Article Introduction: With respect to man’s quest for meaning and salvation, there are two major belief systems in our twenty first century. One originates with God and the other originates in man. One comes from divine revelation, one comes from personal “enlightenment.” One is God centered, and one is man centered. One deifies God; one deifies man. Both present formidable arguments and are based on their own foundational suppositions. The two belief systems are Christianity and the teachings of Buddha.
Christian World View:
|Face of God, Michelangelo
John Gresham Machen states in his excellent work Christianity and Liberalism,
“In the Christian view of God as set forth in the Bible, there are many elements. But one attribute of God is absolutely fundamental in the Bible; one attribute is absolutely necessary in order to render intelligible all the rest. That attribute is the awful transcendence of God. From beginning to end the Bible is concerned to set forth the awful gulf that separates the creature from the Creator. It is true, indeed, that according to the Bible God is immanent in the world. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him. But he is immanent in the world not because He is identified with the world, but because He is the free Creator and Upholder of it. Between the creature and the Creator a great gulf is fixed.”*
J. Gresham Machen, Christianityand Liberalism, Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Ferdmans Publishing Company, 1946, p.62.
Arthur W. Pink in The Sovereignty of God states:
“The sovereignty of the God of scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say God is sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe, which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i.e., that He may mould that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to given an account of His matters to any.
Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is sovereign in all His attributes. He is sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture. For a long season that power appears to be dormant, and then it is put forth in irresistible might.
Pharaoh dared to hinder Israel from going forth to worship Jehovah in the wilderness – what happened? God exercised His power, His people were delivered and their cruel task –masters slain.”
Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976, p.21.
|Jesus Christ teaches from the Scriptures in the Jewish Synagogue.
The Christian world view is based on the authority of Scripture and its many propositions. It is Scripture which reveals to us who God is, so we begin with what Scripture tells us about the Triune God and what God did. We don’t begin with God, as without a Biblical context we would not know who God is.
The Triune God created Adam and Eve, giving them the ability to rebel against him. They chose to rebel against him. Because of their rebellion they, their lineage, and the creation were cursed. God’s creation, including man, became cursed with death.
God is merciful but he is also just. He offered man and women salvation from the curse of death. To effect his plan of salvation, the Triune God became human and entered history. A virgin gave birth, incarnating the infinite God in a finite human being, Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). So revolting is sin to God that it can only be atoned for by the blood of a sinless sacrifice. Only God is without sin. Therefore God elected to become the perfect and permanent sacrifice for man’s sin. Paul in Philippians 2 concerning Jesus Christ explains:
“ 6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)
God himself took the penalty for man’s sin. God atoned for man’s sin, by shedding his son’s precious blood on a Roman cross, that all those who believe in Jesus Christ, may have eternal life and “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Christ is the second person of the triune Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When Christ died on the cross for man’s sin, God himself took the penalty. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesied, “my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).
|Jesus Christ "The Good Shepherd" comforts a little lamb.
Christ bodily resurrected from the grave, fulfilling his own prophecy, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Christ’s resurrection confirms that as the second member of the Trinity, God offered redemption from sin for his people, the ones he calls his “sheep.” “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Paul informs us that after Christ resurrected, he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve apostles. After that he appeared, “to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:5-9).
Paul’s statement is historical. He confirms that most of the five hundred who Jesus appeared to were still alive, still capable of refuting his statement were it not correct. They were living eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection. But the power of Christ’s resurrection does not lie in the fact that he resurrected, but that he died on the cross for our sins, atoned for our sins, and resurrected, confirming he was deity and that the atonement was complete.
The resurrection has to be viewed in light of Scriptural doctrine. Defining doctrine, John Gresham Mechan states, “It has been interpreted here as meaning any presentation of the facts which lie at the basis of the Christian religion with the true meaning of the facts.”
The resurrection has to be viewed in the light of creation, original sin and the fall, the incarnation of the Triune God, Christ’s atonement on the cross, the redemption, the resurrection, God’s judgments, the new heaven and the new earth. Christianity is a system of belief whose doctrines make a logical whole.
There are many verses of scripture promising eternal life for those who believe in Christ such as: “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40), “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51), and "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The object of our belief is of primary importance. We need to know who it is we believe in and why we should believe in him. Our belief comes from understanding what Christ accomplished on the cross aside from just returning to life and that understanding comes from having at least some knowledge as to who Christ was, why he died on the cross, and what his sacrifice means for each person on this planet.
If we were so see a man come back to life after he had been declared legally dead, numerous possibilities come to mind. The paramedics who proclaimed him dead must have made a mistake. He hadn’t really died. He must have swooned and revived in the coolness of the ambulance. It isn’t the same man. It just looks like the same man. Someone stole the body of the person who died and replaced it with a living body …a vicious deception or just a practical joke.
Sensory knowledge is far from reliable and conclusions drawn from it are ambiguous and subject to constant revision. Yet God created man to gain some knowledge of his environment through the senses, even through sensory knowledge is prone to error and far from perfect.
In the absence of a broader perspective, the resurrection of one man isn’t necessarily believable. Now if this man had fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament scriptural prophecies, including sixty very specific ones outside his control, such as his place of birth, his personality, that he would heal the sick, be the Son of God, rule through eternity, be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, be crucified, resurrect.
If this man’s purpose in history and the necessity of his death and resurrection were explained through Scripture as part of a plan for man designed by an Author outside space and time before the foundation of the world, the big picture would come together and the credibility of the story would greatly increase. Furthermore, if we were to believe in him in faith and see our lives change as a result, we would know this man is the Son of God.
John Gresham Mechan asks, “What was it that within a few days transformed a band of mourners into the spiritual conquerors of the world? It was not the memory of Jesus’ life; it was not the inspiration which came from past contact with Him. But it was the message, ‘He is risen.’ That message alone gave to the disciples a living Savior; and it alone can give us a living Savior today. We shall never have vital contact with Jesus if we attend to His person and neglect the message; for it is the message which makes Him ours.
“But the Christian message contains more than the fact of the resurrection. It is not enough to know that Jesus is alive; it is not enough to know that a wonderful person lived in the first century of the Christian era and that that Person still lives, somewhere and somehow, today. Jesus lives, and that is well; but what good is it to us…..
“Contact with Jesus according to the New Testament is established by what Jesus does, not for others, but for us. The account of what Jesus did for others is indeed necessary. By reading how He went about doing good, how He healed the sick and raised the dead and forgave sins, we learn that He is a Person who is worthy of trust. But such knowledge is to the Christian man not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is not enough to know that Jesus is a Person worthy of trust; it is also necessary to know that He is willing to have us trust Him. It is not enough that He saved others; we need to know also that He has saved us.”*
*J. Gresham Machen, Christianityand Liberalism, Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Ferdmans Publishing Company, 1946, p.42-43.
And we come to know that he saved us by understanding what the resurrection was all about. That it concerns God dying as a substitutionary sacrifice for us, for our sins. We learn this not by seeing somebody who was dead walking around, but by the teaching of Scripture that the wages of sin is death, that God is merciful but just, that his justice requires that payment be made for sin, that all of us are sinful and fall short of the glory of God, that all our works are as filthy rags before God, that only God is without sin and therefore capable of atoning for the sins of the world, of each of us who he has called by name. These are the doctrines of atonement and redemption.
Machan points out that when men speak of trust in Jesus’s Person, as being possible without acceptance of the message of His death and resurrection, they do not really mean trust at all. They may mean reverence or admiration. “They reverence Jesus as the supreme Person of all history and he supreme revealer of God.”
Trust can only come when the supreme Person extends His saving power to us. To say Jesus went about doing good, that his words reflected profound wisdom, that he is the express image of God are words of admiration and reverence. They indicate a favorable predisposition to Jesus and his message, but they do not acknowledge him as our personal Lord and Savior.
Machan points out that faith is to say, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.”* Through God’s mercy we are granted the faith to believe or trust in him, thereby receiving the gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit quickens our spirit and intellect and we are able to say, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” God has given us the intellect to know him by believing in his Son.
*J. Gresham Machen, Christianityand Liberalism, Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Ferdmans Publishing Company, 1946, p.44.
Believing in Christ involves faith. Faith in God, according to Reformation theology, entails an acceptance of (Biblical) propositions that can be written down and “a personal relationship, a trust, reliance, dependence, or confidence, as older theologians called it.”*
*Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, Volume I, Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2005, p.211.
C.S. Lewis says that theology, an understanding of the Word of God, the Bible, is practical whereas feelings lead nowhere. He recounts an old, hard-bitten officer who stood up while he was giving a talk to the R.A.F. on theology and said, "I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!" (Mere Christianity , "Making and Begetting").
Lewis goes on to say that he believed the man probably had a real experience with God in the desert and when this man turned to the Christian creeds (doctrine), he was turning from something real to something less real. However, Lewis points out, the creeds of Christian theology, are like a map.
Experiences may be more fun, "But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God - experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused."
"And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion - all about feeling God in nature, and so on - is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map" (italics mine).
Lewis’s statement that “the map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who were really in touch in God” needs clarification. If he is referring to the revelation God gave his prophets, and how that revelation affected their lives, he is quite correct. God as revealed in Scripture is the starting point. We begin with Scripture and not with God as it is Scripture which reveals to us who God is. Without Scripture we cannot come to a proper understanding of the Triune God. In Scripture, God has provided the map. The experiences of man on the other hand do not offer solid ground to base one’s beliefs. They are subjective, fluid, evanescent, and quite often irrational. God’s revelation, not man’s experiences, is the source of truth.
Some individuals believe they are hearing the voice of God, when in fact they are engaging in “self-talk.” The leading of the Holy Spirit is always consistent with the teachings of the Bible, God’s revelation to man.
In Christianity verification of the system has to come from outside the system, from revelation. Revelation comes from God who is outside his creation and is the source of all revelation. Revelation is embodied in the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments. Christianity is what the Bible, the Word of God, teaches. Christians are those who believe what the Bible teaches, not the personal opinion or views of individuals claiming to be Christians nor what churches teach, aside from what is derived directly from Scripture.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV states, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
In the Christian world view when we look at all things in our natural state without God’s revelation it is as if we are peering through the windshield of car with an opaque film. We see shadows and blurred images. The road is unfocused and we risk a major accident. The Word of God cuts through and peels off this opaque film. Like the headlights of a car on a stormy night, it lights the road ahead.
Christianity is a revealed religion. It comes to man from without. Its source is not from the spirit of man, from the inner stirrings, vague feelings or spiritual moods. It does not arise from man attaining an inner mystical state or having some personal revelation for the world. It does not arise from the works of man. Christianity is not man reaching lame hands toward God. It is God in history graciously reaching strong hands down to man and governing him with mercy and justice.
Buddha’s World View:
|Historical Photograph of a giant Buddha Statue in a Japanese Buddhist Temple.
Buddhism is anchored in the Hindu world view of karma, reincarnation, deliverance from reincarnation.
People came to the Buddha, puzzled as to who he was, they asked him, “Are you a god?”
“No,” he answered. “An Angel?” “No,” he answered. “A saint?” “No,” he answered. “I am awake.” Buddha in Sanskrit means the “Enlightened One” or the “Awakened One.”
Huston Smith, The Religions of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 90.
Buddha described, “Buddha, The Awakened” as:
“He whose conquest cannot be conquered again, into whose conquest no one in this world enters, by what track can you lead him, the Awakened, the Omniscient, the trackless?
He whom no desire with its snares and poisons can lead astray, by what track can you lead him, the Awakened, the Omniscient, the trackless?
Even the gods envy those who are awakened and not forgetful, who are given to meditation, who are wise, and who delight in the repose of retirement from the world.”
E.A.Burtt, Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: Mentor Books, 1955, p. 61.
When Buddha calls an awakened one, one whose “conquest cannot be conquered” he means that once “awakened” a Buddha is no longer subject to karma. He is no longer creating karma through worldly attachments. That is why his conquest is one in which “no one in this world enters.” The Buddha has relinquished all worldly attachments, whether negative or positive. He is no longer making tracks on the ground of life which will necessitate reincarnation. He has, per his representations, extinguished all desires producing karma.
“There is no satisfying lusts, even by a shower of gold pieces; he who knows that lusts have a short taste and cause pain, he is wise; even in heavenly pleasures he finds no satisfaction; the disciple who is fully awakened delights only in the destruction of all desires.”*
Buddha teaches that all desires, physical or spiritual, bring about pain, as they result in attachment which is bondage. Extinguishing these desires leads to becoming “awakened.”
*E.A.Burtt, Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: Mentor Books, 1955, p. 62.
Hindu Basis of Buddha’s World View
Buddha fully accepts the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation or rebirth, the necessity of coming again in the flesh due to the relentless law of karma. The reality of reincarnation is the foundation of his philosophical edifice. Without the law of karma there would not be the need to reincarnate or to overcome that relentless wheel by becoming “awakened.”
According to the law of karma, “men inherit from the past the root of good and evil which springs the tree of life (present life), which in turn bears fruit from which springs the new root (future life) for our next existence. It goes on from one to another in a cycle without end. It ceases only when one …succeeds in crushing out desires, blowing out the “fires,” thus becoming an Arahant and entering Nirvana.”
Lit-Sen Chang, Asia’s Religions: Christianity’s Momentous Encounter With Paganism, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1999, p.110.
Modern scholars generally accept that Hinduism had its origin in the faith of the Aryan invaders, a European people who appear to have entered India from the northwest via Persia around 1500-1200 B.C. The migration continued for several centuries. The original Hindu texts were the Vedas, which are a collection of religious texts written in an archaic form of Sanskrit. The Rig Veda, India’s oldest book (approximately 1000 B.C.), consists of 1028 psalms of a monotheistic tinge composed by sages for use in the religious ceremonies of the early Indo-Aryans. Reincarnation, otherwise known as the transmigration of the soul or metempsychosis, is a foreign doctrine for the Vedas.
The religion of the Aryans presented in the Rig Veda appears monotheistic: “God had insight from the beginning and from the beginning the power of his thought has given protection to all beings. Whenever God breathes, the sky and the earth tremble at his power. Believe in God, my people. At first the earth was tottering and the mountains shaking; God set the earth on firm foundations, and made fast the mountains. He propped up the sky, and filled the space between the earth and the sky with air. Believe in God, my people. People sometimes ask: ‘Where is God?’ Or they say: ‘God does not exist.’ Yet he can destroy the wealth of the world as quickly as a gambler can lose his money. Believe in God, my people” (Rig Veda 2:12).*
There is an evident yearning for the One God: “You try to grab the God of truth, but he slips away. You try to overpower him, but he overpowers everything. He possesses all the wisdom of the wise, and all the visions of the poets. He gives clothes to the naked, and heals the sick. Through him the blind see and the lame walk. He defends those who are persecuted – whether or not they brought the persecution on themselves. By his intelligence and skill he drives away evil from the sky and the earth. Those who seek the God of truth, find him…… Be kind and merciful to us, God of truth. Be gentle with us, and do not take us up into the whirlwind of your powers. King of truth, do not enrage us or frighten us; do not injure us with your dazzling light. Give us only the help that we need. Drive from us all hatred, and protect us from failure; thwart every evil plan” (Rig Veda 8:79).*
The cosmology appears monotheist, “Cosmic order and truth evolved from the heat which the Creator emits. Night and day, land and sea, and winter and summer arose from cosmic order and truth. Cosmic order and truth rule over every creature that blinks its eyes. The Creator set the sun and the moon in their proper places. He set the earth and the sky in their proper places, and put atmosphere between them. Then he caused light and heat to shine from the sun” (Rig Veda 10:190. 1-3).*
The Atharva Veda which provides for the private or household religion continues in this monotheistic trend, “I pay homage to you, breath of life, for the whole universe pays homage to you. I honor you as the lord of all, for on you all things depend. I pay homage to you, breath of life, rejoicing in the sounds you make; I pay homage to you in the thunder. I pay homage to you when you make lightning flash, and send rain from the sky….I pay homage to you, breath of life, when you come and when you go, when you stand still and when you sit. I pay homage to you when you inhale and when you exhale, when you turn away from us and when you turn towards us. To you, above all beings, homage is due” (Atharva Veda 11:4).*
Robert Van De Weyer, 366 readings from Hinduism, Cleveland, Ohio, The Pilgrim Press, 2000
The Vedas cited portray a Creator separate from his creation. In Hinduism’s later pantheistic divergence the Creator and the creation became one and the same, a unified whole. Pantheism affirms there is only one ultimate reality –god- and everything is part of that reality. Everything is part of god, including good and evil. It remains uncertain how the monotheism of the Aryans became pantheism, as the people of the Indian peninsula who the Aryans conquered, the Dravidians, were animistic.
Three hundred years after the Vedas in the Upanishads, believed to have been written in the seventh or early sixth century B.C., appear pantheism and the doctrine of rebirth (transmigration of the soul, reincarnation) and retribution for one’s deeds (karma) in succeeding incarnations. Buddha’s worldview is most similar to that of the Upanishads rather than from the Vedas.
The pantheism in the Upanishads is well illustrated in the: Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
“When you throw a lump of salt into water, it dissolves; you cannot take it out again, and hold it in your hands. Yet if you sip any part of the water, the salt is present. In the same way the soul can be perceived everywhere and anywhere; the soul has not limit or boundary. At present there is duality. You perceive other beings; you see them, hear them, smell them, and think about them. Yet when you know the soul, and when you recognize that the soul within you is the soul of all beings, how can you perceive other beings? How can you see and hear them, smell them and think about them? How can you regard yourself as subject and other beings as objects, when you know that all are one? (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2:4).
From these verses it is not clear how one comes to “recognize the soul within you is the soul of all beings.” The question can be asked, how does one first of all recognize the soul within us? Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines soul as “an entity conceived as the essence, substance, animating principle, or actuating cause of life, or of the individual life, esp. of individual life manifested in thinking, willing and knowing. In many religions it is regarded as immortal and separable from the body at death.” Empirically based science has not been able to identify a person’s “soul.” A soul is generally understood to be intangible. Therefore, the recognition of one’s soul does not occur from sensory perception. How then does such recognition take place?
“The soul cannot be defined; it is not this or this. The soul cannot be comprehended, because it is beyond comprehension … Those who know the soul, feel no grief at the evil they do, nor elation at the good they do; they are beyond good and evil,” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4). How can one come to “know the soul” if the soul “cannot be comprehended” and is “beyond comprehension?” Implied in having knowledge about anything is having an understanding of what it is. One can’t come to know anything if it is beyond comprehension.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad instructs us, “Those who love God, seek the soul through studying the sacred texts, through worship, through acts of charity, and through abstaining from pleasures.” We are instructed to seek the soul, which, as already seen, “cannot be defined.” If it cannot be defined, how will we know when we’ve found what we’re seeking?
“Those who find the soul become sages. They demand nothing for themselves because those who know the soul, possess the whole world” (4:4). If a person claims he or she has found the soul and has become a sage, how can we be assured what that person has found is the “soul,” as the soul cannot be defined and is beyond comprehension per the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. How can we know that what that person is telling us is true and not the result of a subjective, unverifiable feeling? Why will studying sacred texts, worship, acts of charity, abstaining from pleasures help us find the soul, if we don’t even know what we’re objectively looking for because it “cannot be defined” and “cannot be comprehended?”
Altered States of Consciousness
We are also instructed, “to know the soul within yourself you must rise to a higher level of consciousness. At this higher level you no longer identify yourself with your body; and so physical birth and death cease to matter – you are immortal” (Kena Upanishad 2). “The soul cannot be known through scholarship, nor through reason, nor through debate. The soul can only be known by those to whom the soul reveals itself. And the soul will never reveal itself to those who fail to act righteously, who fail to control the mind and the senses, and who do not meditate” (Katha Upanishad 2).
These last two verses from the Upanishads confirm that knowing the soul is a subjective, mystic experience , subjective in the sense that reason is not involved, and mystical in the sense that “higher levels of consciousness” must be attained through meditation and control of the mind and senses.
“Reason and the mind can be trained to hear the guidance of the soul, and obey it. This training takes the form of meditation, by which reason and the mind rise to a higher level of consciousness,” (Katha Upanishad 3).
Contrary to the Christian world view in which God created Adam with reason, reason is not based on logic, as the soul cannot be known through reason (Katha Upanishad 2), but comes from one’s soul which “cannot be defined” (Brihadaranyaka Upanisha 4:4).
Reason is guided by and emanates from an individual’s inner experience in mediation. It is also described as a function of one’s level of consciousness. We know there are different states of consciousness such as waking and sleeping, but there is no standard to determine if a state of consciousness is “lower” or “higher.” There are no tests to evaluate subjective meditative states.
This author is quite familiar with this teaching of the Upanishads from having practiced six years mantra yoga in the form of transcendental meditation, hatha yoga, and kundalini yoga. Definite altered states of consciousness are produced by yoga. Since they are based on feelings, it is hard to determine if these states of consciousness are “higher,” “lower,” or just “altered.”
In this author’s personal experience, these states of consciousness while initially anesthetic became with constant yoga practice progressively more oppressive, resulting in a disassociation from the external world. Sensory input was accentuated, producing an overreaction to external stimuli, resulting in anxiety. On intensive asana-meditation courses, the author experienced blackouts during mantra meditation which lasted up to an hour and a half. After a blackout, there was no consciousness of elapsed time and no memory of what had transpired during the experience.
Coping with these altered states of consciousness produced in the author mounting tension, making him easily upset by trifles (slamming of a door, grinding of car brakes, screeching of a jet fighter plane, traffic noise).
In many ways the meditation/yoga experience is the classic experience of anxiety disorder so well documented by the Australian doctor Claire Weekes in her classic book Hope and Help For Your Nerves , which also offers the best non clinical approach for curing anxiety disorder of which panic attacks are common symptoms.
This author's experience is that the techniques result in feelings of unreality, feelings of personality disintegration, and depression. Meditation and yoga in many instances cause anxiety disorder. It is the author's belief that many of the so-called "advanced states of consciousness" are no more than the result of extreme sensitization, a state in which our nerves react in an exaggerated way to stress induced by the yoga/meditation techniques, producing an overshadowing sensory unreality similar to those induced by consciousness altering drugs.
According to the law of reincarnation, a person’s actions in a present incarnation determine the type of body that the soul will reenter in a subsequent incarnation. If a person leads a good life, his or her soul will be reborn in a higher state, such as a Brahmin or noble. If a person leads a bad life, the soul will be reborn in a lower state such as a cockroach. The person will keep reincarnating until he stops creating karma and is “enlightened” or “awakened.”
The Upanishads teach reincarnation, “Those who know the soul, realize that all is one. They realize that diversity is an illusion, and unity is truth. Those who see only diversity, and cannot see unity, wander from death to death,” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4).
“If you fail to see God in the present life, then after death you must take on another body; if you see God, then you will break free from the cycle of birth and death” (Katha Upanishad 6).
“After death the soul may go into the womb of a mother, and so obtain a new body. The soul may go into a tree or a plant. The destination of the soul after death depends on the quality of the previous life – on how much wisdom was acquired, and how many good works were performed” (Katha Upanishad 5).
The doctrine cannot explain how the soul originally became imprisoned in the body. If the soul is in a body as just punishment for previous incarnations, how did it end up in a body in the first place?
The answer can be given that the world is maya, an illusion, and our bodies are illusions of individuality. But why would the pantheistic One choose to become many in human consciousness? Hinduism calls this divine play or lila. “If Oneness is perfection, why would perfection play the game of imperfection? All the world’s sins and sufferings are reduced to a meaningless, inexplicable game. And if evil is itself only illusory (the answer given by many mystics), then the existence of this illusion is itself a real and not just illusory evil.”*
Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1994, p. 261.
Greek and Indian Roots of Doctrine of Reincarnation
The doctrine of reincarnation may have had non-Aryan origins, existing in India before the Aryan invasion. It may have been brought to India by one of the later Aryan invasions, possibly supplanting the monotheism of the Vedas. Some scholars have speculated reincarnation is of western origin, from the Greeks, and was brought to India between one thousand B.C. and 600 B.C. by cultural diffusion. The Greeks in turn are attributed by the Greek Historian Herodotus to have learned the doctrine from the Egyptians.
Egypt and Reincarnation
In his book Might and Right In Antiquity (page 177), Hartvig Frisch quotes Herodotus, the Greek historian from Ionia (484 to 425 BC), “The Egyptians are the first who set forth the doctrine that men’s souls are immortal, and that the man, whose body dies, goes into another living creature which is born at the very moment of his death, and this cycle of existence passes through all beings of earth and sea and air back to a human body and accomplishes this in a space of 3,000 years. Some of the Greeks accepted this doctrine as if it were their own – some earlier, others later; I know their names but will not write them down.”
Hartvig Frisch concludes that those who accepted the doctrine of reincarnation earlier were Pythagoras and Pherecydes, and later included Empedocles, who lived at the time of Herodotus. Frisch points out that the Egyptian doctrine of transmigration was not as similar to the Greek one as Herodotus would have one believe. For the Egyptians, it was a privilege for a human soul to reincarnate, whereas for the Greeks, as for Hinduism, it was a sign that it had not yet perfected itself. Frisch seems to agree that Herodotus is right in saying that Egypt played a role in diffusing the “new thought” of reincarnation to the Greeks.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead contains spells which make it possible for the dead to be transformed or, it has been interpreted, reborn in any form desired in the hereafter including a hawk, a lotus, a crocodile, or a heron. Osiris, the Egyptian god is dismembered and reconstituted. Osiris, or the dead soul who takes on the name of Osiris, declares, “I am yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I have the power to be born a second time.” Another passage states, “Homage to thee, Osiris, who maketh mortals to be born again.” The Egyptians believed that the cosmic principle known as Osiris is successively incarnated in the pharaohs. The name of the Pharaoh Setekhy of the 19th dynasty means “repeater of births.” That of Amonemhat in the 20th dynasty means “he who repeats births,” and that of Senurset, also of the 20th dynasty, means “he whose births live.”*
Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought, New York: Allworth Press, 2002, p 130.
It is not clear whether these “rebirths” are in the afterlife or in new earthly bodies. However, the Greek doctrine of reincarnation may have been influenced by these older but ambiguous Egyptian beliefs of shape-changing and identity merging of the dead soul, the ka, into a god such as Osiris or his son Horus.
There is evidence of cultural diffusion from a story in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The deceased soul of Ani and his wife wake in the underworld, which is situated in the sky, and arrive at a pool in the Field of Reeds. Ani and his wife drink form the pool with their right hands. Ani then cries to the guardian at the threshold, “Open to me!” The guardian asks, “Who art you then, and wither dost thou fare?” Ani replies, “I am one of you.” He is then allowed to pass to the “temple of divine beings.”*
In a similar vein the Greek Orphics in their myth of the gold plates counsel the deceased not to drink from the spring to the left of the House of Hades, but go to the spring by the Lake of Memory and say to the guardians there, “I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven; But my race is heaven (alone). This ye know yourselves …” The guardians will then let the deceased drink from the Lake of Memory, after which the deceased shall have “lordship” with the other “heroes.” *
In the first chapter of the Kausitaki Upanishad the soul of the deceased arrives at the moon, the doorway to the world of heaven, and the guardian of the moon asks the soul, “Who are you?” The Upanishad instructs that he should answer that the seed which made him was “from the far-shining” indicating that his origins are from the gods/stars which placed their seed in a womb. The guardian will ask again, “Who are you?” and the soul should answer, “I am you.” The guardian then frees the soul to go to the world of the gods.*
The myth does not reflect an explicit belief in reincarnation, but it seems to have provided a framework for that doctrine in Greece and India. It originated in Egypt, where it existed one thousand to five hundred years before it appeared in Greece and India.* The similarity of this myth in three different cultures seems to illustrate the cultural diffusion of beliefs from the Egyptian to the Greek and Indian cultures.
*Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought, New York: Allworth Press, 2002, pp. 136, 137, 138.
Pythagoras, Plato and Reincarnation
The First Man to call himself a philosopher, a lover of wisdom, was the Greek (Ionian) Pythagoras. He lived between 580 and 572 B.C. and 500 and 490 B.C. None of his primary works have survived so most of what we know about Pythagoras on his life and teachings are based on legend and references to him in subsequent works.
It is reported he studied in Memphis, Egypt, and discipled in the temples of Tyre and Byblos in Phoenicia, present day Lebanon. Pythagoras established a secret religious society which believed everything was related to mathematics. In his view, numbers constitute the true nature of things.
Pythagoras is reputed to have said that “number is the ruler of forms and ideas and the cause of gods and demons,” attributing to numbers an ultimate reality, a divine basis for the universe.
Pythagoras believed in the reincarnation of the soul into the bodies of humans, animals, and plants. Pythagoras claimed he could remember his last four lives in detail. He said he heard the cry of his dead friend in the bark of a dog. A similar belief in reincarnation was shared by Plato (428 to 347 B.C), upon whom Pythagoras had a pronounced influence.
The inner circle in Pythagoras’s secret religious society was governed by strict rules. Those who were part of the inner circle lived at the academy, owned no personal possessions, and were required to be vegetarians, except for sacrificial meat which could be consumed. Pythagoras’s practice of vegetarianism preceded its adoption in India.
Scholars arguing for the Greek origins of the doctrine of reincarnation point out that two important doctrines, knowledge and vegetarianism, associated with reincarnation seem to have appeared first in Greece and then in India, perhaps allowing the conclusion that the belief in reincarnation first arose in Greece, from possible Egyptian antecedents, and was then transmitted to India.
Thomas McEvilley explains in his well researched book, The Shape of Indian Thought, that Greece and India had a distinctive doctrine of reincarnation not known among shamanistic or tribal groups and not found anywhere else in the world except places that seem to have adopted this doctrine either from India or from Greece.
The Indian and Greek doctrines embraced a tripartite form of the doctrine which were similar in (1) the process of reincarnation (samsara in Sanskrit, metempsychosis
in Greek), (2) having moral and cognitive laws governing the process (karma in Sanskrit, katharsis in Greek), and (3) a goal to escape the process (moksa in Sanskrit and lusis in Greek). In contrast other doctrines of reincarnation revolve around familial relationships where individuals reincarnate in their family line or animism, where the dead reincarnate as vegetables and animals.*
The tripartite doctrine is different from other doctrines of reincarnation found around the world as it revolves not on random chance but on the moral quality of one’s past behavior determining the quality of the next incarnation.*
|Plato ancient Greek philosopher (born 428/427 BC – died 348/347 BC), teachings helped lay foundations of eastern and western philosophy.
Plato (Laws X.903d) states that through the process of katharsis or purification, “the character that is becoming better to a better incarnation, and that which is growing worse to a worser, each according to its due. The Indian equivalent in the Chandogya Upanishad 10.7) is those who have lived wickedly may be born as dogs or hogs.*
*Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought , New York: Allworth Press, 2002, pp.98-99.
Similarly in Phaedo 81c – 82 b Plato says:
“the corporeal is heavy, oppressive, earthly, and visible. So the soul which is tainted by its presence is weighed down and dragged back into the visible world, through fear, as they say, of Hades or the invisible, and hovers about tombs and graveyards. The shadowy apparitions which have actually been seen there are the ghosts of those souls which have not got clear way, but still retain some portion of the visible, which is why they can be seen …
“These are not the souls of the good, but the wicked, and they are compelled to wander about these places as a punishment for their bad conduct in the past. They continue wandering until at last, through craving for the corporeal, which unceasingly pursues them, they are imprisoned once more in a body. And as you might expect, they are attached to the same sort of character or nature which they developed during life …
“Those who have cultivated gluttony or selfishness or drunkenness, instead of taking pains to avoid them, are likely to assume the form of donkeys and other perverse animals …
“Those who have deliberately preferred a life of irresponsible lawlessness and violence become wolves and hawks and kites …
“I suppose that the happiest people, and those who reach the best destination, are the ones who have cultivated the goodness of an ordinary citizen – what is called self-control and integrity – which is acquired by habit and practice, without the help of philosophy and reason …
“They will probably pass into some other kind of social and disciplined creature, like bees, wasps, and ants, or even back into the human race again, becoming decent citizens.”*
*Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989, pp. 64-65.
Plato considers the corporeal soul of the wicked “weighed down” and “dragged back into the visible world.” His statements indicate a preference for the spiritual rather than the world of matter.
It has been argued that the Greek doctrine of reincarnation might not have come from India because the Greek doctrine and that of the Upanishads differ on the doctrine of recollection. The Greek conception of reincarnation focused on the doctrine of recollection from the time of Pythagoras, through the time of Empedocles (490-430 B.C.) and Plato.
Being compelled to reincarnate is considered not desirable by both the Greeks and the Indians. The goal in both doctrines is to rise above the karmic wheel, which the Orphics in Greece labeled, “the sorrowful, weary wheel.”
Gautama Buddha and Reincarnation
|Historical Photograph of a giant Buddha Statue in a Japanese Buddhist Temple.
There have been many theories regarding the personage of Gautama Buddha. The earliest are diverse and frequently contradictory, yet from the mists of legend scholars believe they can discern the outlines of a real man and his philosophy. It is believed that Buddha was born around 560 B.C. in northeast India in Kapilavastu, 130 miles north of Benares, near the border of Nepal.
The Aryan invaders moved into India in successive waves from the northwest and eventually dominated the entire Indian subcontinent. They were lighter skinned than the original inhabitants. Their religion expounded in the Vedas was the custody of a learned and privileged class known as the Brahmins. According to the canon, Buddha’s father was the head of a small confederation, a family that had undergone a certain Brahmanic influence. The Vedas were monotheistic.
Buddha’s teachings however are very compatible with the doctrines of the Upanishads. Such concepts as rebirth and liberation from the wheel of life and karma by subjectively realizing one’s unity with God, rather than one’s separateness, are directly from the Upanishads.
Unlike traditional Hinduism, the Buddha taught that for karma to be generated there must be intention. An unintentional deed produces no karma. If there is intention but no deed, karma is still generated. Also in contrast with traditional Hinduism, Buddha put forth the theory of “no-self.” He maintained that all things were made of parts. A thing is the sum of its parts. Any thing is made up of Five Aggregates: (1) a material body, (2) sensation, (3) perception, (4) predisposition or volition, and (5) consciousness. At death the Five Aggregates disperse or disintegrate.
Brahmanism or traditional Hinduism maintained that an individual had a soul (atman) which at death, for the person who had overcome the cycle of reincarnation (samsara), merged with the Universal Self (Brahman ). Buddha rejected the idea of a soul existing in a body and forming the connecting link between successive incarnations.
The logical question is, “If the soul or self disintegrates at death, what reincarnates?” He reasoned that since acts are performed during a lifetime, there is resultant fruit. A new being is formed at rebirth which is neither the old one nor different from it. “What lives on after death is simply Karma, the result of what has happened before, not some inward and invisible part of the individual.”*
J.N.D. Anderson, The World’s Religions, London, The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, September 1960, p. 124.
Buddha not only maintained there was no self reincarnating, but during a person’s lifetime there is no permanent, unchanging entity. What we call a person is a combination of the Five Aggregates, a combination of physical and mental energies. Every instant the Five Aggregates change. In two consecutive moments, they are not the same. Every moment they are born and die. In this life we exist without a permanent, unchanging self or soul. We are in a constant change of flux, decay, regeneration.
Therefore, at death, “the energies do not die with it (the body), but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life …. Physical and mental energies which constitute the so-called being have within themselves the power to take a new form, and grow gradually and gather force to the full.
As there is no permanent, unchanging substance, northing passes from one moment to the next. So quite obviously, nothing permanent or unchanging can pass or transmigrate from one life to the next. It is a series that continues unbroken, but changes every moment. The series is, really speaking, nothing but movement. It is like a flame that burns through the night. At any moment it is not the same flame as the preceding instant nor is it another.
A child grows up to be a man of sixty. Certainly the man of sixty is not the same as the child of sixty years ago, nor is he another person. Similarly, a person who dies here and is reborn elsewhere is neither the same person, nor another… It is the continuity of the same series. The difference between death and birth in only a thought-moment: the last thought-moment in this life conditions the first thought moment in the so-called next life, which, in fact, is the continuity of the same series. During this life itself, too, one thought moment conditions the next thought moment. … As long as there is this “thirst” to be and to become, the cycle of continuity (samsara) goes on. It can stop only when its driving force, this ‘thirst’, is cut off through wisdom which sees Reality, Truth, Nirvana.”*
*Walpola Sri Rahula, What The Buddha Taught, New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1959, pp.33-34.
The Jatakas or Tales of the Buddha's Past Lives document Buddha’s supposed remembrances of thousands of past lives. According to the Jatakas , these remembrances came to the Buddha during the night after he claimed to have attained “enlightenment”.
"I recalled, my varied lot in former existences follows: first one life, then two lives, then three, four, five, ten, then a hundred, a thousand….the base and the noble, the beautiful and the ugly, the happy and the miserable, passing according to their deeds. Through many a birth wandered I, seeking the builder of this house. Sorrow full indeed is birth again and again."
The Pali Jatakas record 357 past lives as a human, 66 as a god, and 123 as an animal. In the animal domain, Buddha, we are told, was a monkey king, deer king, goose king, a quail and an elephant king.
Our knowledge of Buddha’s teachings comes from the Pali canon. Pali was an ancient Indian literary language. The Pali canon was not written until the first century B.C., some four centuries after the death of Buddha. It is hard to determine if the teachings in the canon are actually Buddha’s original teachings, or if they were conformed to the teachings of the monks four hundred years later. Undoubtedly Buddha’s original teachings were adapted to suit the changed doctrines of the monks.
Whether the account of the canons regarding Buddha’s teachings on reincarnation are Buddha’s own or that of the monks cannot be determined. It is hard to reconcile Buddha’s no self or no soul doctrine, with Buddha’s recollection of hundreds of past lives experiences on the night of Buddha’s enlightenment, as recounted in the Pali Jakatas.
If there is no permanent, unchanging substance to a human being and his memory, nothing can pass or transmigrate from one life to the next. If there is no soul, there is no connecting link between successive incarnations. If what lives on after death is simply karma, the result of what has happened before, the individual and his recollections must be extinguished.
It is claimed that Buddha taught the doctrine of rebirth without transmigration and gave the follow illustration:
“The King said: ‘Where there is no transmigration, Nagasena, can there be rebirth?’
‘Yes, there can.’
‘But how can that be? Give me an illustration.’
‘Suppose a man, O king, were to light a lamp from another lamp, can it be said that one transmigrates from, or to, the other?’
‘Just so, great king, is rebirth without transmigration.’”*
*Extract from The Questions of King Milindo, quoted in J.N.D. Anderson’s, The World Religions, page 124.
The Buddha used metaphors to clarify his point that only karma survives after death. A kind of life-stream or karmic energy connects the links in the chain of rebirths. He used the analogy of a river which has a certain physical form defined by its banks, but the water flowing in it today is different from the water that composed it yesterday.
The Pali canon, as already stated, is the first written record of Buddha’s teachings. Assuming it is a correct record of all his teachings, then Buddha taught both the no self – no soul doctrine, and gave accounts of his rebirths.
Assuming the validity of reincarnation, it would seem that only a reincarnating soul could have a memory of prior births. Reincarnating energy or karma, as entailed in the no soul – no self doctrine, would not. A memory does not exist without a possessor of that memory. The Buddha could not remember a previous life without his soul reincarnating with the knowledge of that previous life.
Of course, Buddha’s recollection of past lives could have merely arisen from his subjective feelings, from a non verifiable mystical experience, which will be discussed later.
Christian View of Reincarnation
The doctrine of reincarnation and the doctrine of rebirth as explained by Buddha contradicts everything that Scripture teaches and is opposed to the Christian world view. Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world that whoever believes in him might have eternal life.
Men and women are not saved through their good works, through any attempt at good works, through any code of conduct, or from any emotional or spiritual mood they may engage in. Paul in Galatians states, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21).
The law established the Ten Commandments and extensive codes of conduct with which men and women were to comply. In reality no one could satisfy the stringent standards of the law. Paul explains that righteousness could not be gained through the law, but only through Christ’s atonement for our sins. If the law could make men and women righteous, Christ’s death would have been unnecessary.
Reincarnation is a form of salvation from man’s feeble attempt to climb the ladder to God through good works over numerous lifetimes.
God is so holy and righteous that all of men’s works fall abysmally short of his glory. The righteousness of God pierces through our minds and hearts and unveils evil and darkness, despite all our good works.
The best men and women can offer to God through their conduct is depraved before God’s absolute righteousness. Because we are fallen, our best intentions are corrupt in light of God’s dazzling glory.
But the Christian Triune God is a God of mercy and love aside from being a God of justice. Therefore if we believe in Christ, when God looks at us, he does not see our sin but the atoning blood of his Son, which is his own. Our sins are covered by his life giving blood. It is only by this covering, which is a free gift, that we escape judgment and gain eternal life.
Salvation comes from belief in Christ alone, not from reincarnation or rebirth. According to Scripture, “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Scripture does not teach reincarnation. From the Christian world view, no matter how noble Buddha’s intentions were, it is not a true doctrine.
Pitiable indeed will be the fate of the one who stands before God’s glory clothed in his own righteousness, which will amount to wearing filthy rags before the King of Glory. Professing a belief in reincarnation and self perfection, or any other doctrine of man, will be no excuse on that dreadful day.
The Triune God is one who, according to absolute Biblical standards, blesses good and punishes evil behavior. For Buddha karma is extinguished by disassociating from worldly desires, whether their end is good or evil. Both good and bad behavior are illusory and can entangle one further in the web of karma.
Scripture, on the other hand, promotes good behavior. It is God’s will that men and women follow his commandments for there is life only in them. The Old Testament emphasized the law, whereas the New Testament is based solely on grace, since no human can comply with the rigorous requirements of the law.
How can Christianity explain the divergence of belief from monotheism to a belief where man gains salvation by reincarnating?
Gordon H. Clarke offers a valuable perspective in one of his lectures on defining the word “religion:”
“The Christian answer begins with God creating Adam in his own image and giving him a special revelation. Here was the beginning of religion. With the fall however and the resultant depravity men became estranged from God and distorted both the revelation and their reaction to it. As generations came and went these distortions diverged in many directions giving rise to all forms of idolatry, animal worship, and witchcraft, not to mention the more blatant rebellion of atheism.
“Thus there was no possibility of any intellectual content remaining the same in all these developments. The religions of today therefore are descendants of the one original religion and because of this common origin they are colloquially called ‘religion.’ If the divergence is not so great as to obscure this origin, people do not scruple to call the phenomena ‘religions.’ Thus Islam is always called a religion because of its inheritance from Judaism. When the divergence becomes greater, hesitation and perplexity set in. This is seen where people wonder whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy.”
Therefore, from the Christian perspective, our distant ancestors, Adam and Eve, knew God in the Garden of Eden. God created Adam in his image, and his likeness, making him rational. Adam could understand God when God blessed Adam and Eve and said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
God communicated with man and man could understand. For Adam, God was real. God’s instructions such as, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” (NIV:Genesis 2: 16-17) were intelligible.
After they ate of the fruit, they hid from God when they heard God “when he was walking the garden in the cool of the day.” He called Adam out and God told Adam the consequences of disobeying him and eating from the tree. Adam and Eve knew God was sovereign. When he banished them from the Garden to work the dust from which they had been made, they had no choice but to leave.
With time, as the human race multiplied on the face of the earth, as generations came and went, and as the consequences of original sin engulfed the descendants of Adam and Eve, human hearts and intellects darkened . Men and women distanced themselves from God. As Paul states, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 NIV) or per the King James translation, “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1.21 KJV).
They “became vain in their imaginations” because they did not glorify God. The conscious decision not to glorify God drove them into darkness. With their imaginations they created alternate realities and called them God. They erected philosophical edifices, developed subjective systems of belief contrary to revealed truth. Paul says that despite sin, they still knew the truth, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse,” (Romans 1:20 NIV). They exchanged truth for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator (1:25).
Paul further states, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (Romans 1:21-23). Many in various eastern and western schools of thought believe they can find God inside themselves, by “looking in.”
It has been said that Buddha “flatly refused to discuss metaphysics,” which he considered “profitless speculation.”*
E.A.Burtt, Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: Mentor Books, 1955, p. 105.
Buddha informed his disciple Malunkyaputta, “I have not explained that the world is eternal; I have not explained that the world is not eternal; I have not explained that the world is finite; I have not explained that the world is infinite; I have not explained that the soul and the body are identical; I have not explained that the soul is one thing and the body another; I have not explained that the saint exists after death; I have not explained that the saint does not exist after death; I have not explained that the saint both exists and does not exist after death; I have not explained that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death.”
“And why, Malunkyaputta, have I not explained this? Because, Malunkyaputta, this profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of religion, nor tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, the supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom and Nirvana; therefore have I not explained it.”*
E.A.Burtt, Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: Mentor Books, 1955, pp. 35-36.
Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines metaphysics as, “a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology.” Ontology is defined as, “a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being” Cosmology is defined as, “a branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of the universe,” and epistemology’s definition is, “the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity.”
It is on the Upanishads and their teaching of moksha (liberation of the soul), samsara (the cycle of continuity), and karma (action resulting in bondage) that Buddha builds his philosophical edifice. By incorporating these teachings into his philosophical system and adding some of his own interpretations such as vijnana (impermanence of material world) instead of maya (illusionary nature of world), Buddha is engaging in metaphysics. He is addressing the fundamental nature of reality. For Buddha reality is impermanent, and as such illusory, being is nonexistent, and knowledge is attained through analysis which leads to “awakening”. All these themes are metaphysical in nature.
It is true Buddha does not consider the existence of a transcendent God, outside of space and time. The concept of a personal God does not enter his world view. Even the type of monotheism of the Vedas is alien to Buddha’s salvation through personal enlightenment. Buddha replaced the goal of pantheistic monism, merging with Brahman, with dissolution into Nirvana, the permanent deconstruction of karmic patterns of the illusory “self.” Arguably, both result in obliteration of what comprises the “self,” and the difference is only one in terminology.
Buddhism has been criticized as a “rational moralism” rather than a religion.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines religion as, “Man’s relation to Divinity, to reverence, worship, obedience, and submission to mandates and precepts of supernatural or superior beings. In its broadest sense includes all forms of belief in the existence of superior beings exercising power over human beings by volition, imposing rules of conduct with future rewards and punishment.”
To the extent that Buddha claimed he was “awake,” he claimed he was superior to most of the human population, which, according to his world view needs awakening. Buddha engendered obedience and submission to his mandates and precepts. He presented rules of conduct which, if adhered to, led to the future reward of Nirvana. Therefore, Buddhism is a religion as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary.
One of the various definitions in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary for religion is “one of the systems of faith and worship.”* In this broad definition rather than in an alternate definition offered, “the service and adoration of God or a god as expressed in forms of worship,” would fall Buddhism as originally taught by Buddha.
Henry Campbell Black, M.A., Black’s Law Dictionary, Revised Fourth Edition. St.Paul: West Publishing Company, 1968, p.1455.
A Merriam-Webster, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield: G.& C. Merriam Co., 1961, p. 715.
Plato and the Imprisonment of the Soul
|Plato ancient Greek philosopher (born 428/427 BC – died 348/347 BC), known as one of the fathers of western philosophy taught many concepts which parallel eastern thought.
For those who distinguish western from eastern philosophy, Plato’s worldview, when systematically analyzed, must be very uncomfortable. Upon close analysis the father of western philosophy taught many concepts which parallel eastern thought. The following passage in Phaedo (83b) is quite similar to the eastern law of karma leading to the necessity of reincarnation:
“Every pleasure or pain has a sort of rivet with which it fastens the soul to the body and pins it down and makes it corporeal, accepting as true whatever the body certifies. The result of agreeing with the body and finding pleasure in the same things is, I imagine, that it cannot help becoming like it in character and training, so that it can never get entirely away to the unseen world, but is always saturated with the body when it sets out, and so soon falls back again into another body, where it takes root and grows. Consequently it is excluded from all fellowship with the pure and uniform and divine.”
Plato maintains that the philosopher can attain divine nature. Similarly the Hindu ascetic through yoga and meditation seeks to attain divine nature through sensory privation by searching within himself for divine truths. Plato explains, “But no soul which has not practiced philosophy, and is not absolutely pure when it leaves the body, may attain to the divine nature; that is only for the lover of wisdom. That is the reason … why true philosophers abstain from all bodily desires and withstand them and do not yield to them” (82 b, c).
The illusory nature of the world and our sensory attachment to its fleeting reality results in bondage:
“Every seeker after wisdom knows that up to the time when philosophy takes it over his soul is a helpless prisoner, chained hand and foot in the body, compelled to view reality not directly but only through its prison bars, and wallowing in utter ignorance. And philosophy can see that the imprisonment is ingeniously effected by the prisoner’s own active desire, which makes him first accessory to his own confinement. Well, philosophy takes over the soul in this condition and by gentle persuasion tries to set it free.
“She points out that observation by means of the eyes and ears and all the other senses is entirely deceptive, and she urges the soul to refrain from using them unless it is necessary to do so, and encourages it to collect and concentrate itself by itself, trusting nothing but its own independent judgment upon objects considered in themselves, and attributing no truth to anything which it views indirectly as being subject to variation, because such objects are sensible and visible but what the soul itself sees is intelligible and invisible.”
“Now the soul of the true philosopher feels that it must not reject this opportunity for release, and so it abstains as far as possible from pleasures and desires and griefs, because it reflects that the result of giving way to pleasure or fear or desire is not as might be supposed the trivial misfortune of becoming ill or wasting money through self-indulgence, but the last and worst calamity of all, which the sufferer does not recognize” …. is that the soul passes most completely into the bondage of body (82 d – 83 d).
When Plato speaks of “objects considered in themselves” he is referring to his theory of the existence of the absolute Forms, which will shortly be discussed in detail. Basically, these Forms or Ideas are archetypes or models of reality. They are invisible, existing outside of space and time, and would include Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, along with concepts of such things as numbers, the square, the circle, equivalence etc…
According to Plato, the Forms actually exist in the invisible world .These Forms can be perceived intuitively by our soul. By knowing the Forms, a philosopher gains wisdom and “release.” Knowing the forms is a knowledge which frees us from the illusory world of shadows.
The Allegory of the Cave
When residing the body, Plato maintains, “the soul uses the instrumentality of the body for any inquiry, whether through sight or hearing or any other sense – because using the body implies using the senses – it is drawn away by the body into the realm of the variable, and loses its way and becomes confused and dizzy, as though it were fuddled, through contact with things of similar nature” (Phaedo 79 c).
Sensory input is subjective, imprecise and imperfect. In a court of law different individuals have different recollections of the same incident. Individuals see colors differently. A green to one person may be brown to another or even a shade of grey. Some people are enraptured by exultant symphonies while others are tone deaf. Some people spend hundreds of dollars for bottles of exotic wines, while others prefer the drug store variety. For them the taste is the same. With age the body withers and the senses fail. As Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 (Contemporary English Version):
Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, "I don't enjoy life anymore." Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your own deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper.”
With age reliance on the senses or empiricism diminishes as the body as our instruments for sense perception become less reliable.
Plato uses the allegory of the cave to illustrate the deception of matter, the unreliability of the senses, and his philosophy on reality (Republic VII, 514 a- 517 a).
He asks us to envision men who have lived all their lives in a subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light on its entire width at one end.
The legs and necks of these men are chained from childhood, so they remain in the same spot. They are able to only look forward at the cave wall and cannot turn their heads. At a distance behind them is a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners is a walkway on which men, like puppeteers, carry human images and shapes of animals made out of wood and stone. Some of these men are silent while others are speaking, their voices echoing in the cave.
The puppets and shapes of animals and humans cast shadows on the wall. The chained prisoners watch these shadows. When the puppeteers talk, it appears the shadows are speaking.
Only experiencing this shadow world as reality, the prisoners name the shadows passing by them, in a type of game, giving honor and prizes to one another to the man who is quickest to make out the shadows as they pass and best able to remember their sequences, coexistences and order.
He asks us to suppose that one of the prisoners is freed from his chains, turns his head suddenly around, and walks away, lifting his eyes to the bright sunlight coming into the cave from its entrance. That prisoner would be pained by the piercing sunlight, no longer able to discern the objects whose shadows he formerly saw. At this point the prisoner is told that all his previous perceptions in the shadow world arose from illusory tricks, but what he was now seeing was nearer to reality. Being comfortable with his earlier perceptions, he would still regard what he formerly saw as more real than the things which are now being pointed out to him.
If the prisoner were to be forcefully dragged up the rough and steep ascent of the cave into sunlight and brought out into blinding sunlight, he would be in pain and chafe at the situation. Initially he would not be able to discern the things “that we call real.” At first he would most easily discern the shadows, then the reflections of men and “other things” in the water, and later “the things themselves.” From there he would be able to contemplate the heavens, at first more easily at night, but finally he would be able to look upon the sun itself.
He would conclude that this is what provides the seasons and presides over all things in the visible region, and is the cause of everything he has seen. He would be happy with the knowledge he has gained and pity his fellow prisoners down in the cave still playing their shadow game. No longer would he want to participate in it, preferring to be a serf or a landless itinerant.
He would no longer be able to endure such a life, but if out of pity he were to return, down to the cave, his eyes would take a long time to adjust to the darkness, having suddenly come out of the sunlight. The prisoners would laugh at him, saying that he had returned from his journey with eyes ruined, making the ascent not worthy of attempt. If possible they would try to seize and kill him for trying to release them and lead them out of their imprisonment.
From Plato’s perspective, just like the prisoners in the cave, we live in a world of shadows as long as we depend on our sensory experiences. We are entranced by the fleeting and the impermanent. The physical world which our senses perceive is analogous to the shadows of humans, animals, and puppets moving on the cave’s walls.
The Eastern Concept of Maya
The Upanishadic world view sees illusion or maya as preventing knowledge of Brahman. All manifestations in the world are maya, including material objects and actions. Maya consists of both positive and negative actions and creates karma. Maya imprisons us and prevents us from attaining liberation. Maya has an appearance of reality, similar to the shadows on Plato’s cavern, but this appearance is deceptive.
Shankara (A.D. 788-820) of the Vedanta school of Hinduism taught that the ultimate reality is Brahman or the self. Brahman is pure reality, pure consciousness, and pure bliss. The world is an emanation of Brahman and is dependent on Brahman. The world, rooted in impermanence, is an illusion or maya.
The self of a human being is atman, the individual soul, which is indistinguishable from Brahman, the supreme soul. Brahman penetrates a human body through it triple aspects of gross, subtle and causal and rests there as atman. Upon close examination, the phenomena of the world disappear, like mirages in the desert. Spiritual liberation is achieved by knowing the self and thereby realizing that the world of transitory multiplicity is an illusion. Knowing the self is a qualitative act of conscious experience through discipline and asceticism.
Also arising from the Upanishads is Buddha’s doctrine of impermanence. He taught that all forms of phenomenal existence, including living creatures, are changing, crumbling, and doomed to perish. Anicca or impermanence is an inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing on earth is ever free.
The five processes which affect every human being and which no one can control are aging, sickness, death, decay of perishable things and passing away. When Buddha died in the arms of his disciple, he commented, “Decay is inherent in all compound things, Work out your own salvation with diligence.”
Buddha’s doctrine of impermanence ties in to the doctrine of maya. Nothing remains the same. We can’t pin anything down. The world is a passing mirage.
The Buddha did not believe in the underlying existence of an unchanging Brahman or in the existence of the atman, the individual soul. Continuous becoming and change are the only certainties.
Buddha used a river as an analogy for life. If we stand on the riverbank watching it flow, we perceive it as the body of water we call a river. But the water which passed before us a second ago is not the same water which is passing before us now. By dissecting its properties we realize that it is constantly changing, as life does. Impermanence underlies the material world.
The human body is constantly regenerating itself. A baby is born, grows into a child, who becomes an adult, who turns into an old man or woman. Certain cells in our body are continuously dying, while others are continuously being created, until the moment of death. Like our bodies, our thoughts constantly change. The person we were a few minutes ago, is not the person we are now, nor the person we will be five minutes from now. The caterpillar is not the cocoon, the cocoon is not the butterfly, the butterfly is not the dust it will turn into when it perishes. The acorn is not the oak tree.
Buddha said, “Look upon the world as you would on a bubble, look upon it as on a mirage …. Come, look at this world, glittering like a royal chariot; the foolish are immersed in it, but the wise are not attached to it.”*
* E.A.Burtt, Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York: Mentor Books, 1955, p. 61.
He compares life to froth, “-a phantom, dew, a bubble, a dream, a flash of lightning, and a cloud: Thus we should look upon all that was made.”*
* Huston Smith, The Religions of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 90.
Huston Smith in The Religions of Man observes, “It is impossible to read much Buddhist literature without catching its sense of the transitoriness of all things finite, its profound acknowledgment of the perpetual perishing of every natural object. It is this that gives Buddhist descriptions of the natural world their poignancy and melancholy.”* He illustrates his point with the following passages:
“The waves follow one after another in an eternal pursuit.”
“Life is a journey, death is a return to the earth. The universe is like an inn, the passing years are like dust.”
“The seaborne traveler seizes a favorable wind, he raises anchor and sets sail for distant shores. Like a bird flying through innumerable clouds, the wake of his ship leaves no memories behind.”
*Huston Smith, The Religions of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 129.
Biblical Perspective On Maya
King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes echoes a similar refrain: “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow …. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind …. For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!”(Ecclesiastes 1:11, 1:14, 2:16). Although Solomon grieved at the transience and foolishness of men’s pursuits, he did not question the world’s reality, nor the existence of the Creator of that world.
He admonishes us at the end of Ecclesiastes: “…fear God and obey his commandments, for this is the entire duty of man. For God will judge us for everything we do, including every hidden thing, good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
The Bible does not question the existence of a real world, a word of matter, created by the Triune God. Genesis 1:1 states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God as the supreme artist said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12).
The Triune God of Christianity in Genesis is creating a multiplicity of forms in matter. This is not an illusory creation. The world is not maya or illusion, but an objective reality. We perceive it through our senses, however, and depending on the health of our bodies, the information we draw from our senses may vary.
The Triune God is distinct and separate from his creation. Just as a painter is not part of his painting or a software programmer is not part of his program, the Creator is separate from his creation. The creation is not an attribute of God, as taught in the emanational pantheism of monistic Hinduism or as was taught by the neo-Platonists. God transcends his creation.
From the Biblical world view there is no way a living organism can evolve to eventually become merge with the Creator. The Triune God transcends space and time, which are physical dimensions. God is extradimensional. There is no way a human being can become one with God in a moment of realization or enlightenment. From the Biblical world view meditation, yoga, a moment of “illumination,” observation of the body and being mindful of one’s thoughts, as taught by Buddha, or any other personal experience, cannot make the creature one with its Creator. Knower and known are separated by a gulf which cannot be traversed.
|Jesus Christ's Ascension to Heaven in the presence of his apostles, forty days following his resurrection.
The Triune God, incarnated as Christ, the second person of the Trinity, and revealed himself to human beings. Jesus Christ incarnated in history. He incarnated in a physical reality, his creation, and not into an illusory deception. The Bible is very specific about this: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 KJV). Jesus Christ is the “only begotten of the Father.” He is the Word of God, who took on a body.
The first chapter of the gospel of Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus Christ from Abraham:
“1The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
3Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram ……
17So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
18Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
19And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
20But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
22Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23"BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."
24And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,
25but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus” (NIV).
The Bible is relating specific historical events. From the Christian world view, we can believe these events because the Bible is the inspired word of God. For those who are not Christians we are furnished scriptural and Biblical evidence that the accounts are not a myth but historically accurate.
|Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God gets baptized by John the Baptist.
The Bible relates the geopolitical context of the ministry of John the Baptist as follows: “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:1-3 NIV).
The preceding verses describe a historical reality in time, and not an illusory landscape. That we can perceive God’s creation as objective is demonstrated in Genesis 2:19, when God brought the animals before man and had Adam name them. Adam could see them, touch them, hear them, smell them and categorize them. He could differentiate the animals, which God had created, each according to its kind.
Jesus encouraged the doubting apostle Thomas to reach out and touch his spear wound so that Thomas would believe that Jesus had indeed resurrected. Then Jesus told Thomas, “stop doubting and believe” (John 20:26). This command to believe comes after Thomas’s sensory confirmation that he had touched the risen Christ, and not seen an illusion or a ghost. Therefore in the Christian worldview knowledge is gained through the senses.
But then Jesus proceeds to say, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29), indicating that belief in Christ is possible without sensory experience.
For twenty first century Christians, who are over two thousand years removed from Christ’s resurrection, this would entail a belief in the Biblical propositions that Christ took on the punishment for our sins and his resurrection confirms that his sacrifice was acceptable to God, washing us clean.
Believing through faith without sensory experience is blessed by Christ. Accepting his message on faith, is more highly regarded by Christ than a belief arising from sensory experience. Calvin emphasized that faith is a gift from God and arises from God’s grace.
God Upholds His Creation
Jonathan Edwards, the great eighteenth century child prodigy and Christian theologian, maintained that God, by his immediate power, upholds every created substance in being. He argues that all that is manifest has a dependent existence, is therefore an effect, and must have a cause. The cause is either the prior existence of the same substance or the power of the Creator.
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