The subject is of interest inasmuch as it now makes considerable headway in our country. Afoot is the so called “Project Understanding” which plans a $5,000,000 “Temple of Understanding” in or near Washington, D.C., as a “spiritual United Nations” which will house six chapels representing the Judaic, Confucian, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian religions. Its purpose is to undergird the political United Nations.
It is the tactic of one-worlders to make the heathen religions of the world seem akin to Christianity. Buddhism they present as breathing the spirit of the New Testament. As a matter of fact, Buddhism is so full of priest craft and image-worship that it more resembles Romanism than orthodox Christianity. There are certain supposed likenesses of Buddhism to Christianity. The counterfeit always suggests the genuine article. However, Buddha never claimed to be a god nor to have a god. Salvation, he taught, was accomplished by self-effort, without help from other men or from God. If you will pardon an anachronism, Pelagianism in very ancient garb1 But Buddhism has about as much similarity to Christianity as legends of the Dark Ages do.
Not all passing for Buddhists are strictly so. Burmese and Siamese people are more animistic spirit-worshipers than Buddhists. The Chinese are moralistic human-spirit worshipers along with their Buddhism. Although this complicated system of thought is considered a religion, its own teaching denies being a religion. This is because: 1) it denies the existence of any God; 2) it denies the existence of the soul; 3) it denies all dogmatic authority, claiming no other standard than free-thought; 4) it prescribes no ritual; and, 5) its scriptures disclaim any inspiration or divine supernatural revelation. Yet the mere sound of the words of Buddhist law has power to change bats into men!
Buddhism over three thousand years ago sprang from Hinduism, and so is an offshoot or product of another degraded heathen religion. Gautama, its founder, was a Hindu who lived and died in Hinduism. He assumed the title Buddha which means “the Enlightened One.” Rebelling against the disturbing inconsistencies of Hinduism or Brahmanisn, he came to regard sacrifice of no use, since there was no God to placate. Prayer was pointless, since, even if there were a God, he could do nothing whatever to answer.
Early impressed with the human miseries of poverty, old age, disease, and death, Gautama could not but be impressed with the fact that life is vanity and vexation of spirit. So he strongly felt, despite the fact that he was surrounded with every luxury and was married to a lovely princess. To find peace of mind, he abandoned palace, wife, and child to become a hermit for six years in deep study and asceticism. This life, too, proved a vanity of vanities. But he convinced himself that the secret of the quest for peace could be found by force of thinking. Soon he thought that existence is the cause of all evil, and that ignorance is the cause of existence. Therefore, if he could remove ignorance, he could remove existence, and so remove all the miseries and vanities of life. Annihilation, he reasoned, was salvation. Hope was in the hopelessness of it all. The chief end of man is extinction. Salvation is “lifeless, timeless bliss,” and that bliss is the bliss of nothingness. To attain this most coveted oblivion one must eliminate all personal affection for friends or relatives. One must be willing to give up wife and children, even if it means they must go into slavery. This is part of Buddhism’s “right beliefs,” “right feelings,” and “right actions!” Christian love is wholly unknown,—so a holy hate. The aim is to neither love nor hate and so become “unfettered.” Buddhism not only requires the impossible, but unreality, in order to develop its negative philosophy. With these thoughts, Gautama soon became elated with his own pessimism, enough to desire to enlighten others with his amazing discoveries. So he announced to all who would listen, “I have overcome all foes and all stains. I am superior to all men and all gods. I am the absolute Buddha. I am the Conqueror.” In other words, I am the Greatest.
There is no God in Buddhism. The Buddhist catechism, published in Ceylon, asks, “Did a god-creator call the world into existence by his will?” and answers, “There is no god-creator upon whose grace or will the existence of the world depends. Everything originates and develops by and out of itself, by virtue of its own will and according to its inner nature and condition. Only the ignorance of man has invented a personal god-creator. The Buddhists, however, absolutely reject the belief in a personal god, and consider the doctrine of a creation out of nothing a delusion.” In theory Gautama’s doctrine is pure atheism. In fact, however, though Buddhism is strictly no religion, and owns no theology, its worship is hero-worship, Buddha is a god, and his temples are full of debasing idolatry.
Buddhism rests on four ideas: 1. Suffering-which comes as a result of conscious individual existence. 2. The cause of suffering,—the allurements of this world, desire for them, and delight in the other world. 3. The cessation of suffering,—which is reached by the annihilation of all lust of life. 4. Salvation by annihilation is reached through right belief, right feelings, right speech, right actions, right means of livelihood, right endeavor, right memory, and right meditation.
According to Buddhism, man has no soul. The Buddhist catechism has the statement, “The widespread belief in an immortal soul within us…endowed with knowledge, differing from others, created or come into existence . . . arises principally from the egotistical desire for eternal, personal continued existence . . .” Yet when a man dies he appears in another existence, in one of the one hundred thirty-six Buddhist hells, situated in the earth’sinterior, or he is reborn in one of the many heavens, in which the least duration of life is about ten billions of years. In all these reincarnated existences, one may continue as a clod, an animal, a vile insect, or a god. A woman, if she is “lucky” may, in one of those reincarnations, become a man. But the true heaven is annihilation. Human existence is no blessing, but a curse. Misery is no mere stain on life, which if it were blotted out (Is. 43:25) would make for happiness, but is life’s very essence. Death is no escape from misery, for death is only a passage into another form of miserable existence. Escape from this endless round of reincarnations comes only by thinking oneself off into oblivion.
How can this incessant succession of existences continue if there is no soul in man? What is it that is reborn in those other hells or heavens? What is it which needs deliverance from these heavens, to say nothing of the hells, if it is not the soul? The Buddhist catechism sheds its darkness on this question. It is the will to live, man’s moral character. After the disintegration of the body, the will, the moral character creates a new body in a new existence. This “will” or “character” is not the same as what we call “soul” or “the human personality.” There is no “transmigration of souls.” But man is not mere body. He is “the-will-to-live and its moral character.” Doesn’t the reader immediately feel how philosophically unsatisfactory this view of man is?
Ethically, Buddhism is ostensibly an improvement over the Hindu caste system. Buddhism recognizes no caste. “Although in Ceylon where Buddhism is at its purest and where it has prevailed for over two thousand years, caste exercises a strong influence” (Robert E. Speer, The Light of the World). Not caste, but universal brotherhood is taught. A brotherhood which permits renouncing of wife and children! A brotherhood, which “in Ceylon, for example, where the great majority of people are professed Buddhists . . . its people are committing more murders than any other people in the world . . . in proportion to their numbers.”
In time, pure Buddhism became corrupted, permeated with foreign philosophies and religions until it lost its atheistic character, beginning to speak of gods many, abandoned exclusive self-help in favor of God’s help, withdrew from its retirement from the world, taking more interest in the world and in saving others, and even began preaching an immediate passage into Paradise at death without the maze of transmigrations. With this foreign influence and after-thought revision of Buddhism, it is said now to be wonderfully like Christianity, so much so that it may be deemed a divine preparation for the gospel in Buddhist countries. This is like going through purgatory before death.
The differences between Buddhism and Christianity are toto coelo. Buddhism is a quest for light, whereas Christ is the Light of the World. Its atheism gave way to pantheism; but the infinite, eternal, unchangeable, personal God finds no place in it. Buddhism has an endless succession of evil worlds, coming, evolving, declining, decaying, perishing, reviving, and all equally involved in misery, frustration, disillusionment, and transmutation. Christianity has a new heaven and a new earth after the present earth is destroyed by fire, a perfect, purified world wherein righteousness eternally dwells. Buddhism has the essential part of man moving through various conditions, in countless bodies of men and other creatures, to dwell in various hells and heavens with no progressive development, but a constant jumble of transmutations. Christianity holds to one bodily transformation in which at the resurrection our vile bodies are made like Christ’s glorious body. Buddhism tells men of their terrible misery and offers them the hope of billions of deaths in as many future existences. Christianity tells of deliverance from all miseries and of the free gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.