As a Christian did you come from a Buddhist or Shamanist background? Do you sometimes feel that you need to get advice or instructions from a lam? Do you feel pressured by family or friends to seek the help of a shaman? Do you sometimes throw offerings of milk or do other things to gain religious merit or favor? Do you chant certain words or forms when you pray instead of simply talking with your Heavenly Father?
Many Christians who have a former background in Buddhism or Shamanism often keep some of their former religious practices and use them in their expression of Christianity. Yet the Bible makes no mention of performing these kinds of practices in order to be in a right relationship with God. The focus of Christianity is on a right relationship to God and not on any set of rituals or religious practices that have to be done to earn God’s favor. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that these kinds of practices are discouraged and even forbidden for the Christian. Instead, God desires a fresh, new, vibrant relationship with you through fellowship and loving expressions of faith.
Let’s look at some of the practices of traditional religious beliefs and discover what the Bible has say about these.
Establishing a Foundation: Buddhism and Christianity Contrasted
Q: Can Buddhism and Christianity be reconciled or blended to create a unified faith? Why can’t Christians practice some of the things taught in Buddhism? Don’t Buddhists and Christians share many common spiritual principles?
Putting away our former religious practices is necessary for the Christian who wants to experience all that God makes available to him. God is unwilling to share the benefits of salvation with those who want to keep their former religious practices and try to embrace Christianity at the same time. As an example, Buddhism and Christianity cannot be reconciled because they teach completely different things. There are some who look at the words used in both religions and believe that they essentially teach the same, or similar things. However, this is not really true. Therefore, it is necessary to examine what Buddhism teaches and what the Bible teaches so that the Christian will have a proper understanding of the Bible, Jesus, and Christian practice, to learn that the two faiths cannot be blended.
Most of what follows in this section of our program is excerpted from the book, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religionsby John Ankerberg and John Weldon. Listen carefully to the contrasts and scripture that is presented. You will see a clear picture that Christianity and Buddhism do not teach the same or similar things. Through this process we, as Christians, will begin to understand that we must not blend the practices or principles of these two faiths. The Christian must be solely dedicated to the Bible and Jesus Christ in order to truly live as a Christian. Let’s get started.
In an era pregnant with tolerance for everything, some Christians have embraced Buddhism and numerous attempts have been made to unify Buddhism and Christianity by ecumenically minded members of both faiths. They may maintain an odd mixture of both religions, one that is ultimately unfaithful to both.
The truth is that similarities between Buddhism and Christianity are only on the surface. For example, many have claimed a similarity between Jesus Christ’ saving role in Christianity and the Bodhisattva’s savior role in later Buddhism. But these roles are entirely contradictory. In Christianity, “Christ died for our sins.” This means He saves us from the penalty of our sins by taking God’s judgment of sin in His own person. Jesus paid the penalty of sin (death) for sinners by dying in their place. Thus, He offers a free gift of salvation to anyone who believes and accepts what He has done on their behalf.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life” – John 3:16.
The central ideas involved in Christ’s saving role—God’s holiness, propitiatory atonement, forgiveness of sin, salvation as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Christ and so on—are all foreign to Buddhism. The Bodhisattva’s role of savior is entirely different than that of Jesus Christ’s. The Bodhisattva has no concern with sin in an ultimate sense, only with the end of suffering. He has no concept of God’s wrath against sin or the need for a propitiatory atonement. He has no belief in an infinite personal God who created men and women in His image. He has no belief in a loving God who freely forgives sinners. His only sacrifice is his postponement of entering nirvana so that he can help others find Buddhist enlightenment.
Anyone who argues that there is an essential similarity between the Buddhist and Christian concepts of a savior is quite mistaken. In fact, at their core Buddhism and Christianity are irreconcilable. Indeed, virtually every major Christian doctrine is denied in Buddhism and vice versa. Many Buddhists, however, have long recognized the differences between the two faiths. The knowledgeable Buddhist is aware that the doctrines and teachings of biblical Christianity hold to and proclaim openly those things which Buddhists reject; further, Christianity openly opposes those things which Buddhism endorses as essential for genuine enlightenment.
For example, Christianity is interwoven with the monotheistic grandeur of an infinite, personal, triune God,
“Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me” – Isaiah 43:11.
Buddhism is agnostic and, practically speaking, atheistic (or in later form, polytheistic). Christianity involves the absolute necessity for belief in Jesus Christ as personal Savior from sin.
“ For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” – I Timothy 2:5-6.
Buddhism has no savior from sin, and even in the Mahayana tradition, as we have seen, the savior concepts are quite dissimilar. Christianity stresses salvation by grace through faith alone
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” – Ephesians 2:8-9.
Buddhism stresses enlightenment by works through meditative practices that seek the alleviation of “ignorance” and desire. Christianity promises forgiveness from all sin now and eventual elimination of sin and suffering for all eternity.
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” – Revelation 21:3-4.
Buddhism, since it holds there is no God, promises not the forgiveness and eradication of sin, but the elimination of suffering (eventually) and the ultimate eradication of the individual.
Christianity stresses salvation from sin, not from life itself. Christianity exalts personal existence as innately good, since man was created in God’s image, and thus Christianity promises eternal life and fellowship with a personal God. Christianity has a distinctly defined teaching about the afterlife—Heaven or Hell. It promises eternal immortality for man as man, but perfected in every way. This is not an eternity of some impersonal force that is absorbed into nirvana. Rather, it is a conscious eternity for the individual where eternal joy and right relationships are experienced without any end, forever.
On the other hand, Buddhism teaches rebirth and has only a mercurial nirvana, wherein man no longer remains man or, where, in Mahayana, there exist temporary heavens or hells and the final “deification” of man through a merging with the ultimate pantheistic-cosmic Buddha nature. But Christianity denies that rebirth is a valid belief, a denial based upon the fact of Christ’s propitiatory atonement for sin. In other words, if Christ died to forgive all sin, there is no reason for a person to pay the penalty for their own sin (“karma”) over many lifetimes.
In Christianity life itself is good and given honor and meaning; in Buddhism one finds it difficult to affirm that life is ultimately worth living, for life and suffering are always inseparable. In Christianity, Jesus came that people,
“…might have life and have it to the full” – John 10:10.
But in Buddhism, Buddha came that people might rid themselves of personal existence. In Christianity, the world is the loving creation of God; in Buddhism it is only the temporary illusion of a deluded mind. In Christianity, God will either glorify or punish the spirit of man,
“An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” – John 5:28-29.
In Buddhism no spirit exists to be glorified or punished. In Christianity absolute morality is the central theme; in Buddhism absolute morality is nonexistent. Christianity is essentially theistic, stressing God’s self-revelation and gracious initiative on behalf of man’s helpless moral and spiritual condition. Buddhism is essentially humanistic, stressing man’s self-achievement. Thus, in Buddhism man alone is the author of salvation; Christianity sees this as absolutely impossible because innately man has no power to save himself.
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” – Titus 3:5.
Glorifying God is unimportant and irrelevant to Buddhists. But biblically, to the extent that God is ignored or opposed, people must correspondingly suffer. Here we see the ultimate irony of Buddhism: in ignoring God, Buddhists believe they can escape suffering, but this will only perpetuate it forever. This is the real tragedy of Buddhism, especially of so-called Christian-Buddhism. The very means to escape suffering (true faith in the biblical Christ) is rejected in favor of a self-salvation, which can only result in eternal suffering.
No one who enjoys life and understands what Christianity offers can logically think Buddhism offers more. Christianity promises abundant life not just now, but forever. It offers a personal immortality in a perfected state of existence where all suffering and sin are forever vanquished and the redeemed exist forever with a loving God who has promised they will inherit all that is His. By contrast, Buddhism promises only an arduous, lengthy road toward personal non-existence in a nebulous nirvana.
Since the goal of Buddhism is to destroy the individual person, who is merely an illusion, everything precious to the individual is also “denied and destroyed.” Buddhist teaching denies and destroys all that is meaningful to human existence, but Buddhism has no answers as to the implications. It merely retreats into its particular worldview. As former Buddhist J.I. Yamamoto observed, “My hunger and my thirst cannot be satisfied in Buddhism because I know that the Buddha neither created me nor offers for me to live forever with him…Beyond the Buddha is the void, and the void does not answer the needs of my humanity.” As another Buddhist convert to Christianity remarked, “I did not want nirvana. I wanted eternal life.”
Some Practices to Put Away
Q: I understand that there are significant differences between Buddhism and Christianity. But some of the practices are meaningful to me. Do I have to give them up? If I give up my former religious practices my family may be angry or hurt. What can I do?
Let’s look at a few common religious practices that Christians should put away.
- Seeking out a lam or monk for counsel or blessings
- Making offerings for a better rebirth, to earn merit
- Earning merit through good deeds for a better rebirth
- Chanting forms in prayer
- Reading scripture out loud to exercise power in the manner of a shaman
- Keeping a so called “Christian idol” for magic or protection
Seeking a Monk for Blessing or Counsel
Q: Do you sometimes seek out a lam for advise or blessing? When you need help, do you go to a Christian pastor or a monk? Do you find more value in seeking a monks help rather than someone who follows Jesus?
A few years ago in one Mongolian town, the people of that community learned a valuable lesson about the wisdom and power of the Bible. For many years a Buddhist monk from Tibet would come to their community every three months. Whenever he came the people would go to him, share their problems, and he would instruct them on things to do to change their lives—walking backwards, making offerings, performing certain rituals. The people in the community would follow his instructions but would always feel frustrated because the things he told them to do seemed to have no effect on their lives. On top of that, the people would pay the monk money for his advice.
A small group of Mongolian Christians came to the town to share about the good news of Jesus Christ. When the people of the community heard about Jesus and watched a movie about the Bible they began to realize something very significant. They did not need to go to the monk, or pay him to change their lives. If they simply did what the Bible said then their lives could change—even dramatically. When the monk realized that his source of followers and money was dried up he left the community, never to be seen again.
What can we learn from this true story? Among other things, we learn that the truth can change our lives. The Bible offers truth through Jesus Christ. God’s law, revealed in the Old Testament, gives us instruction on justice, and mercy, and how we should live in a way that can empower us to take charge of our lives. Seeking counsel from a contrary religious system does not help set us free, it rather constrains us and keeps us trapped in a false system. It is God’s design that we seek him out, and learn from him directly, instead of depending upon so called spiritual leaders who know nothing of God.
“When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!” – Isaiah 8:19-20.
Notice that the prophet said, “To the law and to the testimony!” This is the Bible’s way of saying that when we have problems or issues needing resolution we should first go the the Bible and those who teach from the Bible. By going to the Bible we demonstrate that we are seeking God’s wisdom and God’s will to handle our situations. Look what God promises to those who seek him.
“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace” – Isaiah 55:11-12.
Instead of seeking out a monk for instruction or blessing—which the Bible forbids—Christians must first go to the Bible, and seek godly wisdom from spiritual leaders within the church. Going to a Buddhist monk for such things is to reject dependance upon God, the author of life.
Making Offerings for a Better Rebirth
Q: Do you still hold onto the belief in rebirth? Do you make offerings or milk, or money, or some other things in hopes of gaining a better rebirth?
Another traditional religious practice that Christians sometimes engage in is to make offerings to attain a better rebirth or earn merit toward a better rebirth. However, the Bible shows us that this is foolishness. There are two reasons why Christians should not engage in this practice. First, the concept of rebirth is not grounded in reality. It is, in fact, a spiritual falsehood. There is no evidence in the real world that rebirth actually exists. According to the Bible, rebirth does not exist.
“It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” – Hebrews 9:27.
Do you attempt to hold onto a belief in rebirth and what the Bible calls, resurrection? Consider carefully what you believe. Both concepts cannot be true. Rebirth is the concept that a person’s spirit is reborn in a new person after the death of the previous person. Rebirth happens again and again until enlightenment is attained. Yet, as we’ve seen from the Bible, the scripture teaches that people only live once, then they die and wait to experience judgment by God. Both concepts cannot be true. As a Christian, which do you believe—rebirth or in what God reveals, the resurrection?
Second, the Bible makes it clear that there is nothing that a Christian can do to earn eternal life. Eternal life is a gift from God, not something to be earned. The concept of rebirth may be different from the Christian concept of eternal life, but the principle still holds. We are totally dependent upon God for our eternal destiny. To depend, even in part, on a former traditional religious practice for our eternal destiny instead of depending solely upon Jesus Christ is the same as not trusting Jesus at all.
Earning Merit Through Good Deeds
Q: Why do you do good deeds? Do you perform good deeds in hopes of earning more merit for your eternal destiny? What is the value of good deeds? What is the Bible’s perspective of good deeds?
Nearly every religion has a concept where good deeds must be performed in order to attain nirvana or eternal life. This is true of Buddhism and other eastern religions. They believe that if a person’s good deeds outweigh their bad deeds they may be able to attain a better rebirth. However, the Bible’s teaching on good deeds is different from Buddhism and other traditional beliefs. According to the Bible, no amount of good deeds done by a person can get or earn him eternal life. The Bible’s teaching is that man is evil.
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9.
Since we are evil by nature no amount of good deeds can wipe away the evil that we do, or think, or feel. We can never earn the merit that is taught by some religions. It is a fruitless exercise. So how does one attain eternal life? By trusting Jesus Christ, whose thoughts, feelings, and actions came from a pure heart in which there is no evil.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” – I Peter 2:21-22.
The Bible teaches that the attainment of eternal life is a free gift, not something that we earn.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” – Ephesians 2:8-9.
The Bible teaches an eternal fate that is different from what Buddhism teaches. A Christian cannot attach himself to Buddhist concepts and still expect to live like a Christian. But what about good deeds? Doesn’t the Bible teach that we must do good deeds? Indeed it does teach that. But the starting point for the Bible’s version of good deeds is different. In other religions good deeds are something that you do in order to attain something else. But the Bible’s version of good deeds teaches that our good deeds do not give us merit. Rather, we do good deeds in response to what God has already done for us—not because it will earn us anything.
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” – Ephesians 2:10.
Why do you do good deeds? If, as a Christian, you are still clinging to your Buddhist way of thinking then it’s time to change the way you think to the way the God thinks. We cannot hold onto to the Buddhist concept of good deeds and expect to live a Christian life.
Chanting and Repetition in Prayer
Q: What is prayer to you? Do you use chanting or formula’s when you pray in hopes of getting something? Have you ever thought of having a simple, normal conversation with God?
Chanting is a repetitious form of religious speech that Buddhists use to prepare their minds for meditation. Chanting is also done as a ritual. What does the Bible say about repetitious chanting? It is not something the Christian is to practice. In a conversation with religious leaders of his day, Jesus said,
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” – Matthew 6:7.
The biblical model for prayer is for the Christian to simply have a normal conversation with God. God is a person. This means that he has personality, preferences, and relationships. Think for a moment how you have conversations with people that you know. Do you chant your conversations with your closest friends? Do you use such forms when dialoguing with your spouse? Of course not. When you speak in other relationships you simply talk and say whatever is on your mind. When you express love to a person you express it through nice words, respectfully. So too, in our relationship with God, God prefers that we simply speak with him. We are, after all, in a personal relationship with God. We must address him respectfully, but we may also pour out our innermost emotions and difficulties to him. We may even complain to him, knowing that as God, he cares deeply for us and wants to help us when we are hurting.
Reading scripture out loud for the purpose of exercising power or trying to use magic words
Q: Why do you read scripture aloud? What advantage is there to reading scripture aloud? Do you sense you will have more power if you read scripture aloud? Are there magic words in the Bible?
Another way in which a former Buddhist background person syncretizes his former practices to Christianity is to read scripture aloud for the purpose of exercising some kind of power. This is practiced by nearly one-fifth of Mongolian church members. But does incorporating this practice into Christian expression actually contain any power?
Some people look at the Bible as a sacred object, almost like it is a relic or to be worshiped. However, the Bible is not something to be regarded in that fashion. Instead, the Bible, though it is God’s word, should be regarded by us as an arrow pointing in a direction. Jesus discussed this when he said,
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” – John 5:39.
Notice Jesus’ attitude toward the scriptures. He regarded the scriptures as the word of God, but he also saw them as a pointer to himself, that men would know him through the agency of the scriptures.
There are no magic words or magic power in the scriptures. Treating the Bible like a relic misses the point for which the Bible was written. The Bible is a testimony to the life, purpose, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But chanting or reading aloud scriptures will not give a person some kind of mystical power.
This does not mean that we should not read scriptures aloud. In fact, reading scripture aloud or quoting it back to God can be a meaningful form of worship. We do this in churches and prayer groups. The issue is not the act of reading aloud, rather it is the attitude that we have when reading aloud. If we treat the Bible as a book of formula or magic words then we will miss the reason it was written in the first place.
Keeping a So-Called Christian Idol
Q: I’ve used idols for worship all my life. Why can’t I use them as a tool in my worship of Jesus? Can’t idols help me in my religious devotion to Jesus? Can’t I adapt my former religious practices to Christianity?
It may seem counter-intuitive, but a physical representation of something takes the focus off of the actual thing it represents. We see an example of this in parents who look at pictures of their young children and long for the days when their children were younger. In this case they take the focus off of their older children as they are now and focus on what is already past. This is not to say that family pictures are a form of idols. That is not the case. However, this is simply used as an illustration to point out that those who worship idols do something similar as it takes their focus off of reality and the spiritual world as it really is. Those who use images to worship Jesus are really taking their focus off of God as he really is in lieu of a false image that cannot represent reality. This is a serious problem for the Christian. God is looking for men and women who will be totally committed to him apart from all such false religious expressions. The scripture says,
“The eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (II Chronicles 16:9).
Jesus himself also said,
“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23).
Where is your focus in your relationship with God? Do you use idols or images as part of your worship or veneration of Jesus? If so, God has a command for you: Get rid of your idols.
The most important reason for getting rid of our idols is that God commands us to get rid of our idols. When God gave Israel the Ten Commandments his first command was,
“You shall have no other god before me” (Exodus 20:3).
Whatever it is the you might venerate in addition to Jesus must be put away. Jesus demands exclusive rights to your worship.
The second thing God told Israel was this:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5).
God’s command not to make or use idols is not a suggestion or something that we can ignore because of nationality, culture, family history, or any personal ties. God demands exclusive rights to our worship and will not share his worship with that which is false.
In the book of Deuteronomy God went so far as to curse those who use idols.
“Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret” (Deuteronomy 27:15).
How can we love God and keep idols at the same time? The scripture makes it clear that we cannot do both. If we try to keep an idol or image while trying to keep Jesus we will end up damaging our relationship with him. Idols destroy our relationship with God. Idols create false expectations and make our perspective of God supreme instead of God’s perspective of what he is really like. Idols offend God. The same things is true about idols of Jesus. Worshiping Jesus by the use of idols or images is as equally offensive to God as the worshiping of other false gods and idols.
If we wish to obey the scripture and love the Lord will all our heart, mind, and strength, then there can be no room in our lives for idols of any kind.
It is important to recognize that for some Christians it can be difficult to get rid of former religious practices. Some Christians who were formerly Buddhists may have found some kind of meaning or satisfaction in those practices. However, for the Christian who has discovered the reality of Christ, those former practices can no longer hold sway over his or her heart. The intrinsic meaning in many of those practices run contrary to the Bible’s revelation. If we attempt to blend the practices from Buddhism and Christianity together, then Christianity will lose what makes it distinctive from other faiths. God condemns the blending of other religious practices with Christianity. God calls such things, deception. God is not a God of deception.
What role do former religious practices play in your life? Do you struggle with being rid of them? Do you feel you must continue to practice such things because of culture, or family, or peer pressure? Be encouraged! God has made it possible for you to have the strength and determination you need to put away your former religious practices. It all begins with a decision. Make the decision today not to rely on your former religious practices. Dedicate yourself completely to following Christ and him alone, and see how God will bless you. If helpful, you might want to pray this prayer of dedication to Jesus.
“Heavenly Father, I now recognize that I have been incorporating some of my old religious practices into my Christian life. I now understand that to do so is not the right way to follow Jesus. I know that you’re word says that I must love you with all my heart, mind, and strength. I cannot do that and continue in those old practices. Therefore, Father, I ask you to strengthen me in my commitment to you by helping me to get rid of those old practices so that I can depend upon you alone. Thank you for forgiving my sin of holding onto those practices. I declare that I will not practice them anymore. Thank you for your love and your power to strengthen me in this decision. Help me to live for you alone. In Jesus’ name, amen.