"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
While living in Taiwan and traveling in Asia, I have had a lot of contact with various forms of Buddhism mixed with Taoism and Confucianism.
When we lived in Taiwan, there was a little temple at the corner of the street where we lived. Members often chanted the name of one of their gods, Ahmitabha. One night they chanted this god's name for over two hours. It reminded me of those in Ephesus who, for over two hours, "cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:34).
A number of years ago, I studied with a lady who believed all religions came from God. Even though different religions teach different and contradictory doctrines, she believed they all came from God, so we can pick and choose the best of each and leave the rest alone. A kind of cafeteria-style religion. Also, she believed since all religions came from God, we should not criticize other religious groups. "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33).
It is granted there is some good in all religions. If a religion did not have anything good about it, who would be interested in following it? However, it only takes a little false doctrine to destroy us spiritually. When we lived in Taiwan, we had a problem with cockroaches in our house. We did not use 100% poison to kill them. We took the boric acid and put it inside some sweet cookie dough. The cockroach would eat the cookie dough and also eat the poison and die. Rat poison only has about 2% poison in it. The rest is good food. Not even a rat is stupid enough to eat 100% poison.
Such is the case with Buddhism. There are some good things stressed in Buddhism. But it is the poison mixed in with it that will cause a person to be lost eternally.
There are so many religions or philosophies that claim to be the guide for people in this life. Buddhism makes this claim. It is hard to know exactly how many Buddhists there are in this world, but there are approximately 600 million people who follow it to some degree.
Buddhism is one of the many eastern religions that fits into Paul's description of those who "changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man.... Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator" (Romans 1:23,25).
Just as with many eastern religions, Buddhism is very idolatrous in nature. In Taiwan, there are probably as many temples as there are gas stations in any one of the United States. There are a number of passages that show the folly and sinfulness of idolatry (Psalm 115: 4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:2).
Buddhism claims it has evolved into different forms so that it can be relevant to the different cultures in which it exists. They claim it has been reinterpreted over the centuries so that it can remain relevant to each new generation. It has to be relative to be relevant. Also, there is very little "pure" Buddhism being practiced in the world today. Instead there is a mixture of Buddhism with Taoism and Confucianism. Taoism came from Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. Confucianism is based upon the teachings of Confucius. During the Ming Dynasty (1369-1644), these three were merged into one. Another aspect of this mixture is the practice of ancestor worship. People do not consider it odd to practice some aspects of all three religions. Add to this, all of the denominations in existence and it is no wonder the young lady in Taiwan was confused!
Though there are a number of different branches of Buddhism, the four noble truths and the eightfold path are at the heart of this teaching. The four noble truths are: (1) Suffering exists. (2) Suffering arises from attachment to desires. (3) Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases. (4) Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the eightfold path. According to Buddhism, the eightfold path is the way to end this suffering. It will also enable the follower to attain nirvana. This eightfold path includes: (1) Right view or understanding. (2) Right thought. (3) Right speech. (4) Right action. (5) Right livelihood. (6) Right effort. (7) Right mindfulness. (8) Right contemplation or concentration.
The Bible teaches that suffering exists. Sometimes we suffer because of the consequences of sin (Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 3:7-17). However, the Bible teaches some suffer in spite of righteous living. The Prophets and Job (James 5:10,11). Christians (1 Peter 4:12-16). Those who live godly lives (2 Timothy 3:12).
The goal of the Eightfold Path is Nirvana. The goal of righteous living is eternal life in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12).
Some Buddhist Doctrines
1. Nirvana. What is nirvana? According to Buddhism: In Sanskrit, nirvana literally means, "extinction, blowing out." "Nirvana is the ultimate goal of spiritual practice in Buddhism. It is the total, absolute and permanent cessation of suffering. It is the merging of the individual into being one with the universe." Nirvana means "never having to be reborn."
The goal of the Christian is also to go to a place where there will be no suffering or pain. The Bible calls this place heaven (Revelation 21:4). However, a heavenly reward does not mean we cease to exist. Jesus said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28,29). This passage also points out that the unrighteous are not reborn, but will be doomed to hell.
2. Karma. Buddhism teaches that happiness or suffering in this life is the result of our deeds (karma) in past lives, or past actions in our present lives. Karma is "intentional action, that is, a deed done deliberately through body, speech, or mind." The effects of karma may be evident either in short-term or in the long-term. Karma can either manifest its effects in this very life or in the next life or only after several lives. Karma is the Buddhist explanation for unexplained or unexpected suffering. According to the idea of karma in Buddhism, an individual has free will, but he carries the baggage of deeds done in previous lives.
What does the Bible teach? The Bible teaches each individual is responsible for his own life (Ezekiel 18:4,20; Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). We do not inherit the sins of our ancestors, nor do we inherit sins from previous lives.
3. Reincarnation or Rebirth (Transmigration of Souls). The idea of reincarnation permeates our society. There have been a number of books written, television shows, and movies produced that promote this teaching. Many famous people in history believed they were someone else in another life.
According to Buddhism, all creatures (including animals) have a soul, so it would be cannibalism to kill and eat animals. Many who believe in reincarnation are vegetarians.
It is amazing to me that those who believe in reincarnation try to use the Bible to uphold their doctrine. They try to use the examples of Job and Jeremiah in the Old Testament (Job 1:20,21; Jeremiah 1:4,5). However, neither of these passages are talking about reincarnation. Job also said: "When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return" (Job 16:22). In the New Testament, they try to use passages that speak of Paul and Elijah (Galatians 1:15,16; Matthew 11:14; Luke 1:17). Again, these passages do not remotely suggest reincarnation. In the case of Elijah, he did not even die (2 Kings 2:11). Also, Elijah appears as himself with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5).
Reincarnation teaches that we die over and over again. However, the Bible teaches us "it is appointed unto men once to die" (Hebrews 9:27). This same verse tells us that after we die, we wait for the judgment.
4. The Buddhist View Of God. As in Hinduism, the Buddhist view of God is that there are many gods, or no gods.
"In China...religions are viewed as inclusive, and a person may commonly be a combination of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucianist, with some other elements thrown in as well. Chinese tend to look for a "god" that can solve a specific problem at an immediate time, and to fill a particular need. They visit a variety of temples and shrines to give offerings. When the westerner inquires as to which idols or images in the temple are representative of which religion(s), it is most likely none of the Chinese in attendance knows."
Buddhism is a religion that "offers the chance to be an atheist without having to dispense with religion." So in Buddhism, you can be a polytheist or an atheist. It does not affect the final outcome or goals of Buddhism. The Psalmist said, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (Psalm 14:1).
The key to defeating Buddhism or any eastern religion is to first establish the truth of the Bible. If the Bible is true, then anything that contradicts the Bible must be false. We can prove the truth of the Bible. Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). He then says, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:17). The Word of God is our source of truth (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
There are no contradictions in the Bible. Here is a book written by about 40 writers over a period of about 1600 years. It was written in different periods of time by men who lived in different locations, with various occupations. In many cases, the writers did not know each other. Yet, there are no contradictions in the Bible. This did not happen by accident. Buddhism does not even try to make this kind of claim.
The scientific facts found in the Bible help to prove that the Bible is true. About 500 years ago, Columbus and Magellan proved the earth is round. However, the Bible told us the earth was round thousands of years ago. "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth..." (Isaiah 40:22). The Bible tells us we are not able to count the stars. Jeremiah wrote: "As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured..." (Jeremiah 33:22). It was 1940 before astronomers finally came to this same conclusion. Almighty God cannot only count the stars, He can call them by name (Psalm 147:4).
Fulfilled prophecies prove the Bible is true. Every prophecy being fulfilled is another proof the Bible is true. More than 300 prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus.
There is only one right way
The Bible teaches there is only one right way (John 14:6). We will be judged by the words of Christ (John 12: 48). There are only two choices in life - the narrow way or the broad way (Matthew 7:13,14). If we want to go to heaven, we have to obey the will of God (Matthew 7:21-23). The Bible is the proven guide for the lives of all people.
Buddhism contradicts the truth of the Bible
The Bible emphasizes the existence of God (Genesis 1:1; Daniel 2:28; Acts 17:23-29). The Bible also teaches there is only one true God (Isaiah 44:6). Buddhism teaches there is either no God or many gods - your choice! Buddhism contradicts the Bible. The Bible is right, therefore Buddhism cannot be right!
The Bible teaches it is our guide in life and it reveals all truth (Psalm 119:105; John 14:26; John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:3). Buddhism teaches the writings of Gautama and one's feelings are the guide in this life. But the Bible says: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
The Bible proclaims Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (Romans 1:4; John 20:30,31). The Bible teaches that Jesus rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). Buddhism denies Jesus rose from the dead, and also denies Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Since Buddhism contradicts these plain passages, Buddhism cannot be true!
The Bible reveals God's eternal plan to save mankind through the church (Ephesians 3:10,11; Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:22,23; Ephesians 5:23). Buddhism denies this is the path of salvation. According to Buddhism, a person is to follow the eightfold path that will lead to nirvana. Since this contradicts the Bible, it cannot be right!
The Bible teaches that our soul is eternal and we will be judged according to our works, by the word of God (Matthew 10:28; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The difference between humans and animals is humans have an eternal soul, animals do not. Yet Buddhism teaches all life, human and animal, is of the same value. Buddhism also teaches reincarnation, which is a continual rebirth. These views are in conflict with the Bible. The Bible is true, therefore these doctrines of Buddhism are false.
Buddhism stresses self-dependence and self-salvation. It cannot be true because it is a religion from man (Matthew 15:8,9,13,14).
Christianity is far superior to any other religion in the world. It offers forgiveness of sins through our obedience to Christ (Hebrews 5:8,9). The only hope this world has is through Christ (Ephesians 2:12; John 14:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:9).
May God help each of us to use every opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ to those who practice and follow Buddhism, and give them the opportunity to believe and obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Romans 1:16).
John M. Grubb
( This message was delivered at the Power Lectures in Southaven, MS, USA.)