This will be a quick post, and more of an effort to get some thoughts churning in your minds. If you aren’t up to speed on the latest Clear Lens podcast episode, we recently discussed Buddhism. We dove into it’s origins, what it teaches as the problem(s) in the world, and what is proposes as the solution to said problem(s). If you listened then you’re up on the origins to the religion/worldview. If not, here’s a quick summary.

“The Buddha” was born in Lumbini (modern-day Nepal) in approximately 563 BC. His name was Siddhartha Gautama and he was born into a life of luxury. While there is debate on the specific type of government he was born into, it is agreed that his family was royalty or of very high rank. Siddhartha lived an extravagant life of wealth and luxury with little to no pain and suffering. At the age of 29 he observed that wealth and luxury do not guarantee happiness and he set off on his own to try to discover the key to human happiness. He investigated many of the teaching popular at the time, he attempted a life of asceticism, encountered various people in the midst of their pain and suffering, and did a lot of meditating. As the story goes, eventually Siddhartha obtained enlightenment while meditating and afterwards began teaching on the “middle path”. Obtaining this enlightenment earned him the title “Buddha”.

In discussion with the guys on our podcast, it occurred to me that Siddhartha’s experiences in life existed at each end of the spectrum of luxury to poverty. For years he lived at the height of material luxury, not denying himself anything. Then for a short while he experienced pain, poverty, and suffering while observing the same in others. Considering the Buddhist’s aim for enlightenment and truth is the “middle path”, it raises the question: Does Buddhism teach an inherent truth about the world, or is it nothing more than the conclusions of a man based on his experiences?

Suppose Siddhartha Gautama were not born into luxury, but into poverty. Would he ever experience both ends of the spectrum and draw the same conclusions? Suppose he were simply a middle-class citizen, would he ever have experienced anything like the extreme luxury or asceticism that he did in order to draw his conclusions, or become enlightened? A Buddhist would most likely answer such questions by presenting the Buddhist teachings of karma and reincarnation. The man known as Siddhartha Gautama had, in previous lives, gained enough positive karma so as to enable him to be born into vast luxury and experience the things he did to lead him to his awakening. But that begs the question. It presumes certain tenets of Buddhism are true in order to answer a potential problem with the foundation of Buddhism. So the question remains, do the origins of Buddhism necessitate that we accept as objective truth the experiences and conclusions drawn by Siddhartha Gautama?

This appears to be an unavoidable problem with Buddhism that Christianity avoids. Buddha never claimed to be God or a god, and so his teachings are entirely subjective to his experiences. Someone else could come along with the same experiences and draw entirely differently conclusions and Buddhism couldn’t say why it’s teachings were better, or even THAT they were better. In Buddhism there is only the path toward enlightenment. Only attaining some level of knowledge or experience that man can reach himself. So “salvation”, if it’s accurate to phrase it that way, is entirely attainable by man. This is a distinctive difference between Christianity and Buddhism. Buddhism itself teaches that man’s desires are the problem with the world. In Christianity we have objective truth claims, miraculous confirmation of the messages brought forth, and the creator of the universe interacting with and among humanity. God became man, not to have experiences and draw conclusions from them, but to bring an objective message of love and freedom in Him as He becomes the payment for us to reconcile us to God.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Gene

    “So the question remains, do the origins of Buddhism necessitate that we accept as objective truth the experiences and conclusions drawn by a single man?”

    This seems an odd question. It would be exactly and precisely the opposite of what Buddhists are supposed to do, as is made crystal clear by the Buddha and as is inevitable for his doctrine. The whole of mysticism is about discovering truth and having our own experiences and realisations. Nobody can have them for us. A person who accepts as objective truth the experiences and conclusions of another has abandoned the Buddha’s method entirely.

    if we accept someone else’s truths and conclusions then we don’t know the truth and we haven’t reached a conclusion.

    • Hey Peter. Thanks for the interaction.
      My intent with that question is to highlight the subjective nature of Buddhist teachings on how enlightenment is achieved. Not that we shouldn’t be having our own experiences, but that we are to trust that Siddhartha’s experiences are true and that following his teachings (derived from his experiences) will produce the same truth in anyone else.
      Is that more clear? I don’t profess to be an expert in Buddhism at all, just observing something that appears to me to be problematic at the root of the teachings.

  2. Thank you for your thought provoking blog.

    I have some questions that might help me understand your position. Your sentence, “Considering the aim for enlightenment and truth in Buddhism is the “middle path”, it begs the question; Does Buddhism teach an inherent truth about the world, or is it nothing more than the conclusions drawn by a man based on his experiences?” Why cannot it be both and? This is the middle way of both and, or in the middle and beyond or beyond the middle as some buddhist schools might explain it. Buddhism reaches beyond the dualistic view of all religions, thought, and even our language.

    Your next question, “So the question remains, do the origins of Buddhism necessitate that we accept as objective truth the experiences and conclusions drawn by a single man?” When you read the life story of the Buddha, did you read happen to chance upon some of his most famous last words? For example when he said he did not want followers he wanted colleagues, and to not trust in or believe in anything he said but to see and try it out for your self?

    The buddha died at roughly 80 years of age and after his enlightenment he had ca 47 years to teach, thats 47 more than Christ. It takes 108 books each twice as thick as the bible to write all his teachings and another 108 books to explain them. There was a university in India near a place called Nalanda. The university had four gates and the gates were manned by the universities smartest and most intelligent minds if you wanted to come in and learn you needed to debate the masters. Who ever lost became the winners student. Nothing was ever just trusted, it was proven to and by peers. When the muslims invaded India they burned down the universities library and the books burned for weeks. Many buddhists including the Dalai Lama all say that if science was ever to prove part of buddhism wrong, then we would all accept the science. Funnily enough science and especially Quantum Mechanics agrees with all that Buddhists have taught for 2600 years.
    In Buddhism there is not just enlightenment, there is everything and everyone, it is not a religion but an experience. A life changing experience that leads to the love and respect for all beings even the smallest of them.

    Why do some christians have such a problem with Buddhists? Buddhists love christians and hold them in very high esteem.

  3. “So the question remains, do the origins of Buddhism necessitate that we accept as objective truth the experiences and conclusions drawn by a single man?”

    I think it’s a question worth asking!

    Thanks, Gene!

    Jerome

  4. The answer is no, Buddhism does not require us to trust, have faith, or believe anything let alone that of a single man. Buddhism asks us to find out for ourselves if it works for us. The Buddha said never accept anything, prove it yourself.

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