What do Buddhists believe? What is Buddhism?
As the world's fourth largest religion, Buddhism has a marked impact around the world. Its approximately 376 million adherents come from a number of nations. Many are asking questions regarding how Buddhism compares to the teaching of the Bible.
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Buddhism was founded by a guru referred to as the Buddha. Originally known as Siddhartha Gautama, he was born in the sixth century B.C. to parents who ruled a small kingdom in modern-day Nepal. As Buddhist accounts note, Gautama was considered a special child. On the night of his conception, his mother had a vision of a white elephant, the traditional sign of an exceptional child. An astrologer also predicted that Gautama would become either a great world leader or, if he experienced much suffering, an important spiritual leader.
Gautama's father sought to protect him from suffering by keeping him behind palace walls and not allowing him to see the outside world. At 29, Gautama had his chariot driver take him to visit the surrounding village. For the first time, Gautama saw what he would later describe as the Four Signs: an old man, a sick man, a corpse in preparation for cremation, and a traveling holy man. With his newfound knowledge, he felt compelled to flee the extravagance of his palatial life in an act known as the Great Renunciation. After six years of seeking truth, he chose to meditate in a single spot and experienced a spiritual awakening that developed into his signature message.
Gautama's teachings include his Middle Way (or Middle Path) through what he called the Four Noble Truths. These Four Noble Truths are 1) Life is all about suffering, 2) The cause of suffering is our desire and greed, 3) There is a way to overcome our desire and greed, and 4) The path to happiness and relief of suffering is the Eightfold Path.
In addition to the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, Buddhism follows several other distinctive beliefs. The major seven are meditation, nirvana, samsara (life is simply a flow of suffering, change, and reincarnation), renunciation (letting go), reincarnation, reincarnated Buddhas, and the Three Jewels (consisting of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha).
While there is much variation in the different forms of Buddhism, we can identify three vast differences between Buddhism in general and the Bible's teachings:
1. Buddhism requires a person to work out his own salvation by following certain steps; Christianity presents salvation as a gift which results in following Christ. While human effort is important in all religions, Christianity's focus on a relationship provided by Jesus sets it apart from Buddhist teachings.
2. Buddhism is motivated by a promise to escape suffering; Christianity is motivated by love for God and others. There's a big difference between escaping pain and showing love. While Buddhism touches on the importance of love, it is only a portion of its belief. Christianity is rooted in love for God first, then for people (Matthew 22:34-40).
3. Buddhism is primarily focused on individual enlightenment; Christianity is primarily focused on serving God and others. Christianity has historically focused on service to God which requires service to others. Jesus, Christianity's founder, said that, in obedience to the Father, He came to serve rather than to be served (Mark 10:45).
In addition, Buddhism denies the existence of a personal God, denies the unique authority of the Bible, holds no concept of personal sin, does not see Jesus as the one way to salvation and knowing God, and teaches reincarnation after death (thus denying the reality of judgment as taught in Hebrews 9:27). As Josh McDowell, author of Handbook of Today's Religions, has noted, "There are radical differences between Buddhism and Christianity that make any attempt of reconciliation between the two faiths impossible. The Buddhist worldview is basically monistic. That is, the existence of a personal creator and Lord is denied. The world operates by natural power and law, not divine command."
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