Buddhism - Lesson 9

The Rise of Buddhist Philosophy

In Buddhism, actual objects of worship and adoration are ultimately illusory and superseded by true enlightenment. (This lecture begins in the outline, point IX. The Rise of Buddhist Philosophy, point D, #2. The lecture covering IX, points A, B, C and D #1 is not available, but Dr. Tennent is planning to record it.)

Lesson 9
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The Rise of Buddhist Philosophy


In this course, you will gain an in-depth understanding of Buddhism, including its historical background, key concepts, and major branches. You will explore the life and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, and learn about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Additionally, you will examine the differences between the major branches of Buddhism, such as Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, and learn about various Buddhist practices and beliefs, including meditation, karma, rebirth, and the role of the Sangha. Lastly, you will study how Christians can bring hope to Buddhists by sharing the truths of God's character and the salvation of His Son. 


Dr. Timothy Tennent
The Rise of Buddhist Philosophy
Lesson Transcript


Here we are. Let's move on to number two. My second objection. I get a little evangelical perspective. And again, these are objections that you already have anticipated in your questions, which I found to be very encouraging. Okay. If this is true, if number one is true, that automatically leads to the problem of number two, because I mean, because the actual objects of worship and adoration in Buddhism are ultimately illusory and superseded by true enlightenment. These these form my two basic objections to Buddhist thought, these two basic points. Now, I have many other objections, but I think if I had to, you know, I was forced in the book to reduce my objections to two. And so I just these are my two biggest objections. Number one, they don't believe in God. They have no conception of ultimate reality. Therefore, they deny the very possibility of redemption because the Triune God is been cut out of the picture before the discussion begins. But this is what I think even more important, that they have all these objects of awesome adoration, but they're all truly illusory and are superseded. Every branch of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the presence of not just Mahayana Theravada as well, but particularly in the Mahayana position, the transcendent, very deciphers that have been developed in their thought in these various heavenly realms has infiltrated into some aspects of terror, a lot of mainly Mahayana. So most of our discussion and examination of this has kept bringing up this tension. Many of you have pointed it out between, okay, there's my Jamaica, your record philosophy. But then there's also this reality of the Buddhist on the street who goes to visit and burn incense to Maitreya or to some of the other Bodhisattvas celestial body ciphers.


So there's actually, as I point out in my objection, I have never seen in my life or heard of a Buddhist going to worship. SHU Not to it doesn't, it doesn't exist. I've never, ever met or heard of a Buddhist who worships Zenyatta or worships Gita worships mind. What we actually find are countless shrines and temples to celestial bodies, cyphers and celestial Buddhas with a steady stream of Buddhist worshipers. This is not some kind of abstract concept. This is the living faith of millions of Buddhist worldwide. So what do you do with Maitreya? What do you do with a vote like this? Vara to whom Buddhist offer worship, veneration and even petition? The Lotus Sutra talks about 23 different transcendent bodhisattvas. Manju Sri is the one that one of the ones we looked at. What ultimate meaning can be attributed to Manju SRI. What about vocal Swara where the women go to and pray two in hopes of getting a child? How does the worship of vote, which is Vara and then Judiciary and the other bodhisattvas? Maitreya How does that relate to this reality? That seems to me a critical, important point. What Paul Williams observes, which I think is very accurate, and at this point I think he's has a wonderful insight that Buddhism, though atheistic, has developed a functional what he calls his praise is a devotional monotheism. That's his expression. Now we have yet to actually look at different schools of Buddhist thought, which we'll look at in the latter half of the course. Right now we're just laying out the framework of Theravada Mahayana Vajrayana, but once we finish that sequence, we're then going to begin to look at some of the schools of thought and what they call lineages, and particularly if you're know, the Korean context or the Japanese context for Chinese context, that becomes extremely important to how Buddhism is actually followed in practical life.


So what we find is there are people in vast, huge Buddhist lands that will worship a particular bodhisattva in a devotional way, kind of like the the Buckwheat Bhakti movement in Hinduism, if you're familiar with that. And they'll say that's the that's the origin of the book, the movement in the body back from Buddhism that approaches a kind of functional monotheism. So you have this a Buddhist person who goes into the temple, who prays to a particular. Bodhisattva and regards the body's sort for as salvific are going to help them, save them, give them childbirth, give them forgiveness or whatever. So what do you do with that? If you have a you have to accept the fact that ultimately those are illusory and they must be superseded. That represents a huge practical problem for me, because what you have is essentially millions of Buddhist who are under some kind of delusion because they are operating in a functional theism in a larger context of an atheistic religion. That is a problem. Now, the again, I try to give their perspective, Karas replied to this They acknowledge that men, women, children do come to Buddhist temples all over the world. They do bow down before Maitreya and other bodhisattvas. Amitava They do invoke their names in the invocation of Buddhism. They recite their names. They put the names of these bodies up, as in the prayer wheels. They turn them. One of these will look at an invocation of Buddhism as they believed by reciting the name of a Buddhist staffer, you can be saved. And I've seen in India hundreds of times these huge prayer wheels there next to our seminary in India, there is a massive Buddhist temple there, and they have a one prayer wheel that is larger than the circle of this lower level.


Here are huge round prayer. We all, which is constantly being turned. People put the names of these bodies us in there, and they believe that every time that that circles one Tom, that that is a resuscitation of the name. You have hundreds of other little smaller prayer wheels that are maybe like this size that usually form huge portions of temple walls or on leading up to a temple and many, many different ways that people will turn as they go up into the temple. So they believe that that you can even hire somebody to turn it for you if you want to. It's one interesting twist of Buddhism that they have this event to develop this massive salvation by faith where if you just out of the name of what is happening, we say, but they turn into another work because someone said at one point, Well, how do you know? You have said it sincerely. And so in order to make sure that you said sincerely, you need to say it many times. And so there are people who hire people to turn it for them so they can they be out working and business people or whatever. But they have some little boy that's turned a prayer wheel for them, so they have constant prayers going up. Well, this is not some kind of philosophical world. This is the practical experience of Buddha. So they acknowledge all that. The question what your chorus says in reply is that, well, these are all visual aids. The man in the book that I dialog with says to me, Well, isn't it true that if you were to, you know, if a child in the Christian tradition is praying to God, they believe that God is like some big man with a big white beard in the upper corner of the room? Or don't you often use little statues in the Catholic tradition, especially various statues, or even the larger Eastern tradition, especially icons to promote worship and veneration.


And, you know, no one would say if a person goes into a Catholic church and puts a little prayer on the paper and folds it up and sticks it into a little crack by a statue of Mary or someone who goes up and kisses an icon of Athanasius, that they are praying to that picture or to that statue. And this is their argument against me, against us. And therefore, they are saying, even in our tradition and are they're talking about the, you know, the very broadest Christian tradition, of course, because Protestants are not known to go and put pieces of paper in cracks of icons. But we're well aware that this does happen in the Christian tradition, the Ecumenical Council, the church, though we may not like it, the fact is not once but twice the ecumenical tradition did allow for the use of icons in the church. So it is a fact, reality that this is something we do. But even in Protestant churches you have the very famous what is the author or the famous painter of that very famous painting of Jesus? Is it what is the sort of thing that's drawing a blank? But the guy, you know, the kind of picture of Jesus that you see in churches everywhere? I'm drawing a blank, but maybe you can visualize. See, I'm I can you visualize a picture, a painting. I can see it. They also have the one Another one that's very famous is the one where Jesus is knocking on the door and like in the middle of, like a rose garden or something. This is a door they are behind and they don't knock. You see that picture everywhere. Now realize if you go into like, ipswich's. Libertarian church or North Shore Baptist Church or.


I think even having a congregation or you may not ever see any visual image at all, but it is not unusual, even in a Protestant church, to walk into it and see somewhere on the wall a big picture of Jesus, some depiction of Jesus. And he may have like blue eyes and, you know, like really on a weird Western painting, but it's, you know, supposedly depicting Jesus. So they will raise all this and they'll say, Is it true that Christians do use visual imagery? I mean, let's just go one step further. To help them make their point. Now, by the way, I, I, I'm not going to concede this point. I'm just trying to help you see their argumentation. Now they'll say, okay, even the cross itself is a very important visual imagery that you will find in churches everywhere. That is one visual image. I mean, I shouldn't say everywhere, but almost every church has the visual image of the cross. So obviously, if you go up before the altar to take communion or whatever, or you're in church listening to the preacher and there's a cross there that it does invoke certain visual images which presumably are there to promote devotion, promote focus on Christ and so forth, though everyone acknowledges that it transcends that. So, by the way, this would also be a Hindu argumentation and is a Buddhist. Both don't like it when Westerners say that they worship stones. They hate that because they say, we don't worship stones. We use the stones to, you know, as conduits to worship something beyond the stone. Okay. Maybe for many people that's true. For others, I don't think it is true, but I think it's a matter of some dispute. But at the highest level, someone who is truly discussing the religion would say the iconography is depicting something that transcends it.


Okay. So they're saying that people have visual aids for God and therefore they use these visual aids to help them to think of something that's beyond it. So they would say in the final analysis, everyone must recognize that that picture of Jesus is not Jesus. So they say that it's actually childish. It's like a child who has to use a picture of Jesus the corner of the room, or to pray at night for Buddhists to fall down and worship these statues or pictures or whatever icons. But it's meant to point them to something that is beyond them. A bronze statue of Army Taba is not for them a thing to be worshiped. But in a pointer to reality which transcends the statue, they claim the statues are like a raft which leads to a distant shore. But you don't confuse the raft with the shore. Once you get to the other side, you discard the raft. Okay. Now, I think there's some logical fallacies in this argument. Do you want to tell me what they are? Or do you want me to. Let me just. Let me just let you tell me. What do you think? What do you say to that? Do you? How do you compare the Christian visualization of Christian realities? Verities of the faith with what they're saying is the role of Buddhist visualizations in temples in various places around? Well, let's start here and we'll go around this, you know, whatever. I think that's an alternate reality. We're not. That's right. And it's a very important point that just I'm summarizing for the sake of the microphone. The point is that in the Christian understanding, any visualization is, in fact, a pointer to that which is truly real. And so if your help to I seen a cross or a picture of Christ to reflect on the true living Christ.


Fair enough. But that's very different from saying that a visualization is pointing to nothingness. Zenyatta, which does not have any corresponding reality. Okay, Was there other other than coming to become. It's just. Well, yeah. Just be clear, I think. I think we're tracking the same way. I mean, this. That is the point, isn't it? I mean, the fact is that they these Buddhist that are in those temples actually regard that as a real experience. Is part of the problem because what that what they're they are putting their trust in faith in a worship experience that has no ultimate reality to it. And therefore that's a big confidence game. It's a big confidence game because you're actually people are being deceived into believing that by going into that temple and putting food before that idol, that that has some corresponds to some reality, whether in that statue or transcendent statue, either one, there's not it doesn't have a corresponds to reality. It's ultimately illusory and would be superseded by true enlightenment. Therefore, it's a confidence scheme. It's not actually rooted in any reality. So I think your observation is actually I think we're tracking the same. Your observation is the point. That is the point I'm seeking to make, that there is a huge gulf between the living worship of people and temples and the fact that there is no foundation to that in any corresponding reality. The fact they don't know that is even more shocking. I mean, it's one thing to say that they are doing it, but they realize this is going to lead them to not their or whatever. But you're right, the average Buddha aren't even aware that there is this emptiness where nothing they're seeking, they actually are operating functionally a lot like Hindus.


When Hindus go to temples with their. If you did what a lot of themselves would not do not believe. If they if you said there's no ultimate truth in Buddhism, ultimate reality. That's a really good point. And I think it's good to quote a good German. I mean, bashing the Germans all day, let's just say something good about the Germans. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, if you have not yet read his cost of discipleship, then don't walk, run from this class and go to the bookstore and buy it. An eye opening chapter where he says That was marvelous words. When Christ calls a man, he bids them come and die. I think that, you know, is something that's largely lost by our evangelical world because a Jellicoe ism is, it seems to me. I speak as an insider, as an evangelical. I think we have become so obsessed with starting the Christian faith that Christmas is about starting something. You know, we are whole evangelistic kind of enterprise about getting here to start the Christian faith that we don't realize often that Jesus actually doesn't lay the stress there. But on completing it. On ending the ending your life in the faith. He who perseveres to the end will be saved. The importance not just of beginning with Christ, but ending with Christ. There's many people who begin, but there are so few who end. And I think that that involves suffering, involves trials, difficulties. And it's not just, you know, one wonderful, glorious experience after another. There are difficulties and trials. And Jesus doesn't seem to at all evade the fact that following him means death and suffering and difficulty. And so I think that it is fair enough that sometimes we do see people actually, when we portray Christianity in a way that's not actually true.


Like we'll say, if you come to Christ, your marriage will be healed or your financial problems will be solved. Well, okay. It is true. Christ does heal marriage difficulties. Christ does help us in our financial stories, but not always. Sometimes in his sovereign, He chooses not to. I don't understand it why, But I know that the gospel is true. Whether or not it works for me in all of the particularities of my particular situation, the way I think ought to turn out. So even if I get married, for better or for worse, you don't just get married for better. You get married based on the facts of the relationship, not based on assuming it's always going to be wonderful. So I think we do do a disservice when we don't aren't honest about the costs of discipleship. And until you say Christ calls a man and bids him come and die until you cross that bridge, then you can't actually receive all of the good blessings that he wants to give to us. And he does want to bless us and care for us. It's like the whole tension between, you know, ethnicity and ethnocentrism on one hand, an amazing kind of paradox. You have to give up your self to be a Christian. You have to die to self. Jesus himself said, Unless you pick up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. And yet and the amazing thing, as Paul says, I have been crucified with Christ. My identity, my I myself has been crucified. But in the amazing thing is in that process, God, in his incredible grace, gives us our self back. I mean, a wonderful, wonderful, redeemed self back where I think that all of the Buddhists and Hindus fail.


They understand the idea of crucifixion, of self, but they don't understand that this is not to annihilate self. It's only to give us back a true or self so your fulfillment, your joy, will be greatly multiplied, even in suffering not just by the absence of it. God sometimes saves us by delivering us from persecution. Sometimes He delivers us through persecution. And you know, who knows? There's that quote by Hudson Taylor, the fourth, I think it is. It said, get it, get it right. He said, Suffering and success go together if you are successful without suffering is because somebody has suffered before you. If you are suffering without success, it's the others after he may succeed. In other words, these are very much brought together. And the fact that our personal experience at this moment, maybe suffering or experiencing a lot of peace and joy in our observed realities, is only a small slice of the pie the church is called to experience. And I think we have to you know, it's good to have these reflections, also rebuke us a bit because it's not meant to all. By the way, we critique Buddhism to be triumphalist, because even though I believe in the absolute truth of the Christian gospel, I am convinced of the power and truth and certainty of the gospel verities. I do not believe that that exonerates us from being willing to listen and learn and be rebuked where we have in many ways misread our own text. Things like this actually help us sometimes to think about our own. To get get the from the mark of. Perspective, My yarmulke. Yeah, okay. I wasn't sure if they had some niseko philosophy. Unheard of. Yeah, okay. Yeah. From that perspective. So if they're gonna open up and things are the same, then what? There are definitely schools of thought that would.


Yeah, there are definitely school of thought that would say that a person at a certain point of enlightenment has transcended dichotomies. And whether you fall down for the statue or crush it would be irrelevant. But I don't think the average person is not there, though. Of course so. So what? They say that I'm a plan for us to invest. What's that? So when they say that I'm in line for asking that question. I don't know what I would say if I asked them like. No, I think that I mean, you know, one of the things about the we haven't yet discussed cones, but part of the way they determine if you're truly enlightened is to is to give an answer to a famous like a little riddle. What is the sound of one hand clapping and all that? You know, what did your mother's face look like before or what did your face look like before your mother was born? Things like that. But the way it works, though, is it doesn't mean that there's a one give an answer to it. So maybe Carl could come in and give an answer that would be a commended and he would be given the next stage of enlightenment and be granted as what they say. They're one hand grabbing, but you get the same answer and you could be slapped on the face. So the fact that you ask the question not necessarily mean that you're enlightened. Yes, it's a new world. Yes, it does. At a certain level. There's no question that the world is tough, ideal promotes being compassionate. So compassion is one of their five big ethical ideals. And morality is important. We talk about these three basic, you know, kind of touchstones, and one of them is this Sheila Morality, and therefore morality is highly upheld.


And Buddhism is one of the three main things they want to promote. My objection, the book on that, which is beyond our discussion today. But was that the problem with that is that though they do emphasize ethics, ultimately even their ethnic ethics are superseded, Nothing is granted your question because ultimately, if there is no doer of good deeds and no one who truly receives those good deeds, if you transcend both the one who offers the action recipient of the action, then you may as that's a that's an ethical crisis.