The last words of Jesus the Christ to his first band of disciples was to “go and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). It has become, ever since, the mandate that the church at large has taken upon itself to endeavor to accomplish. Today, this command is commonly known among Christians as the Great Commission, and thus, all of the mission statements crafted by different Christian denominations hinge on these words of Jesus. The command is a major one, and so, must be heeded by the church of every generation.
It is therefore incumbent upon the people of God to go and seek opportunities to present the “good news” to everyone – all peoples of any culture and religion which have no knowledge of God’s prescribed way of salvation as clearly revealed in the gospel. Specifically, this paper is focused on understanding Buddhism and on how to present the Christian faith to its people. Buddhism believes in a particular path of salvation it calls the “dharma. It (dharma) was realized by its founder, Siddhartha Gautama, of the Sakya tribe in Nepal, while in his deep meditation. After that defining moment of his life, he became the Buddha, or the one who is enlightened. The man was actually a member of the royal family and in fact, a prince. He lived around 566 BCE (Boeree 2000). The following statistics were taken from an internet web site whose concentration is on studies about Buddhism (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet 2008). The ten countries most populated by Buddha adherents are mostly located in Asia.
They are: Japan (8,965,000 followers), China (102,000,000 followers), Vietnam (49,690,000 followers), Thailand (55,480,000 adherents), Myanmar (41,610,000 adherents), South Korea (10,920,000 adherents), Sri Lanka (12,540,000 devotees), Taiwan (9,150,000 devotees), Cambodia (9,130,000 followers), India (7,000,000 followers). It is very crucial for those who would take the task upon themselves of reaching the people of other religious background to have enough background of these religions.
One major reason for this is, if the particular religion is embraced by the general population of that country, or at the least, it is one among other religions that has a huge following in that area of the globe, it must have been an influence in that particular society. It is therefore a must for missionaries to gain an ample background necessary for them to be effective in the mission of their choice. Background of Buddhism As stated briefly above, the founder of Buddhism was a man whose background was one of royalty.
He was a prince, but had chosen instead when he was at an age of twenty-nine to leave the privileges of his royalty in order to understand the meaning of life, and in particular, why is there so much suffering. He was deeply moved by the sufferings that he saw. He therefore embarked on a journey in his life and engaged in an arduous spiritual discipline intent on discovering for himself the answer for all of these sufferings which he saw around him. An account was told of him when he at a particular time had decided instead to just sit under a certain tree, and there, to meditate until an answer is finally found.
As the story unfolds, true indeed, Siddhartha Gautama, on that momentous day – as the sun rises, he became the Buddha. He was enlightened (Buddha means “the enlightened one”). From that point on, the Buddha has taken upon himself the self-less task of teaching to people the “dharma” – the spiritual path which he discovered in his enlightening encounter. For more or less 50 years, he wandered around the regions of India, and a following started to develop around him from every class devoted to practicing the path.
Today, statistics show that the number of Buddhists worldwide has reached 365 million, and are said to be filling up 6% of the population of the world. It is one of the four considered major religions of the world and is the fourth in terms of number. Still, Christianity has the biggest number of followers – next to it is Islam, then next to Islam Hinduism, and as noted, the fourth is Buddhism (Robinson 2008). A. Buddhism’s Development It is commonly believed as reflected by certain historians in their works that Buddhism is to a certain degree has died out in India.
In its first 200 years, the teachings of Buddha were preserved through oral tradition. After two hundred years, Disagreements ensued as it was during the following years that its authorities began to convene their “councils” – and in the course of these councils, splits occurred. And so, from India, Buddhism had become well-established in Sri Lankan soils. And it was from there that it spread out around Asia, and now represented in not less than five major forms: The Theravada Buddhism (Southern Buddhism), Mahayana (Northern Buddhism), Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism, or as some consider it – “the third path”), Tibetan, and the Zen Buddhism.
Nowadays, Buddhism is even becoming a religious trend among the westerns (Calyaneratne 2006). It began to be known in the latter part of the 1800’s in the west when the Europeans then with their colonial occupations had been exploring Asia’s cultures and its religious texts being translated into the native languages of the west. B. Its Teachings There is what Buddhism calls as “four noble truths. ” These are: suffering, its cause, release from suffering, and that there is a way to be released from life’s sufferings. These are, more or less, what constitute the four noble truths as taught by the Buddha.
To properly understand the Buddhist’s worldview, it is basic to know and feel their perception of life generally. It is good to start in the so-called “four noble truths. ” First, suffering. As has been noted above under “Background of Buddhism,” Nepalese Prince Siddhartha Gautama, before experiencing his enlightenment had been wandering already seeking for answers to the widespread suffering which he had seen among people. The hardships which he saw definitely had impacted him so much that it caused him to reconsider his royal comforts.
In fact, he left the convenience and security of the wealth of his life, and chose rather to live the life of a hermit. Suffering is “duhkha” in Sanskrit, and like its English equivalent, it means distress, torment, filled with grief, and pain. For the Buddhist, all these describe imperfection. What aggravates suffering is the anitya; it means that there is no permanence in this life – and it includes human existence. The last words uttered by the Buddha are these words: “Impermanent are all created things; strive on with awareness” (Boeree 2000).
With a very similar outlook to Hinduism, Buddhism also believes that all things in creation are interrelated. Humans have no separate identity. Man therefore has to find that which will align him to everything. Next to suffering, the second noble truth is attachment. Actually, this second truth is somewhat seen as a proof of man’s blindness. Because man naturally does not see things in right perspective, he continually clings to everything considered to be of infinite value, oblivious of the fact that nothing here is permanent.
The Sanskrit word “trishna,” which is translated “attachment” in English, means many things to Buddhists. It extends from “clinging,” “desires” (which in themselves have no obvious implication of evil per se), to “lusting,” “greed,” and “craving,” (which now, considering the implications of those words, have somewhat taken an evil tone). Since all things are in an imperfect state, there is a constant “clinging. ” To humans, the persistent lusting and craving for things results from a mistaken sense that the material world somehow has lasting existence.
The effort therefore to hold on to these things stems from valuing too much those which have no real permanence. Hatred and dodging are also forms of clinging. To Buddhism therefore, it is very crucial that the person fully realizes the temporal-ness of things. Without a grasp of this basic truth, humanity in general is currently attached to that which is after all – temporary. Third noble truth: the overcoming of the attachment to things. This third basic truth of Buddhism is often misunderstood. In Sanskrit, the word is “nirvana.
This word is now being misconceived as “complete nothingness. ” The word is actually referring to the release of things. To let go, and to stop clinging. After this note, the reference is to be free of the former attitudes spoken of in the second noble truth, which are expressions of attachment: hatred, lust, greed, and all the negatives, etc. , and to fully and thus happily accept the interconnectedness and imperfection of all things. the fourth noble truth: the path. This is the dharma. The Buddha had become convinced after his spiritual encounter that there is a way.
For the Buddha, this path was a kind of a “middle way” which can bring balance between different and often contrasting philosophies. The path in Buddhism is explained in eight points, and more commonly referred to as the “eightfold path” (to veer away from plagiarism, the author has changed the exact wordings of the following eight points). 1. Proper Perspective. This is to have properly grasped the so-called “four noble truths. ” 2. Right Ambition. It is a pure desire to liberate the self from its negative attitudes – continually holding on to temporal things; as a result of which, the person remains hateful and ignorant.
These first two are considered wisdom, or the prajna. 3. Appropriate Speech. This includes not only the telling of truths, but refraining from any words that might hurt, to abstain from any form of gossip and lying. 4. Proper Behavior. This one embraces the prohibitions of such hurtful actions as murder, promiscuity, robbery, etc. 5. Honest Livelihood. To make one’s living through honest means, including things such as those which might hurt other people and animals. Points 3-5 are taken as shila – these are expressions of morality.
6. Right Endeavors. This pertains to the application of what are right to actual actions which were first perceived in the mind. Excellent qualities should be cultivated and practically performed. 7. The Possession of the Right Mind. This refers to the cultivation of the right kind of mindset. It again focuses on the elimination of such negative attitudes as hatred, lust, ignorance. 8. Proper Focus. The constant meditation of the temporal-ness, the imperfection, and the interconnectedness of all things in order to progressively arrive at true knowledge.
These last three points are considered “meditations,” the Samadhi (Boeree 2000). Presenting the Christian Faith Having explored the basics of Buddhism, it is now time to look at the gospel. Even to have gained a comprehensive knowledge of Buddhism does not fully prepare the Christian missionary to the task of evangelizing Buddhists. Learning the culture of the target people group is recommendable only after one has fully grasped the Christian teachings. In fact, the Christian can still be effective in evangelism even without knowing beforehand the other people’s culture.
It might cause some difficulties though, but a mastery of the gospel teachings will enable the Christian, first, to love the un-reached people, and second, compelled by that love and guided by his understanding of the true wisdom of God, the Christian missionary will at the very least, present the gospel message clearly and leave the people rethinking their worldviews. It’s a matter of how do we understand effectiveness in presenting the gospel. Presenting the gospel today is not different from how the first disciples presented it to the people of their world.
For Christian missionaries today, here are some pointers: first, preach the gospel. Remember the basic presumptions of the Christian faith like the true spiritual state of the target people. Nothing can self-defeat the presentation of the gospel more than the attempt on the part of its preachers to somehow change its features with an aim to accommodate the audience. What the Buddhists need is the word of God, and thus, it has to be delivered to them clearly and powerfully without compromise.
And of course, as presumed all along in the argument of this paper, a basic knowledge of the culture will give the Christian missionary an extra edge in his presentation. Second, live among them with the heart of a missionary living out the spiritual disciplines of a biblical Christian. When genuine love is there, it becomes almost impossible to miss that fact. People will feel the genuineness of the intention; and when the wisdom of God is presented as expressed in the gospel, it will be either acceptance on the part of the people, or outright rejection of the true truths.