Is Buddhism the Right Path to Follow?

buddha statue near trees

BUDDHISM MADE SIMPLE

Buddhism is one of the world’s oldest religions and is embraced by 200 – 500 million adherents. The story of Buddhism begins in India in the fifth century BC with a prince in Nepal named Siddhartha Gautama (Lit. “He whose name is accomplished”) who, upon seeing people suffer and die realized that human life is suffering. Having been brought up in a protective royal environment, the idea of human suffering came as a shock to Siddhartha. Renouncing his great wealth and becoming a beggar, Siddhartha set out on a quest to discover the origin of suffering, and what can be done about it.

After several years of travelling, observing, engaging in acts of self-sacrificing, and mediating, Siddhartha had an insight into suffering. All suffering is caused by desires, or, wanting to have something.

Realizing that extreme materialism, and engaging in acts of extreme ascetism, are harmful ways to live, Siddhartha postulated something he called “The Middle Way.” The Middle Way consists of embracing Four Noble Truths, and then following an Eightfold Path.

Four Noble Truths

First Noble Truth: Everyone in life is suffering () in some way. No matter what a person may do, they will suffer. Eventually, everyone grows old, becomes ill, and dies.

Second Noble Truth: The origin of suffering (samudaya) is desire (tanha). Individuals are deeply attached to impermanent things which causes us to feel the sadness and sorrow of loss. We need to change what we want, and be content with what we have, rather than always long for something more.

Third Noble Truth: There is a way to escape the cycle of suffering. The cessation of suffering (nirodha) comes from enlightenment of the Middle Way.

Fourth Noble Truth: The Middle Way teaches the steps that must be taken to achieve enlightenment. The journey towards enlightenment is connected to the Eightfold Path.  

First Step: Right View. Understanding the Four Noble Truths will assist a person to stop suffering. It is imperative to see, and accept the truth, that everything in the world is impermanent. The Law of Entropy is at work.

Second Step: Right Intent. A person should ask themselves, “What am I doing what I am doing?” “Is my motive pure?” “Am I doing something in anger or greed?” A wrong motive will tarnish whatever is thought or done. Speaking and doing something out of love and compassion will remove suffering.

Third Step. Right Speech. A person should not hurt people with their words. A person should not deceive people, obscure the truth, engage in gossip, or use clever words to cover a double entendre. One’s speech should be truthful and clear.

Fourth Step. Right Action. A person should always strive to help everyone, and to hurt no one.A person should not act in a way that is negative or injurious to self, or others. Right Action covers the five basic Buddhist Commandments.

The Five Precepts

Fifth Step. Right Livelihood. Whatever a person earns, should be earned in an ethical way.Dealing in arms, drugs, prostitution, nepotism, the slave trade, hurting animals, or insider trading information would be ethically wrong.

Sixth Step. Right Effort. Life is to be lived with a positive attitude. It is good to be realistic about life, but maintain an edge of optimism.Seek to improve who you are.

Seventh Step. Right Mindfulness. A person should pay attention to all that is said and done by self, and when in the presence of others.Live in the moment. Stop and smell the roses.

Eighth Step. Right Concentration. A person should cultivate the ability to focus on a single object or concept. By focusing on the moment, the mind is cleared. Right Concentration is important for mediation.

By following the Eightfold Path, a person can reach Nirvana (lit. “blowing out”). Siddhartha reached this state while sitting under the fig tree. Nirvana is reached when all wants and desires are extinguished. There is neither suffering nor sense of self. As the final goal of Buddhism, Nirvana releases the subject from the effects of Karma and Reincarnation or the Cycle of Death and Rebirth.

Important Words in Buddhism

Ascetics, are people who practice extreme deprivation in order to be more spiritual and achieve enlightenment. Prince Siddhartha of Nepal met five ascetics while exploring his kingdom, and was drawn to their way of life for six years. He exposed himself to the elements, and ate seeds that fell into his lap. Eventually, Siddhartha realized that his mind was slow and clouded, no doubt due to malnourishment.

Asita, was an old hermit who came to visit the child and prophesied he would become a ruler, or, if he left the confines of the palace, he would become the spiritual leader to the whole world. King Suddhodana wanted his son to be a ruler, and so, Siddhartha was luxuriously kept within the confines of the palace until the age of 29 when he ventured into the real world around him after hearing a musician sing of the wonders of the world. What Siddhartha saw, shocked him to the core of his being. Everywhere Siddhartha went he saw poverty, disease, hardship, aging, and death. Siddhartha was moved by so much suffering, and wondered if he could help people in their pain.

Bodhi Tree, refers to a large sacred fig tree, under which Siddhartha rested when The Middle Way came to him, after sitting for 49 days. At age 35, Siddhartha had become the “Awakened One”, or, Buddha.

Chandaka, was the charioteer of prince Siddhartha, who had to explain to him that a man they met outside the palace had a cough. He was sick. 

Deer Park, Sarmath, is the place where Siddhartha, as the Buddha, or, Enlightened One, found his five ascetic friends to teach them what he had discovered about The Middle Way.

Dharma Wheel (dharmachakra), refers to the “Teaching” Wheel”. It is an Ancient Symbol of Buddhism

Dukkha, suffering

King Suddhodana, was father of the prince, Siddhartha Gautama, in Kapilavastu, Nepal.

Kushinagar. Near Kushinagar, in Uttar Pradesh, Siddhartha Gautama died at 80 years of age but, in what year seems to be uncertain. Several dates have been embraced for the years he lived. (c. 583 BC to 480 BC / 480 BC – 400 BC / 450 BC to 370 BC). The modern population of Kushinagar is 22, 214.

Queen Maya, was the mother of the prince, Siddhartha Gautama, in Kapilawvastu, Nepal.

Rahula, was son of prince Siddhartha and his wife, Yashodara.

Sangha, refers to the original Buddhist Monk Community consisting of five ascetics. Over the next 45 years, there would be many more Buddhist communities, as Siddhartha wandered the Gangetic Plain. People from all genders, classes, and castes began to embrace the teachings of the Buddha, “The Enlightened One”.

Observe

Buddhism would eventually spread south to Sri Lanka, and then into South East-Asia. The religion would continue its growth north over the Silk Road route to Central and East Asia. It would then spread from Tibet to Mongolia, where under the Mongo Empire it then made its ways to Russia. Later, Buddhism would be exported to the West.

Samudaya, the origin of suffering.

Stupas, monuments.

Tanha, desire.

Yashodara, the wife of Siddhartha. She married Siddhartha when he was 16 years old.  According to legend, it was love at first sight. In previous lives they had met and mated while they were tigers.

Some General Observations

Observe

The willingness of prince Siddhartha Gautama to renounce his great wealth and privileges, and adopt a life of ascetism for six long years, can come as a surprise. The reason for being surprised lies in the false idea that a hedonistic and materialistic life is meaningful. It is not. It is boring. In a life of ease, security, and avoidance of pain, there is no room for the stimulus of struggle, self-sacrifice, and drama. There is no room for patriotism, or the virtues of military service.  Every important leader, good or bad, has understood this truth about human nature.

Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” ~1787, Letter to William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of John Adams

Adolf Hitler titled his political manifesto, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”).

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels ended The Communist Manifesto (1848) with the rally cry, “Workers of the world, unite!”

During World War II, Winston Churchill spoke to the British people and said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” ~ May 13, 1940, Addressing the House of Commons

Jesus calls His disciples to consider the true cost of discipleship. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

Throughout the course of human history, individuals have come to understand there is more to life than wanting only comfort, safety, short working hours, hygiene, and birth-control.

In the fifth century before Christ, Prince Siddhartha of Nepal wanted more than a life of extreme materialism. He wanted to find a meaning to life, pain, and suffering.

Observe
Buddhism is designed to help a person no matter where they are in life. If one form of Buddhism does not work, another form is encouraged. This is good counsel, because so many of the principles and practices of the Eightfold Noble Path are a restatement of various parts of the Law of Moses and the Prophets.

Such a repetition is not surprising since, as Solomon noted, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Keep in mind that Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, dating to 4,000 BC. Believers in Judaism believe there is one God who has revealed Himself in creation, in the Bible, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. Whatever insight Siddhartha had about life was but a reflection of what Moses and the Prophets taught many centuries earlier. Having been highly educated as a prince, it is likely Siddhartha came into contact with Judaism, which was a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

Buddha
Right View

Bible
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Buddha
Right Intent

Bible
“With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments” (Psalms 119:10).

Buddha
Right Speech

Bible
“The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment. 31 The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide” (Psalms 37:30-31).

Buddha
Right Action                          

Bible
“And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26).

Buddha
Right Livelihood

Bible
“Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase” (Prov. 13:11).

Buddha
Right Effort

Bible
“Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Prov. 16:3).

Buddha
Right Mindfulness                 

Bible
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalms 139:23-24).

Buddha
Right Concentration

Bible
“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).

Observe
Buddha offers people Nirvana. Christ offers individuals eternal life.

Observe
For centuries, the teachings of Siddhartha were recorded orally. The core beliefs of Buddhism were, and are, easy to remember as summarized in the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path.

Observe
“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).

Buddhism seems to be the right way to peace and ultimate happiness. For this reason, a closer look must be taken at the origin of Buddhism, what it teaches, and where it ultimately leads. Let every person consider this question.

A Biblical Understanding of Suffering

There are many reasons why individuals suffer mentally and physically. The following list is given to help the hearts of God’s people evaluate themselves when a meaning for tribulation is sought.

Not every experience of pain and suffering is meant to punish, though some is. Much suffering is designed to correct character, guide the heart, or teach the lessons of life God would have known. This means, it is safe to say, that some pain and suffering could be avoided, as per 1 Corinthians 11:31. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” 

But, if, and when, we are judged, there is another principle to keep in mind. Every form of discipline and every cursing is designed by God to be a source of blessing according to 1 Corinthians 11:32 and Romans 8:28. “But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world…. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Therefore, consider the following reasons why Christians suffer.

First, Christians suffer when they engage in a frantic search for happiness in an inappropriate way. The book of Ecclesiastes establishes this principle through the life of Solomon. Solomon engaged in a frantic search for happiness, and then concluded in sorrow “all is vanity and a vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14).

Second, Christians suffer from a guilty conscience. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: 6 From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling” (1 Tim. 1:5).

Third, Christians suffer from the suppression of sin in the self-consciousness of the soul. When inappropriate attitude and actions are engaged in, and then justified, ecclesiastical judgment is a real possibility. The apostle Paul delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan for physical and mental abuse, to teach them to learn not to blaspheme. Their story is briefly told in 1 Timothy 1:19-20. God wants His children to keep the truth in a holy vessel, and with a pure conscience.

Speaking to the Church of Ephesus, Paul tells the people to keep “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: 20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19). The sin of Hymenaeus was that he claimed the resurrection of the dead had already occurred, much like those in the Preterist Movement today.

While many do not consider doctrinal error important, the Lord does. Some Christians are disciplined for the aberrant views they hold. It is possible to make a “shipwreck” of our faith. Our faith, and our testimony is lost, just as Lot lost his faith, and his testimony before the people of his generation in Sodom.

Fourth, Christians suffer because the Word of God is rejected. In 2 Kings 17:13-14 the prophet of God explained why there was going to be war with the nation of Assyria, and Israel was going to lose the contest. “Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. 14 Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:13).

That nation, and those Christians in particular within the nation, who do not believe the Word of God, will discover God keeps His Word. God is not like those parents who threaten to punish the children, but never do. No, the Lord will cause pain and suffering for those who reject His Word.

Fifth, Christians suffer, and inflict emotional and physical pain on others, when particular acts of sin are not isolated and mortified, or put to death. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:15).

Much harm has come to self, and to others, because of bitterness. A look, a careless word, a slight snub, the failure to be recognized, or a gentle rebuff, that is all that is needed to sow a tiny seed of bitterness, which will spring up to defile many. For many years, Esau was bitter with Jacob. The Elder Brother was bitter against his Prodigal Brother. Each had a reason for their seething anger and resentment. Nevertheless, bitterness brings suffering.

Sixth, Christians suffer when divinely established authority is rejected, reflected in the story of Dathan (warring) and Abiram, as recorded in Numbers 16:1-35; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalm 106:17.

Simply enough, Dathan and his brother Abiram, from the Tribe of Reuben, were jealous of Moses. They envied his power, popularity, and persuasive abilities. They wanted to be in a position of authority. But, here is the fact. If God does not promote you, you are not promoted.

For their rejection of divinely established authority, Dathan and Abiram, along with their families, were swallowed up by the earth.

Seventh, Christians suffer pain and sorrow by marrying the wrong person. “Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, 3 And say, Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite” (Ezekiel 16:1). The Amorite and the Hittites were traditional enemies of the Hebrew people, and their God. What fellowship did the Israelites have with the pagan cultures around them? The people should not have intermarried with unbelievers.

Many years ago, as a pastor in Saltsburg, Pa, a beautiful young lady in the congregation was determined to marry a godless unbeliever. I refused to perform the marriage on Biblical grounds. Despite counseling, despite the fact her fiancé was arrested and had to go to court for abusing another woman, she was determined to marry the wrong person.

Eighth, Christians suffer because they are interrelated to others in the body of Christ who are hurting. There are many great metaphors of the Church in the New Testament, and each one illustrates the essential unity of believers to one another and to Christ. Romans 14:7 explains. “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself”. When one suffers, another suffers. We are to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and weep with those who are weeping.

In Nazi Germany, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw his brothers and sisters weeping. He saw people of the Jewish faith being executed. He felt he had to do something. He decided to try and help assassinate Adolf Hitler. Because of his involvement in the July 20 Plot to kill Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on June 9, 1945. He was hanged just two weeks before soldiers from the United States liberated the concentration camp in which he was held.

Whatever questions might remain about his plot against Hitler, the larger point remains. Bonhoeffer suffered because others were suffering. “And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).

Ninth, Christians suffer from divine discipline.

Because God is merciful, His discipline is always administered in love and mercy, so that the believer should not recoil against what is well deserved. “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:11).

To be disciplined by God is to be loved by God, with a view to being useful in His service. Matthew Henry noted, “Those whom Christ intends to honour with his favors he first humbles with his frowns.” From discipline, comes discipleship, and from discipleship, comes the ability to change the world.

One question that arises is how to tell the difference between suffering and pain as a normal part of life, and when it is a direct result of God’s judgment.

There is a very simple answer. It may not please everyone, but I would suggest that the Holy Spirit will reveal to the heart whether or not pain and suffering in the life is the direct result of God’s divine displeasure.

Moses knew that he could not go into the land of promise, because he struck the rock, which was a type of Christ.

Saul knew that the kingdom was taken from him, because he did not finish the task God assigned to him.

David knew that his child died, because of his inappropriate relationship with Bathsheba.

The list is long of those who knew why God was judging them.

However, it must be kept in mind that God does not judge every transgression, or to the same degree, for He is full of mercy and long suffering.

God has been pleased to hide many sins, and for good reason. Who could stand under total public revelation of all personal transgressions? No one.

To remember this truth is to understand that among the attributes of God, although they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliance than justice.

Therefore, when the Lord does move in judgment, and tells you for what reason He is doing so, do not despise His corrections. He loves you.

Because God loves, He has offered His way of salvation. It is not through good works but by faith in Christ. Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) needed a Savior. No matter how hard a Buddhist tries to be good to earn and deserve heaven, by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified in the eyes of God. It is not by works of righteousness which we do, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us that we are saved. There is a “heavenly” way to go to hell and that is by following the wrong path. Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

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