Siddhartha Gautama lived around 2,500 years ago in the area that today is called India and Nepal. The story goes that Gautama was a very wealthy man who became disillusioned with temporary happiness. He tried asceticism, but didn’t find happiness in it. Then one day he was meditating beneath a tree where he purged his mind of all contamination and impurities. From that time on he taught people how to find this state of tranquility (also called Nirvana). Gautama is often called “the Buddha,” which means, “the awakened one.”
So what else do Buddhists believe about the Buddha? The Buddha cannot take negative and ignorant thoughts from people’s minds. He can’t “wash away our defilements with water.” “The Buddha has impartial compassion for all sentient beings and cherishes them more than himself, so if he could have eliminated our suffering by his actions, the Buddha would have done so.” Since people are in control of their own happiness and pain by subduing negative and disturbing thoughts, the Buddha can only show people how to arrive at the state of bliss and total purification. A person’s enlightenment and detachment depends upon two things: 1) the Buddha showing the way to it, and 2) the person striving to attain it by following the Buddha’s way. “He gives the teachings and shows by his example how to do it, but we have to do it ourselves” (Thubten Chordron, Buddhism for Beginners, p.19-21).
Did you notice how the teaching of Buddhism is completely different from the message of Christianity? Here’s a simple summary of the contrasts:
1) The Buddha cannot purify a person’s mind or cleanse his defilements. Jesus does both (Eph. 2:1-10, Col. 1:21, etc.).
2) The Buddha loved people more than himself but could not deliver them from suffering or eliminate suffering. Jesus not only loves his people, but he delivers them from suffering and one day will eliminate it for them (John 10:1-17, Heb. 2:9-11, Is 53:4-5, Rev. 21-22, etc.).
3) The Buddha is not in control of people, so all he can do is point them in the right direction towards happiness. Jesus, however, is in control of everything – and he doesn’t just point people in the right way, he is the way (Matt. 28:18, John 14:6).
4) The Buddha is only an example – he is not a savior because in Buddhism, people are in control of their destinies. Jesus is an example, but he’s also a Savior who is in control of the destiny of his people (John 10:28, 1 Cor. 11:1, Phil. 2:4, Phil. 3:20, 2 Tim. 1:10, etc.)
These stark differences are worth noting in our pluralistic culture where people think all religions are true to some extent, and that all roads lead to God. Clearly – very clearly! – Buddhism and Christianity are, at the very core, polar opposites. I’m so thankful for Jesus and his work, because I can’t cleanse my soul or mind, I sometimes wander off the path, and I just don’t have the strength or inner resources to go the distance on my own. So I find comfort and hope in these words of Christ: come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.