Buddhism --- The Search for Freedom Within

Buddha the Man

Buddha, whose real name was Siddhartha Guatama, lived from approximately 563 B.C. to 483 B.C.. There is little objective history about him. He was born in what is now Kapilavaata, just inside Nepal; his father was a ruler of the Sakya clan, of the Hindu warrior caste. His mother died a few weeks after his birth and his mother's sister, the ruler's second wife, raised him. According to tradition, soothsayers were asked about Siddhartha's birth; they foretold that the child was very unusual and would follow one of two paths. One path would make him a powerful king, the second a great spiritual leader. Siddhartha would not chose the second path unless he saw an old man, a sick person, a corpse, and a monk.

His father therefore endeavored to surround him with pleasure and keep from him these four types of people. Siddhartha married and had a son, but eventually he encountered the four things his father feared. When he was 30, he left his home and wife and wandered in search of enlightenment. Buddhists call this "The Great Renunciation." He investigated Hinduism, but he found the caste system repelling and ascetism useless. Finally in 528 B.C. under a Bo tree, he experienced what Buddhists call "The Great Enlightenment."

Buddha completely repudiated all Hindu scriptures. Buddha never claimed to be a god but a teacher of the way of the "Middle Road" between pleasure and ascetism. After founding many monasteries, he died in Nepal.


The Spread of Buddhism

The Indian King Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries through the Orient and even reportedly to Mediterranean lands. Buddhism became the official religion of Japan in 552 A.D. Buddhism quickly spread throughout all of Southeast Asia. Tibet became Buddhist in the 700's. Buddhism was at first persecuted by Confucianists in China in 446, 574-577, and 845 A.D.. The Chinese Emperor Wu Tsung (841-847) called Buddhism a "foreign religion", nevertheless, since the eleventh century it has been the second most important religious influence in China after Confucianism. Buddhism almost completely died in India between 700 and 1100 A.D. Today, 150 to 350 million people are working for enlightenment as Buddhists.

In the centuries following Buddha's death, great councils were held to add and clarify teaching, patch up differences and try in vain to keep all Buddhism together. Buddhism is a family of religions with over eighteen different schools, each one looking down on the others. The two major divisions are Therevada, of "Way of the Elders" and Mahayana, or "Way of the Greater Vehicle". Mahayana Buddhists call Therevada "Hinayana" or "Way of the Lesser Vehicle". Other important groups are Zen, Tibetan Lamaism, Tantric Buddhism or "Way of the Diamond Vehicle", and the Japanese schools of Nichiren, Shingon, and Amidya Buddhism.

Indochina and Sri Lanka are Therevada Buddhist. Tibetan Buddhism is Lamaism, which emphasizes chanting. Most Chinese Buddhists are Mahayana; Zen and Mahayana are popular in Korea and Japan. Nichiren Buddhism is fiercely militaristic, sometimes persecuting other Buddhists. Nichiren currently has 16 million members, a 100% increase in fifteen years.


The Teachings of Buddha

Buddha taught above all that there are "Four Noble Truths." All Buddhists believe these doctrines.

1. ALL LIFE IS SUFFERING --- Everything in human existence is painful: birth death, and even living. If all the tears mankind has shed were collected they would be more than the water in the oceans. Once upon a time a woman was very mournful over the death of her newborn son. She went to a monk who told here that he could bring her son back to life if she could bring back one mustard seed from a family that had experienced no pain. She searched, but she never returned to the monk. She stopped grieving for as she learned, pain and suffering are common to all.

A Christian Viewpoint

The Book of Job in the Bible shows that life indeed can have suffering, even for pious people. However, suffering for a worthwhile purpose is still very worthwhile, as Hebrews 12:2 teaches:

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Life has a lot of suffering, but we have available a joy so great as to make the suffering worthwhile. Romans 8:18 proclaims,

For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (See also 2 Thess 1:4-5 and 1 Peter 1:3-7.)

2. ALL SUFFERING IS CAUSED BY IGNORANCE OF THE NATURE OF REALTY. CRAVING, ATTACHMENT, AND GRASPING ARE RESULTS OF THAT IGNORANCE. Craving is the quest for material fulfillment. Unhappiness comes from wanting something you do not have. Wars, passions, and hatred come from this greed. All worldly pursuits lead to sorrows.

A Christian Viewpoint

Christians know that not all suffering comes from selfish craving. Should we tell unhappy starving people they are being too selfish? If Buddhas do not crave, why not use some of the golden tiles in Mahayana Buddhist Temples to help the poor? In the Bible James 4:1-4 says the source of quarrels and fights is craving and greed.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source of your pleasures that wage war in your members? You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(See also James 3:16, Phil 1:29 & 2:3-11, Romans 3:9-20)

Lust and greed are only the outer layers; the source of our restlessness is really much deeper. Without spiritual help to free us from spiritual bondage, trying to stop all greed and lust from within is like trying to scrub charcoal clean.

3. SUFFERING CAN BE ENDED BY OVERCOMING IGNORANCE AND ATTACHMENT. To eliminate a condition, simply eliminate the cause. By being enlightened and learning not to crave, you can be free. By learning not to become attached to people and things, you can conquer all sorrow. Those who succeed and conquer their passions will enter a place called Nirvana. Buddha never described Nirvana for he focused on the process of attaining it and not worrying about what is there. The word Nirvana means to blow out extinguish or bring to an end. Nirvana is the absence of everything used to describe normal human life, a place where individuality and existence is merged with all else like sparks of an eternal flame.

A Christian Viewpoint

Three points: Just as anorexia does not free from starvation, apathy of desire does not free from suffering. Paul the apostle writes of a different cure in Philippians 4:12-14:

Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and ever circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things though Him who strengthens me.

We should abstain from lusts as 1 Peter 2:11, 4:1-2, and 2 Timothy 2:22 teach. However we not only walk from lusts but we walk with God towards Heaven.

Second Point: If it is wicked to privately desire fulfillment with even good things, how come Buddhists grasp for Nirvana? If self is really nonexistent how is Nirvana a real experience of the self if there is no self to experience it? Any selfish act cannot bring enlightenment. Yet in Therevada Buddhism a person is supposed to be so concerned with his own enlightenment that he leaves behind all to pursue it. ---Even other people. Who by desiring Nirvana can enter? Why did Buddha selfishly enter Nirvana? If nothing is permanent then how can impermanent acts make or generate a state of bliss called Nirvana? These riddles or koans are ones Buddhists do not answer. They may call these questions unimportant, but if Buddhism is not reasonable then it is a false philosophy.

Third point: the Bible does describe a place with some similarities to Nirvana. In this place affections will be gone, love will be gone, and all of the friendships we have grown fond of will be extinguished. We do not want people to go there, for that place is Hell. All sensation is not gone though, for there will be "great weeping and gnashing to teeth" as Jesus taught his disciples in Matt 13:47-50. (Also Matt 26:20-30, 26:31-46, Luke 8:27-31, 16:19-31, and Jude 12-13.

4. THE "NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH" IS THE WAY TO SUPPRESSION OF SUFFERING. RIGHT VIEWS, RIGHT INTENTIONS, RIGHT SPEECH, RIGHT ACTION, RIGHT LIVELIHOOD, RIGHT EFFORT, RIGHT MINDEDNESS, AND RIGHT MEDITATION. The virtues are often grouped into three categories: faith morality, and concentration. On this road, the Buddhist works out his own salvation with diligence. Apart from these most Buddhists emphasize sacrifice and prayer; Therevada Buddhists say these are useless. There are three roots of evil: lust, hatred, and delusion. It is ok to worship a nation's and culture's gods.

A Christian Viewpoint

The eightfold path is a beautiful but incomplete. Many verses in the Bible agree with every single one of the virtues. However, where is the love and compassion, the affection between parent and child, and our heavenly Father God? If these things are missed at the very core of Buddhism, is the core good or rotten? A good piece of pork, 90% good, with just a few poisonous germs, killed Buddha.


Therevada Buddhism

Therevada Buddhism is the closest Buddhism to the letter of Buddha's teachings. It has been criticized by Mahayana Buddhists and others for being too selfish and insufficienty concerned with the needs of others. It is practiced today primarily in Sri Lanka and Indochina.


Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism has been called "Hinduized Buddhism", because of its similarities with Hinduism in the worship of idols. It does not consider Buddha a real human but an eternal omnipresent transcendent being; the human Buddha was just a phantom. It started in the first to second century A.D.. It claims Buddha has a threefold nature: the body of essence which is eternal, the body of communal bliss which is the heavenly manifestation, and the body of transformation which was his human form to convert mankind. Siddhartha was only one incarnation; there have been many, including Christ. The "gods" of Mahayana are called "Bodhisattvas", people who have already obtained perfection but delay Nirvana to help others find salvation. The human heroes of Therevada, "Arhats", do no such thing. Mahayana Buddhism is practiced today in China, and to a lesser extent in Japan and Korea.

Differences Between Therevada, Mahayana, and Christianity


Individual man Man with others Man a child of God

on his own Bodhisasttras help man God saves man

Key virtue: wisdom Key virtue: Key virtues: Love,

compassion Faith, Hope

Ideal Saint: Arhats Ideal: Bodhisattvas Ideal: Jesus

Buddha was a saint Buddha is Savior Jesus is God and

only Savior

Mahayana Criticism: Therevada Criticism: A Buddhist Criticism

Too little concern Worships Buddha & Must give up

for others. others, which is your path and

far from Buddha's surrender life to God.


Dislikes: Likes: Likes:

Metaphysics, Ritual, Metaphysics, Ritual, Love God first.

Prayer, but medita- & Prayer love your neighbor

tion is good. as yourself.

Conservative, Liberal, Conservative belief

almost atheistic much idolatry Compassionate activity

Scriptures: Scriptures: Scriptures:

Tripitaka: no canon, but over The Bible, con-

Vinaya Pitaka 5,000 books taining Old and

Sulta Pitaka New Testaments

Abidhamma Pitaka

Buddhist Scriptures

The Basic Buddhist scripture is the Tripitaka (Three Baskets), allegedly written by Buddha himself. Mahayana has no clear cut canon, but there are 5,000 books of scripture, some of it contradictory. Zen has writings but no scripture; teachings are directly transmitted mind to mind. Nichiren Buddhism recognizes on the Lotus Sutra which they believe came directly from Buddha. Actually the Lotus Sutra was written at the time of Christ plus or minus 200 years. Their chief object of worship is at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan.


Buddhist Customs

Centuries after Buddha died legends sprang up of twelve animals who came to visit the baby Buddha. The Oriental Zodiac is made up of these animals, which appear on the placemats of many Oriental restaurants. Many Buddhists celebrate Buddha's birthday. In China and Japan the Ullambana Festival is a time of offerings to the spirits of the dead and hungry ghosts. During this celebration the gates of the other world are open so that departed spirits can briefl return to earth.


Other Buddhist Beliefs

Man's task on earth is to seek enlightenment and increase his store of merit. This is done by following the Eightfold Path. Five additional rules are: kill no living thing, do not steal, do not commit adultery, tell no lies, and do not drink intoxicants or take drugs.

For monks there are five additional preferences. 1. Eat moderately and only at the appointed time. 2. Avoid that which excites the senses. 3. Do not wear jewelry or perfume. 4. Do not sleep in luxurious beds. 5. Accept no silver or gold.

Monks are always unmarried with the exception of one Japanese sect. Buddhists believe that human existence is in five "bundles": material, body, feelings, perceptions, predispositions or Karmic tendencies, and consciousness. Buddhists see no conflict between science and Buddhism; some believe Buddha followed scientific principles to search out the truth.

Buddhism's doctrine of reincarnation differs from Hinduism's. Hindus believe the soul "transmigrates" from one body to another. Buddhists believe in anatman, the denial of a permanent soul. No one remains the same for two consecutive moments. Buddhists believe in reincarnation as a stream of renewed existences, rather than a permanent being that moves from one life to another.


Statements of Buddha

When Buddha was on his deathbed, he gave some advice that shows clearly on whom he trusted for salvation.

"So Ananda, you must be your own lamps, be your own refuge. Take refuge in nothing outside yourselves. Hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge, and do not look for refuge to anything beside yourselves."

Another saying of Buddha in the Dhammadada says,

"He who in this world has shaken off the two chains, the chain of Good and the Chain of Evil, who is pure and exempt from suffering and passion -- him do I call a Brahmana."

"No one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by a tradition, unless it accord with reason."



Buddhism can be thought of as an eighteen-fold path of differing philosophies. If one is wandering around on an island, it is not too important which path is chosen. However, if someone wants to leave the island, that must be done by the bridge. Unlike Christianity, all the paths of Buddhism deny Jesus Christ, the One and only bridge of God. They refuse to abandon their own effort to reach for enlightenment and surrender to follow God's path. Salvation is not a philosophy or code of conduct, not even a Christian philosophy or code of conduct. We can only accept God's salvation by trusting and obeying Jesus, for as Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."


A Reasoned Look at Asian Religions by David L. Johnson, Ph.D. Bethany House Publishers 1985.

Understanding Non-Christian Religions by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart. here's Life Publishers Inc. 1982.

Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia Funk and Wagnall's Corp. Vol.4 p.431-441. 1983.

Sources of Chinese Tradition Volume 1 William Theodore de Bary Wing-Tsit Chan, Burton Watson. Columbia University Press 1960.

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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.