Saturday, August 31, 2013

Part 3: The Uniqueness of Jesus in Contrast to Buddha

Whether we realize it or not, people today from the West are taking a look at and embracing some of the varying forms of Buddhism. Celebrities like Richard Gere, Orlando Bloom, Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson, along with others are some of the influencers that are attracting people to this eastern world religion.  This posting will take a brief look at the key figure of Buddhism and examine him with the life and work of Jesus.  

Who was "the Buddha"?

Siddhartha Gautama, who became "the Buddha," was born around 560 B.C. to an upper-class family. His early years were very comfortable and sheltered. It would not be until when he was in his twenties before he realized that there was great evil and suffering in the world. In order to find some answers to this great problem, he studied with the Hindu masters and practiced asceticism for a brief time.  Realizing both extremes (indulgence and asceticism) to be futile, he chose the middle path of meditation. One day while he was meditating, he is said to have gained enlightenment and reached the state of nirvana. His writings and sayings that were attributed to him as the Buddha, were written approximately 400 years after his death. This being said, there is really no way of knowing if his writings are reliable or not. Gautama "Buddha" died of food poisoning around 480 BC.

His Title and Teachings

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha is a title meaning “enlightened one”) developed a religion that was quite different from Judaism and Christianity.  In fact, Buddhism began as his response and reformation of the things he disagreed with in Hinduism. According to Gautama, Hinduism had become a system of speculation and superstition.  To correct this, Gautama rejected the rituals and the occultism and developed an essentially atheistic religion (though later forms of Buddhism returned to the Hindu gods).  

His basic beliefs are summed up in the Four Noble Truths: (a) All life is suffering; (b) Suffering is caused by desires for pleasure and prosperity; (c) Suffering can be overcome by eliminating desires; and (d) Desires can be eliminated by the Eightfold Path.

This Eightfold Path is both a system of religious education and the moral precepts of Buddhism.  It includes right knowledge (the Four Noble Truths), right intentions, right speech, right conduct (no killing, drinking, stealing, lying, or adultery), right occupation (none which cause suffering), right effort, right mindfulness (denial of the finite self), and right meditation (Raja yoga).  

The goal of all Buddhists is not heaven or being with God, for there is no God in Gautama’s teaching. Instead, the goal is to seek nirvana, which is the elimination of all suffering, desires, and the illusion that the self exists.

There are two major branches of Buddhism, with one being more liberal than the others. The Mahayana school, the more liberal branch of Buddhism, now exists which deifies Gautama and thinks him as a savior (Mahayana Buddhism).  The Theravada Buddhism stays closer to Gautama’s teachings and maintains that he never claimed divinity.  

As to being as savior, it is reported that Buddha’s last words were, “Buddhas do but point the way; work out your salvation with diligence.”

What Makes Jesus Superior to Gautama Buddha?

As a variant form of Hinduism, Buddhism is subject to all of the criticism that will be mentioned in the next posting when we look at the uniqueness of Jesus in contrast to the gurus of Hinduism. In this posting, and the next we can and will continue to see that Jesus' teaching is far superior in the following ways:  

Jesus teaches hope in life:  While Buddhism sees life only as suffering, and selfhood as something to be eradicated, Jesus taught that life is a gift of God to be enjoyed (John 10:10) and that the individual is to be honored supremely (Matt. 5:22).  Furthermore, He promised hope in the life to come (John 14:6).  Surely this is better than nirvana, the elimination of desire and self that Gautama taught.

Jesus teaches a better way of salvation:  The Buddhist teachings that if one follows the teachings in the Eightfold Path they will ultimately attain salvation via a series of reincarnations. To the Buddhist, reincarnation means salvation.  However, in this form the self or individuality, the soul is eradicated at the end of each life.  So even though the Buddhist might live on, it is not the person as an individual who has any hope of attaining nirvana.  Jesus promised to change the person's being and bring forth an individual hope to each man as an individual (John 14:3).  For example, Jesus, at His crucifixion, said to one of the thieves on the cross beside him, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus teaches His own deity:  Again, the last word on the subject is spoken by an empty tomb which proves Jesus’ claims to be God in the flesh.  Gautama made no such claim and offered no proof that it was the case.  He simply wanted to point the way for others to follow him to a selfless nirvana.

Each individual Christian, who has been born from above and has a changed being will be in a real Heaven in the presence of a God who exists. Buddhism does not offer the hope that Christ offers: a changed being that has been converted from a sinner to a saint with the promise of the hope of the resurrection. Buddhism leads one down the Eightfold Path to nowhere, Jesus gives us real life.

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