Thursday, June 14, 2012

An Overview of Buddhism

Our next cult finds itself with 375 million adherents that include such famous people as George Lucas, Goldie Hawn, Tina Turner, Jim Carrey, and Richard Gere.  It is the 4th largest religion in the world and it is the dominant religion of the Far East and is becoming increasingly popular in the West.  In America, it is really catching on in Hollywood.

We most likely associate Buddhists with monks in orange robes, the little Buddha statues with the large bellies, and the Dalai Lama.  The appeal of Buddhism is its stress on gaining wisdom and also pressing the idea of non-violence and tolerance. 

It offers the followers a moral life of peace with all without any accountability or obligation to the person for their sins.

What is it?

Well, they would contend that it is not a religion because there is no specific deity.  They would say that Buddhism is understanding that is beyond the confinement of religion and deity.  It is a philosophy… a way of life.

The word ‘Buddhism’ comes from the word ‘buddhi’ that means “to awaken”.

They summarize the path to Buddhism in 3 points.

1.)    To lead a moral life
2.)    To be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions
3.)    To develop wisdom and understanding

This from “A Basic Buddhism Guide”.

“There is no almighty God in Buddhism.  There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposed Judgment Day.  Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being.”

Let’s do some deconstruction shall we?  If I were to say to you, please come and be a Buddhist because we will help you lead a moral life, to be mindful and aware of your thoughts and actions, and we’ll help you develop wisdom and understanding.

And you come on board and the first thing I tell you is that there is no god, no higher being, etc.  Your first question should be, well, then, if there is no god, by what standard do you use to define these moral values I am to lead my life by?  Wisdom and understanding?

They will have an answer that is bankrupt of validity.  They have a set of moral values, but it may or may not be the same as this person’s values, which is different from someone else’s.  For that matter I guarantee that while most of us in this room would agree on 99% of what is or isn’t moral, there would no doubt be some small area that we disagree on. 

The question is, whose moral values to we follow?  Mine, yours, the Buddhist’s?  To define morality in this way you must have a concrete standard.  The Christian understands that to be God’s Word.

Where did Buddhism come from?

Well, it was founded around the 5th century BC by an Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama.  He lived a wealthy and comfortable life.  Sheltered for the most part until once, on one of his adventures, he saw an old man, a sick man, a poor man, and a corpse.

What he realized was that nothing lasted.  People tried desperately to hold on to or acquire life, health, possessions… but try as they might all these things passed away, this loss caused suffering.

This picture of suffering bothered him and so on his 29th birthday he left his wife and infant son to go on a search for truth and the meaning of life.  After wandering for 6 years and experimenting with yoga, asceticism, and near starvation he sits down under a tree and vows not to move until he gains total enlightenment.

Well, several days pass and he finally feels he has attained this “understanding” that he sought.  He stood up as the “Buddha” which means “the enlightened one”.  He spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching the path to liberation from suffering (the dharma) and establishing a community of monks (the sangha).

Here we are over 2,500 years later since Buddha’s enlightenment and Buddhism has spread and like any religion it has split into a few different branches.  While practices and ceremonies vary the teachings are fundamentally the same.

There are 3 main schools of Philosophy:

Theravada – (The “Doctrine of Elders”) – represents approximately 38% of the Buddhist population.  Theravada is the closest to the original atheistic philosophy.

Mahayana – (The “Greater Vehicle”) – represents about 56% of Buddhists.  Over the years, Mahayana has accommodated many different Asian beliefs and now worships Buddha as god.

Vajrayana – (“Lamaism” or “Tantrism”) – represents the remaining 6% of Buddhists.  It has elements of shamanism and the occult. 

Some groups are more superstitious than others but most do things like idol worship, veneration of the spirits of the dead and ceremonial rituals to appease evil spirits.  Particularly one of the idols you’ll find in all forms of Buddhism is the chubby Buddha statue.

They would say that they don’t worship Buddha.  But let me read to you a description of the Buddha statue’s use. 

“A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves.   Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.”

Sounds like a form of worship to me.  Worship is giving your chief devotion to something.

What do they believe about the Scriptures?

Well, there are a large number of religious texts and scriptures in Buddhism.  The Sutras are considered to be the actual sayings of Buddha.  The Tripitaka is one of the earliest compilations of Buddhist teachings.  Over the years, many new observations were added until today it consists of up to 50 volumes and it is 10x larger than the Bible.  By some it is considered sacred.

Who is God?

All branches of Buddhism agree that “the world is not created” or “ruled by a God”.  The idea of a loving Creator who interacts with His Creation is foreign to Buddhist practice.  How tragic!  It really seems that Gautama rejected theistic beliefs simply because he couldn’t reconcile pain and suffering in the world with a loving God.

Today, the Tibetan Buddhists believe in a large number of “divine beings”.  Buddha never taught or believed himself to be a god or anything, but after his death many of his followers declared him to be “Bodhisattvas” which means a savior-like god and that he can be called on for help.

Who is Jesus?

Well they really just view Jesus as an enlightened master, but definitely not the Son of God.  The Dalai Lama believes Jesus to be a “fully enlightened being”. 

“If Jesus is fully enlightened, wouldn’t he be teaching the truth about Himself?  Therefore, if he is teaching the truth, then he is the Son of God, and there is a God, and Jesus is the Savior.  If he is fully enlightened, he should teach the truth.  If he is not teaching the truth, he is not that enlightened.”

The Dalai Lama believes that Jesus lived previous lives and that his goal was to teach a message of tolerance and compassion to teach us to be better human beings.

Soul, Sin and Salvation

There is no such thing as original sin.  In fact, that belief has no place in Buddhism whatsoever.  Because of this there is no need for salvation.

Buddhists don’t even believe that we have an individual soul.  They are made up of 5 elements.

1.)    Physical form
2.)    Feelings
3.)    Ideations
4.)    Mental developments
5.)    Awareness

All of those things combine to form a human being at the time of birth.  And there is no eternal soul to continue after death.

Buddhism teaches the belief of Karma and reincarnation.  A person who dies is reborn (reincarnated) as someone else and your achievements from previous lives (your karma positive or negative) carry forward. 

Under karma there is no mercy to be sought from a savior.  No escaping your sins.  You just work to become better with each life.  Through countless lifetimes Buddhists go through an endless cycle of continuous suffering and their goal is to break free from this cycle by finally extinguishing the flame of life and entering a state of pure non-existence (Nirvana).

Their ultimate goal is not life, but death by releasing their attachment to desire and self.  Their reward is that one day they will hopefully stop reincarnating and cease to exist.

Buddhist Teachings/Customs

Buddha taught many things, but the basic teachings of Buddhism come down to:

The Four Noble Truths

1.)    Life is full of suffering (dukkha) – Life includes pain, getting old, desires, and ultimately death.  Also we endure things like loneliness, frustrations, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, and anger.  So Buddhism’s goal is to teach you how to avoid sufferings like those.

2.)    Suffering is caused by craving (samudaya) – We will suffer if we expect others to conform to our expectations, if we want others to like us, if we don’t get what we want.  Cravings like those deprive us of happiness.  So rather than struggling, you should modify your desires.  Ultimately you are trying to eliminate the desire to even exist.  Craving leads to suffering because it leads to being reborn. (reincarnation)

3.)    Suffering will cease only when cravings cease (nirodha) – Suffering can be overcome by happiness and true happiness can be obtained.  If we give up careless and useless cravings, then we can be happy and free.

4.)    Suffering can be eliminated by following the Noble 8 fold path

1.)    Right understanding – Seeing reality as it is, not as it seems
2.)    Right thought – Change in the pattern of thinking
3.)    Right speech – One speaks in a non-hurtful, non-exaggerated truthful way
4.)    Right action – Wholesome action, avoiding action that would do harm
5.)    Right livelihood – One’s way of livelihood doesn’t harm in any way oneself or others directly or indirectly
6.)    Right effort – One makes an effort to improve
7.)    Right mindfulness – Mental ability to see things for what they are w/clear consciousness.
8.)    Right concentration – Being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion (which involves deep meditation)

These are just practical guidelines to live by.

They also hold to 5 Precepts

1.)    Abstain from harming to living beings (humans-insects).  Buddhists can only eat meat if it wasn’t killed for them specifically.
2.)    Abstain from stealing
3.)    Abstain from sexual misconduct
4.)    Abstain from false speech
5.)    Abstain from intoxicating drinks & drugs, except those taken for medicinal purposes

Buddhism thrives on teaching that if you don’t work to attain righteousness you are doomed to repeat life over and over again until you get it right.

They are under a yoke.  They are striving for righteousness when Jesus says “Come to me and I will give you rest”.

Matthew 11:25-30 - [28] Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Reaching them with the Gospel

To reach them with the Gospel we must show them that their suffering is not caused by cravings so much as their cravings and suffering in the world is all caused by sin because we are sinners by nature and live in a sin cursed world. (Psalm 51:3-5; Romans 3:23, 6:23)

But though they’ve sinned against God, God offers mercy and hope in Jesus Christ! (Romans 10:13)  The hope isn’t in ceasing to exist but rather in turning from their sin and receiving true life and forgiveness by trusting in Jesus Christ.

You have to be careful telling them to be born again without defining it because to them being born again is a very bad thing.  Point them to the One who will give them rest for their soul through forgiveness of their sins, not the ending of their existence.

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