While reviewing some information about Buddhism this week I ran across an article advocating for cooperative efforts between Buddhists and Christians. The author of the article, the late Bhikkhu Buddhasdasa, argued that Buddhism and Christianity teach many of the same things and therefore should naturally partner together for their common religious interests. This is nothing short of intentional syncretism, which should be avoided at all costs.
Regrettably (for the author), he completely missed his target because he interpreted Christian theology and the Bible from the perspective of a Buddhist worldview. Thus, he had some assumptions about Christianity that could only encourage cooperation under a Buddhist understanding of the Bible and a tossing away of key biblical principles, which the author didn’t seem to truly understand.
I probably don’t have to tell you why Buddhism and Christianity are incompatible. Then again, for the uninitiated, let me outline several points the author made about Buddhism and Christianity and offer my perspective why the two are incompatible as faith systems. I’m writing this because I’ve met too many people who believe the two systems, as systems of faith, are compatible. Let me assure you, they are not. Here are some statements by the late Bhikkhu Buddhasdasa on the so called compatibility of Buddhism and Christianity.
“Most people have believed that their own religion is the best and the only way to salvation. Such an attitude contradicts all valid religious principles.”
One wonders what religious principles the writer is talking about. I say this because common sense tells us exactly the opposite of what is said here. Of course, everyone believes their religion is the best one—that’s the very nature of religion. Think about it, if Buddhashasa had really believed what he said, then he would have been obligated to abandon Buddhism. Yet, he did not.
“This is because the root of all the evils in the world today is human selfishness, and the essence of all religious teachings is particularly the eradication of selfishness and egoism.”
While I can agree that selfishness is a big problem, the eradication of egoism is a Buddhist doctrine and was never taught by Jesus or the prophets before him. Buddhism thrives on the idea of eradicating self, but this is anathema to the teachings of the New Testament. Man’s ultimate goal, according to Jesus, is eternal life as a fully conscious being. The elimination of the self is essentially spiritual suicide. This is not advocated anywhere in the Bible and thus Buddhism and Christianity cannot be reconciled on this point.
“If Buddhists properly understand the Buddha’s teachings of altruistic love and self-detachment, they will not hold fast to the authority of their own religious doctrine and deny the truth of other religions.”
Again, here is an example of a Buddhist teaching that if taken at face value means that Buddhists must abandon Buddhism because other religions may be more valid. Okay, I agree with this one, in part. Exploring faith in Jesus is encouraged. Jesus Christ is superior to Buddha.
“God in Buddhism, however, is not anthropomorphic but is the law of nature that creates and governs the universe.”
This is a fundamental flaw in Buddhist theology. Christianity’s concept of God is not anthropomorphic. Actually, if you give it some thought, it’s the other way around. We are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). We do not create God in ours. Regardless, Buddhashasa teaches that God is an impersonal force that governs the universe. This concept cannot be rectified with the biblical position that God is a conscious, living being, with all of the attributes of personality, intelligence, emotion, and will.
The law of nature is thusness (tathatā). It embraces everything and does not differentiate good from evil.
If you cannot differentiate good from evil, then good and evil do not exist. But take a look at the reality around us. No one really lives like this, as if good and evil don’t exist.
The Bible teaches that God is good (Psalm 68:10; Mark 10:18; Romans 2:4, 11:22; Titus 3:4; Hebrews 6:5). Goodness is an essential character attribute of God. Without it, he would be capricious. God requires that we imitate this character trait in all of our relationships and actions. If Buddhism teaches no differentiation between good and evil, then Buddhism itself cannot be good. If Buddhism is not good, then why would I want to adopt it?
“One will be able to transcend positivism and negativism; that is, one can see the unity of the whole world and not be attached to either good or evil.”
See my argument above. In Christian doctrine, God does not transcend good and evil. From one angle he is necessarily good and from the other angle he necessarily condemns evil. Buddhism and Christianity cannot be reconciled in this teaching.
“According to the Old Testament, God forbade Adam and Eve to eat the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The story must be taken beyond its literal meaning. Essentially, it indicates that the law of nature, which is the supreme law, commands human beings to live beyond good and evil; that is, to not be attached to values in order to avoid the rise of egoism and be able to live peacefully with others.”
The late Buddhashasa confused his understanding of the Bible because he interpreted it through an eastern, Buddhist worldview—which was completely alien to Moses and the people he wrote to 3,400 years ago.
The story of Adam and Eve is the story of a fall from goodness into evil and the beginning of God’s revelation for a Savior to come who would redeem humanity by his suffering. Suffering in Buddhism is something to be feared. In the Bible, God uses suffering as a demonstration of love, commitment, and redemption. This particularly Jewish and Christian idea is foreign to the Buddhist worldview. Good and evil are fundamental to understanding the story of not only Adam and Eve, but the entire Bible. By interpreting biblical text through alien concepts the true meaning of the text is lost.
“Buddhists and Christians should join together in order to fight against [these] evils of the world. They should set aside the literal, superficial meanings of their scriptures and try to recover the essence of their doctrines.”
When you set aside the meaning of your scripture then it can mean anything you want it to mean. It therefore, has no ground and cannot be trusted. The biblical worldview denies this. If you are a Buddhist and you want to discover the fundamental essence of biblical doctrine, then start with this: “Greater love has no man, than one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Then take a step higher to this: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners [IE, God’s enemies], Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Things To Consider
I was once confronted in writing by a Buddhist who used the “kill” commands of the Old Testament to make a point that the God of the Bible is evil. You know these commands. They were given to Israel at a time when their nation was being established as a political and military entity after Moses lead them out of Egypt.
Buddhist apologists are very good at using the kill commands of the Old Testament to portray God as immoral in comparison to the Buddha. I could write another article about why that is a mistake, but that’s for another time. Suffice it to say that the kill commands were given for a very specific point in time, for a specific purpose, during a time of nation building, not faith spreading. Israel faced a situation where surely, if they had not followed the kill commands, they would have been slaughtered as a people. Therefore, the kill commands were military in nature, and they were never used in regards to spreading one’s faith.
Buddhists can complain about the kill commands, and their challenges should be answered. But what I’ve never seen a Buddhist do is successfully refute the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, there are all kinds of hypocrites in the religious world. There are Christian hypocrites, and Buddhist hypocrites, and Islamic hypocrites, and atheist hypocrites, and fill in the blank hypocrites. But pointing out bad Christians and protesting against the nation building commands of the Old Testament doesn’t bring Christianity down, and they never have. That is because Christianity’s rock is the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, never to die again. If you can refute that, then Christianity falls. But if you cannot refute the resurrection of Jesus, then you are confronted with Jesus’ teaching and why that teaching precludes Buddhism from being true.
Buddhism and Christianity cannot be reconciled. Any attempt to do so means the abandonment of the Christian faith and condemnation for the adherent. The Bible requires that we hold our faith in Jesus Christ exclusively, apart from other religious worldviews. Jesus said, “All who came before me are thieves and robbers” (John 10:8). He stated very strongly that he was the only way to eternal life, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Apostle Paul, in like manner, pronounced that false religion must be abandoned in favor of Christ. “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:29-31).