is Buddhist meditation? A common practice involves a mala, a necklace with 108 beads. One selects a mantra (a single word or phrase) and keeps repeating it, counting out one bead for every time the mantra is repeated. Once all 108 beads have been counted out, one kernel of rice is moved from a full bowl into an empty bowl….until all the kernels are transferred.

How many kernels of rice does it take to fill a bowl? Well, there are about 50 kernels in a tablespoon. A typical bowl might hold two cups of rice, or 32 tablespoons. So that’s 1,600 kernels of rice. Multiply that by 108. That’s 172,800 times the mantra is repeated. Do you get a sense of why not many people are capable of truly practicing Buddhist meditation? And most capable people aren’t willing.

So we see that what attracts many actors to Buddhism is also what makes it an unlikely religion for most people to practice. Few have the special gifts of rapid memorization or the ability to zone out through long, intensive, uninterrupted repetition of a mantra. And so, few people have the willingness to persevere toward enlightenment.

The paradox is that the religion that touts a high level of tolerance of other religions is also very narrow in terms of the very small percentage of people who are willing or able to practice it effectively.

Burma and Sri Lanka

The prevalent image of Buddhists as passive, nonviolent people is very largely true. However, there are vivid counterexamples. Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka both rank in the top 25 of human rights violators.[1]

Burma is at least 90 percent Buddhist, and has the fifth largest Buddhist population in the world (48 million).[2] Yet it has had a very long, bloody past of conflict with its neighbors as well as internally. Warfare and internal strife have characterized Burmese history since around A.D. 1300, and since 1962, when a military junta seized power, Burma has been ruled by one of the most oppressive, violent governments in the world.[3] Under its present government, it was ranked as the 14th worst country[4] in terms of human rights violations.[5] Violations include detention of political prisoners, forced labor, child labor, human trafficking, and sexual violence against women by the military.[6]

The ongoing detention of political prisoners has, most notably, included Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and recipient of the Noble Peace Prize in 1991.[7]

She is the daughter of Aung Sun, who founded the modern Burmese Army and negotiated with the British Empire for Burmese independence. He was assassinated in 1947, when she was only two years old.[8] She was educated at the University of Delhi; St. Hugh’s College, Oxford; and the University of London. In 1988, heavily influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and her Buddhist beliefs (Theravada Buddhism), she entered the political arena to work for the democratization of Burma and helped to found the NLD. She has spent approximately 15 of the 21 years from 1989 until 2010 under house arrest, refusing the freedom she was offered if she would leave the country.[9] In April 2012, at the age of 66, she won a seat in the lower house of the Burmese parliament.[10]

While known for its Ceylon Tea and called “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” Sri Lanka[11] was deep in civil war from 1983 until 2009, with an estimated 80,000–100,000 people killed during that time.[12] Sri Lanka is approximately 70 percent Buddhist[13] followed by 15% Hindu, 8% Islam and 8% Christian,[14] and has a Buddhist population of 16 million people, the seventh largest in the world.[15] The constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees human rights as ratified by the United Nations, but Sri Lanka is listed as the 24th worst human rights violator[16] and has been criticized by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for violations.[17]

Amnesty International (AI) cites that both the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Hindu minority aggressively seeking independent statehood, committed “gross human rights abuses, including war crimes, for which no one has been held accountable.” Included in these crimes are the harassment and attacks of independent journalists and human rights defenders, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, use of child soldiers, and unlawful killings. AI further states, “At the end of the war, about 11,000 displaced people suspected of links to the LTTE were arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge or trial.” Since then, many of them have been released, but those who remain have not been lawfully charged or prosecuted.[18]


[1] “The Top 100 Offenders,” Guardian.co.uk, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[2] “Buddhism by Country,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[3] “History of Burma,” Wikipedia, retrieved November 4, 2010.

[4] “The Observer Human Rights Index,” Guardian.co.uk, retrieved November 4, 2010.

[5] “Myanmar (Burma) Human Rights,” Amnesty International, retrieved November 4, 2010.

[6]  “Mayanmar: Human Rights,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[7] “Myanmar,” Amnesty International, retrieved April 26, 2012, and “Aung San Suu Kyi,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 26, 2012.

[8] “Aung San Suu Kyi: Personal Life,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 26, 2012.

[9] “Aung San Suu Kyi: Political Beginnings,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 26, 2012.

[10] “Aung San Suu Kyi: 2012 By-Elections,” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi#2012_by-elections, retrieved April 26, 2012.

[11] “Sri Lanka,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[12] “Sri Lankan Civil War,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[13] “Largest Buddhist Populations,” Buddhanet.net, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[14] “Sri Lanka: Demographics,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[15] “Buddhism by Country,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[16] “The Top 100 Offenders,” Guardian.co.uk, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[17] “Sri Lanka: Human Rights and Media,” Wikipedia, retrieved April 24, 2012.

[18] “Sri Lanka,” Amnesty International, retrieved April 26, 2012.

The Problem of Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is a troublesome problem for all religions, but especially those that espouse clearly defined standards of conduct. Certainly, Buddhism and Christianity would fall under that description. Below we compare what hypocrisy looks like in each religion.

Shallow Buddhists don’t meditate much and try to use “spirituality” to serve their selfish needs. They believe that somehow, the impersonal God (or principle) that is in everything will cause life to work out just as they selfishly wish it would. Shallow Christians try to use God to further their own personal agendas. They pray, asking God to be their personal servant. Genuine Christians have surrendered their lives to follow Jesus in gratitude and obedience.

Shallow Buddhists have not renounced their selfish desires. Shallow Christians have not surrendered to Christ’s authority and active direction.

Buddhism is a religion that requires a substantial amount of discipline in the regular practice of meditation. It would be difficult for someone to simply be a nominal Buddhist. Because Christianity is universally accessible and quickly available to those who make a faith-based decision, a greater percentage of its adherents are shallow (or nominal) in their practice of it.

No one is motivated to quickly report or seize upon examples of hypocritical Buddhists. There has been much sympathy toward Buddhists because of the repression of Tibet by China.

People upset by Christianity’s “one way” claim are quick to report and seize upon examples of hypocritical Christians as a basis for discrediting their beliefs.

Hypocrisy is hard to identify relative to a subjective set of ethics and beliefs. It could be dismissed as just being a different path. Hypocrisy is easy to identify relative to a well-known, objective set of demanding ethics.

If one is finding one’s own path, one can make up one’s own rules, at least in grey areas.  People will naturally make up rules that would be easy to live up to.

Christ espoused ethics that are extremely difficult to live up to, even if one is wholeheartedly devoted to following him. This is fundamentally true, because the Evil One is in charge of this world, and the primal tendencies of people (i.e., “the flesh”) are at odds with the holy nature of God.

High achievers are likely to feel that truth can be found within, when their strengths or successes may be due to caring parents and a prior Judeo/Christian or other religious background.

Big sinners know that truth and goodness are not within. When becoming Christian many people experience a radical conversion from a life of obvious, habitual sin and change dramatically from who they previously were. But such people often have not had caring parents or a religious background and may be prone to reverting back to prior sins.

Although everyone has heard about notable sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church[1] and among televangelists,[2] the press has generally been very slow to cover similar problems among Buddhist leaders. However, an August 20, 2010, article in the New York Times, “Sex Scandal Has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within,”[3] chronicled a shocking account of the excessive tolerance of sexual immorality between a married spiritual teacher of the Zen Studies Society and numerous students and other women over a period of fifty-five years. The article made the following points:

  • Because the student/teacher “relationship is considered sacrosanct, affairs were not always condemned, or even disapproved of.”
  • “There has also been a cultural aversion among Zen Buddhists to seeming censorious about sexuality.”
  • Of “Richard Baker, the abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1970s and ’80s, Frederick Crews wrote that Mr. Baker’s ‘serial liaisons, hardly unique in the world of high-level American Buddhism, could have been forgiven, but his chronic untruthfulness about them could not.’”
  • “Sex, alcoholism and drug abuse by major Buddhist leaders have all been tolerated over the years, by followers who look the other way, or even looked right at it and pretend not to care.”

Two books, Rogues in Robes: An Inside Chronicle of a Recent Chinese-Tibetan Intrigue in the Karma Kagyu Lineage of Diamond Way Buddhism[4] and Buddha’s Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today,[5] have also documented major political scandals within the higher ranks of Tibetan Buddhism. In an opening quotation to the second book, we have this assessment:

“If the truth be told, the Buddha has not been smiling for a very long time. In the same way the Catholic Church transformed Jesus’ simple message of peace and love into Crusades and Inquisitions, the Buddha’s clear message of yoga and asceticism was largely ignored while rival schools developed throughout East Asia. . . . Buddha’s Not Smiling is a stark reminder that when false teachings are introduced for political gain . . . only more ignorance, and ultimately violence will result.”[6]

[1] “Child Sex Abuse Cases,” Wikipedia, is an extensive, detailed reporting, retrieved February 23, 2011.

[2] “Christian Evangelist Scandals,” Wikipedia, provides a lengthy list, retrieved February 23, 2011.

[3] Mark Oppenheimer, “Sex Scandal Has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within” New York Times, (August 20, 2010), retrieved February 23, 2011.

[4] Tomek Lehnert, Rogues in Robes (Nevada City, CA: Blue Dolphin, 1998).

[5] Erik Curren, Buddha’s Not Smiling (Staunton,VA. Alaya Press, 2006).

[6] Sankara Saranam, author of God Without Religion, in an introductory quotation to Curren, Buddha’s Not Smiling.

Was Buddha Influenced by Solomon?

Buddhism is an Eastern religion that resonates with many Westerners. Why is that? Is it possible that it came about as a blending of an Eastern and a Western religion (i.e., Jainism, a protest movement against Hinduism, and Judaism? There is much to suggest this.

Most of Buddha’s numerous proverbs are quite similar to those of Solomon, who lived 400 years earlier. In fact, every key part of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path and Five Moral Precepts of Buddha were expressed somewhere in Solomon’s writings or in the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, most of the emphases that Buddhists are noted for were also important facets of Solomon’s beliefs and practices. These include peace, tolerance, viewing this world as an illusion and a place of suffering, meditation, overcoming ignorance with wisdom, enlightenment, monks (priests) and secular ethics. It may not be a coincidence that a high percentage of Western Buddhist leaders have a Jewish background.

That is not to say that there aren’t major differences. However, most of them are due to two things. First, Solomon was a Jew and Buddha was raised in Hindu India. Second, Solomon held onto his wealth and power, while Buddha renounced it.

What is also curious is that Solomon’s proverbs are more comprehensive in subject matter than Buddha’s. The areas where there are absences in Buddha’s proverbs are predictable, based on his life. There is a dearth of proverbs relating to government, women, marriage and family in Buddha’s collection of sayings, whereas Solomon devotes many proverbs to these topics.

Consider the following chronology:

  • Solomon died in 931 BC.
  • Buddha was born in 563 BC.
  • The first colony of Jews settled inIndiain 562 BC.
  • Buddha became enlightened in 528 BC.

So, Buddha’s enlightenment took place over 400 years after Solomon died. The Old Testament tells us that “the whole world sought audience with Solomon,”[1] and that “world” most likely included India. The Jews had a documented practice of copying their sacred writings on parchment for at least 100 years before they were driven from their homeland by the conquering Babylonians (in 583 BC). They wandered through the harsh lands of Persia and Afghanistan for 20 years before coming to the lush land of India, where there was great interest in any religious ideas that differed from Hinduism. It is quite plausible that two of those receptive ears were Gautama Buddha’s.

Perhaps Buddha’s enlightenment came when he realized that by blending Solomon’s ethics with a moderated form of the asceticism of the Jains, he would have a “Middle Way” that would provide a constructive alternative to the anti-Hindu views of the Jains. That alone would have been a major accomplishment. But then he spent the last 45 years of his life refining and proclaiming his teachings.

Even if there is no substance to the Solomon-Buddha link, looking at Buddhism through this lens can help people with a Judeo-Christian background to grasp many aspects of Buddhism. Facilitating cross-cultural understanding is a worthwhile objective.


[1] I Kings10:24 (NIV).

Forgiveness in Christianity and Buddhism

Joseph S. O’Leary has written a blog on “Buddhism and Forgiveness.”[i] He writes in an effort to come up with a solution for the ongoing hatred and violence in Northern Ireland, and he believes that the solution lies in Buddhism’s attitudes about forgiveness and not in Christianity’s.

O’Leary writes,

Christianity is based on the idea, or rather the event, of divine forgiveness: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world with himself’ (2 Cor. 5.19). That is correlated with mutual forgiveness between human beings: ‘Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’ (Eph. 4.32). . . .

O’Leary goes to comment that in Christianity to be “set right” one must be right with God and with one another. He states that the result ought to be, “the construction of a loving community.” He then poses the question:

Why was this gracious reality so little actualized in Northern Ireland? Even now, when a measure of rational political coexistence has been achieved, there is little cordiality or friendship between the Christian communities of the area.

He then proposes that the solution may be found in Buddhist thought. O’Leary expounds on a preemptive form of forgiveness, by not taking offense in the first place, regardless of the infraction against the person.

The emphasis falls not on forgiving but on the foolishness of taking offence in the first place:

’He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ – in those who harbor [sic] such thoughts hatred will never cease.

’He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ – in those who do not harbour [sic] such thoughts hatred will cease. (Dhammapada 1.3-4; trans. Radhakrishnan)

Harboring thoughts and memories of abuses is discouraged, and the realization that each of us is a flawed person, temporarily residing on this earth, is encouraged. If such mental purity could be fully realized, peace can occur. However, attaining such purity has been a very rare, if not impossible thing to maintain.

An underlying assumption in the article is that because the people of Northern Ireland are predominantly Catholic and Protestant that Christianity itself must be faulty, rather than the problem of violence and unforgiveness stemming from the exercise of free will.

The assertion that Buddhist teaching on forgiveness is more effective presupposes that Buddhist countries are strangers to violence. History indicates otherwise. See “Violent Intolerance in Buddhist Burma.”[ii]

[i] Joseph S. O’Leary, “Buddhism and Forgiveness,” retrieved March 18, 2014. All quoted sections of O’Leary’s blog retain his reference notes. The East West Insights blog focuses on the section entitled “Buddhist Approaches to Forgiveness.”

[ii] R. E. Sherman, “Violent Intolerance in Buddhist Burma,” East West Insights, June 10, 2013.

East West Culture Clash

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. —The Dalai Lama[1]

Some Eastern Buddhists have sizeable reservations about their Western counterparts. This is surprising to many, in light of all the favorable press Buddhism has received. Haven’t countless people found calm in this hectic world through meditation? Buddhists desire world peace and compassion for all people, and they want to take an open stand for nonviolence. Buddhism is exotic and inviting. It shuns the violent, materialistic culture of the West. It offers the opportunity to tailor a unique path to becoming a better person, and, ultimately, to attaining enlightenment. Why would the Dalai Lama be hesitant about urging Westerners to become Buddhists?

Beginning Buddhism is easy. You choose the kind of meditation that feels good to you, and you select what you will meditate on. However, converting to Buddhism isn’t just about beginning. It’s about going deep into meditation and sustaining that depth . . . for a lifetime.

Many elements of Buddhism strongly attract people in the West. Elements of Buddhism very similar to Judeo-Christian teachings resonate with them. They think, Here is a wise, practical path to follow—without the constraint of submitting to an exacting God.

After delving more deeply, Westerners encounter some of Buddhism’s Eastern elements and usually balk, selectively. They pick and choose what they will practice and what they will ignore. Yet this cafeteria-style approach to spirituality may not work well. Many Western Buddha-seekers end up homeless—alienated from the Western traditions in which they were raised, and yet unwilling to adopt the Eastern ways of Buddhism sufficiently.

Patrick French, the author of Tibet, Tibet, noted: “I was . . . cautioned by the Dalai Lama’s own refusal to proselytize. 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.”[2]

The Dalai Lama did elaborate on his precautions. He said, “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.”[3]

Difficulties? What difficulties? Lorin Roche, Ph.D., a meditation instructor who has specialized over the past three-plus decades in counseling people who have engaged in prolonged, intensive meditation, has noted some of these. They include depression, a feeling of being lost, trouble adapting to life in the city, finding it hard to be intimate with another person, weird health problems and panic attacks.[4] Westerners have much higher expectations for happiness in this world, so there is a much greater sense of loss when someone commits to retreat from this world.

Dr. Roche teaches a form of meditation he believes avoids these problems. Just keep it simple, brief and consistent. Perhaps Buddhism is like a pain killer. Taking a few tablets can do a lot of good, but swallowing a handful of pills and you better get your stomach pumped.

Dr. Roche does not see any need to convert to Buddhism or Hinduism to meditate more effectively. Most other major religions have long traditions in meditative practices. There is much that Westerners can learn about meditation . . . in order to strengthen their own form of Western religion. So why not leave it at that?

You may doubt that the Dalai Lama said the things quoted above. After all, hasn’t he spent decades traveling the globe as the world’s most visible Buddhist? While this is certainly true, what is not often fully appreciated is that one of his chief objectives has been to serve as a rallying point for the cause of the liberation of Tibet.  Portraying Buddhism in the most positive light possible aids him in furthering the cause of the autonomy and welfare of the Tibetan people, for whom he has served as “the temporal and the spiritual leader” for more than half a century.[5]

We all have much to learn. Imagine Jesus giving a warning to American Christians similar to the Dalai Lama’s precautions. He might say, “I do not think it advisable to blend my teachings with Western culture.” And he would be dead on.

 


 

[1] Patrick French,Tibet,Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 27.

[2] Ibid., 27.

[3] Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, www.thehumanist.org/humanist/MaryGarden.html, retrieved November 22, 2010.

[4] Lorin Roche, “The Dangers of Meditation,” www.lorinroche.com/page8/page8.html, retrieved September 18, 2010.

[5] “His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet,” www.dalailama.com/, retrieved April 11, 2011.

Different Concepts of Hell

A common misconception is that Buddhists do not believe in hell. While this may be true of some Buddhists, the Buddha offered specific teachings about hell.

In “Devaduta Sutta”, the 130th discourse of the Majjhima Nikaya, Buddha teaches about the hell in vivid detail. Buddhism teaches that there are five (sometimes six) realms of rebirth, which can then be further subdivided into degrees of agony or pleasure. Of these realms, the hell realms, or Naraka, is the lowest realm of rebirth. Of the hell realms, the worst is Avīci or “endless suffering”. The Buddha’s disciple, Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha on three occasions, as well as create a schism in the monastic order, is said to have been reborn in the Avici Hell.

However, like all realms of rebirth, rebirth in the Hell realms is not permanent, though suffering can persist for eons before being reborn again. . . . Buddhism teaches to escape the endless migration of rebirths (both positive and negative) through the attainment of Nirvana.[i]

*****

The Narakas of Buddhism are closely related to diyu, the hell in Chinese mythology. A Naraka differs from the hells of Abrahamic religions in two respects: firstly, beings are not sent to Naraka as the result of a divine judgment and punishment; secondly, the length of a being’s stay in a Naraka is not eternal, though it is usually very long.

A being is born into a Naraka as a direct result of his or her accumulated karma and resides there for a finite period of time until that karma has achieved its full result. After his or her karma is used up, he or she will be reborn in one of the higher worlds as the result of karma that had not yet ripened. . . . Physically, Narakas are thought of as a series of cavernous layers which extend below Jambudvīpa (the ordinary human world) into the earth. There are several schemes for enumerating these Narakas and describing their torments.[ii]

 

Buddhist hell (naraka) in Burmese representation.[iii]

Ngaye (Naraka) in Burmese art

In Dante’s Inferno, he detailed his belief in nine distinct different levels of hell (see image below).[i]

Dante's Inferno: Levels of Hell

Conservative Christians beliefs about hell are well summarized in this excerpt from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.

While the duration of punishment in hell is eternal for all who have chosen that destiny for themselves, there are degrees of punishment proportional to the degrees of guilt of each individual. Only God is able to determine what those degrees are, and he will assign the consequences with perfect justice according to the responsibility of each one. Evidence of such gradations in future punishment is found in Scripture (Mt 11:20-24, Lk 12:47-48, Rv 20:12,13; cf. Ez 16:48-61). An obvious comparison is made in these texts between the differing intensities of punishment that are involved in the contrasting privileges, knowledge, and opportunities.[i]

The Buddha taught in his First Noble Truth that “life is suffering”. His view of life on earth seems similar to Dante’s portrayal of the First or Second levels of hell.


[i] Walter A. Elwell, General Editor. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1988), Vol. A-I, 955.

[i] “Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno,” Bing, retrieved February 25, 2014.

[i] “Hell in Buddhism,” Wikipedia, retrieved February 25, 2014.

[ii] “Naraka,” Wikipedia, retrieved February 25, 2014.

[iii] “Ngaye (Nakara) in Burmese Art.” Wikipedia, retrieved February 25, 2014.