Reflections from Buddhist Temples

Yesterday we went to two different Buddhist temples on an INSIGHT field trip. Since INSIGHT is a one-year global studies program, we really like to get the students interacting with different places of worship as well as real people who hold those beliefs.  Of the 10,000 or so Unreached People Groups in the world, about 1,000 of those are Buddhists, making up roughly 225 million people.  For more research and details, go to the Joshua Project.

We went to a Thai Buddhist temple in N. Hollywood (Theravada Buddhism) and a Chinese Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights (Mahayana Buddhism).

Both temples were very ornate and beautiful to see.  They were located in neighborhoods just like churches would be, but looked like you were in Asia when you stepped on the campuses.  The first temple we were able to talk directly to a monk there.  They set up a mic for him that drowned him out more than amplified him, we really didn’t hear what he said.  The second temple we were taken on a tour by a volunteer.  This guy was just a volunteer and was Caucasian as well.  It was very interesting hearing from the official monk at one temple and a lay member at the other.

The thing running through my head the most while interacting with these people is the conversation of Grace based religion and Works based religion, as my pastor, JD Greear says, “there are two basic types of religion one is spelled D-O.  Christianity is the only religion spelled D-O-N-E.”  The basic belief system of Buddhism is that this world we live in is full of suffering and the possibility of escaping it (nirvana) is only on us (through enlightenment).  I wondered, at what point does one feel tired of the constant striving only to hope to be reincarnated in a better life next time.  At what point does hopelessness settle in and the felt need of a Saviour become embraced.

Buddhist people are difficult for Westerners to share the gospel because of the stark difference in worldviews.  Westerners (in general) run off logic, which Easterners flip on their heads with their cyclical thinking.  People working in that world must strip themselves of their cultural background and adapt to the host culture’s way of understanding things to have a chance at explaining the gospel in a relevant way.  Christianity has a sustainable answer to the problem of suffering and evil.  Most Buddhists realize they are not good enough to enter into heaven (reach nirvana), they just feel that the responsibility is their own and eventually they will get there.

Let us remember in prayer our brothers and sisters from Buddhist backgrounds.  Let us pray for their ability to sense the hopelessness of doing it on their own.  Pray for missionaries working in those places to show the love of Christ that will draw men and women into a knowledge that He alone can cover their sins.

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5 Responses to “Reflections from Buddhist Temples”

  1. dougrogers Says:

    “The basic belief system of Buddhism is that this world we live in is full of suffering”

    Suffering, as usual, mis-transliterated from “Dukkha”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha

    Not “full of suffering”, but: not different from Dukkha, which we create through Desire. In extremis, we are not apart from the world, ‘Suffering’ is not outside of us.

    “I wondered, at what point does one feel tired of the constant striving”

    The puzzle is solved when this dualism is overcome. There is nothing to strive for, nothing to overcome except the illusion that we are separate and that is matter of putting down a weight. Nothing to carry, nothing to tire you.

  2. benhumphries Says:

    The act of putting down a weight is still an individual action, a DO instead of a DONE. I have watched people, and myself at times, struggle trying to “put down a weight” of alcoholism or sexual addiction or anxiety and have found and observed that putting down these things can actually feel quite tiring, among other things.

    I have always been struck by the image of the Buddha, often large with eyes closed and smiling. It is contrasted starkly with 2 of the enduring images of Jesus, 1) a baby born in a barn and laid in an animal feeding trough as well as 2) a man bleeding and beaten staked to a tree (with it’s corollary, the empty tomb). It fascinates me how different these images are.

    My question: What about people who are unable to put down their weight? Child sex slaves, AIDS victims, civilian casualties in the Middle East, cancer victims. What does Buddhism say about them? How do they put down their weight?

  3. dougrogers Says:

    DO and DONE, a distinction without difference. You insist on a duality.

    Other peoples suffering: is it greater than our own?

    I seem to have decided to correct as well as I can what obvious misunderstandings and misstatements show up in my Tag Surfer. Honestly, your questions are too subtle for my skills. You should find a senior monk to talk to.

  4. L.M. Dinkins Says:

    It is always interesting to see American versions of Buddhism which inevitably resort to philosophical and theoretical teachings derived from english texts. The fact is that the average lay buddhist in East Asia would not quibble over whether the world is “full of suffering” or “full of Dukkha”….One merely has to look at the experiences of the Buddha when he left the palace and experienced the fallen condition of man and the world to understand the basic understanding of “suffering”. As for whether one feels “tired of the constant striving”. One merely needs to ask a East Asian Buddhist, “How much merit making/doing of good is enough?’ They will always say, “It never is enough”. Inherent in the system is the element of “constant striving” without the assurance that one has ever done “enough”. The fact is that many who claim to adhere to Buddhist teachings are very much weighted down, under a burden and tired. One needs to look practically at the outcome of Buddhist philosophy in countries like Cambodia (genocide of 1/3 of pop), Thailand (present horrific political crisis), Laos and Burma (human rights abuses). These “tolerant” Buddhist countries are unable to follow even the basic principles of the five precepts.

  5. dougrogers Says:

    L.M., you seem to imply that Pol Pot was, and that the Burmese Generals are Buddhists. I believe there is an error in that implication.

    And whether or not there is a difference in meaning between ‘suffering’ and ‘dhukka’, it is an error to base a criticism on the narrower meaning that it is only about Misery.

    Are Buddhists weighed down by knowing they are responsible for their actions? Is that what you infer?

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