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.