Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Buddhims seeks answers from within, while Christianity relies on help from Above--a look at this Eastern moral philosophy from a Christian perspective.

World Religions—Buddhism>Trust in Self versus Trust in God Philippians 4:11-13 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus Massachusetts

A basic teaching of the Bible is that we can’t make it on our own; we can’t find answers, nor can we attain contentment or purpose apart from trust in God. He is our Source of truth and peace. We may look within, but until we look outside of ourselves and seek God, we will end up in futility and despair. This is what sets Christian teaching apart from Buddhism--who we trust. Buddhist belief has no theology--belief in God (or gods) is optional, and irrelevant. This is because Buddhism is basically a self-help philosophy. Buddhists rely on their own efforts.

Since Buddhism refuses to affirm the existence of a Supreme Being or any supernatural power, can it be called a “religion”? Gautama, the Buddha, did not claim to be divine. Buddhism is a religion in the sense that it provides disciplines, values and directives for its adherents to live by. This is why many see Buddhism as a moral philosophy--a way of understanding and dealing with life, rather than a religion. Buddhists who believe in a Supreme Being view God as an impersonal energy made up of all living things, much like the “Force” of Star Wars. Although Buddhism is without an official creed, “letting go” of life is key to its teachings. There is no speculation as to how or why the world was created; that doesn’t matter. What does matter is release from suffering.

To understand this Eastern system of thought we need to know something of its founder. Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha or “enlightened one”, was born in northern India approximately 560 BC. He is presented more as a type than an individual. After his death, various discourses were collected to convey his life and dharma (system of teaching and discipline/practices). There are three groups of collected sacred writings known as "The Three Baskets" (Tripitaka): The Discipline basket contains rules for the higher class of Buddhists; the Teaching basket contains discourses of the Buddha; and the Metaphysical basket contains Buddhist legends and teaching. The total volume of these three groups of writings is about 11 times longer than the Bible (both the OT & NT).

As a young man, Gautama lived a sheltered, secluded life, kept out of sight from human suffering. His father was a ruler over a district near the Himalayas who surrounded his son with material comforts. One day changed forever the course of the young man’s life. Venturing outside of his home, he happened to see 4 people: an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a beggar. These sights troubled him and led him to seek answers to the problem of human pain.

Gautama’s goal was to get outside of himself by disengaging from life. Restless and disillusioned by life, and in order to find enlightenment, he left his home, his wife and their newborn child, and departed for the open road, renouncing the world as a monk, following an ascetic, homeless lifestyle. He studied and rejected Hinduism; he practiced severe self-denial but was not satisfied. He then turned to meditation. Sitting under a fig tree, he obtained enlightenment; he then gathered followers and began teaching his insight.

In seeking to transcend self, Gautama was serving self. His life seemed meaningless; had he read Ecclesiastes, he would have discovered that without God, the most we can hope to achieve is futility. Solomon warns, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after wind” (1:14). Even the pursuit of wisdom (apart from God) is folly, vs 17. Gautama’s detachment led him to believe he could extinguish the passions and attachments that cause people so much pain. Rather than search for God, he believed he could find answers and wholeness by searching within himself. I was attending a meeting of local businessmen, and one of them shared a “Chinese proverb”: “If you can’t find a solution to your problem, look within.” I was seated next to him, and I was next to speak. I got up and said, “If you can’t find a solution to your problem, look Above.”

Gautama’s path led to what he called Nirvana, or liberation from pain and desire. Nirvana is not Heaven (or a rock group), but an eternal state of being. Some Buddhists see it as annihilation. Nirvana literally means, “the blowing out of a flame”, i.e. the extinction of worldly illusions and passions. Gautama claimed, “I have transcended the world and am no longer touched by it.” Buddhism, unlike Christianity, sees no value in human pain and suffering. It rather seeks freedom from sorrow and pain through meditation. The goal of life in Buddhist thought is emptiness. Desire causes suffering, and Buddhism strives to relieve the soul of its wants. In Karen Armstrong’s recent biography of the Buddha, she writes that “Gautama aspired to an attitude of total equanimity toward others, feeling neither attraction nor antipathy.” We might regard this as apathetic detachment, a far cry from the teachings of Jesus about actively demonstrating compassion for others. Buddhists regard Jesus as an enlightened person, but not as a Savior. In contrast to the teachings of Jesus, Gautama encouraged his followers, “each of you should make himself his island; make himself and no one else his refuge.” Jesus taught that we need one another, and while He said our love for God should exceed our love for family, He did not say that we should abandon our family as Gautama did. Christians do not give up on life but face life with purpose, direction, confidence and strength from God.

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B. Paulson

commented on Sep 20, 2006

I've studied Buddhism, but I'm no scholar of it. However, with only a rudimentary understanding of Buddhism and its history, this article had some major inaccuracies and misconceptions. These would likely be insulting or probably amusing to a knowledgeable practitioner of Buddhism. The title of the article alone is even ironic, being that Buddhist understand the belief in a inherently existing unchanging 'Self' or 'Me' to be at the core of what brings on unsatisfactory existence. In calling it "Buddhism/Self-Trust", it seems to miss this most crucial aspect of Buddhism. On a surface investigation, Buddhism or the idea of Nirvana can seem a bit nihilistic, but such a view is considered in Buddhism as a great error in understanding for a Buddhist to hold, and a major hindrance to their goal of awakening (bodhi). Almost every paragraph in this article wouldn't be very representative of actual Buddhism, but just somebodies notions about it. If people are really looking to understand Buddhism, this take on it won't be of much help. However if somebody is really curious to get some good information, I'd recommend "Foundations of Buddhism" by Rupert Gethin. It's a short book, but covers a lot of ground and really tries to explain some of the more misunderstood concepts in Buddhism. A reader may even be surprised at some of the similarities to the teachings of Jesus. - Rev. B. Paulson

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