6.3.2 The Concept of Truth In Buddhism
One Buddhist apologist has written: “Christianity is likewise authoritarian and dictatorial -- " you must believe this or you will be condemned" -- whereas Buddhism tends to be more liberal and allows people to believe more or less whatever they like. Christians ban certain teachings as heretical, evil and harmful, but in general terms, Buddhists assert that anyone can believe anything they wish and that there is some merit in any belief system which has some spiritual views and respects the rights of an individual, as long as it does not harm others”.
This idea that one can believe anything is a result of Buddhism actually having no solid basis upon which to believe anything. And one wonders whether believing “whatever they like” includes Fascism and Satanism… again, there seems so little attention paid to the implications of what is being said. If there is right and wrong, then immediately there is thrown up the question of truth and error, and therefore and thereby, the whole question of authority. The sheer range of beliefs within Buddhism indicates how there is no basis for ultimate Truth within the religion. Consider all the different forms of Buddhism: Zen, Theravada, Soka-gakkai; Tibetan Buddhism; Pure Land Buddhism etc.
While in Christianity a person has one and only one chance of being saved, Buddhism's teachings on rebirth mean that a person has an infinite number of opportunities to attain Nirvana. This also implies that everyone will eventually be liberated. The absoluteness of the issues involved in rejecting or accepting Jesus as the Son of God impart a verve and vitality to human life. Buddhism teaches that it is all a matter of time; we may be reincarnated as animals or bad people but in the end, the cycle leads to Nirvana. This means that evil men like Adolf Hitler will eventually reach ‘Nirvana’; there is no responsibility for human action because we are merely reincarnated beings. The Bible and the teaching which is in Jesus radically transforms human life in practice. How we live now is related to how we will be judged. What we sow is what we will reap at judgement day (Gal. 6:8). For those who know God’s ways and are responsible to Him, all that they do will in some sense be judged. This inevitably leads us to watch our behaviour. How we live becomes crucially important. There is no second chance. Now is the today of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2); today, if we will hear God’s voice and not harden our heart (Heb. 3:7-15), we can “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12). If we are simply passing through a cycle, and will in the ultimate end up in Nirvana, there is little motivation to change now. We will always tend to go for the lowest level; we are satisficers, minimalists, when it comes to spiritual endeavour. Both human experience and the Bible’s view of human nature lead us to these conclusions; and yet Buddhism denies them.
Buddhism seems to me to be a ‘designer religion’- you can believe as you like, and extract from the vast range of Buddhist writings what is convenient for you. Buddhism holds that different types of teaching and guidance are going to be appropriate to different beings, seeing we are all at different stages in the endless cycle of development. This means that there is no such thing as revealed truth. We are left wandering and uncertain. God’s word is truth, Jesus taught (Jn. 17:17). We all balk at the enormity of this claim- that the Bible is the Truth. All I can do is invite you to systematically read it for yourself. It has been observed that “even straightforward teachings in moral matters can be modified, sometimes intensified, sometimes relaxed in the course of teaching and transmission” (1). This means there is no such concept as truth, therefore no understanding of right and wrong, and no concept of sin. The varying Buddhist views over time and geography regarding meat eating and violence are examples of the intellectual and moral crisis of Buddhism. In passing, note that the Pali Canon reveals that Buddha himself ate meat, but his later disciples saw that his teachings about re-incarnation meant that to eat an animal was to take a human life, and therefore it was outlawed. Who has the right to modify moral standards? If there are no inspired Scriptures, the basis for authority can only be the monks. The lack of uniform morality in Buddhism contrasts strongly with the one universal standard for the Christian- “the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21???). By this I understand we are to ask constantly and with relentless, piercing honesty: What would Jesus do or say or feel, in this or that situation which I meet in my life? For He was and is our representative, and His life of suffering, and the fact He had our human nature, enables us to know with confidence that He has been in our shoes, in essence. True Christians are as it were in a personality cult behind this man Jesus. This explains the tremendous unity which is possible amongst true Christians. He was not merely a teacher, an ideas man, as Buddha was. He was the word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), His life was and is the express articulation of all He and His Father have taught in their words.
(1) Stewart MacFarlane, Making Moral Decisions in Peter Harvey, Buddhism, p. 183 (London: Continuum, 2001).