Tuesday, June 21, 2011

40 Minutes with a Buddhist

As I walked through a large wholesale-club today, a vendor offered me a sample of free food. As I accepted the morsel, the man, Jack, asked me what my shirt meant. At that time, I had just left Vacation Bible School and was wearing a t-shirt with the letters VBS on the front. I explained to Jack what VBS meant and asked him if he went to church. He said he was Buddhist and did not attend a church. I politely asked how he came to believe in Buddhism, and he proceeded to talk for the next twenty or so minutes about his three tours of service as a Marine in Vietnam. He believed what we did to them was horrendous. Personally involved in the killing of men, women, children, and pets in several villages, he was horrified by what he had done. But every time he returned to the same village, the people seemed to be fine and happy, despite the atrocities (his words) committed against them. Believing their joy must come from a religion, he began to study their faith and came to believe and follow Buddhism.
After multiple questions I found that he believed the following items: 1. The ultimate goal of all of man is compassion. 2. There is an ultimate and singular truth. 3. All of mankind is gone astray and is evil (he chuckled, women are okay though). 4. Buddha was not a god and never claimed to be. 5. If a god existed it would make sense that he would create a being to live forever and that is why we are reincarnated. 6. Jesus was a Zen master. 7. Jesus was not God and never claimed to be God. 8. The Bible is simply a compilation of what Buddha had already said six hundred years prior to the birth of Jesus.  
It was intriguing and truly a pleasure to listen to Jack for forty minutes. I cannot begin to imagine the depths of evil he witnessed firsthand during a difficult war. I applaud him for seeking truth in a violent time. Jack was well-informed about why he believed what he believed and it was clear he had spent many hours reading relevant material.
Sadly, Jack was able to answer questions about Buddhism far better than many Christians are able to defend the hope that is within them. Worse, the God of the Bible commands for all adherents to study and be ready to defend their faith (I Peter 3:15), Buddhism does not. Are you prepared to ask someone like Jack pertinent questions? Are you capable of intelligently responding to the claims of a Buddhist, Mormon, etc.? If you are not, what will you do different tomorrow to get ready for a close encounter with a Buddhist vendor at your local grocery store?


  1. Great word and I like all the pictures you included. It is that easy sometimes to get people talking about spiritual things.

  2. Yeah... this is good because we (Christians) need to actually talk to people about our faith and theirs. People will never change if we don't listen to what they think. I hope that this man gets to encounter the eternality of Jesus or the Bible...

  3. To JosephPetePickle: Why would he need to change if he is obviously happy with his faith? Buddhists are tolerant of all religions and critical of none. If more christians practiced tolerance and tried to understand people of other faiths and cultures, maybe the world wouldn't be such a hateful place. And it's very possible that he's already encountered christianity and it didn't work for him.

    "I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." --Mahatma Ghandi

  4. Fair question.
    You asked why talk to him about Christianity; simple answer is because truth is truth and one’s perception or strongly held beliefs are irrelevant to unmovable truth.
    For a more detailed response I will use an analogy. Suppose I had information that a school bus had a bomb attached to the underside and it will blow up once it reaches the school bus line surrounded by other buses and hundreds of students. I know that the explosive is large enough to destroy the bus, kill and injure dozens of children, and wreak havoc on society as a whole. I would be a poor soul and deserving of punishment if I did not tell the proper authorities or personally act on the threat if no one did anything. I know that people will not like the chaos that will certainly ensue and the trauma of the moment but it is put aside because the need outweighs the fear of the instant. In other words, the truth of imminent death supersedes my desires to have a peace filled day.
    You also mentioned that he may have “tried” Christianity and didn’t like it. Truth is not something one tries on to see if it fits, it is what it is and one can conform or be crushed by its own merit. For example, the implications of gravity, splitting an atom, or grabbing a thick power line while grounded. None of the physics laws can vary regardless of the changing whim of a man or even if all of humankind desires same. We are powerless to change truth. I don’t want to believe much of what I read in the scriptures but that is irrelevant to the facts. There are many aspects of Christianity that I do not like and wish it was different, but that, again, is not pertinent to its validity.
    I speak about Christ to anyone who will listen (he was enjoying our conversation, it was not forced by any means. It was no different than any other conversation about factual events in which two grown men converse about.) because I have knowledge about certain death if one does not change their course. Not because I am smarter or corner the market on truth, but because it is simply true and must be true based on abundant evidence that cannot be, or should I say should not be ignored. Truth is not typically fun or heartwarming. E.g., when my wife makes a bad meal I tell her so she doesn’t make it again. She does not like hearing the truth at first but in time truth is what holds our two decade marriage together (and of course this road goes both ways). Truth in love and humility is difficult but bonding as well.
    Your last quote from Gandhi is good but a little short of accuracy. I Tweeted recently that Jesus is famous but the real Jesus is not popular. That is, man has created a false manmade image of Jesus. Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace but a sword and families would be demolished over His name. Some would follow Him while others will despise Him but one must follow Him regardless of the consequences. Thousands upon untold thousands who followed Jesus as their Savior have died at the hands of men who did not like the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus, not generic God or manmade Jesus, will cause division and anger. This is because Jesus was and is an intolerant man while being understanding of humankind’s inadequacies. He was, after all, killed because of His intolerance of the ruling pharisaical party. He will not and cannot tolerate the sin of man and punishment, like any righteous judge, must be dealt to all who have not accepted His full payment for their individual sin. The size of the sin is not pertinent. His grace abounds but we must accept it for it to take effect. Said fact is very easy yet oh so hard for arrogant man, I being one of them.

    1. That is the way to answer post-moderns who have lost their ability to reason and, consequently, their humility before a universe filled with laws and a lawgiver. They begin with the false assumption that truth is relative, despite the contradiction for that in mathematics and science. As we move farther away from classical tools of discovery and discussion, we meet folks unable and unwilling to reason, but that's not an excuse to give up. We are called to simply love them and share the gospel, but we must meet them where they are.