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On the topic and philosophy behind many religions around the world, there are plenty of differences and similarities between two or more religions. However great or small the detail may be, there is an undeniable fact that we, as humans, all generally want the same thing. We want happiness. Whether that happiness comes from knowledge, peace, meaning, or whatever we try to find it in, it’s what we all want. Religion often tries to provide this through philosophical reasoning that seems to be counterproductive in order to equal counterintuitive reason. It tries to confuse the simplicity of the truth to, in turn, simplify the confusion of the human condition. One religion that attempts to utilize this formula and spin it off as a pursuit of peace ultimately resulting in happiness. This religion is Buddhism. It attempts to achieve happiness by coming to the realization that life is suffering, and that suffering is the negative effect of desire. Therefore, it teaches, that by excluding the desires of life, you will find meaning and happiness in life. That’s when Christianity interrupts with its philosophy. This is the idea that life is suffering, because man sinned, and without sin there would be no suffering. Desire of God and desiring to love other people does indeed bring joy, which is much greater than happiness. The two schools of thought are obviously different, and Buddhism obviously has its flaws, so where does a Christian witness step in order to alleviate the false mindset of a Buddhist thinker?
Firstly, the Christian should take his stance on philosophy, that would be in order to lead himself into a religious thought that would undoubtedly turn away the Buddhist. The philosophy of Christianity doesn’t merely focus on religion per se, but rather a relationship. This is the one relationship in life that has the ability to bring joy. This is the supernatural relationship between man and God that God has provided by sacrificing his love on a physical cross, and also dooming His own son to 33 years of a miserable human life on the sin cursed world that He has created to be good. This relationship requires desire, which is the first rule of Buddhism that Christianity breaks. The second broken ideology would be the conceptual form of God, and the difference between the two religions. Molding a mind, and its thoughts regarding God is an incredibly difficult task, so adding to the relationship that God has with us, as mentioned earlier, would further complicate matters to the Buddhist. This idea should somewhat clearly state that explaining the real God, and right philosophical reasoning shouldn’t be an effort to convince the Buddhist of the Christians beliefs, but instead let the facts and philosophy speak for themselves. After all, philosophy is incredibly important in both religions, not only theology, but the human aspect on how each “religion” directly relates to people.
In the Christian Witness to Buddhists document it divides the paper into two major sections between Theravada and Mahayana schools. First, they start talking about Theravada and its world views. Just as the document states, In the world views of Theravada Buddhists, there is a distinction between intellectual and popular Buddhism, between ideal and real culture. Their point B is the crucial theological issues that people recognize in historical and doctrinal similarities between Christianity and Theravada Buddhism. The document gives examples of these similarities which are: “The similarity of ethical standards between the Ten Commandments and the Buddhist sila abstentions.” It points out that these moral absolutes are useful steps to lead Buddhists from where they are to encounters with the gospel. One key point on this document is that it tells us that the basic goal of the Christian is not to equate religious systems, but to lead men to know Christ. There could be similarities between these religions, but one major difference is in salvation. Theravada Buddhists depend only on self but the gospel states that dependence on self and confidence in the flesh spells doom. The Theravada Buddhism essentially teaches the ability of self, without God’s help, to free oneself from injustice and suffering in order to achieve a state of total absence. The Buddhism’s basis is humanism in which man has no authority more than himself to respond to; and human beings are not basically evil but can be made good through their own endeavors. Human beings can do this without God’s help or connection to God. As with other religions, Buddhism is the pursuit of human beings after the ideal. While Christianity, it comes from the self-revelation of God to humanity. It was in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ that divine manifestation culminated. Therefore, the gospel centers on a transcendent god, who reveals himself in the culture and the language of man and who, through divine grace, makes people and societies fruitful and righteous. Only the indwelling Holy Spirit can make that transformation possible. In Buddhism’s teaching, self-reliance is fundamental. Self-reliance runs counter to the contemporary concept of progress in Buddhist theory and practice. In the Bible, self-reliance is the fundamental component of sin, because man separates himself of God with self-centeredness. The contrast between Buddhist teaching and the evangelical is seen in several points in this document. Theravada Buddhism has no chance of forgiveness, because karma is an iron law, which has no exceptions or immediate escapes (particularly in popular beliefs). This contrasts with the gospel of the loving God which, through the power of Jesus Christ’s shed blood, gives forgiveness, hope and exchange of life, working in a spiritual dimension. To cleanse of the past, power in the present, and hope of the future, the atonement of Christ is sufficient. The death of Christ is the cornerstone on which a God of love gives forgiveness. So, God, in Christ, took the place of man himself as a substitute for the liberation from sin and of oneself and the reconciliation of man to God. Every Christian should seek meaningful expressions and indigenous illustrations, stories, anecdotes that are useful to theological truth. The evangelist should always be looking for important historical illustrations to communicate. “Christians must try to read Buddhists in their natural setting without uprooting them from their family and cultural ties. Christians must identify with the people among whom they live and should develop an indigenous pattern of life and Christian worship in these communities”.
The second section of this document now talks about Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism has reached a full development and a pervasive influence in Japan. The Mahayana worldview are basic concepts of karma, rebirth, and enlightenment; plus, those connected with the Three Refuges, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eight-fold Path. Mahayana Buddhism is a collection of Buddhist traditions and does not constitute a single group; Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are all forms of Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada and Mahayana are both rooted in the historical Buddha’s basic teachings, both highlighting the individual search to be liberated from the samsara cycle (born, death, rebirth). However, these can be very different methods or practices. Buddhists from Theravada and Mahayana differ in their views of the ultimate purpose and way of life. Theravada Buddhists strive to be arhats or holy saints who attain enlightenment and nirvana. On the other hand, Mahayana Buddhists hope to become not arhats but bodhisatvas who are enlightened yet selflessly delay nirvana to help others to achieve it just as the Buddha did. Mahayana Buddhists also teach that enlightenment can be accomplished by even a layman in one lifetime. The Mahayana form of Buddhism is more religious than its counterpart from Theravada.
In conclusion, witnessing to a Buddhist shouldn’t be a deep moral quest to unhinge the beliefs that are so deeply rooted in their mind, but on the other hand, exposing them to truth so that they can see the brighter side of life, and a life that has meaning through suffering and with a desire for a greater good regardless of self. That’s the problem with Buddhism, it focuses on the greater good of one’s self, and Christianity focuses on others. Rather than focusing on eliminating self-desire to avoid peace in one’s self, one should desire the greater good for others and trust that God will provide the better for themselves. Witnessing to not just Buddhists, but anybody should be just that. We should focus on others, and the mission that Christ gave all of us, and share the Gospel for the good of others, not for our own glory but for His. That is the way to true happiness, and peace, by desiring Christ above all else, and loving others the way He does.
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