God's Word For Isan -- Mekong Bible Translation Project of Northeast Thailand
God's Word For Isan -- Buddhism Examined in the Light of the Gospel
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Christianity: Face of Jesus Christ

SALVATION MEANS: 
Forgiveness of Sin and the Gift 
of Eternal Life Through 
Personal Faith In The 
Lord Jesus Christ 


Buddhism: Face of Buddha

   SALVATION MEANS:
   Escape From Reincarnation
   Through Personal Striving
   to Attain Release From
   Existence By Works


Buddhism Examined in the Light of the Gospel
(Thai Buddhist Teachings and World View From a Christian Perspective, and Visa-versa)

Theravada Buddhism:
What Is It? ... What Are Its Teachings?

First of All, Buddhism is Thailand's
State-ordained Socio-cultural Religious
System and Philosophical World View

Compiled by Ron Myers; MA in Asian Studies
(Veteran Church-planting Missionary and Bible Translator to Thailand Since 1973)

A LOOK AT BUDDHISM versus HISTORICAL CHRISTIANITY

FACT: Theravada (or orthodox) Buddhism has been the officially-sanctioned, state-ordained religion, and socio-cultural world view of Thailand for centuries.  It is adhered to by over 94% of all Thai citizenry, and upwards of 99% of all Isan people.  As such, it forms the central focal point of national, social, and personal identification around which life revolves.

BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY SAYS:
BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY SAYS:
"Don't follow after me, seek the path of truth for yourselves."
(The Lord Buddha - Prince Siddhattha Gautama)
"I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
(The Lord Jesus Christ - John14:6)
"No one deserves more love than yourself."
(The Lord Buddha - Prince Siddhattha Gautama)
"Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind; and thy neighbor as thyself"
(The Lord Jesus Christ - 1st & 2nd Greatest Commandments: Mark 22:37,39)
"Self is one's own source of refuge (trust, strength, salvation, deliverance)."
(The Lord Buddha - Prince Siddhattha Gautama)
"Keep my soul [oh Lord], and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee."
(Psalm Of David 25:20)
"If there Was A Creator, May He Be Called Stupid For Creating Such A Mess."
(Buddhist Theory)
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handywork."
(Psalm Of David 19:1)
Buddhism can be explained in these words: "Practice Right Thinking."
(An Anonymous Temple Abbot)
Christianity can be summed up in these words: "He is Risen!"
(Gospel of Matthew 28:6)

BUDDHISM'S FOUNDATIONS:
(The prince who became exalted as "The Lord Buddha" versus the LORD God who humbled Himself to became "The Son of man")

    The prince who became known as "The Buddha" (or Enlightened One) was born Prince Siddhattha Gautama (sit-daht-tah  goh-tah-mah)  circa 623 B.C., on the borders of Northern India and present-day Nepal.  Tradition tells us that the prince's expectant mother, Maya Devi, was walking through the garden of Lumbini on the way to visit her mother.  (The location of Lumbhini is approximately 300 kilometers (or 180 miles) west of the capital city Kathmandu.)  Upon resting from her journey, and taking in the beautiful scenery of the garden, she began to experience labor pains, whereupon she grasped a nearby tree branch for support, and there the prince was born. 

Today, the location is marked with various shrines and edifices from different nations.  There are claims that the birthplace of Prince Gautama was elsewhere, like across the border in Northern India.  However, Lumbini is the location of an ancient pillar, erected over two millennia ago in honor of the Buddha's birthplace by the Indian Emperor, Asoka the Great, whose reign extended from 273 BC to 232 BC.  (See "After the passing of the Buddha" below for more information concerning Emperor Asoka's role in the widespread expansion of Buddhism.)
Lumbini Garden, The Buddha's Birthplace

Of royal lineage, Prince Siddhattha received all the rights and privileges of his heritage--his father being the ruler over the fiefdom of Sakyas, a city that still exists in modern Nepal.  The young prince lived in the lap of luxury with every known convenience at his command, totally sheltered from the teeming masses of peasant-class humanity that existed around him, just outside the palace compound walls.  On a short day-excursion outside the palace, the inquisitive young prince came face-to-face with the destitute poverty, pain, suffering, and death for the very first time -- the utter squalid conditions that most of his father's subjects lived under, which left him extremely curious and troubled.

    Buddhism's Beginnings: Consequently, Prince Siddhattha Gautama, upon being exposed to human poverty, misery, and suffering first-hand, began to question and finally disavowed his royal birthright, against his father's wishes.  Being from an elite Brahmin privileged-class, the Prince had everything an opulent lifestyle could possibly provide.  However, he forsook all this in his earnest search for truth.  The young prince left his beautiful young wife and family behind as he embarked on his personal quest to discover the underlying meaning of life, and seek the cause and solution for the human squalor and misery that had left such an indelible impression on him.  He first struck out on a path of extreme self-denial or asceticism, even fasting to the point that his health was affected.  Realizing that approach didn't provide any answers, he then pursued the path of wanton unrestraint or hedonism, to see if the answer to his quest lay there. 

Upon experiencing disappointment and disillusionment while seeking life's ultimate answers through trying these opposite extremes, the prince finally tried a more moderate, middle-of-the-road approach.  Through long periods of solitude and meditation, the young prince eventually experienced "enlightenment."  This came in the form of a transcendent cognizance where he perceived that misery and suffering were the direct consequences of fleshly desires, pursuits, and attachments.  He then proclaimed his discovery to the masses, as he developed a series of principles of dealing with or contending against these internal causes of sorrow and suffering.  These principles became known as The Eight-Fold Middle Path

The Buddha even perceived his many past lives or reincarnations as part of his enlightenment--possibly a syncretistic carryover from Hinduistic beliefs.  It is said that he was able to recount stories of his past "rebirths" in great detail, which he narrated to his disciples.  Thus, the prince who became known as the Lord Buddha gained many faithful followers and disciples until his final life-death cycle, having attained rite of passage into Nirvana through practicing the Eight-fold Middle Path--the ultimate "salvation" from the birth-life-sickness-death cycle of reincarnation.  Hence, the Buddha went on to his final reward some 540 years before the birth of Christ, marking the advent of the Christian era.

    After the passing of the Buddha (Prince Siddhattha Gautama), various collections of teachings attributed to the Buddha were committed to memory by his loyal followers, and passed down by oral tradition.  These were eventually committed to writing around four centuries later--or circa 100 B.C.  As time passed. his followers eventually split into a number of groups, each with its own set of interpretations as to the Buddha's teachings.  During the rule of Emperor Asoka over the Indian Empire (circa 3rd century BC), Buddhism spread rapidly throughout India and further eastward into Asia, due to his missionary zeal.  Asoka, a zealous follower of the Buddha's teachings whose name in the ancient Pali Sanscrit language means "without sorrow," was instrumental in backing missionary efforts to spread Buddhism eastward throughout the Asian subcontinent.  The Buddhist Emperor sincerely believed that Buddhism was beneficial for all ... so, he used his authority, power, and wealth to build tens-of-thousands of temple compounds and stupas (dome-shaped, pinnacle-topped shrines) in Sri Lanka and throughout South and Central Asia.  In short, Asoka, more than anyone else in history, was responsible for the global spread of Buddhism.  After Asoka's death, Buddhism eventually became consolidated into two main schools of thought, i.e., orthodox and reformed.  Ironically, although Buddhism received wide acceptance throughout the Orient, it never really came into vogue in its homeland, India.


Buddhism's Two Main Traditions:
    1-The Older or Earlier Tradition, known as the "Way of the Elders," is also called Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism.  Sometimes referred to as the "Lesser Vehicle," Hinayana or Theravada is the more conservative or orthodox branch of Buddhism, and is practiced by a smaller number, approximately one-third of all Buddhists.  This school of thought is said to be closest to the Buddha's original teachings, and is practiced in the countries of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma--essentially those in Southeast Asia--but with localized customs and variations.  Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition typically wear Orange- or Saffron-colored robes. This color more closely resembled the actual color that the Lord Buddha wore--representing the color of "renunciation," i.e., renunciation of earthly desires and values.

    2-The Later or Reformed Tradition is called Mahayana Buddhism.  Frequently referred to as the "Greater Vehicle," Mahayana is the more liberal or reformed school of Buddhist thought, adhered to by a majority, approximately two-thirds of all Buddhists.  It first arose in India and later spread to become the pan-Asiatic form of Buddhism, predominant in Nepal, China, Japan, Java, Sumatra, Ceylon, as well as Tibet, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam--essentially throughout Central and Eastern Asia.  Later, Mahayana Buddhism divided into six sub-schools: Madhyamika, Yogacara, Avatamsaka, Pure Land, Tantrism, and finally Zen, Zen being the most widely-known due to name recognition and infatuation in the West.  Buddhist monks following these traditions typically wear Brown-, Reddish-, or Grayish-colored robes.


COMPARING BUDDHISM AND CHRISTIANITY

How does Thai (Theravada) Buddhism differ from Christianity?  First and foremost, Buddhism, in whatever form, holds absolutely no relationship or resemblance to Biblically-based Christianity whatsoever.  Although some of Buddhism's concepts or precepts may sound somewhat similar, let's say to the Ten Commandments, they are not to be construed with Biblical truths.  Why not?  In Theravada Buddhism, there is no God, no Supreme Creator, no Savior, or Righteous Judge who watches over the affairs of men.  "The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." (Psalm 24:1)

Furthermore, Buddhism's do-it-yourself teachings and beliefs (as great as they may sound) are essentially of human origin, based solely on personal effort and individual attainment, i.e., merit or good works, apart from grace.  Whereas, forgiveness of sin and the free gift of salvation, redemption and restoration is from the Lord, the Gospel being based solely upon God's loving-kindness and grace, apart from human works, as revealed in the Name, Person,and sacrificial Work of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf.

What is Thai Buddhism's goal and theme of salvation?  Despite its alluring metaphysical (abstract or intangible) and supernatural overtones, Buddhism is essentially a humanistic, self-help philosophy.  (I call it a "Boot Strap" religion, where the adherent must lift him or herself up, entirely by his or her own boot straps, or unassisted self-effort!)  As such, practically speaking, Theravada Buddhism is a philosophical view of life where the adherent must practice a prescribed set of precepts -- essentially a compilation of do's and don'ts, but mostly don'ts -- all the while relying on one's own rigorous efforts to accomplish self-denial and detachment from all worldly passions, or even the normal wants, needs, hopes, or desires of this life, as the only means of attaining salvation from the greatest enemy, i.e., the continualreincarnation cycle back into this life of suffering and pain... according to their Theravada Buddhist teachings.

What are popular misconceptions about Buddhism?  Contrary to popular Western misconception, in Theravada Buddhism, the Lord Buddha, although highly venerated, is not thought of, or worshiped as deity.  However, the Buddha (Enlightened One) is shown deep reverence and respect as the one who discovered and trod the Eight-fold Middle Path to "salvation," i.e., the pathway to escape from suffering and reincarnation, providing entrance into the state of "Nirvana."  Furthermore, contrary to another popular Western assumption, Nirvana is not a place of eternal serenity, tranquillity, and bliss -- such as in God's Heavenly Kingdom -- but it is a state of annihilation or eradication where one's own being ceases to exist, thus escaping from the endless cycle of reincarnation and earthly suffering.  According to tradition, Buddha never encouraged his followers to worship or revere him, or even make idols or pictures of him, but taught them to seek and follow the eight-fold path of enlightenment for themselves.  (Idolatry and other practices were added later through syncretism -- meaning the infusion and blending of differing belief systems.)

What is the origin and general tenets of Buddhism?  As a Prince who lived in Northern India over 2,500 years ago, Siddhattha Gautama became the "Enlightened One," or Buddha through meditation, while seeking answers to life's dilemmas.  Through this enlightenment, Siddhattha Gautama (The Buddha) is said to have discovered or understood the Four Noble Truths, namely that: 1) Suffering is universal; 2) The origin (cause) of suffering is attachment to the passions and things of this life; 3) Cessation of suffering is attainable; 4) The Path to the cessation of suffering is detachment from the passions and things of this life.  Along with the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha is also said to have discovered or visualized the Eightfold Noble Path of escape (salvation), namely the practice of: 1) right understanding, 2) right thought, 3) right speech, 4) right action, 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right mindfulness, and 8) right concentration.

What are Buddhism's roadblocks to understanding the Gospel?  The Buddhist philosophy of salvation is totally contrary to, and devoid of, any knowledge of God, mercy, love, or grace, i.e., the concept of redemption, forgiveness, and salvation by the Grace of God, apart from human works.  This one factor makes it practically impossible for the Thai to understand the Gospel... especially when it is presented through normal evangelistic shortcut methods, namely confronting the Thai with the "Four Spiritual Laws" or the "Romans Road Plan of Salvation."  Then, asking them to pray and make a "decision for Christ" on the spot!

Why doesn't the normal witnessing approach work with the Thai, and why must it be avoided?  Mainly, because it confuses the Thai listener, due to the fact that they do not share in our Judeo-Christian world view, which forms an essential foundational basis for understanding the Gospel, thus comprehending their own need for Christ.  And secondly, because they have already made up their minds (mistakenly) that the Gospel message is about the foreigners' "do-gooder" religion, and they are already very contented with their own "do-gooder" religion, thus, they aren't even interested in listening, and politely "check out" or repeat one of their favorite expressions, mentioned below. 

Yet, God gives wisdom to work around these seemingly insurmountable barriers... that of implementing Creation-Evangelism principles to supply the lacking information.  This fills in the blank spaces or missing links in their understanding, starting from the beginning.  More on this subject later.  (Note how the Apostle Paul employed the same step-by-step creation-evangelism witnessing approach while explaining the Gospel cross-culturally to the educated heathen at Mars Hill--Acts 17:22-32.  Notice at what reference point Paul begins his message, and how he only mentions sin, repentance, judgement, and the Resurrected One (the Lord Jesus Christ) at the very end, after having established beginnings, and the existence and character of the Creator--who He is and what He isn't.)


What are popular expressions of Buddhist thought?  The following three oft-repeated Thai-Buddhist maxims reveal the works-oriented heart of Theravada Buddhist philosophy.

1) "Self is one's own source of reliance or dependence"  (Very difficult to translate literally, but the implication is: relying on, depending on, or drawing strength from ones own personal effort is the only means of gaining salvation--deliverance from reincarnation).
NOTE: Meaning, relying on one's own efforts is the way to attain "Salvation" or "Nirvana"... a non-existant state where a person's soul is "no more" so there's nothing to be reimcarnated back onto this earth again, with all of its pain, suffering, and sorrow.  This is not unlike trying to lift oneself off of the ground by pulling up on ones own bootstraps while standing in the same boots.

2) "Do good - receive good; do ill (evil) - receive ill in return."  (This adage reflects Buddhism's Merit versus Karma principle.)

3) "All religions teach people to do good, not to do bad, therefore all religions are mutually good."  This is the great win-win, I'm-okay-you're-okay, end-all-further-discussion clincher (I've heard it so many times that I know it by heart).  It is most often recited with a smile, in the face of every missionary's well-intended attempt to share the Good News. 

The unspoken message behind point #3 is:  "Our Buddhism is better than your Christianity because it is older, it is more reasonable and logical, and try as we may, we can't understand what Christianity is about.  So, go home if you like, because your religion is confusing, as it makes no sense to us whatsoever.  We are Thai, which means that we are Buddhist."  (More on this later... )
Notice that the central theme in each of these three above sayings is:  works-based self effort is how "Salvation" or deliverance from reincarnation is found!

What Occurs After Death - Part I?  According to Therevada (Orthodox) Buddhist beliefs, upon the death of the adherent, the spirit leaves the body, and if her or she has accumulated a sufficient amount of Merit (Positive Karma) -- through adherence to Buddha's eight-fold middle-path of precepts and teachings -- that one will eventually be reincarnated (reborn) back into this world's existence, hopefully as another human being of higher status that that one's former life.  The Thai believe that, if bad enough -- by careless living and non-adherence to the eight-fold middle-path -- one may, in fact, be reborn as a lower life form.  However, no one tends to feel that this fate might befall themselves.  Eventually, if one adheres to right-living over a series of deaths and reincarnations, one will potentially gain enough merit to earn passage into "Nirvana."   Buddhist Priests who have gained this privilege are believed to forego Nirvana after a final death experience, volunteering to "stick-around" to perform charitable acts of kindness on the faithful, who offer prayers and various types of offerings to effigies (idols or images) of them.  In effect, they become Saints in the Roman Catholic sense.

What Occurs After Death - Part II?  If one does not have enough merit accumulated to be reborn, he or she is said to remain in a state of bodiless limbo to haunt relatives in a calamitous fashion and/or play mischievous tricks on them.  This continues until the hapless relatives acquiesce and offer up enough merit through temple ceremonies to send the deceased loved-one on to be reborn, along with performing various cleansing rites and ceremonies, typically of ancient Brahman origin.  These beliefs and practices are intertwined in a syncretistic fashion with superstitious folklore and animistic beliefs concerning the feeding and care of spirits, designed to appease them from carrying out any hauntings, like causing calamities to befall family members, such as sickness or even death.

Note: I have seen these things in action on countless occasions, whereupon I would ask the relative of the deceased if his mother loved him while she was still living?... whereupon the answer was always a swift and confident, "Yes!"  I would then ask: "if yout mother loved you, why, then, would she seek to harm you now?"  The adult son or daughter would have no answer.  This is part of witnessing to these people; through polite inquiry get them to consider how their learned beliefs weren't reasonable or logical (even though that's the general claim), and that they were being deceived to remain under the power of lying evil forces -- Satan and his army of demons.

What is Buddhism's Merit-Karma principle?  The Buddhist teaching of making Merit (positive behavior, good deeds or actions) versus Karma (negative behavior, wrongful deeds or actions), mixed with the Thais' inherent superstitious tendencies, causes them to automatically view any good fortune that comes their way as being a direct result of some good deed they may have done, either in this present life-span, or in a past incarnation, which is now returning to reward them in kind.  Conversely, if a calamity or misfortune befalls a person, it obviously means that he or she must have performed some bad deed during this present life-span, or possibly lived an evil existence in a past incarnation.  With that in view, if/when the missionary states abruptly and matter-of-factly to a Thai person: "Do you know that Jesus died and shed His Blood to pay the price for your sins and mine on the Cross?" they don't hear what you thought you said.  Why not?  Simply because they believe that, in the light of their Buddhist world view, Jesus death was the inescapable Karma principle in action, because bad deeds always return to meet out retribution on the doer.

How does Buddhism's Merit-Karma principle influence the Thais' perception of the Gospel message?  According to the average Thai Buddhist, it's quite obvious that Jesus died for His own sins, as stated above, not anyone else's sins, leastwise theirs.  How so?  Jesus, as "good" a person as He may have been during His earthly incarnation as the prophet and teacher who initiated Christianity, the Westerners' "Religion," Jesus surely must have done something terribly bad in one of His past incarnations... whereupon He became bound by the chains of Karma: "Do good, receive good--do bad, receive bad" (or, You reap what you sow).  With that in mind, any good Thai Buddhist knows instinctively that the violent suffering and crucifixion Jesus underwent when He died that horrible death on the Cross was merely Karmic retribution for His own bad deeds or wrongful actions, which He must have committed in a former life.

Conversely, if per chance, a Thai person begins to vaguely comprehend the implications of the Gospel message, her or she might respond excitedly with: "Wow!  That's wonderful!  I certainly must have done something really good to have God offer to help me like that"!  ...   The said fact being that the person totally missed the point that he or she actually stood guilty and condemned before a righteous and holy Creator, apart from atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinless God-man who paid the price for the sins of the whole world of humanity by shedding His precious blood as the payment price -- paid in full -- totally bypassing any need for personal effort or achievement (past, present, or future) to attain this priceless gift that cannot be earned.

Believe it or not, I've heard this identical scenario repeated numerous times!  Does this sound at all familiar?  How about the lyrics Julie Andrews sang so beautifully in the song, Something Good, while gazing towards the heavens during a starlit night in the famous musical, Sound Of Music"Nothing comes from nothing; Nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good..."

Truth or Consequences: So, what's the implication, and what can be learned from this scenario?  First and foremost, this response typically occurs when the missionary rushes into the positive aspects or end results of the Gospel message (the Good News), without taking the time and effort to establish the first part (the Bad News): One righteous and holy God over all His Creation, the Garden, the Enemy (deceptive spirit world), the Temptation to disobey, the Fall into a state of sin and death, the Curse, the Promised coming Messiah, the Resurrection and Atonement, the Promised Messiah returning for His Saints, the impending Judgment of the Lost, etc. 

Speaking of cause and effect: the Thais' Buddhist religious system and general world view contains no such thing as a Supreme Creator-God.  Therefore, without supplying this important missing link, the Thais maintain that the Gospel is confusing and meaningless, having no rhyme or reason--something they often say to the chagrin of the missionary, who assumed he was conveying a clear Gospel message.

Initial Mistake: The missionary who bypasses this critical initial introduction into God's world view, to get to the important meat of the Gospel message, does so to his or her own detriment, and inadvertently does the Thai person a great and potentially tragic disfavor.  Potentially tragic because it unwittingly reinforces their misconceptions about the Gospel, and who God is and isn't.  (unwittingly: without knowledge or intention on the part of the messenger)

Second Mistake: Again, we must remember that the Thais' Buddhist religious concept of rewards is based on an earned, "cause-and-effect," or "good-works" principle.  Whereas, the supreme good received by receiving the living Christ of the Gospel into one's heart and life is totally unearned, paid for by the shed Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, based on God's unfathomable mercy and grace alone, apart from works of any kind.  That is, anything based on human effort: whether noteworthy or insignificant, positive or negative, good or bad. 

Consequently, the introduction to the Gospel (the Bad News part) is mandatory: since it's the only real way to bypass the religious reward system the Thais' rely on, by enlightening them as to their lost and sinful condition before their own Creator-God, of whom they heretofore never knew, while giving the Holy Spirit the means to convict the Thai hearer of Sin, Righteousness, and Impending Judgement. (John 16:8-11)  We often hear it stated that a person must get truly lost before he or she can truly appreciate his or her need for the Gospel, and be saved.  That, in a word, is what I am referring to here.



Did you know the following facts about Thai Buddhism?  With all due respect to, and concern for, the untold millions of Thai people, and other Asian nationalities who are very satisfied with Buddhist teachings, they couldn't care less, or be bothered with stooping to investigate a "lesser religion" like Biblical Christianity.  Possibly, this is because Buddhism contains a series of paths that one must follow, i.e., human works aimed towards achieving self-attainment, as opposed to trusting in God's Grace, and receiving Mercy in Christ, as revealed in God's Word.  This includes naive Westerners who have rejected Christ and have become intrigued with Buddhism.

Buddhism is comprised of a series of codes (do's and don'ts), based entirely on human effort.  Its teachings contain no concept of a personal soul, spirit world, Creator (Intelligent Designer), or Supreme Being to whom one may communicate with in prayer, rely upon for strength, wisdom, grace and forgiveness, or to whom one is ultimately accountable.  That being said, Buddhism does teach that, if there ever was a Creator-God, may His name be called stupid or ignorant.  And, may He (the Creator) be shunned and rejected for creating such a messed-up world, filled with sorrow, pain, suffering, sickness, and death.  Of course, as Believers, we know that is a part of the Curse, which occurred owing to our original parents' open disobedience, resulting in the Fall--and not a part of God's original perfect creation.  Thus, the Gospel message: to redeem and reclaim that which was lost--and create a new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells [and reigns].  (2 Peter 3:13)

NOTE: The more one understands the underlying tenets that comprise the Thais' world view, the more clearly one can see how the Enemy has interjected cleverly-contrived falsehoods, as in, "Yea, hath God said?" (Gen 3:1), designed to place these people on a path of avoidance, keeping them in spiritual bondage, satisfied with religiosity, and affectively insulating them from being interested, or able to understand and believe the truths about their Creator and the Gospel message.  Yet, here and there, some are reached and believe--saved through the "foolishness of preaching" as Paul stated (1 Cor 1:21). Would that it were many, many more.

Literally speaking, Buddhism teaches an abstract view of life and reality (we would say irrational and illogical) where its adherents are instructed that nothing temporal actually exists, but is purely illusionary.  And, that everyone must depend on his or her own intuitive interpretation of things and self-effort to escape reincarnation's relentless cycle of birth, death and rebirth back to relive life on earth again (and again, and again), with its inherent pains, sorrows,sufferings, and troubles. 

What is the ultimate goal of Buddhism?  The ultimate goal of Buddhism is not to try to gain "Heaven" (a temporary lesser place, as they perceive it where some may go to spend a little while, till they use up whatever merit they have accumulated), but to escape reincarnation's surly bonds forever by gaining passage into "Nirvana," a state of annihilation where one ceases to exist--earned through good deeds and self denial.  Thus, to escape the only perceived enemy.  What enemy?  In their eyes it's Reincarnation, along with its endless cycle of rebirths back into this world's meagerly existence, with all of its inherent pain, sorrow, and suffering.  In short, the goal of Thai Buddhism is a form of escapism through personal eradication!

Is Thai Buddhism textbook pure?  If not, why not?  The general mode of thinking throughout Thailand is: "to be Thai is to be Buddhist," period, end of subject.  Consequently, any Thai or Isan person who chooses to embrace Christ immediately becomes a social outcast or misfit, and is considered to have forfeited his or her Thai-Buddhist birthright for a lesser-valued "foreigner's religion."  However, Thai Buddhism is not textbook pure, but is "spiced up" with a generous mixture of Brahmanism, Animism, and superstitious folk beliefs.  This blending of various beliefs is called syncretism.  Notwithstanding, the total belief-package forms a powerful socio-cultural point of identification that is not easily breached. 

With that in view -- never-mind the Thais' favorite all-inclusive adages about all religions being equal, and having good moral teachings -- the social rejection factor can be intense beyond belief for those who dwell in a small town or village environment, where people live in a very tightly-knit, mutually-reliant, lock-step society.  There, the pressure to conform is much greater, and the social rejection factor much higher if a person or family accepts Christ.  It can almost be compared to a labor strike, where someone decides to "betray the mutual cause" by breaking through union picket lines to go back to work.  Like the "Scab" that decides to walk past picket lines, intense hatred often occurs against the fellow-Thai citizen who deserts his or her Buddhist birthright and embraces Christ.

In these situations, retribution may occur in the form of destruction of property, unjust treatment, and thinly-veiled threats, but hardly ever extreme physical violence unto death.  Normally though, the intensity lasts for a few months to a couple years, which can seem like a lifetime for those who are used to a tightly-knit societal lifestyle.  However, once things have calmed down, others (observant relatives, friends and neighbors) often become interested in investigating the claims of the Gospel, having had a chance to observe the joy-filled changed lives, and the benefits of not having to live a fearful, toe-the-line existence to superstitious beliefs, or meet the ancestral spirit's incessant demands (actually demonic spirit-beings, i.e., fallen Angelic beings).  Conversely, for the city-dweller who accepts Christ, any rejection is normally not nearly as intense, or impacting, since city life is less cohesive and thus much less demanding along these lines -- where one can more-easily become incognito and self-reliant, if need be.


What are the historical beginnings of Biblical Christianity in Thailand?  Biblical Christianity is believed to have been first introduced into the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand's former name) nearly 200 years ago through the influence of the Baptist Missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson and his wife Ann (Nancy) Hasseltine Judson.  The Judsons first arrived in Siam in 1813.  They compiled the very first Siamese (Thai) dictionary, and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the Thai/Siamese language in 1819.  Their first convert to Christianity, a Karen tribal man named Ko Tha Byu, was said to be like gold hidden under a thick layer of tarnish.  After having lived a life of robbing and murdering, he was rescued from slavery by the Judsons, and later converted and was baptized in 1828.  Eventually Ko Tha Byu went out to villages to preach. He helped convert a man named Quala, who became one of the most prominent Christian leaders in the 19th century.  Later, in the 1860s, Presbyterian missionaries entered Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Their first Thai convert to Christianity was martyred for his "strange" new beliefs.

Why are Thai Buddhists so resistant to embracing the Gospel message?  Even though Biblically-based Christianity has been in Thailand since the early 1800s, it is still considered by most all Thai as being "the foreigner's religion."  As such, it is presently adhered to by well-below 1% of the total population, and as low as .01% in many areas, like the Isan region.  The Gospel of God's Grace is not readily understood or widely embraced by the Thai, not even to this day.  Having been indoctrinated from birth into a works-based human philosophy, few Thai are convicted by the preaching of the Gospel, since they view Christianity as being merely a system of good works, on a par with Buddhism, only of lesser value.
Apprentice Buddhist Monks
Buddhism, to the Thai, is not merely their beloved religious heritage, but a strong socio-cultural point of identification -- the cohesive "glue" that bonds them together as a people-group, and makes them "Thai."  Thus, in their minds, as previously mentioned, to be a Thai automatically means to be a Buddhist, case closed.  Almost every Thai or Isan person, if/when approached with the Gospel, will politely inform you, the "uninitiated," that Christianity is a good religion, since it teaches people to be "good," and in that sense, they readily accept what they mistakenly consider as its "good precepts and teachings," i.e., works, yet they matter-of-factly reject Christ as their sin-bearing Savior.  Hence, in actuality they view Christianity in all its forms as being merely the foreigners religion (which it is in many cases), i.e., good for the foreigners, but not for them.

Pictured here in their bright saffron robes, young Thai-Isan boys between the age of eight to nineteen (8-19) have entered the monkhood as nanes, or novice apprentices.  When they reach the age of twenty (20), they can be ordained into the priesthood as adult monks, as the monk below has done.  Novices must adhere to a behavioral code of ten (10) prohibitive precepts, while adult monks must observe a regimen of two-hundred twenty-seven (227) precepts.  These precepts are memorized by rote in the Pali language, an ancient language and script considered sacred to Thai Buddhism, as Latin is (or was) to Catholicism. 

Salvation Buddhist-style: the Eight-Fold Middle Path to Nirvana:
Buddhism: Face of Golden Buddhist Idol

FOREWORD: Things to keep in mind...

  • Note: The term "Middle Path" refers to avoiding practices that are on the one hand, extremely harsh or austere in nature (i.e., self-punishment or asceticism), while on the other hand, avoiding the benefits and pleasures of life.

  • First, the uninitiated Westerner (you and I) must understand that Buddhist teachings include absolutely NO concept of a Supreme Being to whom adherents are accountable, or a Creator God and His Creation.  In fact, in the light of the success of Creation Evangelism techniques (begin witnessing by starting with Creation and Origins), Buddhist monks have recently begun to adamantly deny these Biblical facts as a countermeasure against the in-roads of Biblical Christianity.  Consequently, the message of the Gospel is automatically interpreted by them as merely another set of behavioral-oriented philosophies or "Golden Rules" to be practiced (religious works or self-effort).  This short-sighted view reduces the universal Messiahship and Deity of Jesus Christ to being just another religious Guru.  (In this case, the foreigner's religious prophet or teacher.)
        NOTE: Introductory corrective teaching needs to be focused on Creation and the Creator, His Character, the Temptation, the Fall, the Curse (of death), and the promised Messiah.  This provides a basis for right understanding and clears things up immensely in the minds of the hearers -- which means that any reference to Jesus' Name and the Gospel must be kept until later, until God's rightful place as Creator, Owner and Sustainer of all life is established in the minds of the hearer.

  • Second, to understand the devoted Buddhist mindset and expressionless demeanor, one must have an understanding of Buddhism's "Four Noble Truths" and the "Eight-fold Path."  Also, the Buddhist concepts of non-self, impermanence, and personal denial.

  • Third, by adhering to the "Path to Higher Consciousness," (seen below) it is taught that one will transcend to a higher plane of intuitive wisdom, insight and knowledge.  Thus, by shedding one's self of all ill will, negative thoughts and deeds, corrupt addictions and fleshly cravings, and by realizing one's true sense of "self-reality," one can pierce through the shell of earthly ignorance and delusion, and thus escape the Karmic cycle of reincarnation to enter the highest state, i.e., Nirvana.
        NOTE: The state of Nirvana CANNOT be likened to God's Heaven (place of dwelling) as mentioned in the Bible where the Redeemed live eternally with God in a state of eternal, sinless bliss, but a state where one's personal entity, i.e., self, ceases to exist. This is the ultimate goal of Buddhism, to escape Reincarnation's cycle of re-births -- likened to a floating soap bubble that pops and disappears into thin air, never to return. 


THE BUDDHIST EIGHT-FOLD MIDDLE-PATH TO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS:
(These precepts may be described using varying terminology, but generally-speaking, this is what they are.)

  • Precept #1  Right Understanding: i.e., Knowledge of the Four Noble Truths:  
  • Noble Truth #1  All in existence is impermanent and as such is inherently ill (bad) and corrupt and detachable from one's true self or "automa"
  • Noble Truth #2  All that is ill and corrupt is delusional, based on ignorance and perpetuated by fleshly cravings; 
  • Noble Truth #3  Cessation of all ill and corrupt cravings brings an end to all reincarnations, thus attaining Nirvana; 
  • Noble Truth #4  Nirvana is the absolute, changeless, permanent state of perfection -- the attainment of self-realization and true wisdom. 
  • Precept #2  Right Aims: Aspire to attain realization of Nirvana, i.e., perfect wisdom, the ultimate true permanent reality. 
  • Precept #3  Right Speech: Abstain from all lying, falsehoods, evil, abusive and frivolous speech. 
  • Precept #4  Right Actions: Abstain from all acts causing the cessation of life, from all stealing, from all sensual pleasure, from all evil acts, from all forms of intoxication. 
  • Precept #5  Right Living: Abstain from all evil living and all manner of ill-gotten gain or means of livelihood. 
  • Precept #6  Right Effort: Abstain from all evil states of mind; foster and maintain virtuous states of mind; compassion, pity, sympathy, calmness and tranquility 
  • Precept #7  Right Mindedness: Regard everything as being impermanent, ill and corrupt: i.e., all feelings, perceptions, inclinations, consciousness, thoughts, mental states, mental images and mental activities. 
  • Precept #8  Right Concentration: Foster dispassion, detachment, and revulsion for the things of the world as being decaying and impermanent.  Practice aloofness from evil states of mind, from the senses, and all sensations.  Practice dwelling in solitude and seclusion, meditating and reflecting with singleness of mind. 

Buddhism: Giving and Receiving Alms
CONCLUSION:

As one attains to these higher states of self-enlightenment of mind and consciousness, the illusory nature of one's transitory surroundings becomes clearly perceived, both intuitively and through one's own efforts, directed by the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths.  Consequently, the true state of self-reality unfolds and personal enlightenment is reached, the rite of passage into Nirvana's state of blissful perfection.  This is all attained by one's own bootstrap efforts according to the roughly translated, oft-repeated Buddhist adage, "Self reliance is one's own source of strength (refuge or salvation)."

Nirvana (or Ni-pah-na), is not a metaphysical or spiritual place of refuge for the soul, but a state where one's person, spirit or soul ceases to exist as an entity.  This is said to be attainable after passage through a series of reincarnation cycles which provide the seeker with repeated opportunities to shed all manner of personal faults and selfish desires.  This self cleansing and personal improvement is mandatory before being able to attain entrance into the cosmic pool known as Nirvana. 

Thus, the sacred duty of every Thai Buddhist Monk, by definition, is to: keep the two-hundred twenty-eight mandatory rules all monks are required to observe (as opposed to only five and/or eight for the laity); study the Buddhist writings; recite the Buddhist precepts in Pali daily -- for themselves and the laity to hear and heed; offer chants of blessing at weddings, funerals and other auspicious occasions (such as house warmings or opening new places of business, as well as cleansing and purifying ceremonies); offer spiritual wisdom and advice (and often hot tips for buying lottery numbers); help collect funds for Buddhist charities -- usually used to build or improve temple facilities; receive alms from "the faithful laity," who are seeking to build their own merit; groom and maintain the temple grounds; and sit in meditation, reciting their personal mantra. 

This is "the path" that all devout Thai Buddhists must trod as they seek to build their own stockpile of merit, while trying to successfully deny their inner-most human passions and emotions, all to achieve personal enlightenment, and later escape into the non-existent state of Nirvana, never to be reincarnated again.  This, following the teachings and example of their highly-revered Lord Buddha and his disciples who, after experiencing multiple reincarnations, it is said, have gone before them to . . . Nirvana?

SIDE NOTE: Interestingly, Thai Buddhist Monks teach the existence of a literal hell (Narok-Ahwajee), the Bottomless Pit (Khum Narok or Haew Ahn Luek), and the Lake of Fire (Bueng Fai).  However, they proudly announce that they have any chance of ending up there personally, since it's reserved for all the "sinner types," meaning those who practice evil, while disregarding or rejecting Buddhism's eight-fold middle path precepts, and the Four Noble Truths.  Some temple grounds or parks feature depictions of grotesque-looking demons and devils gleefully hacking up, spiking, burning, and sawing asunder the tormented bodies of fallen sinners, crying out in pain and suffering.  Thai culture also teaches the existence of a type of Heaven, as being the dwelling place of the gods (small "g") and of higher angelic-type beings, as well as that of good Buddhists who are progressing towards Nirvana (short explanation), BUT NO SUPREME BEING (ALMIGHTY GOD) EXISTS ANYWHERE WITHIN THEIR WORLD VIEW..  So, this is where missionaries need to concentrate their evangelism efforts. Meaning? Review and establish an underetsnding of Genesis 1-3 first, before mentioning John 3:16...


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