Buddhism/Part 8

By: John Ankerberg, John Weldon; ©2000
Buddha is quoted as saying, “analyze as far as possible and see whether what I’m saying makes sense or not. If it doesn’t make sense, discard it….” Ankerberg and Weldon look at some of the Buddha’s teachings to see if they “make sense.”

Talking with Buddhists

The weaknesses of Buddhism are so vast and the strengths of Christianity so powerful that anyone with a grasp of the details of Buddhist and Christian philosophy should at least be able to give their Buddhist friends something to think about. Clive Erricker, a lecturer and prolific writer in the field of religious studies with a special interest in Buddhism, writes accurately of the Buddha when he discusses what the Buddha did not claim. In stark contrast to Jesus (See appendix): “Indeed, he did not even claim that his teachings were a unique and original source of wisdom;….[Citing John Bowker in Worlds of Faith, 1983] Buddha always said, ‘Don’t take what I’m saying [i.e., on my own authority], just try to analyze as far as possible and see whether what I’m saying makes sense or not. If it doesn’t make sense, discard it. If it does make sense, then pick it up.'”[1]

In the material below, we will employ the Buddha’s own admonition and see whether or not what he taught “makes sense.” If it does not, we must also follow his admonition and discard his teaching. To begin, let’s consider the following statement by noted theologian J. I. Packer in light of what we know about Buddhism so far:

God’s world is never friendly to those who forget its Maker. The Buddhists, who link their atheism with a thorough pessimism about life, are to that extent correct. Without God, man loses his bearings in this world. He cannot find them again until he has found the One whose world it is. It is natural that non-believers feel their existence is pointless and miserable….God made life, and God alone can tell us its meaning. If we are to make sense of life in this world, then, we must know about God. And if we want to know about God, we must turn to the Bible.[2]

Buddhism, of course rejects both God and the Bible and thus finds itself in the dilemma mentioned by Packer. So how do we attempt to reach Buddhists who reject so much that is Christian? By stressing what the Buddhist has no possibility of rejecting: his creation in the image of God and all this implies.

Arguments against Buddhism (historical, logical, theological) will not necessarily persuade the convinced Buddhist, many of whom have little love for logic, though they may be effective with a recent Western convert to Buddhism. They do, nevertheless, help the Christian to emphasize the differences between Buddhism and Christianity and to strengthen the Christian’s own conviction as to the truth of his faith.

One of the most fundamental problems in Buddhism is that no one is certain what “True Buddhism” is. First, the manuscript evidence is far too late and unreliable. Buddha’s words were never recorded. It is therefore impossible to ascertain if what we have are the genuine words of Buddha, or merely those of his unenlightened disciples centuries later. (“While the [illusory] surroundings created by Buddha are pure and free from defilement, those created by ordinary men are not so.” Second, the manuscripts we do possess are so contradictory one despairs of ever finding truth. Charles Prebish is Professor of Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University and editor of Buddhism: A Modern Perspective. In his essay, he points out that Buddha told his disciples they could “abolish all the lesser and minor precepts.”[3] Unfortunately, he never identified them, leading to great confusion among his disciples and innumerable sects. Buddhism has thousands of works that claim the authority of the Buddha and yet contain endlessly contrary teachings. So where does the Buddhist turn to find truth?

Then there are the many internal contradictions of Buddhist philosophy. As Buddhist scholar Edward Conze noted in Buddhist Thought in India, the Mahayanists “prefer lucid paradoxes which always remain mindful of logic and deliberately defy it. For they do not mind contradictiong themselves.”[4] Buddhism teaches reincarnation but denies the soul, so what can possibly reincarnate? Spiritually “enlightened” Bodhisattvas vow to work for the enlightenment of all beings, fully knowing such beings never existed to begin with. So how can we grant “wisdom” among those who forsake nirvana to have compassion on non-entities? Why should enlightened beings toy with illusions? And why help save a thing which, according to Buddhist philosophy, must save itself solely by its own efforts? But it doesn’t really matter, for nothing is saved and no soul exists to be enlightened. Then what of the Buddha and his mission? Does it have any relevance? And then what of Buddhism–what’s the point to all its efforts? The truth is, given Buddhist assumptions, it makes no difference at all whether Buddha, Bodhisattvas, or Buddhism ever existed. They do absolutely nothing for the world and they are as much an illusion as everything else.

There are many other contradictions. By definition, sense perceptions do not exist in Nirvana. What then exists to perceive nirvana? And even in samsara, without a soul what permanently exists to perceive suffering? And how can samsara possibly be nirvana? Or, how can Buddhism logically uphold morality when its own philosophy requires it to conclude that even the most noble and virtuous actions can be evil– because all unenlightened actions produce suffering and self-defeating karma by definition. Conversely, by definition, the enlightened, supposedly, can do no evil. But is this what we see among the ranks of the enlightened? To the contrary! They are as subject to evil as the rest of us, often even moreso, if the reports of former disciples are to be believed.[5]

One of the greatest problems of Buddhism is its logically derived social apathy. Professor of Religion Robert E. Hume was correct when he wrote in The World’s Living Religions that, in one sense, “the main trend in Buddhist ethics is negative, repressive, quietistic, non-social.”[6] Christmas Humphreys, the influential Western Buddhist admits this but seems to argue that the alleged self satisfaction offered by Buddhism is reason enough to become a Buddhist: “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 as clear as it is perhaps unique. Comparatively speaking, none. And the reason is clear. One man at peace within lives happily.”[7]

But a man content and at peace with himself who does nothing for anyone is perhaps the worst man of all. Personal contentment is hardly sufficient reason to remain indifferent to the world’s problems. Jesus Christ provides all the personal contentment one can ask for, but he also commanded his disciples to be salt and light in the world. Jesus impells men and women into society to help others not only to achieve this same peace with God, but to help the poor, the needy, the discouraged, the lost by whatever means. The Christian loves his neighbor, and indeed all men, because the God who is there loves them also and because they are made in his image.(James 3:9-10). Because God cares, they care. Because He acts, they act.

The Buddhist, perhaps, senses the indifference that ultimate reality has towards mankind and acts accordingly. If men are delusions, and Nirvana has no concern with them, why should the Buddhist? In fact, a number of Buddhists have recognized the superiority of Christianity at this point. Monk Shojun Bano confesses that “Buddhism is far behind Christianity…Buddhism should learn more from Christianity” while the noted popularizer of Buddhism in the West, D. T. Suzuki, agrees that “Buddhism has a great deal to learn from Christianity.”[8]

But to learn from Christianity is a betrayal of Buddhism. Indeed, the reason Buddhism cannot logically show the compassion Christianity has is because Buddhist philosophy proscribes it. Likewise, the reason Christianity has done the world immeasurable good is because of its theology, illustrated in such scriptures as John 3:16, 1 Cor. 10:24, Romans 5:1-10, 1 Tim. 6:18, etc. The eminent Christian historian Kenneth S. Latourette was certainly correct when he wrote the following in Introducing Buddhism: “Christianity has been the source of far more movements and measures to fight chronic evils and improve the lot of mankind than has Buddhism….Christianity has been the motivating impetus behind anti-slavery campaigns, public health drives, relief activities in behalf of sufferers of war, and the establishment of the nursing profession. It has been responsible for the building of institutions to care for the mentally ill, hospitals, schools and universities, and for the reduction of more languages to writing than can be ascribed to all other forces put together….more than any other religion, it has made life this side of the grave richer.”[9]

By comparison, Buddhism has done virtually nothing for the world. No Buddhist anywhere can logically escape the vast individual and social implications of his own philosophy. Again, if the ego is entirely illusory and exists only to be destroyed, why should any individual ego be loved and care for? Why should a society comprised of such egos be improved? Indeed, the frequently abominable political and social condition of Oriental peoples is largely the sad result of their own religions–which, for some reason, they now insist on bringing to the West. All this is not to say individual Buddhists never do social good. It is to say their philosophy cannot logically establish social concerns and that when this is achieved, they are acting more like Christians than Buddhists. In light of this, and by Buddha’s own admonition, Buddhists should forsake Buddhism and become Christians (see closing paragraph to this section).

No one who enjoys life and understands what Christianity offers can logically think Buddhism offers more– not even Buddhists. Christianity promises not just abundant life now, but a specific kind of abundant life 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 only promises an arduous, lengthy road toward personal non-existence in a nebulous nirvana. In essence, Christianity offers a gracious, instantaneous, free gift of eternal life that Buddhism can never offer.

Buddhism holds that this life, in the final sense, is ultimately not worth living since it is inseparable from suffering. But the core of Christian teaching is that this life, even with suffering, is eminently worth living. (See 1Pet. 4:19) “Life” is the goal–for God exists, He inhabits eternity and never changes, He is love and He loves us. He died for us that we might have life in a special way both now, and forever. He offers salvation from sin, not from life itself. He offers us an eternal heaven.

Thus, Jesus said He came that we might have life and that more abundantly (John 10:10). The Buddhist seeks to “avoid” life. Jesus taught He would redeem the personality, enrich it, and make it beautiful in every way. Buddhism begins by stating the personality is ultimately non-existent.

Consider the contrast provided by Clive Erricker in comparing the Buddhist nirvana and the Christian heaven: “There is a continuing selfhood in heaven which Nirvana denies; there is a tendency to understand heaven as a future state, following on from earthly life, that Nirvana is not; there is a belief that heaven is, at least to some degree, understandable in earthly terms, whereas, Nirvana is not even the opposite of Samsaric existence. Samsaric existence entails the cessation of everything. The problem we then have is that Nirvana sounds dreadfully negative, as though everything precious to us is denied and destroyed.”[10]

Erricker’s statements are true. Since the goal of Buddhism is to destroy the individual person, merely an illusion, everything precious to us as individuals is indeed “denied and destroyed.” But notice the Buddhist response to this unlovely state of affairs: “The Buddhist response to this is that speculation of this kind is simply unhelpful.”[11] In other words, Buddhist teaching does deny and destroy all that is meaningful to human existence but Buddhism has no answers as to the implications. It merely retreats into its particular world view declaring that critical evaluation is “unhelpful.”

Former Buddhist J.I. Yamamoto observes: “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.”[12] As one Buddhist convert to Christianity remarked, “I did not want nirvana. I wanted eternal life.” Nor would most people, one assumes, want nirvana.

But there is a deeper issue in Buddhism that must be addressed–the real problem of humanity and the implications of Eastern notions of karmic “justice” and morality.

At this point, the Buddhist needs to understand that the problem of humanity is much deeper than ignorance or even suffering; the problem is sin–rebellion against God. He needs to understand the absolute necessity of forgiveness through Christ and the loving sacrifice He made at the cross. The Buddhist has never said, “nirvana is love” because love is foreign to Buddhist ultimate reality and to its gods. But it is not just that the Buddhist has never said “nirvana is love,” it is that he logically cannot say it. Buddhist “love” is impersonal; it exists without relationships. But if a God of love really exists, why would one exchange this God for an impersonal Reality –and/or indifferent, and not infrequently wrathful or evil[13] Buddhist deities? In essence, the Buddhist needs to understand that their basic analysis of the human condition is flawed. Far from accomplishing its goal–the ending of suffering–Buddhism has no real solution to suffering.

To begin with, Buddha’s analysis of the human condition was incomplete. His surface perception was valid, that suffering was universal. But his perception was not yet adequate. Why was the man old? Why was the man sick? Why was the beggar suffering? Why had the man died? Buddhism rejects the possibility of separation from God, human sin and a cursed world as explanations for the condition of mankind. When Buddha did seek an answer to the “whys,” he concluded falsely: that personal existence itself was the cause of all suffering. Therefore the goal was to annihilate personal existence. Yet in offering so radical a solution as the destruction of individual existence, Buddha clearly went too far. Again, people don’t want to be annihilated, they want to live forever, hopefully in a much better place–exactly what Christianity offers.

Another error of the Buddha was to assume that suffering is wholly evil. In rejecting God, Buddha not only rejects God’s solution for evil, but the knowledge that suffering can be also something good (1 Pet. 2:30; 3:14, 17; 4:1, 16, 19; 5:10; Rom. 5:3-4; 8:34-9; Js. 1:2; 5:10). Men who suffer often admit that suffering has made them better persons in ways only it could. Even Jesus as a man “learned obedience through the things He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). The suffering of Jesus on the cross, of course, became the salvation of the world (1 Jn. 2:2).

In essence, Buddha was wrong on most counts, at least theologically and anthropologically: the existence of God, the problem of humanity and the solution to the problem, to name a few. Again, individual existence is not the cause of suffering, it is sin. Human extinction is not the solution, it is redemption and immortality. A desire for personal existence is not evil, nor is suffering wholly bad.

Biblically, of course, there is also a great deal that is predicated upon the satisfaction of desires and the hope for personal immortality. It is good and right to desire the glory of God, personal salvation and sanctification, love for others, eternal life, etc.). Consider just a few biblical scriptures which tells us that God is there, that He is personal, that He is gracious and that He desires we enjoy life. That God is good to all men is indeed the scriptural testimony. God desires that “none should perish” and that men should “love life and see good days” (1 Pet. 3:10). God “gives to all men generously and without reproach” (Js. 1:5). In all past generations, God “did good [to you] and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and to do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God “(Ecc. 3:12-13). Truly, “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 33:5). “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made….The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down…You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Ps. 145:8-9, 13-14,16).

Of course, while God is good and loving, this is not necessarily true of men and it is certainly not true of the devil and his demons. These are the source of most evil and suffering in the world.

To digress a moment, whenever there are problems or tragedies in life and God does not seem to be “kind and good,” so to speak, when we see famines or crime or evil governments or natural disasters, we should not suspect God’s goodness (e.g, See John Wenham, The Goodness of God; C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.) These things result from a fallen natural order, our sin, the devil, or the folly of men, not from God. Either the greed and stupidity of men cause calamities such as famines in Communist and socialist regimes, or the evil done by dictators, drug runners, etc., destroys thousands or millions of lives. Sometimes evil reaches such proportions God is literally forced by His own righteousness to send judgment in various forms through weather calamities, economic hardships, etc. Of course, natural and social disasters are not always the direct judgment of God, but if God did not uphold His own holiness and punish evil, things would be far worse. As it is, God is much more merciful and longsuffering than we deserve and far more merciful and longsuffering to evil men than most of us would be. Further, the Bible tells us all men intuitively know God is good despite the evil in the world (e.g., Rom. 1:18-21; 2:14-16; 3:4-6). If God were truly evil, there would be no hope and the conditions of life and our sense of things would be quite different. This is why we never ask, “Why is there so much good in the world?” It’s always, “Why is there so much evil in the world?” We know that evil is the aberration in a universe whose Ruler is good and righteous. (And in fact, the evil that exists is not as prevalent as suggested by our instantaneous, worldwide media reporting and, again, it could be much worse were it not for God’s restraining hand (2 Thess. 2:6-7) and His common grace. On the other hand, things generally are much worse than they need to be because the world rejects God and His law and our children are raised in an environments of paganism, relativism, etc., that can justify almost any behavior.)

Next, the Buddha promised, “If you follow these teachings, you will always be happy.”[14] One wonders, how many of the 400-600,000,000 Buddhists in the world are always happy? At best, their lot in life is rather like the rest of the world. It is difficult to assume their pessimistic philosophy, and the outworking of Buddhist ideas in their cultures would offer blessings of happiness. If Buddhism does not cease suffering even in this life; how can there be a guarantee it will do so in the next life?

Ironically, due to karmic belief which says suffering is inevitable due to misdeeds in a past life, Buddhism may not only ignore the suffering of others but, in another sense, actually perpetuate it. Although given a Buddhist perspective, karma does uphold a form of morality, in another sense karma merely becomes the dispenser of pain. It justifies the acts of the sin nature as inevitable. In an ultimate sense, there are no victims and acts of evil represent people “fulfilling” their karma. Thus, it is a law of “justice” which ordains that the murderer in this life be e.g., murdered in the next: a “justice” which perpetuates crime and evil on the very pretension of satisfying justice. Karma, unlike the Holy Spirit, does not sanctify; it “justifies” the evil men do. It also camouflages the reality of the Fall and sin. Sin is unavoidable, because it is the result of our misdeeds in past lives, the consequences of which we are not easily capable of vanquishing. The sensuality and sorcery of Tantrism, the crass materialism of Nichiren Shoshu’s Buddhism, the pessimism of Buddhism generally, each in their own manner induces pain and difficulty into believer’s lives. In part, then Buddhism itself perpetuates the very suffering it seeks to alleviate. Buddhists may indeed reject God, but it is still His universe in which they must live.

There are definite consequences for suppressing the truth about God, a truth that even Buddhists innately know (Rom. 1:18-32). To live contrary to the truth will, sooner or later, also bring suffering into one’s life (Gal. 6:7). In fact, as noted, in the end Buddhism causes the most terrible form of suffering imaginable: eternal suffering. While Buddhism seeks to put an end to suffering, it maintains this can be accomplished apart from the cross. Such an attitude will only insure suffering for those who adopt it. The only means to truly end suffering is to look at, and accept, the suffering at the Cross (Jn. 3:16).

The simple fact is that Buddhists cannot destroy their “image of God,” their ego, or their personality. They will exist eternally after death. And outside of Christ, they will not end their suffering.

From a Christian view, the irony here is that the two greatest desires of the Buddhist are the two things that can never be attained: cessation of personal existence and cessation of suffering. As long as one remains a Buddhist one can do nothing to prevent the former and can only insure the latter. The one thing that will end their suffering (faith in Jesus’ atonement) is rejected on philosophical and “theological” grounds.

Buddhists need to know that personal immortality is a possibility, without the necessity of a concomitant suffering. In fact, God has promised this as a free gift to those who believe in his Son (Jn. 6:47).

The fact that the gift is free means it cannot be earned. Buddhists, of course, hope to gain merit in this life by pilgrimages to Buddhist temples, assisting monks, giving alms to the needy, preaching Buddhism, etc. One also strives to attain nirvana by one’s own efforts. But it is precisely this kind of works salvation which is so condemned biblically:

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Romans 3:28)
to the one who does not work [for salvation] but, believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. Just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works. (Romans 4:5, 6)
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8)
Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

Finally, above all else Buddhism is an experientially based religion founded in subjectivism. Its “confirmation” lies in the realm of inner experience, not divine revelation.

Buddhism is not primarily a religion of faith or obedience to a superior being. It stresses the importance of personal experience of the goal. While in the earlier stages of the religious life the Buddhist must of necessity take the teachings of Buddhism on faith, it is agreed that finally these teachings must be validated through the experience of enlightenment and nirvana.[15]

Buddhism…does not make a strong distinction between objective and subjective reality….[16]

How can any Buddhist have the assurance of final success based upon a highly speculative philosophy sustained only by mystical experience? Apart from the subjective experience of a mercurial “nirvana,” Buddhism offers not the slightest bit of evidence that its religious doctrines are true. And if, in the end, no one ultimately exists to experience nirvana, what’s the point?

In conclusion, perhaps we may best close by citing the Buddha once again: “Do not believe [me] merely because I am your master. But when you yourselves have seen that a thing is evil and leads to harm and suffering then you should reject it.” Buddhism itself, unfortunately, fits the description because it denies the one true God to whom glory is due, it denies the Son of God who gave his life for us, and it denies man himself as an illusion and the moral standards by which a society is blessed. Based on the Buddhas own words then, Buddhists should logically reject Buddhism. But the Buddha also went on to say, “And when you see that a thing is good and blameless, and leads to blessing and welfare, then you should do such a thing.”[17] Buddhists, then, who agree that Christ was good and blameless, should consider His life and words far more more soberly than they do. And Buddhists who agree that Christianity has far outstripped Buddhism in positive social works, and accomplished great good for mankind, should also look more closely at its message.

Buddhists may indeed be content to live within the confines of the Buddhist worldview. But look what they are missing–eternal life in heaven! Unfortunately, continued indifference to Jesus will cost one dearly. As Christians, we have the privilege of sharing the truth about Jesus with our Buddhist friends, in the hope that they too may inherit eternal life. What could be more wonderful for a Buddhist?


  1. Erricker, pp. 2-3.
  2. J. I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion, p. 22.
  3. Charles Prebish, Buddhism: A Modern Perspective, essay, p.21.
  4. Edward Conze, Buddhist Thought in India, p. 262.
  5. In our Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs we showed how Eastern philosophy logically increases evil by denying that evil has any reality and maintaining the disciple must go beyond good and evil to find enlightenment (Chapters on Altered States of Consciousness, Eastern Gurus, Enlightenment, Meditation, Yoga.)
  6. Robert E. Hume, The World’s Living Religions, p. 73.
  7. In F. L. Woodward, Trans., Some Saying of the Buddha (New York: Oxford University Press 1973), p. X. X. I. I.
  8. Dom Aelred Graham, Conversations: Christian and Buddhist, p. 172; T.N. Callaway, Zen-Way, Jesus-Way, pp. 147-48.
  9. Kenneth S. Latourette, Introducing Buddhism (1956), p. 59.
  10. Erricker, p. 51.
  11. Ibid.
  12. J. Isamu Yamamoto, Beyond Buddhism (Dowers Grover, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1982), p. 118, 123.
  13. e.g., C. Burrows, “The Fierce and Erotic Gods of Buddhism,” Natural History, April, 1972, pp. 26 ff.
  14. TB, p. 20.
  15. Francis H. Cook, “Nirvana” in Prebish (ed.), p. 133.
  16. Walt Anderson, p. 36.
  17. Kalama Sutta, in D.T. Niles, Buddhism and the Claims of Christ, p. 20.


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