An Overview of
Buddhism
h¹b
Beit Midrash (House of Study)
This day in Jewish History ABOUT THIS WEB SITE - THINGS YOU SHOULD PROBABLY KNOW
You will need to download and install the free Greek &
Hebrew fonts
to properly view and print from this site.
Search our Site
Bookmark and Share
If your life is not in jeopardy for what you believe, you’re probably on the wrong side!

Please Note Well — It is not my intent to belittle, unduly criticize, or “bash” anyone who may hold religious persuasions or opinions other than my own. Even though I may absolutely and totally disagree with your opinion, I will defend to the death your God-given right to hold it. Since this website was originally launched in 1995, I have continually held the position that I am not “anti-”anybody; I am only pro-Truth [click here for the definition of “Truth”].

    I firmly believe that it can be proven with absolute certainty that the Bible, and the Bible only, is the revealed Word of God, and is the standard by which all knowledge and opinion must be judged. Information on this website that concerns non-Biblical religious beliefs is provided for the sole purpose of comparing those beliefs with the Revealed Truth of the Bible. I also attempt to demonstrate how far the Body of Messiah has drifted from its Jewish origins. We earnestly await the return of Messiah and the “Restoration of All Things” as promised by the prophets. If you disagree with my position, please click this link before emailing me.

Overview of Buddhism[1]
by Grady L. Davis, MDiv, PhD [SOURCE]

See also: The Vocabulary of Buddhism

BuddhaSiddhartha Gautama was born a Hindu about 560 B.C.E. at Lumbini in what is now Napal, near the border of India.

Tradition says that when Gautama was born, a seer prophesied that he would become the greatest ruler in history. The seer added that if Gautama were to see four things (sickness, old age, death, and a monk who had renounced the world) that he would give up his earthly rule and discover a way of salvation for all mankind.

Gautama’s father, wanting him to become a great earthly ruler, built a palace for his son. He gave strict orders that neither the sick, the old, a dead body, nor a monk could be allowed near the palace. Gautama grew up in this protected environment, and later married a beautiful girl, Yasodhara, who bore him a son.

But “the gods” had other plans for Gautama. One day as he rode through the park that surrounded his palace, he saw a man covered with terrible sores, a man tottering with age, a corpse being carried to its grave, and a begging monk who appeared peaceful and happy.

That night, as Gautama later reported, he began to think about the look of peace on the face of the monk. He began to wonder if there was more to life than the luxuries of his palace. Late that night he took a last look at his sleeping wife and child, then left the palace forever.

Gautama, now 29 years old, was determined to solve the riddle of life. He shaved his head, put on a yellow robe, and wandered the countryside as a beggar monk. First he studied the Upanishads (the concluding portions of the Hindu Vedas, which teach that every man men can reach a divine state if he strives for it) with the finest teachers, but be could find no satisfaction in these writings. He starved himself until he was a walking skeleton, but this brought him no happiness either.

Gautama Becomes “the Enlightened One"

Finally, he sat under a tree for 40 days and nights. He swore that he would not move until he found what he was searching for. During this time, Mara (the evil one) tried to make him give up his quest. Then, at the end of the 40 days he experienced nirvana (the final state of oneness with “god”). He felt that be had found salvation. From then on, he was known as “Buddha,” or the “enlightened one.”

After this experience, Gautama Buddha went back to the world of man. He began to preach and teach about the meaning of life and his way of salvation. Soon, he founded the Sangba, an order of monks. By the time Gautama Buddha died, 45 years later (515 BCE), many thousands had accepted his religion.

In some ways, Buddhism is similar to the Hinduism from which it evolved. But in other ways, it is quite different.

Buddha denied that the Vedas and the Upanishads were divine writings. He said they were of no help in finding the way of salvation. He also denied that man has an atman (soul) which is a part of the paramatman (world soul), and that the present world is maya (unreal). He did accept the Hindu teachings on reincarnation along with karma (the duty one has to perform according to his station in life).

The Middle Way and the Four Noble Truths

But most important was Buddha’s theory of the “Middle Way.” For Buddha, the Middle Way is a spiritual path of salvation that winds between the complicated religion of the Hindus and the world of sensuality that he had known.

Buddha strongly opposed the caste system of the Hindus (which is based on the Hindu teaching that a person much reach the Brahman caste through transmigration [reincarnation] before he can attain moksha, the infinite). Buddha taught that nirvana (the infinite) is for anyone, regardless of caste. This made Buddhism very appealing, especially to the lower classes.

Instead of the hard-to-define teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism offers clear, firm rules for its followers. When Buddha preached in Benares, India, he presented the four main principles of Buddhism. These have come to be called the “Four Noble Truths.” They are:

 1. Suffering is universal. By this the Buddhist means that the very act of living must include suffering, In each of a person’s incarnations, he must suffer. Salvation (nirvana) is to be released from this unending cycle of suffering.

 2. The cause of suffering is craving (selfish desire). Man remains in this endless cycle because he is too attached to the world. The Buddhist calls this tanha, or desire.

 3. The cure for suffering is to eliminate craving. Since to live is to suffer, and since suffering is caused by craving, if craving were removed, suffering would be over. This was Buddha’s great discovery: if a person could put an end to craving, he would put an end to suffering.

 4. Eliminate craving by following the Middle Way — the Noble Eightfold Path.

Thus Buddha did what the Hindus could not do. He isolated the cause of man’s inability to escape from the squirrel cage of death and rebirth, and be gave it a name, tanba. This system he called the “Eightfold Path.”

The Eightfold Path consists of eight ways of right living:

 1. right viewpoint,

 2. right aspiration,

 3. right speech,

 4. right behavior,

 5. right occupation

 6. right effort,

 7. right mindfulness, and

 8. right meditation.

Buddha claimed that whoever could follow the Eightfold Path would eventually reach nirvana, a release from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. When Buddha was asked to define the state of nirvana, he always said that he had never tried to solve this question. His mission was to show man the way to escape the suffering of life, not to describe what he would find once he had been liberated.

Hinduism says that life in this world is meaningless. Buddhism says that life in this world is quite real. It involves real suffering, but because of this suffering, the world must be escaped.

Buddhism has always had great appeal for the peoples of the East. Unlike the elitist ideas of Hinduism, Buddhism offers a precise definition of man’s problem along with an exact “plan of salvation” for everyone.

Buddhism was popular in India for several centuries until it was driven out by “reformed” Hinduism and the new Muslim faith.

During the first thousand years after Messiah, while the Gospel was being carried all over Europe, Buddhist monks took their religion along the trade routes to China, Japan, and Tibet. By 1960, from Ceylon to Japan, there were probably half a billion people who followed the teachings of Buddha.

Twenty-first Century Forms of Buddhism

Twenty-first-century Buddhism takes a wide variety of forms. In Tibet, it’s demon worship; in Japan, it’s the new militant, nationalistic cult of Soka Gokkai. But the two main forms of Buddhism are Hinayana and Mahayana.

Hinayana means “the doctrine of the lesser way,” referring to the belief that only a fortunate few can find nirvana — those who absolutely follow the way of Buddha. Since this was a derogatory name given by the critics, the name was later changed to Theravada Buddhism. Theravada (the way of the elders) emphasizes the monastic life. This branch of Buddhism has become very wealthy through gifts of land and money for monasteries. Theravada Buddhism is dominant today in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

Mahayana, the teaching of the “greater way,” teaches that Buddha believed that salvation Is for all people. Buddha taught that only man could save himself, but Mahayana developed the idea of a “savior god.” This was their reasoning: Buddha had remained on the earth for 45 years. He could have gone to nirvana. Instead, he decided to stay to save mankind. Thus Buddha (and others like him) was a savior to mankind and can still be called on by the faithful.

From all this, it can be seen that Theravada and Mahayana differ radically in their opinion of Buddha. To Theravada, Buddha was only a teacher (as Buddha himself claimed), but Mahayana has raised him to the position of a savior-god for all people. Because of this, Mahayana Buddhism is by far the more popular. it is influential in China, Tibet, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea.

Buddhism still enjoys phenomenal growth, not only in Asia, but also in the West. Therefore, one must ask the question, “how well does it answer the needs of mankind?"

Buddhism claims that wherever it has gone it has raised the ethics of people, promoting honesty, sexual morality, and sobriety. On the other hand, Buddhism criticizes the “Christian” West for wars and the use of nuclear bombs. Of course, this is about as appropriate as asserting that Christianity produced Nazism (even though the Nazi movement found much of its support in the anti-Semitic teaching of Martin Luther and claimed to be doing the work of G-d.) Buddhist have also conveniently forgotten that much of the trouble in recent years in Southeast Asia has been caused by ambitious Buddhist monks.

Buddhism also claims that it is designed to do away with suffering. This would be more convincing if Buddhists were active in social work, but actually they have done almost nothing in this field. The Buddhist thinks that escape from suffering is one’s own personal row to hoe. He wouldn’t dream of interfering with someone else’s problems. The Buddhist has a fatalistic view of life; suffering is part of life — it cannot be removed. Each person must find his own way of escape and not worry about other people. Contrast this with the Biblical view. Five hundred twenty years after the death of Buddha, Yeshua appeared to bring full and abundant life, not only in the world to come, but in this world. Buddha claimed to have found a way, but Yeshua claimed that He is the way. How do these two claims compare?

Comparing Buddha’s Teaching with the Bible

Buddha said that “to live is to suffer,” but he gave no reason for suffering. The Bible agrees that suffering is everywhere, but it provides an explanation for suffering.

Romans 8:18-23 says that the entire world “groans” and that all men suffer because of sin. Romans 5 tells us that when Adam sinned, he infected the entire bloodstream of humanity with sickness, suffering, and death. The Bible also declares men are sinners by choice. In the biblical view, sin is basically rebellion against God.

Buddha correctly observed that suffering comes from a desire for the things of the world. The Bible calls these desires temptation.

James 1:13-15 points out that a man is enticed from within, by evil desires, lusts, and passions or appetites which tend to get out of control. When a person yields to these temptations, he sins. The result of sin is spiritual suffering and death (see Romans 6:23).

The Bible agrees that the cause of suffering is selfish desire, but disagrees with the Buddhist way of removing this desire.

Buddha taught that the only way to rid oneself of selfish desire was through self-effort. For centuries his followers have tried to stay on the Eightfold Path, but many have found that “the heart is deceitful above all things … and beyond cure. Who can stand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) and will sabotage the best of human intentions.

For a person to master himself, he must have a higher source of strength. But Buddha is agnostic. He ignores the possibility of help from God. Rav Sha'ul (Titus 3:3-8) reminds us that every Believer in Messiah was once a slave to desire and to all sorts of selfish hungers, but that Messiah came into the world as God and as man to supply the strength to overcome these desires. Without the help of God the only way to end desire is to die. But with God, we can become “new creatures” who die (figuratively) to selfish desires. (See also John 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20.)

Buddha said that to end desire one must follow the Eightfold Path: right viewpoint, aspiration, speech, behavior, occupation, effort, mindfulness, and meditation. These noble ideas are much like those taught by Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount.

How True Biblical Faith Goes Beyond Buddhism

The problem with Buddhism is that its goals are beyond man’s ability to reach. Yeshua set the same kind of standards, but He also gives strength to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Messiah shares in the life of the true believer. On the night before He was crucified, Yeshua gave His talmidim (disciples) a perfect illustration of how to live a successful Believer’s life. He compared Himself to a grapevine and His followers to the grapevine’s branches, because He knew His talmidim would be familiar with a plant that grew all over Israel. It might be easier for people today to picture a rose bush, or a fruit tree, but the analogy is the same.

Yeshua said: “You [the branches] must go on growing in Me [the vine or main trunk]. It is the man who shares My life and whose life I share who proves fruitful. For the plain fact is that apart from Me you can do nothing at all. The man who does not share My life is like a branch that is broken off and withers away. He becomes just like the dry sticks that men pick up and use for firewood. But if you live your life in Me, and My words live in your hearts, you can ask for whatever you like and it will come true for you.” (John 15:4-7, Phillips)

And Yeshua went on to say: “You must go on living in My love. If you keep My commandments [the Torah] you will live in My love just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and live in His love.” (vv. 9,10)

Yeshua HaMashiach gives His followers two vital ingredients for effective living: power and authority. The Believer in Messiah increases or limits that power in direct proportion to how much of his life he really shares with his Lord and how obedient he is to his Lord.

The Choice Everyone Must Make

Messiah does not simply give the Believer a list of commandments and orders to obey. He promises to help the Believer grow and change and develop, just as a vine, a bush, or a tree grows under proper care. The Buddhist on the other hand has eight guidelines for the right way to live, but Buddha promises him no power to live that way. And Buddha has no real authority for saying these eight steps are right, noble as these eight steps may sound. Messiah says, “I am the way” (John 14:8) and He proved His power and authority by rising from the dead. That same power and authority is available to who put their entire trust in Him, but many Believers never fully realize what Messiah can do for them because they don’t really live their lives in Him.

Buddha taught: “You yourself must make the effort.” Messiah teaches: “Turn yourself over to Me and I will give you power to live successfully.”

Every person, Messianic Believer or otherwise, faces this choice: self-effort or yielding everything to Messiah as Savior and Lord. When Believers accept Messiah only as a Savior, but fail to obey Him as Lord, they shortchange themselves and in many respects are no better off than the Buddhist who grapples with craving (selfish desire) in his own strength. Perhaps a lesson the Messianic Believer can learn from the Buddhist is to recognize that even though he is “saved through trust in Messiah” there is still craving (selfish desire) in his life. That craving is there because he has not turned everything over to the One who has plainly said, “Without Me (without living all of your life in Me) you can do nothing.” The true Believer must make Yeshua HaMashiach the Lord of his life.

Israel at the Time of Buddha[2]

The Babylonian exile began in about 605 BCE with Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on Jerusalem under King Jehoiakim, and the first deportation, which included Daniel and his three friends (Daniel 1:1-6). Later, in 597 BCE, on another expedition to Israel, after certain rebellious acts of the Judean kings Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin made punishment necessary, Nebuchadnezzar again made Jerusalem submit. He carried off 10,000 captives, among them King Jehoiachin and the young prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-3; cp. 2 Chronicles 36:10; 2 Kings 24:8-20). Finally, in 586 BCE, after a long siege, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the Temple and broke up the entire Jewish community (2 Kings 25:1-7; Jeremiah 34:1-7; 39:1-7; 52:2-11).

Restoration to the land began in 538 BCE (when Gautama was about 22 years old), when the victorious Cyrus, king of the new Medo-Persian empire and conqueror of Babylon, decreed the Jews could return (2 Chronicles 36:22,23; Ezra 1:1-4). The exile, during which residence in Jerusalem by exiles was forbidden, lasted about forty-eight years. The Temple, however, was not restored until about 515 BCE (Ezra 6:15) — the year of the Buddha’s death — about seventy years after its destruction in 586 BCE.

_______________

[1] Riddenour, Fritz, So What’s the Difference? Glendale, GL Publications, 1980, pp 83-92. [RETURN]

[2] Introductory notes to Daniel, The Open Bible: Walk Thru the Bible Reference Edition. Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987. [RETURN]

Page last updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:19 AM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)