If you haven’t already learned from my previous writings, Buddhism has become a big part of my life. I wrote in one of my previous posts, “Where Am I Now?“, that Buddhism was special to me. I wanted to give some perspective on Buddhism because I think a lot of people don’t understand how I experience Christ within Buddhism. With every story, there’s a beginning, so let’s start roughly 500 B.C.
Siddhartha Gautama was born into a royal family in what is now Nepal. There was a prophet who spoke to his parents and told them that their young prince had two possibilities in his life: he would either be a powerful ruler or he would be a saint. Either way, Gautama was going to be one of the most influential people in the world. The King wanted his prince to be a powerful ruler, so he sheltered his child and showered him with all of the luxuries available. Gautama grew up within the palace with all of his desires fulfilled. He was sheltered entirely from religion and humanity until his 20’s.
In his late 20’s, Siddhartha asked a chariot driver in his palace to take him outside. When he exited his palace he first noticed an old man. He was confused and asked what was wrong with this man. His chariot driver explained that the man was old and that everyone grows old. The second encounter that Gautama had was with a sick man. He was just as confused and asked what was wrong with the man, and his chariot driver explained that the man was sick. The third encounter that Siddhartha had was with a corpse. Gautama was confused about what he was seeing, and the chariot driver explained that the man was dead and that everyone dies one day. Gautama encountered one other confusing person. Siddhartha saw a holy man. He asked the chariot driver to explain what this man was doing. The driver explained that this man was seeking to renounce the fear of death, disease, and aging. After these encounters, Siddhartha decided to flee from his palace and seek to find the truth to rid universal suffering.
Siddhartha Gautama spent time learning from various religious perspectives to find the cause behind suffering. He found no solitude in any of the teachers that he was studying under. It’s said that during these explorations, Gautama would eat just one grain of rice a day to keep himself alive. As his body was decaying, he was offered rice, milk, and honey from a woman. He ate it and realized that fasting was not the means of liberation and inward peace. After his meal, he sat underneath what is now called “The Bodhi Tree”. He vowed that he would not leave from under the tree until he figured out the nature of suffering and reached enlightenment. After many days of meditating under the tree, Siddhartha became the Buddha, or “the enlightened one”.
Buddha Gautama began teaching his new found understanding under the four noble truths and the eightfold path. This is the core basis for all of Buddhism and it’s traditions. From these core foundations, we can expand and find Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism. Within these forms of Buddhism, they change even more based on the countries that they are found within. In a lot of ways, this resembles the structure and diversity that you can find within Christianity.
Buddhism can be practiced as both a philosophy and a religion. Depending on which form of Buddhism you are following, you will find that there is either an aspect of God within it or the idea of God is irrelevant to the practice. For me, I practice both. It’s open enough as a practice to include something as big as Christ in it. In fact, even under a Tibetan Lama who says “no god”, I still can’t help but experience Christ in practice and in the Buddhas teachings.
The way to enlightenment as told by Buddha Gautama reminds me a lot of the teachings that I read about within the bible. Enlightenment happens in correspondence with “Dukkah” or suffering. Dukkah also shows us a place of attachment as well, which is where that suffering comes from. I think the best way for us to better understand this is to see what the four noble truths and the eightfold path are.
The four noble truths are very simple:
- Suffering exists
- Suffering has an origin
- Suffering can cease
- The Eightfold Path can help us to let go of suffering
The eightfold path is:
- Right View – Know the truth.
- Right Intention – Free your mind of evil.
- Right Speech – Don’t say things that hurt others.
- Right Action – Work for the good of others.
- Right Livelihood – Respect life.
- Right Effort – Resist evil.
- Right Concentration – Practice meditation.
- Right Mindfulness – Control your thoughts.
If you have some sort of background in Christianity, I’m sure you can see how these four noble truths and the eightfold path reflect the teachings of Christ. Truth cannot be realized without some means, and that could be anything. In my own personal experience, that has been Christ. When I say Christ, Jesus definitely plays a part in that narrative, but it’s important to recognize that Christ existed before Jesus. Jesus was just the body that Christ inhabited. Christ is eternal and has been evident since the beginning and the end. As Revelation says, “I am the alpha and the omega. I am the beginning and the end.” I experience Christ in these teachings, which sprung up roughly 500 years prior to the birth of Jesus. In fact, there are some scholars who believe that Jesus learned Buddhism via the Silk Road and drew his teachings from the teachings of Buddha. I plan to talk about that in the future.
The eightfold path, in my experience, shows us a way to see Christ in a way that we never have before. There are several verses that come to mind when I reflect on the eightfold path. All of which seems to fit in perfectly with what Buddha Gautama was trying to teach.
Here are some verses that I think fit well with Buddha’s teachings:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
“Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Psalm 4:4
“My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.” Psalm 49:3
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
I could keep going through the Bible for days and find examples within it that reflect on the teachings of the Buddha. There’s one tricky part, though. Growing up I heard it preached that Jesus is the only way because he was the only religious figure to rise from the dead. I’m not here to argue the resurrection of Jesus, but rather I want to put that to rest by teaching on an eastern perspective of death.
In the east, death isn’t considered the end. People in the east have the assumptions of reincarnation as something that happens once the body dies. The body dies, but the soul goes on. In the west, we think death is an ending. The east sees the abundance of grace through each birth until a person reaches enlightenment. Traditionally, this concept is seen as heretical to the church, but it’s important to remember when criticizing and preaching that your way is the only way to salvation. The problem of death and Siddhartha’s worry on it comes from our inherent nature to cling and attach ourselves to live. We are so attached to this body and this life that we fear death, fear sickness, and fear old age, but this body is but a vapor in the wind and goes just as quick as it comes. When we see past the attachments that we have in this world and let go of our ego, we find liberation, enlightenment, and salvation.
There’s a lot more that we can unpack here, which I plan to do in the future, but I want to end on one more note. In my experience with Buddhism and Christ, I find that in my pursuits of Christ become more meaningful and I have had a far better inward change than what I was experiencing before. While this claim may be dualistic and ignore the path entirely, I was to cater to the western mind. In meditation, I experience God. In meditation, I find that I have more evidence of the fruits of the spirit. I become more forgiving and patient. I become more Christ-like. I may never be perfect in this lifetime, but every day I seek to be more like Christ and embrace a deeper Buddha-nature.