Buddhism - Lesson 15

Explorations in Buddhist Apologetics (Part 4)

Buddhism and Christianity have fundamental theological differences.

Lesson 15
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Explorations in Buddhist Apologetics (Part 4)

Penetrating the Buddhist Heart

Part 4

II. Explorations in Buddhist Apologetics (part 4)

A. Ten Insights from Buddhist converts: an inside view


B. Ten Theological Issues in Buddhism and Christianity in Relation to Apologetics

1. Christ in Buddhism and Christianity: historicity and universality

See, Raimundo Panikkar, The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha

2. The meaning of ‘self’ in Buddhism and Christianity

See, Lynn A. deSilva, The Problem of the Self in Buddhism and Christianity

See, Bryan de Kretser, Man in Buddhism and Christianity

3. The role of ‘suffering’ – normative and vicarious in Buddhism and Christianity

See, H. P. Liddon, Essays and Addresses, especially part 1, lecture 2 on Comparisons between Buddhism and Christianity

4. The nature of creation / phenomenal world: ex-nihilio or in-nihilio?

See, Ninian Smart, Buddhism and the Death of God

5. Kerygma Counts: What is the message of Buddhism vis a vis the message of Christianity?

See, Archibald Scott, Buddhism and Christianity: A Parallel and a Contrast, especially Lecture #4, “The Dharma of Buddha and the Gospel of Christ"

See, Tucker N. Callaway, Zen Way – Jesus Way

6. The nature of community: Sangha vs. Church?

See, Archibald Scott, Buddhism and Christianity: A Parallel and a Contrast, especially Lecture #5, “The Buddhist Sangha and the Christian Church"

7. Vocation: renunciation or life in the world: sannyasin or householder?

See, Kenneth J. Saunders, Christianity and Buddhism, especially chapter three entitled, “The Living Forces of Buddhism and Christianity”

8. Karma and Redemption

Self-justification vs. salvation through another

8-fold path vs. personal savior

See, A. G. Hogg, Karma and Redemption

9. Desiring God vs. the emptying of all desire

See, John Piper’s Desiring God for a clear exposition of the redemptive aspect of desire

10. Nirvana vs. Heaven: annicca vs. permanence

See, Raimundo Panikkar, The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha (especially, chapter 5 devoted completely to Nirvana)

Class Resources

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
Explorations in Buddhist Apologetics (Part 4)
Lesson Transcript


What I want to do at this point, and this may be just kind of really briefly highlighting this, but we don't have time to fully explore. And a lot of it, I think we can kind of see where I'm going. What I like to do is to envision what I would call the contours of apologetic discourse. That's what I would really call this. What is the shape of the apologetic conversation between Christianity and Buddhism? And what I've done is I have received a handout. I've identified ten areas you should have front and back, by the way, make sure you have front and back. Ten areas that are key theological issues that separate Buddhism and Christianity. I think this is a great book to try to explore these contours in Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism as well. Actually not these TimIt ten for each of the three separate ones. I have chosen these ten. This comes from my own thinking. It could go to revision as I reflect on it more. But what I've done is I've given what I think are at least some of the top issues in Buddhism, in Christianity. Now I've given a book to give you further place to study and to learn about this particular issue. Certain people have done a lot of work in each of these areas, and I found all of the books that are here. I've got a dozen of at least to be helpful. These are all in our library or indeed the PTI, and therefore you can easily get them. One of the challenges in this whole process is clarifying the meaning of words that comes out all through all ten of these. Let me quote from the 1928 Jerusalem conference. Kenneth Saunders, who is right, is speaking my Christian perspective.


And I think this summarizes the basic problem that we as evangelicals face in this whole interreligious dialog discourse. Listen to this. If I don't have any overhead but listen to us, whatever our Christology or our Buddha apologies may be, the great fact remains that behind all religions there is religion evolving behind all religions. That is to say, Islam. But it isn't Hindu. There is religion, capital are religious consciousness of man. Okay, Now that pervades the literature to this day, that mentality that's 1928 is a set at the famous World Missionary conference in Jerusalem. What has happened today with evangelicals must reengage or not reengage, engage, because largely we have not engaged in this whole issue of of Christianity and Buddhism. But we have to be aware of the subtle shift from theology to anthropology, because what this person is saying is that religion is essentially arising out of the consciousness of humans. This is a human endeavor. We're religious people and this is a projection on to the heavens, as it were. This is not there's no objective God. Otherwise you can't reconcile Buddhism to Buddhism, rejects God, and therefore the larger religious community that tries to boil things down to a common denominator has to get below the water mark of theism. And so once you get down to that level, you slowly are moving down from theology, the reflection on God to anthropology, the reflection on man. That's what happened. The statement. Now, listen, this next statement makes the mystics are the experts who experience the truth by which the rest of us live. That is the romanticized view of Eastern spirituality that comes out according to their upbringing environment. They give the ineffable a local habitation in name, but the missionary must get behind names to realities.


There's a growing recognition among such Buddhist scholars as D.T. Suzuki. This is the guy who brought Zen to America in such Christians scholars as Rudolf Otto. The idea of the Holy that what the German mystic calls does next, and the Upanishads, seer, Netty, that means nothing. Nothing, nothing. Not this, not this. The Buddhist calls Zenyatta. It is quote that from which words turn back. It's an exact quote from D.T. Suzuki. In other words, what he is saying is that we have no reliable trust in words. The word Christ cross resurrection. These are merely metaphorical expressions to get beyond a religious consciousness and that what Christians name our resurrection is what a Buddhist means by strong, not doubt and whatever, whatever, whatever is trying to find a way to route this whole discussion in phenomenology that is religious experience rather than in any objective, his historicity. This is why I've made very strongly the statement earlier today that Christianity is rooted in history. That's much one of the big differences, and we'll look at that as our first one. So there is a huge, huge avalanche of water that's rushing. In on us to try to get us to abandon the meaning of words and to talk about Buddhism in relation to the Christian experience and Buddhist experience, rather than any kind of propositional truths or any kind of historical facts or any objectivity to be very, very aware of that in these, of course, in the books are full of this, full of this. If you notice the opening line of my book, which Ed Baker said to me. She said, This is one of those provocative opening lines of a book I've ever edited, but I'm happy you did. It says, okay, great. But the opening of our book is, if I can recall it exactly, said something like this.


Although I've read dozens of books on inter-religious dialog, I've enjoyed precious few of them. And the reason is because the Christianity that's present in these books is not Christianity at all. It's something else. And I think that's the basic problem. There's all kinds of, you know, just dialog going on. But those who represent Christianity have already given up the historicity of the faith before they ever engage in the dialog. And so we end up with this kind of phenomenological stuff. Everyone's already talking about religious consciousness. So I want to highlight ten areas briefly that we have to draw clear lines. One is what does the word Christ mean in Buddhism? The on one hand, we believe Christ is universally presented the logos. Christ brings light every man in the world. All of that, I think, is certainly there. But we have to also be very clear on the historicity of the Gospel. Jesus Christ has broken into real history. The Buddhist believe in the cyclical interpretation of history, which means life's meaninglessness. And Christianity talks about a clear sense of of history. So I think one of the key problems in the Christian gospel presentation is how the person of Christ relates to the Christian charisma, as well as to the historical Jesus of Nazareth. It's quite easy to accept Jesus a moral teacher, a moral prophet, believes that the low gloss has meant for himself in many ways, including Buddha or whatever is often said. But how do we actually present the historical Jesus into the world, into the Buddhist context? I have, again, a quote from Raymundo Punnett. KARR If you don't know the name Punnett Carr, you will know him soon because he if you follow this field up in he he's a very famous writer.


He's a has an Indian mother, Spanish father. He embodies kind of the east west in his own life, brilliant, brilliant scholar. And I never forget in my dissertation, one of the examiners said to me, Why didn't you call Raimundo panic or more in your dissertation? Okay. So when that mother said to you, your heart freezes up because you know, someone says, why didn't you quote so-and-so? You just failed. All right. But I just gave him the honest answer and he roared with laughter and said, okay, well, enough accepted. I said to him, I gave him a lot of books. I've read of them in a panic. I said, I've read this, I've read this, I read this. I benefit from all that said. But the dissertation is a three year process, and I didn't even begin to understand panic cards. I got into the last half my third year, to which he roared with laughter. Because the guy's extremely complex writer. So as I could, I didn't have time to quote him because the guy was too complex. I didn't understand him. So you have to have a Ph.D. to even read his books. So give me the degree and then I'll go out and read his books, write about it. But it's so true. The guy is very complex, but he's had a tremendous influence. And he and I'm quoting him here, he says, at bottom, Christianity does not say anything very different from Brahmin ism that says this is the Hindu religion, only that whereas the latter absolutely is the dynamic cosmic sacrificial act without referring to a particular figure. Christianity personifies it that the son of man incarnation takes the place of sacrifice. Thus, in Christianity, the Incarnation becomes the bridge by which traditional Christian language can say that God became human so that humankind might become God.


Brahman ism does this this sacrifice. It's also about humankind becoming God. So what he's basically saying is, when you boil it all down, we're all talking at the same thing. We're not talking about the same thing. This is not at all what's going on. The historicity is completely undermined in this work by art. Others to the mean of self and Buddhism of Christianity. I have discussed this already a lot. This came up in the testimonies, this marvelous book by Leonardo da Silva. The problem of self and Buddhism and Christianity were and it is a he. By the way, this is a scholar with a name Lin, but he has written a number of books on Buddhism. Very insightful, a lot of it probing theologically mean of self. He talks about a lot of the if remember the five aggregates we looked at Rupa Madonna subject, so forth, the five aggregates which are all. Rooted in the cause and effect. And he argues that the Buddhist scholars say there's no core, no self around which the person is built. Christianity, of course, it does affirm that. And so there's a real strong dividing line in Buddhism, Christianity, and the whole doctrine of self. What does the word self mean in Buddhism of Christianity that has to be explored very, very vigorously. Thirdly, the role of suffering. Is it normative? This is something that's interesting because at the core of Buddhism is the first of all, truth, all of life is do car suffering. That means suffering is normative for Buddhist view of the world. Christianity has its central imagery in the suffering of Christ who suffers vicariously for the world. In what way is suffering normative in the Christian experience? How is Christ suffering for us vicariously? Of course, the role of precariousness in Buddhism is very important as it goes out in the Mahayana and the Bodhisattva ideal.


But this is a very, very important point that the starting point of Buddhism is Duka The starting point of Christianity is a suffering on the cross. How does Duca and the Cross relate to each other? And again, I think that the though I'm not work this out theologically my own writings, but I think the key is that Duka is disembodied, is generalized in the Buddhist worldview. This is about general human suffering. Christianity, suffering is rooted in the person of Christ who suffers, and it is through Christ suffering that the world is alleviated. That's why I said last time, We don't need a path. We need a savior. Buddhism offers a path. Christianity offers a savior. And that's compromised in Mahayana, but is not is the original Buddhist vision. So these are all areas of vast exploration that need to be done. A fourth critical area is the nature of creation, the phenomenal world of contrast. I use an expression ex nihilo or in nihilo, out of nothing into nothing is a kind of a play on words. But Christianity talks about that God created out of nothing. In other words, he took his starting point is nothingness, you could say, outside of his own being. Christ did the Word of God. Christ calls the creation into being. Now that means that the creation has meaning. It has value because it has his embodied word that has called into into in the being. So that's why in the marriage liturgy, we say Christ sanctified marriage by his presence in Kaner of Galilee. The very fact of the incarnation means when God took on human flesh, it further testifies to the value of the material body. He ate food. This sanctifies it. Jesus visited wedding feast. Jesus drank wine.


He ate meat. He, you know, Jesus is empowering the world by virtue of his presence in it. So both in creation, where God saw all that he made and it was good, not it was bad. It's run from or denied it was good. And the incarnation. This provides a very powerful doctrine of creation. We are called the stewards of the world. We walk in the world, as is regions in the world, all of that. So not only that, we have the glorification, the renewed creation and of time creation is not dissolved, it's transformed. It's re recreated yet again. So even higher level. So we have this where God is calling things into being and giving it its own good order. And so again, I raise this question with the with the Hindus, because in my book on Indian foundations, because they want to rank things in material order as increasingly evil. So they say a worm is a greater evil than a bird all the way up to a man or whatever else, because that worm is suffering from greater karmic debt. Or in Buddhism, a more negative force of karmic energy. But that's not the Christian position. The worm has dignity because the worm is doing exactly what God created to do. The worm is being a worm, and there's no embarrassment in that worm. It can be a proud worm. And whatever worms do to be proud, I mean, they can you know, he can hold up his sky. All right. In contrast, Buddhism is not starting from nothingness, calling forth, being meaning dignity. It is going into nothingness. It is denying the world, denying the any dignity of creation, but actually saying this is an impediment to our realization. It's increasingly isolated non relation to all that we've already discussed into nothingness.


The world has meaning for Christians because it is the context God. Created to give us relationships both with one another and with him. And Buddhism denies that. Fifthly, charisma counts. What is the message of Buddhism vis a vis the message of Christianity? You could ask another way. How do you compare the dharma of Buddhism and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I have here this. All these have books by them. But number five, by Archibald Scott. Buddhism of Christianity. A parallel in a contrast, especially Chapter four The Dharma of Buddha and the Gospel of Christ. In that lecture, Dr. Scott raises the question. He says, What is the basic message of the Buddha? Now, I would put that by saying, if you had to say, what is the charisma of Buddhism? Okay, we reduce it to a creedal affirmation, perhaps whatever. What is the basic message of Buddhism? What is the good news of Buddhism? I guess the goodness of Buddhism. Well, what is it? You tell me. You've had the whole course now. What is the good news of Buddhism? What is the what's the core message? What's that? There is a way to escape the awesome sorrow. And what is it? It's all part of the that's the core of the good news of Buddhism. There is a way out of this mess. I've seen it, I've found it. I've lived it. You could say if Christians say, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, etc., etc., the Buddhists could say, I believe in the fundamental truths eightfold path, but then they have to qualify the fact there's no I who believes in this. That's just a theory. Okay, so if you could say what is the central symbol of the Christian correct mean, what would it be? What's the central symbol of the Christian faith? The cross was the central symbol of Buddhism.


It's that's an important one. It's not the central one, though. The wheel. The wheel wheel has no beginning or end. Okay, Wheel. There's no eschaton to a wheel. There's no telos. Cross involves a in Iraq. This is the whole cross in Iraq's horizontal and vertical. You've got a powerful image. Christ, death, heaven, earth, powerful historical encounter. The cross represents a particular moment in history. Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross at a particular moment in time. The wheel is about endless history. No resolution. The cross points outward to the whole world. Christ, outstretched arms and the cross are reaching out to the world. The wheel ultimately turns inward. Jesus does not arrive at the good news. After countless lifetimes of struggle and search, He brings the good news from heaven, announces it in the kingdom. Jesus, I call man to strive and find liberation from sovereign. He says, I am the resurrection. I am the life. I am the way, the truth and the life. That's a very powerful, positive thing. So we have to get to this core message. Don't gloss that over with a kind of similarity of language. The core message of Buddhism and the core message of Christianity are fundamentally different now. Maybe Buddhism is right and Christianity is wrong. Maybe that's true. We have to accept the possibility. If Buddhism is right, then we're wrong. If we're right, Buddhism is wrong. What we can't say is that we're both right. We might both be wrong. We can't both be right. There are two distinctly different messages, and I don't believe the Buddhist claim has historical or empirical or any other evidence to demonstrate to me that it's more compelling than the testimony of the Apostles, the nature of community sangha versus the church.


What is the real nature of these communities? You can talk about it in generalized language, but community is for the purpose of withdrawal. In the Buddhist context, church is a community to live out the life of the redeemed community before the eyes of a watching hurting world. I think even a monastic life in Christianity is dedicated toward that end. In its original context. Invoke one of these. The Buddhist converts repeatedly say they're just so amazed that even the Buddhist, even the Christian monastic life is so fundamentally different from the Buddhist monastic life. The monks are involved in all kinds of service and outreach and serving the poor and involving neighborhoods. I mean, the Catholics have done so much. I mean, look at Boston, the work they've done over the years. This current scandal kind of clouds all that. But in fact, historically, the Catholics have made a tremendous influence of the gospel through their Ministry of Mercy. And look at Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa in Calcutta is so revered when she passed away, as you remember, it happened right at the same time that Princess Di was tragically killed. So the Western world, this is amazing. Picture the Western world hardly knew the Mother Teresa died and then no one knew what to do with that because there's this huge story about Princess Di kind of swallowed up everything else. It's like, you know, C.S. Lewis died on the same day of JFK was shot. And so the most significant person, probably at least from a Christian point of view, passed away unnoticed because JFK assassination swallowed up. The something else happened in the 22nd that under 63, in the same way this occurred in the context of what am I saying, I'm sorry. A Mother Teresa, Right.


Andrew Blunt When Mother Teresa died, had I got off on C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa died. It was on national television all day long in India, all day long. They televise it live. She was a great testimony of Christianity in general. Now you know the gospel. How that relates to evangelical witness in India is another thing. But it's a powerful, powerful thing that that we see in the way Christians approach even monastic life, the vocation, renunciation or life in the world. You might again, in the Eastern context, the life of a Son Yasin or a householder Son Yasin means a world renowned sir. It's very it's a great ideal. In the eastern world, Householder represents the life of the person engaged in the world marriage, family, job, whatever the whole thing Jesus said. I ask that you not take them out of the world. I think that's a very important distinction in that text. And John 17, the great high priestly prayer Jesus beautifully balances the Christian position about the relationship of the person to the world. We are not to be of the world. He says that, but we are not be taken. Out of the world. We in the world, but not of the world. So Christianity does not give us any mandate to escape from the world or to in any way not value the vocational life or the state of marriage. Again, you have the wonderful liturgy where Christ attends the wedding of Galilee. Christ beautifies, dignifies marriage. The Gospel does. Paul compares the whole relationship of Christ in the church to the human rights of marriage. It's tied in very tightly to the idea that vocation is not life in the world. Your job, your work is a value. And I think we owe a lot as Protestants to Luther for this.


Luther did so much to reestablish basic Christian dignity, a vocation. I mean, Luther takes it to the extreme. You know, even the the guy that's the hangman, you know, that pulls the lever that you fall through in your heart. Even that man, he says, is serving God because he's serving the state. And he pulls that lever in the name of Jesus. Okay. Now, now, Luther has a way of kind of you know, but his whole point is everybody has dignity in their vocation. And that's the Christian view, not just the person that has the renounce life in a context away from the world, karma and redemption. If you have not read the book by AG Hog called Karma and Redemption, it is a classic. I actually very critical of AG Haag in my book because I take on the task or another point in the case studies. But this book, I have no problems with very few problems where this is a solid book. This was written much earlier in his career when he was an evangelical and he gradually slipped away. And so I'm interacting some of his later writings. But this book by AG Hog gets to the heart of the real contrast between karma in Christianity and Buddhism, Hinduism and redemption in the Christian message self-justification versus salvation, impersonal personal, eightfold path, personal savior, all of this very powerfully expounded by AG Hog and the A book. If you want to follow through on this, it's a good starting point. It's a book that's been written now probably 80 years ago, but it's a very important book. Number nine, Desiring God versus the Empty of All Desire. We've already discussed this. And one of the other points earlier, I do think this is a very important apologetic con tour, though.


The whole role of desire. I quote John Piper's book Here Desiring God. Very, very powerful, insightful book, Buy from the Christian Side about the positive role of desire in the Christian faith. I've never heard except for Piper, I've never heard a really good Christian exposition of that. I mean, some of this stuff, you know, Christian, Christian hedonism and all that, you know, can be a little bizarre, maybe. But I think his idea, his basic vision of the whole thing is to try to find a way to reconnect Christians to their lives and not think Christianity is somehow disconnected from your life. And I think that actually is very helpful in the Buddhist context. It's quite more helpful in the Buddhist context and is in the West. I never had a chance to talk to John about this, but I'd like to at some point. I think his writings can be very helpful in a missionary context. This is a lot better than his book on the Nations. Finally, number ten, Nirvana versus Heaven. I've quoted a remarkable book here by remained open. A car, as I said before, is a bit complex of a writer, but this is one of his more clever books, The Silence of God, The Answer of the Buddha. Especially Chapter five devoted very completely to Nirvana. Great place to begin to think about this. I don't agree with his conclusions, but I think it's a great way of stirring up kind of the whole debate. And the discussion on a core in Buddhism is the whole of impermanence. This is one of the three underlying truths behind the first knowable truth impermanence versus permanence. Nirvana, ultimately is a declaration of the impermanence of everything. Heaven is a declaration of the ultimate permanence of God.


And we discussed how our externality is based in our relationship to Christ. Eternal with Christ presents a classic quote from a Buddhist text. He says, Body brethren is not the self feeling, not the self. Likewise, perception activities conscience are not the self. Now then, what do you think, brethren? Is the body permanent or impermanent? The sitter replies, Impermanent Lord. And what is impermanent is that we all are. Whoa, whoa, Lord. Then what is impermanent, woeful, unstable by nature? Is it fitting to regard it thus? This is mine. I am this. This is the self of me. Surely not, Lord. So. Also it is with feeling, perception, activities, consciousness. Therefore, brethren, everybody, whether it be past, present, future or present, be an inward or outward growth or subtle lower high, far or near everybody should be thus regarded as it really is by right inside. This is not mine. This am not I. This is not the self of me. Again, this a classic Buddhist text saying everything is impermanent. There is no self, there is no eye, and therefore there is no lasting core that is redeemed or saved in Buddhism. And even Bonica, who is open to anything he can possibly tie into, he says as great isn't a divine, a doctrine is who is it that's actually liberated? Is there any self? Is there anything core that is actually liberated? The answer, of course, is no. That's a huge problem. Even panic. Carr says that you have actually a liberation, but none liberated to quote their own. You know, the eightfold path exists, but no traveler on it. Well, heaven exists and we are travelers to that heavenly city. Okay. These are just some contours we had to blister rather quickly. Each of these would be a great source for a good reflection, writing, thinking, discussion.


I think future Christian Buddhist interchange should really address all of these issues, and I'm sure many others. But this at least gives us some beginning point that I think evangelicals have not appropriately engaged in. And I hope that some of you will will do just that.