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Where Is Buddhism's Mercy?

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I recently read an interesting quote about Buddhism’s impact on real world problems. Check this out. ”Christmas Humpreys, an influential Western Buddhist, admits…’It may be asked, what contribution Buddhism is making to world problems, national problems, social problems, appearing among every group of men. The answer is clear as it is perhaps unique. Comparatively speaking, none.”[1]
I’ve long wondered why Christianity seems to be able to so successfully generate an enormous number of mercy-oriented ministries, organizations, and movements that serve both man and beast. Why did Christianity produce so many educational institutions, hospitals, prison ministries, anti-poverty movements, and more while competing worldviews like Buddhism seem unable or unwilling to do so? It’s not that they don’t make the attempt, it’s that they are just so darn infrequent and invisible. If Buddhism was truly a mercy-oriented system, why hasn’t it generated such things at a level competitive with Christianity?
It turns out that the answer is also provided by Humpreys, “The reason is clear. One man at peace within lives happily.”[2] In other words, when your system of philosophy is “self” centered the motivation for such mercy-oriented movements is, to echo Humpreys’ words, comparatively, none.
In contrast to the “self” centeredness of buddhist motivations, apologists John Ankerberg and John Weldon note that, ”We never ask, ‘Why is there so much good in the world?’ It is always, ‘Why is there so much evil in the world?’ We know that evil is an aberration in a universe whose Ruler is good and righteous.”[3]
Ankerberg and Weldon are correct. We instinctively know that something is wrong with the world (sin, and the suffering caused by sin), but it should be good because we have a good Creator. Creation is supposed to reflect the goodness of the Creator. In many ways it does. But in the case of man our behavior often reflects that which is not good, and thus not from a good Creator. As Christians we recognize that something must be done about this inequity since we are motivated by God’s goodness, just as the scripture says, “Be holy for I am holy.”[4] We want to bring order, and justice, and good to the world because God’s character reflects these good things. The Apostle Peter notes our motivation. After quoting the “be holy” passage from Leviticus he says, “You have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”[5] (emphasis mine).
I’ll never forget the story my daughters told me about an experience they had in Mongolia. They were walking home with friends one evening in the freezing sub-zero temperatures of Ulaanbaatar when they came across a teenager who had been beaten to a pulp. He was on the sidewalk bleeding profusely, unable to stand, with hundreds of people strolling by him. The kids tried to get the attention of a police officer to help the young man, but he simply laughed at them. Everyone walking by steered clear. Not a single person would stop to help. It was a scene reminiscent of the Good Samaritan. Then a buddhist monk happened by, but he too walked right passed them, electing not to stop. There was no mercy. In true Good Samaritan form these Christian teenagers did all they could to try to help the young man, with one of the girls even removing her coat and putting it on the bleeding, freezing teen. She walked home, freezing.
Every religious system inculcates in its followers a model that is to be emulated. For Buddhism the model is Siddhartha Gautama. But for Christians the model is supremely different—Jesus Christ. He wrapped himself inside humanity and suffered as one of us while at the same time rising above us in ethics and glory. Just as those teenagers tried to save the life of a stranger and gave sacrificially to try to revive him, so too Christ did what was necessary to save us by giving of himself through the ultimate sacrifice and suffering.
Where are the Buddhist mercy-oriented movements? I’m sure there are a small number out there. But the model necessary to motivate such things isn’t found in Buddhism’s core. So as Humpreys notes it is comparatively, none. Thank God we have a model in the Savior, Jesus Christ who motivates those who love him truly, differently.
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  1. In F.L. Woodward, Trans., Some Sayings of the Buddha (New York: Oxford University Press 1973), p. X.X.I.I.
  2. Ibid
  3. Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, John Ankerberg and John Weldon, “Buddhism and Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism,” page 62.
  4. Leviticus 11:44
  5. I Peter 1:22