June 5, 2011

Where Buddhism's Road Diverges: Eyes Upward or Eyes Inward?

In the temples of Nepal and northern India, faithful adherents of Buddhism follow in the traditional footsteps of Buddha, from his birthplace in Lumbini to the forest near Kushinigar where he died and,(supposedly) attained nirvana at the age of eighty. At Bodh Gaya, called "the navel of the world," they pay homage at the temple and tree on the spot where, 2,500 years ago, Siddhartha Gautama sat in meditation under the original Bodhi tree and became the Buddha, "the enlightened one"…or the chubby little fella that we see in all the shrines of our Far East friends. Pilgrims visit the golden Buddha at Sarnath, in a temple that commemorates the site where he gave his first teachings on the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path to five fellow seekers who became the first monks of the new order.

G. K. Chesterton once pointed out in Orthodoxy, no two ideals could be more opposed to one another. At opposite ends of a theological spectrum we have a Christian saint and a Buddhist saint in an oriental temple/shrine.

A Buddhist always turns his vision inward to self. Keeping their eyes firmly shut and pushing away the world and therefore other people. This is diametrically opposite a Christian, who, though he is accused of being closed-minded is actually looking outward with eyes wide-open. Buddhists with their lithe body often have indifferent dead eyes or "The Eyes of Bodhnath" ,"The Eyes of the Buddha", "The Bodhisattva's Eyes" whereas a Christian is gaunt to the bone but his eyes contain a wildness about them that is vibrantly alive. The Buddhist looks selfishly inward while the Christian looks selflessly outward to others with hopeful intensity.

Eastern philosophy says that man’s being or self is an illusion. Christianity says that some of the most important attributes instilled in man by God who has the same attributes are: love, individual gifted personalities to serve a communal whole (man:church-Godhead:Trinity). Here within this disparity lies the great chasm or should I say void that will forever separate the two belief systems. The Buddhist says that individually is the fall and failure of man and the sooner one does away with this the quicker they will reach nirvana. Christianity on the other sees the person's personality serving the purposes of God, specifically in its individualistic state. It is in the individuals gifts when given to the Church as a whole that the Church becomes truly complete and the Body of Christ that Christ desires…not like Buddhism where one is absorbed into Nirvana or a transcendental, blissful, spiritual state of nothingness. I don't know about you but this sounds really unpleasant...being annihilated into the void (we are Borg, you will be assimilated). Losing individual personality and becoming...well...nothing. Its kind of ex-nihilo in reverse or ad nihilum. You achieve this after escaping the Wheel of Suffering (so to speak) of reincarnation. Yeaahhh!!! Where do I sign up? I get to suffer not only through one lifetime but many and my reward is annihilation into nothingness. Woohoo!!! Sounds like a party! Anybody bring the chips and dip? Ironically, a person who has reached nirvana, is a liberated (enlightened) individual that performs neutral actions (Pali: kiriya kamma) producing no fruit. This my friends, is just the opposite of Christianity which produces fruits of the Spirit.

The stance of early Buddhist scriptures also stated that attaining nibbāna (nibbāna constitutes the highest and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations) in either the current or some future birth depends on effort, and is not pre-determined. Christianity believes you get one chance, not multiple. And salvation is not by works but by faith (through grace). Depending on your exact strain of Christianity, you may very well be predestined also.

There can be no meaningful compromise or cross-religious ecumenicalism here folks. Conversation? Perhaps but a Christian cannot compromise with such a self-centered religion. For Christianity to compromise here (which is what always happens - we cave-in) we immediately will end up looking to ourselves for an answer. This is counter-theological to our belief system. These beliefs are epistemologically opposed. Self and selfless. Buddhism tells us that we must progressively become more and more self-absorbed and egocentric in pursuit of a non-existent god to find our ultimate purpose. It is a path that leads a person deeper and deeper into a maddeningly twisted maze of our own personality (Freud would've had a field day). The antithesis of this warped selfish downward spiral is Christianity. Christians, who turn infinitely outward not only to God but to the other people He has made to find their purpose. We are to look for God wherever we can. He is to be at the forefront of our thought-processes always. To be the best Christian you can be you need to die to self and take on Christ. When we insist on trying to fathom God we come to the truest perspective of ourselves. We are sinful but precious enough in His sight that He would send His Son to redeem us from our own sin and stupidity.

We mustn't think that when we observe a Buddhist that he has achieved peace with his surroundings just because he is passive as a Christian would in an equivalent situation. It is not peacefulness as we understand it but rather an apathy or a torpor to the outside world. Christian's are called by Christ to do just the opposite. The Buddhist is told to turn inward to find peace-inner peace. Christians are called to turn outward and be communal in the worship and spiritual life (read Ephesians). You cannot be in harmony with your surroundings if you have completely ignored them to focus solely on the self - this is counter-intuitive. At its very core, Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses in personal spiritual development and the attainment of deep personal insight into the true nature of one's life and self. It is not centered on the relationship between humanity and God. Man cannot save himself and if Buddhism tells you to turn to yourself for help and attainment of some form of salvation...you're doomed.  

To be Christian:
·         Outwardly seeking a transcendent God beyond our ability to fully grasp and to fully understand. Uncontainable and limitless wonder both morally and righteously
·         Open door to the world and a church in every town
·         Inclusive in scope-Worldwide
·         Exclusive in doctrine-The Church will accept anybody but they must accept Christ.

To be Buddhist:
·       Completely introspective to the exclusion of all but self. Isolated, alienated, quiet and indifferent—
·       Mountain top fortress away from the world—“monk” is synonymous with Tibet or those that sequester themselves isolated from others.
·       Exclusive in scope---Isolated pockets and outcroppings
·       Inclusive in doctrine. They’ll accept anybody and they only need to dwell in themselves

If there are clear issues of black and white and incompatibility…it is here. The world will tell us that Buddhism is the way to go with its inclusive doctrine and focus on self...no surprise there. On the other hand, the culture will tell us that Christianity stinks because it is exclusive in its doctrine and makes certain demands of us that force is to recognize and account for our sin and depravity. It asks us to abstain from certain things and give selflessly. This is too counterculture for most. This is also not surprising since we live in a pluralistic culture where "anything goes". For a person to admit they're wrong they first need to admit they are sinful. People left to their own devices will not do this. You have a choice. You can either chose the God that is outside of you who offers salvation and eternal life or you can chose the god within, and when you die that god dies with you along with your chance at eternal life.

I now anticipate being flamed by self-seeking internally peaceful adherents for having exposed the true nature of their religion and how it differs (and falls short) of a God-centered relationship. I pray I have educated some that were residing on the fence between the two beliefs and have shown how Buddhism is internally inconsistent and frankly, makes no sense at all. Turning to yourself for a pseudo-salvation? Seriously? 

[I must note also that Hinduism is very similar in characteristics to its eastern estranged sibling Buddhism. Let no one fool you. Hinduism asks its adherents to turn inward away from the One True God also and this is one of its main flaws.The very idea of yoga and yogic behavior is formulated to turn one's attention inwards away from outward or external distractions. They attempt to experience the "beyond within". The very nature of a yoga's pose is to minimize the distractions and disruptions from their own bodies static responses: breathing, twitches and natural body positions that become uncomfortable from a relaxed state. Even erratic breathing can shatter the "spell" or "hypnosis" they put themselves under. A true Hindu wants no sense bombardment since they are trying to focus solely on the universe within. They believe the deepest most perfect profound truths are only revealed to those that turn their focus inward. In the end the adherent is alone with their own mind or have effectively locked themselves inside their own mind, thereby locking out everyone and everything else. This...is totally antithetical to Christianity, just as Buddhism is.]


D Schram said...

I actually enjoyed your posting. After reading it I realized that I would have made a good Buddhist, since I have a strong tendency to be very introspective. Glad for your contrasting points, which makes more sense in the long run.

Andy Pierson said...

Thank you for your kind words. Stop back any time. Andy

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