Facing Opposition

In this article, the following topics will be discussed: Training Disciples, Non-Violence, Tangible Compassion, Iconoclast, Persecution, and Converts and Martyrs.

Training Disciples

The Buddha drew a small group of disciples that he taught and led during 45 years of teaching.[i]

Jesus gathered 12 disciples, also called apostles[ii] that he trained and led during three years of ministry.

Non-Violence

The Buddha placed great emphasis on non-violence in his teachings.

The Awakened call patience the highest penance, long-suffering the highest Nirvana; for he is not an anchorite (pravragita) who strikes others, he is not an ascetic (sramana) who insults others.[iii]

Not to blame, not to strike, to live restrained under the law, to be moderate in eating, to sleep and sit alone, and to dwell on the highest thoughts,–this is the teaching of the Awakened.[iv]

Speak the truth, do not yield to anger; give, if thou art asked for little; by these three steps thou wilt go near the gods.[v]

The sages who injure nobody, and who always control their body, they will go to the unchangeable place (Nirvana), where, if they have gone, they will suffer no more.[vi]

Beware of bodily anger, and control thy body! Leave the sins of the body, and with thy body practise [sic] virtue![vii]

Jesus taught people by his example to turn the other cheek. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”[viii]

He demonstrated total non-violence and selflessness in response to his torture and abuse before being crucified.[ix] He voluntarily submitted himself to be crucified, knowing beforehand what would happen to him. He was not a hapless victim of political tensions between Jewish priests and Rome.

And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.[x]

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.[xi]

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.[xii]

Tangible Compassion

The Buddha believed it was sufficient to live in the world of mind and thought, which he believed determined reality. “Those who bridle their mind which travels far, moves about alone, is without a body, and hides in the chamber (of the heart), will be free from the bonds of Mara (the tempter).”[xiii]

He placed little emphasis on providing tangible help to those in need, which he taught should be done in order to become less selfish and advance toward one’s own enlightenment. “The Bhikshu who acts with kindness, who is calm in the doctrine of Buddha, will reach the quiet place (Nirvana), cessation of natural desires, and happiness.”[xiv]

Jesus lived in both the world of the spirit and the physical world,[xv] tangibly helping others by healing the lame and sick and casting out demons.[xvi] He taught his followers to emphasize providing for the physical needs of the suffering out of compassion for them.[xvii]

Iconoclast

The Buddha challenged Hindus regarding their caste system,[xviii] and reliance on making sacrifices to gods.[xix] He accepted other Hindu beliefs (i.e., karma and reincarnation-rebirth).[xx]

Jesus challenged the Pharisees as false practitioners of Judaism.[xxi] He fulfilled the requirements of Old Testament laws through his sinless life and his sacrifice on the cross.[xxii]

Persecution

There is no documentation to suggest that any of Buddha’s disciples died violent deaths or were persecuted for their beliefs. Buddha himself died from food poisoning.[xxiii]

Of Jesus’ disciples, all but one (John) were violently executed because they refused to deny their belief in the divinity of Jesus.[xxiv]

Converts and Martyrs

Emperor Ashoka of India converted to Buddhism after witnessing the horrible bloodshed of a major war in India.[xxv] “In Asoka’s empire, all religions were tolerated but Buddhism was preferred. Buddhism became a dominant religious force under Asoka.”[xxvi]

Over the 300 years after his death, thousands of Christians were martyred because they refused to worship Roman gods, or the Roman emperor as divine.[xxvii] These Christians believed that only Jesus was divine. The witness of these martyrs drew the attention of people throughout the Roman Empire, causing Christianity to spread extensively.

In 313 CE, Emperor Constantine put forth the Edict of Milan, which established tolerance and benevolent treatment towards Christians. In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius I, with the Edict of Thessalonica, declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.[xxviii]


[i] “Gautama Buddha: Travels and Teaching,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[ii] Luke 6:12-16.

[iii] Dhammapada 184.

[iv] Dhammapada 185.

[v] Dhammapada 224.

[vi] Dhammapada 225.

[vii] Dhammapada 231.

[viii] Matthew 5:38-39 (NKJV).

[ix] Matthew 26:47-67, Mark 14:32-65, and Luke 22:39-71.

[x] Philippians 2:8 (NIV).

[xi] John 15:13 (NIV).

[xii] John 10:17-18 (NIV).

[xiii] Dhammapada 37.

[xiv] Dhammapada 368.

[xv] John 1:1-5.

[xvi] Matthew 4:23-25

[xvii] Matthew 25:31-46.

[xviii] “Buddhist Studies: Caste System,” BuddhaNet.net, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xix] “Animal Sacrifice: Buddhism,”  Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013. And “Animal Sacrifice: Hinduism,”  Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xx] “The Hindu and Buddhist concept of reincarnation,” UCS.Louisiana.edu, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xxi] Matthew 15:1-20.

[xxii] John 19:28.

[xxiii] “The Death of the Buddha,” PBS.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xxiv] “The Martyrdom of the Apostles,” BibleProbe.com, retrieved November 14, 2013. And Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., “The Emperor Caligula and the Early Christian Martyrs,” RLHymersJr.com, retrieved December 12, 2016.

[xxv] “Ashoka,” Britannica.com, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xxvi] “Asoka,” ThenAgain.info, retrieved November 26, 2013.

[xxvii] “Church History: Persecution,” Theologian.org.uk, retrieved November 18, 2013.

[xxviii] “State Church of Roman Empire,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 14, 2013.

Issues About Transformation

In this article, the following topics will be discussed: Accessibility to Lasting Liberation, Rapidity of Liberation, Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness, One’s Soul, Culture Clash, Valuing Women and Family, and Challenges to Transformation

Accessibility to Lasting Liberation

For the Buddhist, many years (if not many lifetimes) of prolonged, intense meditation are necessary to approach enlightenment (thereby escaping endless reincarnation). Very few are capable of doing this.

Jesus submitted to the necessity of being brutally sacrificed…to make possible the salvation of those who would place their faith in him and follow him.[i] Billions have claimed to be saved.[ii] [2.18 billion Christians worldwide in 2010]

Rapidity of Liberation

For the Buddhist, attaining liberation through self-purification is always a very slow process, at best. Usually it takes many lifetimes. Only an elite few have claimed to attain it in one lifetime. “By oneself the evil is done, by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone, by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity belong to oneself, no one can purify another.”[iii]

For the Christian, salvation can occur very quickly, because it is founded on being considered pure by God on the basis of one’s acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord by faith.[iv] However, unless one submits to the Lordship of Christ, the reality of conversion may be questionable.

Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness

For the Buddhist, bad karma from misdeeds must be worked off through good deeds and renunciation. There is no mercy, grace or forgiveness from a higher power.

“The evil-doer mourns in this world, and he mourns in the next; he mourns in both. He mourns and suffers when he sees the evil of his own work.”[v]

“The virtuous man delights in this world, and he delights in the next; he delights in both. He delights and rejoices, when he sees the purity of his own work.”[vi]

For the Christian, past misdeeds can be completely forgiven when one repents and receives Christ in faith as Savior and Lord. The believer immediately receives the full mercy, grace and forgiveness of a loving God.[vii] There is risk that the forgiven believer may presume that God will automatically forgive them whenever they sin again.

One’s Soul

In Buddhism, the notion that one has a soul is an illusion.[viii]

In Christianity, each person has a soul that will continue to exist eternally, either in heaven or hell, after dying from one life here on earth.[ix]

Culture Clash

Westerners who engage in prolonged, intensive meditation often become depressed, disoriented or bipolar or suffer from panic attacks and weird health problems.[x] The intensity of isolation and self-denial needed to engage in prolonged, intense meditation is exceptionally difficult for Westerners to accept and adapt to.

Christians who intermingle their faith with the materialistic and self-seeking way of life of Western culture end up feeling miserable, not being able to enjoy either way of life. Jesus encouraged his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God, and then their needs would be met.[xi]

Valuing Women and Family

The Buddha followed the Jain tradition of high honor in leaving his wife and son to become a wandering ascetic. It is always preferable to reincarnate as a man than as a woman.

“Bad conduct is the taint of woman, greediness the taint of a benefactor; tainted are all evil ways in this world and in the next.”[xii]

“So long as the love of man towards women, even the smallest, is not destroyed, so long is his mind in bondage, as the calf that drinks milk is to its mother.”[xiii]

Jesus never married. He upheld the traditional Jewish emphasis on marriage and family.[xiv]

Jesus went out of his way to value and minister to the needs of women. Examples include healing crippled and sick women, visiting the home of Mary and Martha, and talking with the Samaritan woman about her life. At least one of his closest followers (Mary Magdalene) was a woman, and several women helped support Jesus and the disciples out of their own means.[xv]

Challenges to Transformation

In Buddhism, one looks deep within to tap into one’s inherently good buddha-nature,[xvi] while shutting out the distracting and debilitating nature of the outside world. It is critical to progressing toward liberation. For the Buddhist, staying focused is a constant battle against distractions.

“But life is hard to live for a modest man, who always looks for what is pure, who is disinterested, quiet, spotless, and intelligent.”[xvii]

“Be not thoughtless, watch your thoughts! Draw yourself out of the evil way, like an elephant sunk in mud.”[xviii]

In Christianity, the deep inner nature of every person is corrupted and rebellious toward God, and must be replaced by the filling of the Holy Spirit and a personal relationship with Jesus, through faith, not works.[xix] Temporarily relapsing back into self-centeredness is not unusual.[xx]

Acceptance of the Occult

In Asia, Buddhism typically blends in local superstitious beliefs and occult practices.  Vajrayana Buddhists adopted many native Tibetan beliefs (in a wide range of deities) as an integral part of their spiritual practices.[xxi]

Conservative Christians view all occult beliefs and activities as misguided, at best. As a result, opposition to Christians from occult spirits is widespread and intense.[xxii]


[i] Philippians 2:6-8.

[ii] “. . . in 2010 there were 2.18 billion Christians around the world, nearly a third of the global population.”  Christianity.About.com, retrieved November 19, 2013.

[iii] Dhammapada 165.

[iv] Romans 10:9.

[v] Dhammapada 15.

[vi] Dhammapada 16.

[vii] Acts 2:36-39.

[viii] Ernest Valea, “The Human condition in world religions,” ComparativeReligion.com, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[ix] Matthew 13:24-52, Luke 12:4-7, and John 5:24-30.

[x] R. E. Sherman, Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link? (Charleston, CreateSpace, 2011). 280.

[xi] Luke 12:22-31.

[xii] Dhammapada 242.

[xiii] Dhammapada 284.

[xiv] Matthew 19:1-9.

[xv] Luke 8:1-3.

[xvi] “Buddha-Nature,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 20, 2013.

[xvii] Dhammapada 245.

[xviii] Dhammapada 327.

[xix] Romans 5.

[xx] James 3:13-18.

[xxi] “Tibetan Buddhism,” ReligionFacts.com, retrieved December 12, 2016.

[xxii] Patrick Zukeran, “Character of the Cults: A Christian Perspective,” Probe.org, retrieved December 12, 2016.

Transformation Offered, Part 2

In Part 1 of Transformation Offered, the following topics were covered: The One and Only Way, Disciplines Advocated, Empowerment, and Source of Light to Mankind. In Part 2, the topics are: Miracles, Pervasive Influence, Thoughts vs. Physical Reality, Mindfulness, and Looking Above or Within.

Miracles

The Buddha avoided doing miracles of healing and provision, since these would have subverted the operation of karma. He did perform displays of supernatural power (e.g., “vanishing, traveling through walls and space, diving in and out of the earth, hearing divine sounds, mind reading and recollection of past lives.”[i])

Jesus frequently performed miracles of healing from debilitating conditions or diseases.[ii] He also delivered people from possession by demons on seven occasions.[iii] He provided for physical needs (e.g., 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,[iv] and he fed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fish.[v]). Jesus often exhibited miracles of insight (e.g., mind reading or recounting past events in the lives of those he encountered). He also raised four people from the dead,[vi] including Himself.[vii]

Pervasive Influence

The Buddha taught that what you think becomes your reality.

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.[viii]

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.[ix]

Tibetans Buddhists believe that the words on their prayer flags waft through the air, changing the surrounding area.

Jesus participated in the creation of the universe and everything in it—all that is reality.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”[x] Many people do not realize that the universe was created through Jesus.

He answers the prayers of those who believe in him, and in this way his followers influence reality. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”[xi]

Thoughts vs. Physical Reality

The Buddha taught,

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. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.[xii]

To a Buddhist, usually no action is needed to aid others, only positive thoughts. Giving tangible assistance to others is very good, but not necessary, as long as one’s intentions toward others are compassionate.

In the Book of Acts, Luke wrote of Jesus, “In him we live and move and have our being.”[xiii] James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote that compassion needs to be tangible. “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?”[xiv]

Mindfulness

The Buddha taught that our thinking affects who we are. It essentially creates who we are.

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.[xv]

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.[xvi]

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”[xvii] And “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”[xviii]

Looking Above or Within

The Buddha searched ever deeper within himself for wisdom and guidance, tapping into his buddha-nature.“When the Buddha became enlightened he realized that all beings without exception have the same nature and potential for enlightenment, and this is known as buddha nature.”[xix]

Jesus often prayed to his Father for guidance and strength—since he had voluntarily set aside many aspects of his divinity during his life on earth. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”[xx]

Tolerance

The Buddha taught tolerance of everyone, to treat everyone in a peaceful, non-violent and compassionate way.

The disciples of Gotama are always well awake, and their mind day and night always delights in compassion.[xxi]

Him I call indeed a Brahmana who is tolerant with the intolerant, mild with fault-finders, and free from passion among the passionate.[xxii]

Jesus opposed any aspects of religiosity that would result in treating non-believers in a condescending or judgmental way.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.[xxiii]


[i] 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.

[ii] Matthew 9:27-31, Mark 8:22-26, John 9:1-12, Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43, Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16, Luke 17:11-19, Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10, John 4:46-54, Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26, Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-34, Luke 4:38-41, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:43-48, Luke 13:10-17.

[iii] Mark 1:21-18, Luke 4:37-37, Matthew 9:32-34, Matthew 8:16-17, Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41, Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, Matthew 12:22-28, Mark 3:20-30, Luke 11:14-23, Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30, Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-49.

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

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

[vi] Young man from Nain: Luke 7:11-17, Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56, John 11:1-44.

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

[viii] Dhammapada 1.

[ix] Dhammapada 2.

[x] John 1:1-3 (NIV)

[xi] John 15:7 (NIV).

[xii] Dhammapada 1, 2b.

[xiii] Acts 17:28 (RSV).

[xiv] James 2:15-16 (RSV).

[xv] Dhammapada 1.

[xvi] Dhammapada 2.

[xvii] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV).

[xviii] Philippians 4:8 (NIV).

[xix] “Buddha-Nature,” RigpaWiki.org, retrieved May 30, 2013.

[xx] Luke 5:16 (NIV).

[xxi] Dhammapada 300.

[xxii] Dhammapada 406.

[xxiii] Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV).

Transformation Offered, Part 1

In Part 1 of Transformation Offered, the following topics will be covered: The One and Only Way, Disciplines Advocated, Empowerment, and Source of Light to Mankind. In Part 2, the topics will be: Miracles, Pervasive Influence, Thoughts vs. Physical Reality, Mindfulness, and Looking Above or Within.

The One and Only Way

The Buddha’s way consists of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path. The way to enlightenment is through right thinking and acting, and habitual intensive, prolonged meditation. “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].”[i] Great latitude is possible, however, regarding what one meditates on.

Of Jesus, the Apostle John wrote, “Jesus answered [Thomas], ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”[ii] Jesus determines the personal destiny of each soul. “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”[iii]

As judge and God, he can pardon anyone, giving them entrance to eternal life in heaven where they will live in his presence. Or he can reject someone, committing them to an eternity separated from God. “…a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”[iv] Jesus made salvation possible apart from doing good works or being a good person, so that anyone can be empowered by the Spirit of God to be quickly and radically transformed.

Disciplines Advocated

The Buddha urged his followers to renounce their old way of life, study and live out his teachings, to meditate long and frequently, to seek guidance and strength from within themselves, and to have compassion on all people.

The Buddha taught:

The man who is free from credulity, but knows the uncreated, who has cut all ties, removed all temptations, renounced all desires, he is the greatest of men.[v]

Those who are ever watchful, who study day and night, and who strive after Nirvana, their passions will come to an end.[vi]

He who dwells in the law, delights in the law, meditates on the law, follows the law, that Bhikshu will never fall away from the true law.[vii]

The disciples of Gotama are always well awake, and their mind day and night always delights in compassion.[viii]

Jesus urged his followers to study the Scriptures, to pray frequently, to seek guidance and strength from God, and to love all people.

Jesus taught:

Jesus answered Satan, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”[ix]

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable [The Parable of the Persistent Widow] to show them that they should always pray and not give up.[x]

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.[xi]

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”[xii]

 

Empowerment

The goal of the Buddha’s followers is to realize their Buddha-nature, an indivisible oneness of wisdom and emptiness that makes possible to all conscious beings their becoming a Buddha (i.e., an enlightened being). If one becomes enlightened, they enter Nirvana (even while on earth) and become assured that they will never again reincarnate.

In Jesus is life eternal. A Christian receives this by faith in Jesus as his/her Savior and Lord, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit (i.e., God). They then have the mind of Christ[xiii] and the heart of God. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”[xiv]

Source of Light to Mankind

The goal in Buddhism is to become enlightened, and to positively affect everyone by thinking good thoughts. “Those whose mind is well grounded in the (seven) elements of knowledge, who without clinging to anything, rejoice in freedom from attachment, whose appetites have been conquered, and who are full of light, are free (even) in this world.”[xv]

Of Jesus, the Apostle John wrote, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”[xvi] “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[xvii]

Relationship to Followers

The Buddha served as the ultimate wise teacher and role model. Teachings attributed to him fill 40 books.[xviii] It is not possible to contact or interact with the Buddha now, since his departure to Nirvana (non-existence).

Of Jesus, there is an ongoing interactive personal relationship. To his true followers, Jesus is Savior, Shepherd, Healer, Comforter, Advocate and Judge.

In the Book of John we read:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.[xix]

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.[xx]

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.[xxi]

I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.[xxii]


[i] Friedrich Max Muller, trans., The Dhammapada: A Collection of Verses, Being One of the Canonical Works of the Buddhists, in vol. 10, Part 1, The Sacred Books of the East, translated by Various Oriental Scholars, edited by F. Max Muller, available at “Dhammapada (Muller),” Wikisource, Dhammapada 274, 275. Dhammapada_(Muller). This work is cited as “Dhammapada” hereafter. To save space, line breaks in quotations from the Dhammapada have not been retained.

[ii] John 14:6 (NIV).

[iii] John 5:21-23 (NIV).

[iv] Romans 3:28 (NIV).

[v] Dhammapada 97.

[vi] Dhammapada 226.

[vii] Dhammapada 364.

[viii] Dhammapada 300.

[ix] Matthew 4:4 (NIV).

[x] Luke 18:1 (NIV).

[xi] John 14:26 (NIV).

[xii] Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV).

[xiii] 1 Corinthians 2:16.

[xiv] Ezekiel 36:26 (RSV).

[xv] Dhammapada 89.

[xvi] John 8:12 (NIV).

[xvii] John 1:4-5 (NIV).

[xviii] Ven S. Dhammika, “Good Questions, Good Answers.” BuddhaNet.net, retrieved December 8, 2016.

[xix] John 15:1-2 (NKJV).

[xx] John 15:4-5 (NKJV).

[xxi] John 15:7-8 (NKJV).

[xxii] John 10:14-15 (NKJV).

Nature of the Universe

The Buddha and Jesus had differing views on the nature of the universe and this world, and on this life and the next. In this article, we’ll look at their views on the universe, their existence prior to life on earth, their origin, why there is so much suffering in this life?, ignorance and sin, life in this world and the next, nirvana and heaven, and on whether reality is permanent and unchanging?

The Universe

The Buddha taught that the universe has always existed. It was never created. To the Buddhist, the universe is a given. The Buddha did not see any value in the discussion of the origin of the universe. He did not believe that gaining any knowledge of such matters would assist in a person being able in achieve liberation or nirvana.[i]

Jesus’ world view was that God created the entire universe suddenly,[ii] [God consisting of three persons: God the Father, Jesus, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, also called the Trinity].[iii] To the Christian, the universe was intentionally given existence by God, the creator.

Existence Prior to Life on Earth

The Buddha “was 83 times ascetic, 43 times Deva (a divine being), 18 times ape, 6 times elephant, 1 time thief, 1 time frog, 1 time snipe (a bird), 58 times king, 24 times Brahman, 10 times deer, 10 times lion, 1 time gambler and 1 time hare.”[iv]

Jesus was always one with God. As the Apostle John describes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”[v] Many people do not realize that Jesus, as part of the Trinity, created the universe.

Origin

Buddha…“practiced life after life over three periods of countless great eons to complete the requisite stores of merit and wisdom, and bring his development to perfection.”[vi]

Jesus was totally divine and perfect from before the beginning of time, existing as the second person of the Godhead (Trinity).[vii] Jesus was and is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.[viii]

Why so much Suffering in this World?

The Buddha taught life is suffering. The cause of suffering is desire. Eliminate all desire and suffering stops.[ix]

God created a perfect world for mankind to live in (the Garden of Eden).[x] God gave free will to mankind, and we chose to rebel against God’s authority, wanting to become like God.[xi] God allowed that, relinquishing control of the Earth to mankind, leaving us vulnerable to the deceptions and attacks of Lucifer, the chief of the fallen angels (aka Satan).[xii] Much suffering resulted, since the Earth became a battleground between people seeking to follow God and forces directed by Lucifer.[xiii]

Ignorance and Sin

The Buddha taught people are naturally ignorant of their inherent Buddha-nature deep within. That nature comprehends the connectedness and oneness of all sentient (i.e., conscious) beings and the universe in general. “And he who lives a hundred years, ignorant and unrestrained, a life of one day is better if a man is wise and reflecting.”[xiv]

Jesus taught, “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[xv] “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[xvi] Jesus paid that penalty through his sacrifice on the cross, so that we might be freed from death and hell, and live in the Kingdom of God here on earth and the Kingdom of Heaven after we die.

Life in this World and the Next

The Buddha taught about reincarnation. In his world view, animals and people are nearly equal. “Mules are good, if tamed, and noble Sindhu horses, and elephants with large tusks; but he who tames himself is better still.”[xvii]

Jesus taught, “… people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”[xviii] After that each person will live eternally either in heaven or hell. People are clearly superior to animals.[xix]

Nirvana and Heaven

The Buddha taught that nirvana is not an actual physical place. It is the mental state of complete liberation from all suffering. It is characterized by an “imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished.”[xx] “This world is dark, few only can see here; a few only go to heaven, like birds escaped from the net.”[xxi]

Jesus taught that heaven is an actual physical place in the universe[xxii] where God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit reign and where all who have trusted in Jesus as their Savior and Lord will live forever. It will be 1,500 miles wide, deep and high,[xxiii] which would be big enough for every person who is now living to have half a cubic mile of room.

Reality: Permanent and Unchanging?

The Buddha taught that all things that appear to exist are impermanent. This is in complete contrast to nirvana, which does not change, decay or die.[xxiv] The belief that one has a soul is an illusion.[xxv]

Jesus taught while the universe God created is subject to great change, the existence, character and love of God never change.[xxvi] And “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[xxvii]


[i] Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera. “The Origin of the World.” Budsas.org, retrieved November 3, 2016.

[ii] Genesis 1:1.

[iii] Genesis 1:1-26, John 1:3.

[iv] Lit-Sen Chang, Asia’s Religions: Christianity’s Momentous Encounter with Paganism (Vancouver, Canada: China Horizon, 1999), 124. Source cited as Hardy, Robert Spence. The Legends and Theories of the Buddhists Compared with History and Science with Introductory Notices of the Life and System of Gotama Buddha, 2d ed. (London: F. Norgate, 1881), and A Manual of Buddhism in its Modern Development, 2d ed. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1880).

[v] John 1:1-3 (NIV)

[vi] Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened (New York: Atria Books), 216.

[vii] John 1:1.

[viii] Revelation 17:14 & 19:16.

[ix] “The Four Noble Truths.” BBC.co.uk. retrieved November 10, 2016.

[x] Genesis 1:26,31.

[xi] Genesis 3:5-6.

[xii] Job 1:6-12.

[xiii] 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, John 12:31, Matthew 4:8-9.

[xiv] Friedrich Max Muller, trans., The Dhammapada: A Collection of Verses, Being One of the Canonical Works of the Buddhists, in vol. 10, Part 1, The Sacred Books of the East, translated by Various Oriental Scholars, edited by F. Max Muller, available at “Dhammapada (Muller),” Wikisource, Dhammapada 111. This work is cited as “Dhammapada” hereafter. To save space, line breaks in quotations from the Dhammapada have not been retained.

[xv] Romans 3:23 (NASB).

[xvi] Romans 6:23 (NASB).

[xvii] Dhammapada 322.

[xviii] Hebrews 9:27 (NIV).

[xix] Genesis 1:26.

[xx] “Nirvana,” Wikipedia, retrieved March 6, 2013.

[xxi] Dhammapada 174.

[xxii] Revelation 21:1-7, 10-26; 22:1-5.

[xxiii] Revelation 21:16.

[xxiv] “Impermanence: Buddhism.” Wikipedia, retrieved November 10, 2016.

[xxv] Jayaram V. “Buddhism: The Concept of Anatta or No Self.” HinduWebsite.com, retrieved November 10, 2016.

[xxvi] Malachi 3:16.

[xxvii] Hebrews 13:8 (NASB).

The Buddha and Jesus: Self-Denial and Exaltation

In this article, we consider the lives of the Buddha and Jesus with respect to: their initial self-denial, perfection, further self-denial (to free others), model lives, self-sacrifice, exaltation, and the aftermath of their deaths.

Initial Self Denial

The Buddha was born a prince. He lived in three palaces, according to the seasons, and was sheltered from the outside world (and existing religions) as a youth and a young man, by his father, a king. At the age of 29, he ventured outside his palaces and encountered the ravages of old age, sickness and death.[i] He renounced his royalty to become a wandering ascetic who begged for food and starved himself while practicing intensive, prolonged meditation in his search to find a way to end suffering.

Jesus: Before coming to earth, Jesus dwelled with God in heaven. Christ Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”[ii] Jesus, the Word, became flesh and dwelled among people.[iii] He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, a poor Jewish carpenter. He set aside many of his divine powers while on earth, but reassumed them after his ascension into heaven. Though equal with God, Jesus descended to earth and became a man, to help people to relate to God and to be reconciled to him.

Perfection

The Buddha approached perfection entirely by self effort. He claimed to have attained it at the moment of his enlightenment,[iv] in his last reincarnation before entering nirvana.

Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life because he was God. He was the spotless lamb[v] who was sacrificed to atone for the sins of the whole world.

Further Self-Denial (to free others)

The Buddha, after becoming enlightened, considered keeping his findings to himself, but then chose to devote the rest of his life (another 45 years) to teaching it to others.[vi]

Jesus: “And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”[vii] He volunteered to be crucified. He was not a hapless victim of political tensions between Jewish priests and Rome. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[viii] “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”[ix]

Model Lives

The Buddha modeled the process of becoming a rock (island). “Make thyself an island, work hard, be wise! When thy impurities are blown away, and thou art free from guilt, thou wilt enter into the heavenly world of the elect (Ariya).”[x] His goal was emotional detachment from any sentient beings, while thinking that all beings can attain their buddha-nature (a combination of emptiness and wisdom).

Jesus was a model servant to others, as exemplified by 1) his washing the feet of his disciples,[xi] 2) performing numerous healings and exorcisms out of compassion, 3) twice feeding multitudes of people,[xii] and 4) submission to God’s will in voluntarily submitting himself to be crucified.[xiii]

Self Sacrifice (Why?)

The Buddha taught that we must become dispassionate. “Those who are slaves to passions, run down with the stream (of desires), as a spider runs down the web which he has made himself; when they have cut this, at last, wise people leave the world free from cares, leaving all affection behind.”[xiv]

Jesus’ passion—volunteering to be tortured and crucified to provide a way for sinful people to be saved.[xv]

Exaltation

The Buddha “I have conquered all, I know all, in all conditions of life I am free from taint; I have left all, and through the destruction of thirst I am free; having learnt myself, whom shall I teach?”[xvi] “When the learned man drives away vanity by earnestness, he, the wise, climbing the terraced heights of wisdom, looks down upon the fools, serene he looks upon the toiling crowd, as one that stands on a mountain looks down upon them that stand upon the plain.”[xvii]

Jesus “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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[xviii]

Aftermath of Their Deaths

The Buddha died at age 80, claiming that he had succeeded in ending the cycle of reincarnation for himself and had attained nirvana (non-existence). “According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state, and abandon his earthly body.”[xix]

Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after he died, and then he appeared to at least a dozen different groups of people before ascending into heaven before many witnesses. Besides appearing eight times to the disciples[xx] he also appeared to Mary Magdalene and other women when they visited the empty tomb.[xxi] He also appeared to a group of 500 men and women[xxii] and to those gathered as he ascended into heaven.[xxiii]  And he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus.[xxiv]


[i] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, translated by Jeffrey Hopkins (New York: Simon and Schuster, Atria Books, 2009), 216.

[ii] Philippians 2:6-7 (NIV).

[iii] John 1:14.

[iv] “Gautama Buddha: Awakening” Wikipedia.org, retrieved October 31, 2016.

[v] 1 Peter 1:19.

[vi] “Gautama Buddha: Awakening” and “Gautama Buddha: Travels and Teaching,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 26, 2013.

[vii] Philippians 2:8 (NIV).

[viii] John 15:13 (NIV).

[ix] John 10:17-18 (NIV).

[x] Friedrich Max Muller, trans., The Dhammapada: A Collection of Verses, Being One of the Canonical Works of the Buddhists, in vol. 10, Part 1, The Sacred Books of the East, translated by Various Oriental Scholars, edited by F. Max Muller, available at “Dhammapada (Muller),” Wikisource, Dhammapada 236. Dhammapada_(Muller). This work is cited as “Dhammapada” hereafter. To save space, line breaks in quotations from the Dhammapada have not been retained.

[xi] John 13:3-5.

[xii] Jesus feeding the multitudes appears in Matthew 14:13-21 (more than 5,000 people) also found in Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:1-13, and John 6:1-15; and Matthew 15:29-39 (more than 4,000 people) also found in Mark 8:1-13.

[xiii] Philippians 2:5-8.

[xiv] Dhammapada 347.

[xv] Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32, John 18:1, John 10:17-18.

[xvi] Dhammapada 353.

[xvii] Ibid. 28.

[xviii] Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV).

[xix] “Gautama Buddha: Mahaparinirvana,” Wikipedia.org, retrieved November 26, 2013.

[xx] Mark 16:12, Mark 16:14, Mark 16:15b, Luke 24:13-32, Luke 24:34, Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-24. John 20:26-29, John 21:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5a, 1 Corinthians 15:6, 1 Corinthians 15:7.

[xxi] Matthew 28:8-10, Mark 16:9-11, John 20:11-18.

[xxii] John 21:15-23.

[xxiii] Acts 1:3-11.

[xxiv] 1 Corinthians 15:8.

Buddha and Jesus: Greatest Teachings, Part 2

In a two-part article, we will see that the Buddha and Jesus often taught on the same subjects. Part 1 covered: the Golden Rule, boundless compassion, loving your enemies, and our sources of power. In Part 2, we’ll look at mindfulness; mercy, grace and forgiveness; materialism and selflessness; laying up treasures; and karma. Let’s ponder how their respective teachings compare and contrast.

Mindfulness

The Buddha taught, “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.”[i] “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.”[ii]

Jesus taught, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”[iii] “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”[iv]

Consider

The Buddha taught that who we are is a result of our thought life. Jesus encouraged spending our thought life on being joyful, praying, having gratitude, and placing our thoughts on things that are noble, pure and lovely.

What occupies your thought life? What can you do to shift your thoughts to more noble and uplifting thoughts? Begin by thinking about something you are grateful for today.

Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness

In Becoming Enlightened, the Dalai Lama states, “A Buddhist bodhisattva is someone near perfection who chooses to transfer some of their merit to help other meritorious seekers to progress more rapidly toward nirvana.”[v]

Jesus taught The Parable of the Prodigal Son. It illustrates how eager and excited God is to welcome back into his kingdom those who have become trapped in habitual sin, if they will truly turn away from those sins and wholeheartedly desire to return to God.[vi]

Consider

Someone transferring their merit to another is not grace, which is receiving something good we clearly don’t deserve. Contrast that with the reception of a father to his son who does not deserve forgiveness, but is received with open arms and wholehearted forgiveness.

Do you feel a need for mercy, grace and forgiveness in your life?

Materialism and Selflessness

The Buddha taught, “Him I call indeed a Brahmana who calls nothing his own, whether it be before, behind, or between, who is poor, and free from the love of the world.”[vii]

Jesus taught, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[viii]

Consider

The Buddha taught to be free from the love of this world, and to renounce materialism. Jesus taught to seek first the kingdom of God, and then our material needs would be met.

Do you feel shackled or weighed down by materialism? What are your priorities with regard to materialism?

Lay Up Treasures

The Buddha taught, “Let the wise man do righteousness: A treasure that others cannot share, which no thief can steal; a treasure which does not pass away.”[ix]

Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[x]

Consider

The Buddha taught that doing righteous acts is a treasure that cannot be stolen. Jesus taught not to accumulate wealth, but to do that which builds your treasure in heaven. Both illustrate the uselessness of accumulating that which can be stolen versus that which cannot.

Where is your heart invested?

Karma

Buddha provided a way to escape from the endless cycle of reincarnation—by attaining perfections after working off all bad (as well as good) karma.[xi]

Jesus provided a way to be absolved of all of the negative spiritual weight of one’s bad karma—by believing that he is the Savior of mankind and accepting him as Lord of one’s life. Having been absolved, however, one may still have to face the negative consequences of past misdeeds. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”[xii] The Apostle Paul taught, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. “[xiii]

Consider

Both the Buddha and Jesus taught that our actions have results for good or bad. However, the Buddha taught one must work off all the bad karma, whereas Jesus taught that our bad behavior can be forgiven, and about the importance of repenting from the bad behavior.

Do you believe that you have to work off the bad acts in your life? Do you believe that you can be forgiven by God for your bad acts? Where do you find the strength to turn away from bad behavior? Are you alone in accomplishing this, or do you find your strength comes from God?


[i] Dhammapada 1.

[ii] Dhammapada 2.

[iii] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV).

[iv] Philippians 4:8 (NIV).

[v] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Becoming Enlightened, translated by Jeffrey Hopkins (New York: Simon and Schuster, Atria Books, 2009), 161-183.

[vi] Luke 15:11-32.

[vii] Dhammapada 421.

[viii] Matthew 6:33 (NIV).

[ix] Buddha, Khuddakapatha 8.9, in Borg, Jesus and Buddha, 69.

[x] Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV).

[xi] Jonathan Landaw, and Stephan Bodian. Buddhism for Dummies. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2033. Chapter 12: “Getting Your Karmic Act Together.” Chapter 13: “Breaking Free of the Cycle of Dissatisfaction.”

[xii] Luke 5:32 (NIV).

[xiii] Galations 6:7 (NASB).

Buddha and Jesus: Greatest Teachings, Part 1

In a two-part article, we will see that the Buddha and Jesus often taught on the same subjects. In this first article, we’ll look at the Golden Rule, boundless compassion, loving your enemies, and our sources of power. Let’s ponder how their respective teachings compare and contrast.

The Golden Rule

The Buddha taught, “Consider others as yourself.”[i]

Jesus taught, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”[ii]

Consider

In this instance, the Buddha and Jesus had very similar thoughts about treating others as yourself.

How do you want others to treat you?

Rank these in importance:

  • Meet my physical needs
  • Treat me with respect
  • Genuinely empathize with me.

What do your answers to the first question suggest how you should treat others?

Boundless Compassion

The Buddha taught, “Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world.”[iii]

Jesus taught, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”[iv]

Consider

The Buddha taught to think loving thoughts toward all sentient beings, and Jesus taught to love God with your entire being and to love your neighbor genuinely.

In what ways does your love of yourself become evident?

What might that imply about how you should tangibly love your neighbor?

Loving Your Enemies

The Buddha taught, “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.” [v] And “Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth!”[vi]

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” [vii] And “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” [viii]

Consider

The Buddha taught that hatred can only be overcome with love, evil with good, greed with liberality, and lying with the truth. In each of these instances, he encourages a positive action. Likewise, Jesus encourages positive actions in loving our enemies, doing good for those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, and praying for those who mistreat you.

Picture someone who actively dislikes, or even hates, you, and imagine doing something good for them. You can begin by simply praying a blessing on them. What additional acts of kindness might you consider doing for them?

Our Source of Power

The Buddha taught, “Rouse thyself by thyself, examine thyself by thyself, thus self-protected and attentive wilt thou live happily, O Bhikshu!”[ix] “Self is the lord of self, who else could be the lord? With self well subdued, a man finds a lord such as few can find.”[x]

Jesus taught, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”[xi] “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”[xii]

Consider

These teachings are in direct contrast to one another. The Buddha teaches about having a life completely motivated and dictated by self. Jesus teaches about having a life which abides in him.

Do you believe that what you become depends entirely on you, or in contrast, that being close to Jesus will strengthen you? Do you believe that you are alone in this life, or do you believe in God?


[i] Heartland Sangha American Buddhism, “Parallel Sayings of Buddha and Christ,” www.heartlandsangha.org/parallel-sayings.html, retrieved October 12, 2010.

[ii] Luke 6:31 (NASB).

[iii] Heartland Sangha American Buddhism, “Parallel Sayings.”

[iv] Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV).

[v] Friedrich Max Muller, trans., The Dhammapada: A Collection of Verses, Being One of the Canonical Works of the Buddhists, in vol. 10, Part 1, The Sacred Books of the East, translated by Various Oriental Scholars, edited by F. Max Muller, available at “Dhammapada (Muller),” Wikisource, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/, Dhammapada 5. Dhammapada_(Muller). This work is cited as “Dhammapada” hereafter. To save space, line breaks in quotations from the Dhammapada have not been retained.

[vi] Ibid. 223.

[vii] Luke 6:27b-28 (NKJV).

[viii] Matthew 5:38-41 (NIV).

[ix] Dhammapada 379.

[x] Ibid. 160.

[xi] Philippians 4:13 (NKJV).

[xii] John 15:5 (NASB).

Barbara Walter’s Interview of the Dalai Lama

Nine years ago Barbara Walters interviewed the Dalai Lama. The interview is available on You Tube (9:17).

The interview covers an amazing amount of ground about Buddhism and His Holiness. It showcases his no-nonsense, disarming humility and his endearing giggle. The interview leaves the viewer with a clear sense of why he is admired and revered by hundreds of millions.

The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) is believed to be the 14th incarnation of The Buddha (Gautama Buddha). He is often referred to as the “heavenly deity of compassion and wisdom.” Many Buddhists believe he is a god. When questioned by Walters, he denied being a deity, saying he is a teacher. He laughed and commented that he had an eye irritation and that shouldn’t happen if he is a god.

Walters described him as “the world’s foremost scholar in his very complex faith.” Buddhists do not believe in God the way Christians do, but they do believe some kind of heaven exists. Ancient Tibetan texts describe six distinct levels of heaven and six nightmarish levels of hell. When asked about the Buddhist vision of heaven, he described it as a very happy, very pleasant place, the best place to refine one’s practice of Buddhism.

For Buddhists, heaven is not a destination, but a place to visit temporarily. A place to go to continue to reincarnate until they become a buddha (enlightened one). Good compassionate people reincarnate as people, and bad people as animals. For example, a good dog may reincarnate as a person, and a bad person as a dog. From the Buddhist point of view, everyone is reborn (reincarnated) repeatedly.

As a three-year-old, he underwent testing before he was proclaimed the 14th Dalai Lama. During the testing, he pointed to objects that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. He said as a child he had clear memories of a past life, but now he does not.

Walters explained that Buddhists believe the ultimate goal is nirvana or enlightenment, which is a state of all-knowing contentment. The Dalai Lama explained that once you eliminate all negative emotions, you automatically become enlightened and enter Nirvana. Walters asked him, are you enlightened? He answered no. He said he does not know what will happen tonight, and that he is having trouble with his memory. He added, if he was enlightened, he would not be forgetful. He said he sees himself as just another human being, nothing special, nothing more. It is this humility that endears him to so many.

Gyatso is the first Dalai Lama ever to travel outside of Tibet. He is an ambassador of Buddhism recognized world-wide as a symbol of compassionate, non-violent living. Before an audience of 65,000 people in New York’s Central Park, Richard Gere introduced him as “one of the great beings perhaps to ever walk on this planet. . . .”

Walters asked the Dalai Lama what the purpose of life is, and he replied that the purpose is to be happy and is accomplished by warm-heartedness. That compassion gives inner strength, and changes our attitudes and the way we see things. When asked if the world is closer to heaven or to hell, he replied closer to heaven.

Moved by the time with him, Walters concluded her time with him by requesting if she could kiss him on his cheek. He permitted it and giggled. Then he showed her a New Zealand kiss and touched noses with her.

The interview raised some key concerns about the efficacy of Buddhism as a path to enlightenment and nirvana. If the Dalai Lama has not attained enlightenment, then who has? Attaining enlightenment is the only real way to be liberated from the suffering of this world, and from repeatedly being reincarnated into that same world of suffering. Only a very small number of Buddhists have “made it,” even in the 2,500 years that Buddhism has existed as a religion. This stands in sharp contrast to Christianity and Islam, where a high percentage of adherents believe that they will be freed from suffering when they enter heaven (or paradise). The difference is that in these two theistic religions, God (or Allah) is believed to do what no human being can—provide a way of liberation from this very troublesome world and the great limitations that plague all human beings.

If the Dalai Lama is “just another human being, nothing special, nothing more,” and is not enlightened, then is he really qualified to speak with such authority as a teacher? While his humility is disarming, it is also unsettling.

All this reminds me of the painfully honest confession of Bruce Newman, author of A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism. He noted,

When I look back on my twenty-three years of practice, I can’t but help but feel deeply disappointed by how little progress I’ve made in my meditation. In a sense, I’ve done most things right—I’ve played by the book, so to speak. Why then have the experiences of meditation, so tantalizing, been beyond my reach? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if nothing has happened; it’s just that progress has been painfully slow.[i]

While one may question the efficacy of sudden conversions in Christianity for many of its faltering followers, we also encounter many Christians who dramatically changed for the better overnight, or nearly so. This phenomenon is absent in Buddhism, where spiritual growth is “painfully slow.”


[i] Bruce Newman, A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism, (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lions Prod., 2004), 71.

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.