New Age and Buddhism

Is Buddhism Compatible with Christianity?



When I joined a New Age church I was a Christian. I was not looking to become a Zen Buddhist, recite Buddhist chants or incorporate Eastern philosophy into my religious repertoire. Yet I did, willingly. We were taught that all religions have truths in them and then we were presented with in-depth lectures on Confucius, Zoroaster, Buddhism, Kuan Yin, Krishna, Lao-Tzu, and the Jewish Kabbalah.

What I hadn't noticed over the years was that we did not study Mohammad, at least I did not attend any about him, or on Islam. During a question and answer session at my Summit University class, one of the students got up and asked if Mohammad had ascended. A good question, because generally we received dictations which are messages from ascended masters and all the aforementioned religious figures were delivering messages through the messengers—but Mohammad. So the messengers of the Summit Lighthouse, as well as previous organization messengers, did not believe Mohammad reached enlightenment or whatever criteria they believed created an "ascended master". Yet it was presented to us as truth and confirmation that the "Archangel Gabriel" did appear to Mohammad.

Along with these religions and their studies we learned their way of worshiping their deities. Now, the Summit Lighthouse was not teaching that there are many gods. We were still taught a monotheistic teaching, yet we studied the Hindu concept of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, comparing it to the Christian Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I came away from all these studies accepting that the Hindus were worshiping the same God as Christians were yet with no interest to worship their blue Krishna god, who is equivalent to the Son of God in our Trinity.

Still, we would sing bhajans, Hindu devotional songs to their deities and legends, and they were quite joyous to sing. Krishna was one of these "ascended masters", and in that respect to be honored like all the other saints. Even after studying the lives of these Eastern masters, and the movements that formed around their teachings, I had no interest in becoming an Eastern adept. I always had trouble meditating and just found that practice was not my style. Yet I enjoyed the chanting, giving mantras and especially giving the Kuan Yin mantras. I saw Kuan Yin as a true living saint. Whether there is a real cosmic being behind this Kuan Yin I cannot confirm, but I do know I did believe in her 100%. And I am certainly not the only one.

Kuan Yin is the Chinese Goddess of Compassion and Mercy, and who could not love a cosmic being who ensouled loving compassion and mercy? In Korea, Japan, and China she is called Quan Yin. As we can pray to Christian saints for healing and mercy, so do the Chinese believe their saint, Kuan Yin, will intercede in their lives. Kuan Yin did not start out to be a female goddess, she actually was and is a masculine representative of compassion.

Her history actually began as a masculine Indian called Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and is beloved throughout the Buddhist world. Avalokiteśvara is said to be an incarnation of Gautama Buddha and preceding Gautama, Amitabha. Depending on which country and belief you were indoctrinated with, Amitaba is known as a savior figure in East Asia, but is still highly regarded in Tibet and Nepal as one of the five “self-born” buddhas (Dhyani-buddhas) who have always existed from the beginning of time.  As near as I can understand, none of these buddhas or bodhisattvas were known to exist prior to the life of Gautama Buddha. After Buddhism began these other buddhas also were created.

Before I go further I would like to show a graphic of the divisions in Buddhism today. The below chart is taken from the Net as I have little to no familiarity with either the main branches or their subbranches and could not compile this chart myself. It is helpful to see a depiction of the main branches and some of the sub branches you may be familiar with like Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, or Tantric Buddhism and which main branch they fall under. It is also helpful to know that the below chart does not include the first two main branches Sthaviravada (“the elders”) and the Mahasanghika (“of the great sangha”). Theravada Buddhism developed from a Sthavira school that was established in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BCE. The Mahasanghika's may have become the Mahayana branch. More on these branches later.

To the Mahayana Buddhic sect, Kuan Yin is a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is a being who has reached enlightenment but has foregone nirvana out of compassion for the suffering beings still trapped in rebirth. When worship of Avalokiteśvara spread to China, he metamorphosed to an all female form (Kuan Yin) around the twelfth century due to Daoist influence on Buddhism. Because Avalokiteśvara is considered to be the personification of compassion and kindness and those are Yin traits he morphed into a goddess. The concept of Yin and Yang originated as part of ancient Chinese philosophy. Yin and Yang philosophy describes two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe. Yin, is the darker element, and is passive, feminine, downward-seeking, and corresponds to the night; yang is the brighter element, and is active, light, masculine, upward-seeking and corresponds to the day.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, the five Dhyani Buddhas are known as the Five Wisdom Tathāgatas. The two Buddhas representing Wisdom and Compassion were called Akṣobhya and Amitābha. The figures representing power and beauty gradually over time kept the names  Amoghasiddhi and Ratnasaṃbhava. Vairocana was the central figure. For some reason, these buddhas became dear to our hearts in the Summit Lighthouse. How could you not love these aspects of God and the beings that were supposed to ensoul them? These Buddhas, with their consorts, preside over their own Pure Lands. A pure land of a Buddha is a place where there is no suffering in contrast to our world tainted with suffering and desire. We see in the graph above a Pure Land school formed around this ideal out of the Mahayana branch.

Avalokiteshvara was introduced into Tibet in the 7th century where he became their principal patron deity, although Tibetan Buddhism is out of the Vajrayana school. Each Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of his predecessors who, in turn, are the manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, and who is credited with introducing to the people of Tibet the prayer formula om mani padme huṃ! (translated as “the jewel is in the lotus”.) Sri Lanka primarily follows Theravada Buddhism and they too have raised Avalokiteshvara as their guardian deity whom they call Natha, meaning "Lord of the World". He is linked with the bodhisattva Maitreya, the "future Buddha" who also has the title of "Lord of the World." Maitreya is recognized by not only Theravada Buddhism but also by Mahayana Buddhists as one who will be the Buddha in a future time. He is thought to be the fifth and last Buddha of the current world age (kalpa).

In Mahayana Buddhism, compassion and wisdom are seen as being the two most important qualities a person can develop, with wisdom seen as more important than compassion in its early foundational days. Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom, was the most highly regarded bodhisattva of that day. Then, over time, compassion came to be seen as the more important quality, and thus Avalokitesvara replaced Manjusri as the most honored bodhisattva.

Around the fifth century C.E., a full-blown cult of Avalokitesvara emerged where he evolves into the supreme savior of all suffering beings. Now he has taken on the characteristic of various Brahmanic gods, such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and even described as the creator of the universe, the title that the Hindu god Brahma holds. Avalokiteshvara can assume any form whether it be a Buddha, the Brahmanic god, a human, or animal. From any of these forms, he helps alleviate the suffering of sentient beings and helps bring them towards enlightenment. Stories abound about him with rescues from fires, prisons, robbers or even from murder. Since he could also give children to female followers who asked him, and that seemingly is a more feminine matter, it was easier for his followers in China and Japan to see him as a she and identify with him as being a feminine bodhisattva, Kuan Yin, in his many different manifestations.

Buddha's Life and Purpose
Many know the story of Siddhartha Buddha (Gautama) so I won't go into detail here. Today, the historicity of the Buddha is rarely questioned. There was a historical man who led an extraordinary life and whose desire was to help others overcome suffering. He was named Siddhartha. He was born and lived on the Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE. Growing up a prince and isolated from the real world he was shocked when he saw death, sickness, and aging and when seeing an ascetic whose desire was to find the cause of this suffering and death he decided to renounce his own heritage and become an ascetic himself.

Over the course of the next six years, he learned to meditate and took on the ascetic life of denying himself physical comfort and nurturance. He almost died before realizing this would not lead to his enlightenment. Thus, it is said, he denied the path of extreme asceticism as the way to enlightenment and discovered the middle way. Yet he then vowed to sit under Bodhi tree until he got enlightenment—which some claim took 45 days, and appeared to continue his asceticism under the tree. Again, some say for seven weeks more while absorbing his enlightenment.

According to the History Channel, "Siddhartha Gautama lived during a time of profound social changes in India. The authority of the Vedic religion was being challenged by a number of new religious and philosophical views. This religion had been developed by a nomadic society roughly a millennium before Siddhartha’s time, and it gradually gained hegemony over most of north India, especially in the Gangetic plain. But things were different in the 5th BCE, as society was no longer nomadic: agrarian settlements had replaced the old nomad caravans and evolved into villages, then into towns and finally into cities. Under the new urban context, a considerable sector of Indian society was no longer satisfied with the old Vedic faith." 

Some say Gautama did not oppose the Vedas as much as disagree with the interpretation of them. He didn't agree with the rituals of Brahmanism, animal sacrifices or the caste system. Some also say he did not agree with the concept of Atman. Atman is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “self” or “breath.” In Hinduism, the word Atman is used to describe the concept of the inner Self. The body houses the Atman until it dies and it is the Atman that reincarnates. It is immortal and eternal. Brahman is the Absolute, the Hindu God, the Supreme Reality, and the World Soul. Atman is the individual reality. Yoga means “union”, and the goal of Yoga is to unite one’s transitory (temporary) self with the infinite Brahman. Man has a fallen nature subject to ignorance and illusion (Maya), that can be liberated from the human condition through the exercise and discipline of Yoga.  The realization and regaining of this identity was the core of salvation in the Yoga schools, from which Siddhartha Buddha studied meditation techniques. The Hindu Upanishads say:

"That Atman (self, soul) is indeed Brahman. It [Atman] is also identified with the intellect, the Manas (mind), and the vital breath, with the eyes and ears, with earth, water, air, and ākāśa (sky), with fire and with what is other than fire... it is identified, as is well known, with this (what is perceived) and with that (what is inferred)."

Buddhism denies the existence of a soul (and self), both the individual soul and the world soul, and this denial is the core of its teaching. The Buddha believed identifying the self with the mind (which is an impermanent part of self) is also a mistaken understanding. Buddha denied that anything in the universe had a permanence. This formula reiterates this idea: impermanence = suffering = not-self. The concept of not-self (anatta) is the belief in the unreality of one’s self. The way to eliminate suffering, according to Buddha, was to control the mind and deny any desires. Maya, in Buddhism, is "pretense" or "deceit" and it is one of the several unwholesome mental factors such as shame, anger, envy, etc.

Maya is used differently in Hinduism. The Upanishads states that Maya is the temporary, changing material world; while Atman is the eternal, unchanging principles, and consciousness. Maya means illusion such as "the tendency to imagine something where it does not exist. To Hindus, the mystery is that the world is not unreal and a figment of our imagination although it has no permanent reality. The world is not as it seems; the world is both real and unreal because it exists but is 'not what it appears to be'. This is what quantum science has shown us today. Matter appears solid but it is as an illusion, although there are laws that govern the subatomic world to keep particles from interfering with other particles with the result that we cannot put our hand through a table.

So the danger of this illusion to Hindus, and that the word Maya conveys, is that it is something constantly being made or created. It deceives people about the things they think they know. Maya is born, changes, evolves, and dies with time, state the Upanishads. Atman-Brahman is eternal, unchanging, invisible principle, unaffected absolute and resplendent consciousness.

When the Buddha reached his enlightenment, he supposedly came to the realization that we do not exist as separate beings. He then taught his disciples that the root illusion that leads to all suffering is to identify with a self. Buddha deduced that there are five aggregates (five skandhas), the base components that come together to make us an individual.

  1. Form
  2. Sensation
  3. Perception
  4. Mental Formation
  5. Consciousness

They are called aggregates as they work together to produce a mental being. They create a sense of “I,” or individualism. Each person experiences the world through the five aggregates. The way out of suffering is to embrace emptiness or non-attachment. The five aggregates, the Buddha taught, can cause suffering. Separate the aggregates from ourselves and view them with non-attachment and we can be free of suffering. Meditation is used to separate ourselves from the aggregates. We want to see personal experience in terms of processes, and impersonal rather than in terms of self.

Impermanence is one of the characteristics of emptiness. and the aggregates are also governed by the principle of impermanence. Therefore each of the aggregates is undergoing constant changes. Aggregates are not static things; they are dynamic processes. The world we experience is not constructed upon and around the idea of a self, but through the impersonal processes.

Buddha, in teaching the not-self, supposedly did not necessarily teach there was no self after death, although he would never answer whether there was or was not. He said that questioning whether there was a soul or God was a distraction from the main goal of alleviating suffering and it is unnecessary to know or believe in any self. The ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism is to reach Nirvana. Nirvana means to 'to blow out' thereby to extinguish all self.  It is not a heavenly state and it is not the absorption of the individual soul into an Absolute as in Hinduism. Buddha supposedly said, "Nirvana is the ultimate happiness." Buddhist philosophers have long debated about whether Nirvana is absolute cessation or an ineffable transcendental state. Still, the concept is that there is no identifiable anything after reaching Nirvana.

One of the unanswered questions is what would reincarnate if there was no self? Many in the West ask this question, but Buddhists are not troubled by it. Some Buddhists in answer to that question say, "the karma." Buddha was only focused on two things: how suffering is caused and how it can be ended, as it is believed all Buddhists should have the same focus. Buddhists are taught that Buddha was teaching that the concept of having a soul or not, and other similar questions, is taking away from the major concern: suffering and the alleviation of it. Buddha said that these questions would get in the way of finding true happiness. Ultimately,  the Buddha is not interested in defining what you are or what your self is. Some surmise he wanted each one to see how youdefine your own sense of self. That idea doesn't bear much credence.

The problem I see is that Buddha did not care that there is a Creator beyond the universe that has set standards of what IS and therefore by default what is not. Buddha would not say anything about a creator. In Buddhism, there is nothing for a creator god to do.  God has no function, no role to play, either as an original source or as an instigator of current events. Notice that man is in control of his life and salvation. He decides to continually rebirth because he hasn't balanced his karma. Therefore, the one thing he learns to have to control to change this is his enlightenment. Whether there is anything to exist after this enlightenment is not understood by Buddhists. The absolute goal is to reach Nirvana. The Buddha said that asking about the whereabouts of “an enlightened one” after death is like asking where a flame goes when blown out. Again, he did not want his followers to focus on anything but the cessation of all ignorance and desire. I will get into Buddha's two other main teachings in a moment.

Reaffirming the importance of the no-self/soul to Buddhists, is this quote I found written by Nicholas Vreeland and published in the Dalai Lama's book: "A Profound Mind: Cultivating Wisdom in Everyday Life."

"Perhaps the chief difference between Buddhism and the world's other major faith traditions lies in its presentation of our core identity. The existence of the soul or self, which is affirmed in different ways by Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is not only firmly denied in Buddhism; belief in it is identified as the chief source of all our misery. The Buddhist path is fundamentally a process of learning to recognize this essential nonexistence of the self, while seeking to help other sentient beings to recognize it as well."

After Buddha's death
While there were minor differences in how the disciples of Buddha followed what Buddha taught, the first noted schism was a century after Buddha's death. For the first four hundred years, there were no written teachings of what Buddha said. It is claimed that shortly after his death, five hundred of his disciples gathered for what was known today as the First Council. Some disciples recited what they remembered of his teachings and the others in attendance committed them to memory. These are called "sutras" meaning "threads". The sutras were finally written down at the end of the first century BCE in Sri Lanka and included in the Pali Canon (scriptures). Those teachings no longer exist. The extant record Buddhists have today began around 800 CE.

About seventy years after Buddha's death the Second Council was held. At that time there were 18-25 schools of Buddhism. Sthaviravada (“the elders”) was the most popular school. it is generally believed that the Mahasanghika school came into existence as a result of a dispute over monastic practices. They also seem to have been preaching that the Buddha had the attributes of a god. As a result, they were expelled and continued on as their own school and tradition.

After several centuries, both branches of schools went through many transformations, originating different schools. (See diagram above.) The Theravada school of today emerged from the Sthaviravada line and is the dominant form of Buddhism in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. The name means "the doctrine of the elders." The Mahasanghika school was found throughout India and present-day Afghanistan, but it eventually disappeared as an ordination tradition. While the Mahasanghika ideas have a strong resemblance to Mahayana Buddhism it is still debated whether Mahasanghika influenced the Mahayana or vice versa. Mahayana means “Great Vehicle” and originated in northern India. This school had a more adaptable approach and was open to doctrinal innovations. Mahayana Buddhism is today the dominant form of Buddhism and dominant in China, Japan, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam.

Theravada school draws its scriptural inspiration from the Pali Canon, which scholars generally agree contains the earliest known surviving written sayings of the Buddha. Although the Pali Canon is supposed to contain the truth about what Buddha did and said, there is no definitive proof it reveals the actual true historical basis of what actually happened during Buddha's long lifetime. The Pali Canon is divided into three parts—each called Pitaka or “basket”—and thus has come to be known as the Tripitaka.

In East Asia, the Chinese Buddhist canon is their "word of the Buddha." The Tibetan Buddhists have their Kangyur and the Mahayana school started to produce a new collection of sutras on many topics. They are not all credited to be the words of Buddha but from other monks.

In India, Buddhism gradually diminished while it was flourishing all over the rest of Asia. The belief is that due to a number of Muslim invasions, and the advancement of Hinduism, which incorporated the Buddha as part of the pantheon of its endless gods, Buddha was just another one of the many manifestations of the god Vishnu. In the end, the Buddha was swallowed up by the realm of Hindu gods, where his importance diminished.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia states that the cause of the many different schools of Buddhism came about due to "Geographical separation, language difference, doctrinal disagreements, selective patronage, the influence of non-Buddhist schools, loyalties to specific teachers, the absence of a recognized overall authority or unifying organizational structure and specialization by various monastic groups in different segments of Buddhist scriptures are just some examples of factors that contributed to sectarian fragmentation."

The graph to the right is from their Encyclopedia. Today, the vast majority of all Buddhists (nearly 99%) still live in the Asia-Pacific region. Still, surprisingly, only about one-in-eight people (12%) in that region are Buddhists.

According to the Pew Research Center,  half (50%) of the world’s Buddhists live in China. The rest are divided as: Thailand (13%), Japan (9%), Burma (Myanmar) (8%), Sri Lanka (3%), Vietnam (3%), Cambodia (3%), South Korea (2%), India (2%) and Malaysia (1%).

Buddhism Growth in the West
Only two other regions – North America (3.9 million) and Europe (1.3 million) – have more than 1 million Buddhists. The New Age is said to have started in the Western countries, primarily in North America and Britain where these high numbers of budding Buddhists have emerged. Helena Blavatsky, and through the movement that formed around her, the Theosophical Society, helped bring Buddhism to the West and into the New Age Movement. Blavatsky, and co-founder, Henry Steel Olcott, officially became Buddhists in 1880. They were the first Americans to convert. Blavatsky was Russian born and had become a U.S. citizen in 1878, but only after five years she moved to India and never returned to America.

They moved to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and attempted to unite the Buddhists against the Christian missionaries. Where there were only two schools when Olcott arrived, the number rose to 205 in two decades, many believe due to his contribution and dedication to help the Buddhists. Olcott was also the first to try to unite the various Buddhist sects of Asia into a single organization. He founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society and helped found the Young Men’s Buddhist Association. 

In the 1920's Paramahansa Yogananda brought meditation, yoga, and Hinduism to America. In 1946 he published Autobiography of Yogi. I was 18 when I found that book on the small rack of exchange books on the military base where I worked as a civilian. They did not have many books and that book caught my eye. I had already bought books on yoga through the Edgar Cayce foundation. Since my interests were in the healing arts, and especially healing techniques outside of allopathic medicine I was interested in yoga as a means to help bring balance to the mind and body. Not to say that I practiced it, I tried but was not dedicated to it at all. I also tried meditation and found it not suitable. Yet Yogananda's book touched me in that he seemed sincere and had lived a holy life. I was not interested in Hinduism, but I found the Guru-chela relationship fascinating. I eventually entered that type of relationship when I joined the Summit Lighthouse in 1980. Our messenger was also our Guru, and the Ascended Master called El Morya was also supposed to be our heavenly Guru.

The Dalai Lama has also contributed to the wide acceptance of Buddhism as a peaceful religion that promotes good things like meditation and vegetarianism. He is not a vegetarian himself, although he temporarily became one after exiled in India. After contracting hepatitis it was recommended he eat meat and has not returned to vegetarianism. He and his retinue left Tibet in 1959 during the Tibetan uprising, fearing for his safety. He exiled in India and has since traveled the world lecturing, teaching, and writing books. He is also highly devoted to science and has involved himself in dialoguing with top scientists in many fields and since 1983 has had 28 dialogs with panels of various world-renowned scientists.

His Buddhist beliefs might not fit well with one main concept in the U.S. Upon learning about Marxist theory the Dalai Lama said he was immediately attracted and even wished to become a Communist Party member. Today he still refers to himself as a Marxist and expresses criticisms of capitalism. In 1993, he said: "The economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis ... as well as the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and [it] cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons, the system appeals to me, and it seems fair."

I won't get into Marxist theory here, but many know the idea of Marxist doesn't work. Over 100 million people were tortured or killed and imprisoned in gulags and reeducation camps from Russia to China to Vietnam to Cambodia to North Korea, and hundreds of millions more oppressed. It is like humankind are all robots with no individuality. Maybe that is the attraction to the Dalai Lama, Buddhism does not believe we have souls or any self. Free will does not fit into the philosophy of Marxism and capitalism embraces free will. This is not to say the marginalized are better off in a capitalist system, but on the one hand Marxism cannot work without government to force people to comply or die, often involving abuse, torture, imprisonment, enslavement, or murder. The fact of the matter is that in a world with evil no system can be perfect because as long as people can be swayed to do evil things for selfish reasons, all governments will eventually fail. Yet the possibility to be free is inherent in the capitalist system to choose whether you will work or not and whether you will benefit from that work or not.

New Age Buddhism
Buddhism isn't about becoming wealthy but a way of life devoted to one thing: the cessation of suffering. The West does not generally look at raising a family, having a career, or becoming wealthy as a sin and a detriment to happiness. In Buddhism, anything that involves desire is linked to one thing: suffering. Suffering is the only sin. The only desire allowed and encouraged (which contradicts the idea of non-attachment) is to desire to be free of the wheel of rebirth and reach nirvana. Buddhism does not have the concept that their life devoted to this goal is in any way selfish as they believe that everything is interconnected and one. What I do affects all.

Of the three to four million Buddhists in America, only 1/3 are new converts, the rest are Asians. Some well-known Buddhists are Richard Gere, Steve Jobs, Tiger Woods, Tina Turner, Kate Hudson, Steven Seagal, and Philip Glass, to name a few. Zen Buddhism gained a greater hold in the 1960s and 1970s. Steve Jobs became a Zen Buddhist before he built Apple into what it became. Tibetan Buddhism was growing in America since the awareness of the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Dozens of centers were established of every monastic Tibetan lineage throughout the United States and by the 1990s interest in Tibetan Buddhism had exploded. Meanwhile, the Theravada tradition was taking hold and many retreat and meditation centers were created around the country.

Some of the tenants that New Agers ascribe to that are similar to Buddhists are peace, enlightenment, unconditional love and taking control of their lives through meditation and chanting. New Agers generally accept a form of reincarnation and that the soul reincarnates through a succession of lives as it evolves from a lower state of spiritual awareness toward a higher one. The goal in this reincarnation belief can be said to be the same as Hindus, to achieve a better and more evolved rebirth, but not Buddhists who strive to not be reborn at all.

New Agers also strive to become more "spiritual" and not necessarily more "religious" as the way to enlightenment through meditative practices and seeing all life as one. Again, similar beliefs as Buddha supposedly taught. New Agers differ in the goal of nirvana as their goal. They generally do not see death as a cessation of self. And, they do not see the idea of rebirth as something to be abhorred and shunned as another life of suffering. If they practice unconditional love, work on self-enlightenment and avoid sinful practices, the next life should be good.

Meditation has been promoted as a means to deal with the fast-paced societies and the stress that ensues. Buddha did not teach meditation to relieve stress. The goal was to empty the mind and body of self. This can still be the goal of converts to Buddhism, but the fact is that the practice of meditation was not the main goal of Buddhist laity. While central to the monk and the monastery, many new agers who become Buddhists do not live in monasteries but practice meditation on their own with the goal to gain peace of mind and health benefits. Certainly, not what a monk's purpose was for meditation.

When we meditated at conferences and on our own, as I experienced during my many years in the Summit Lighthouse, it was for the purpose of restoring our soul's wholeness, not emptying ourselves or getting rid of our souls. We used meditation to clear our chakras of darkness and fill them with light. We used meditation to connect with our higher source, a cosmic being or with the universal principles of creation, and most especially to connect with God from whence all these concepts derived their existence. As we freely drew from Hinduism, Buddhism, Gnostic ideas and the Kaballa, the possibility is also with many New Age Buddhists to not adhere to one school of Buddhism, but to take the "best" from each school. There might be loyalty to one school at the beginning but why limit your belief to just one school when another might have some practices you would like to do as well?

For Those Who Profess to Be Christian and Buddhist
New Agers like to give honor to all belief systems and judge no one or their beliefs. While this is amicable on the one hand, if you are a Christian this is not what the Old or New Testament admonished us to do. Christians are to "Judge Righteous judgment" (John 7:24), settle our disputes amongst ourselves (1Corinthians 6:2), but also to cast the beam out of our own eye first (Matt. 7:3-5).

Buddha outlined the cause of suffering in his Four Noble Truths and the way out of suffering in his Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Dukkha, or suffering, is an inescapable plight of existence
  2. Samudaya (or craving) causes dukkha, and grates against all reality
  3. Nirodha (cease) is the key to overcoming dukkha
  4. Marga, cessation of suffering comes by following The Eightfold Path

And the  Eightfold Path as key to the cessation of suffering:

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Who or what determines what is "right" effort or "right" action or any of the rights? Why would one man's right mindfulness or action be the same for another? What makes killing not right? What makes selling liquor not a right livelihood? I can't help but think that moral conduct and loving-kindness, compassion and thought have to have a basis in something beyond Buddha and man. In other words, there has to be a source of this righteousness. There is no right and wrong in Buddhism. That is a dualistic concept. What determines these 'rights' is that individuals are determining to not be the 'wrong'. Did not the Lord God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone"? (Gen. 2:18) Prior to saying that, God had pronounced many things that were good and even that His creations were very good. (Gen. 1:31) There is no wrong in God, that is a creation of man in stepping out of alignment with God good. Christians believe God is the standard for what is right and wrong. If God said something was not good, that means that we also may create something not good and need to recognize when we do so.

You thus cannot eliminate duality from our language in order to describe the material world. Wrongs are defined then as something that is not right. Ultimately, the question is, "What consciousness in the Buddhic world determines right and wrong behavior that will free one from suffering?" One of the strong tenants of Buddhism is that emptiness is the basis of everything. When you get down to you, an object, anything, at the core there is nothing but emptiness (shunyata) and there is no God, Brahman, or any creator source behind these five aggregates.

It could be a matter of semantics and what we define as emptiness and what Buddha was supposed to mean by emptiness. Christians understand that God created the universe. Still, God is beyond His creation. It is separate from Him, yet comes from Him. Yet what is the prime substance of creation? Space. Space provides the platform for matter to exist. But in actuality that space is not empty, it is filled with 'stuff'. Nature abhors a vacuum. Yet no one knows what this 'stuff' is or where it comes from. They call it 'dark matter'. We also live in a physical plane where Time and Space exist. Those who experience beyond this plane describe God's abode as a place without time. And we can know that time is different in heaven from Scripture. (2 Peter 3:8)

The term duality is applicable to His creation. Duality is a natural law governing the whole of His creation. Someone once said if we didn’t have duality, we would not yearn and strive for wholeness and unity. In other words, we would not be impelled to return to the unmanifested Source of Being. In the beginning was darkness and God said, "Let there be Light" and then God separated the night from day. He made male and female. He made Spirit and Matter. Even the Bible is a dual book. We are to read the scriptures physically and understand them spiritually. Yet we read and hear over and over, "there is only one God". "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30) "One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:6). Those who claim to experience God in Spirit are often at loss to find human words to describe the indescribable where possibly duality does not exist. That is God — beyond description. I have no problem with Buddha explaining there is a source we can merge within our oneness, but to have no source, nothingness is not our Christian understanding of God.

In Christianity, we are given a simple set of rules in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). God said Adam and Eve sinned when they ate of the fruit of the Tree of good and evil. (Genesis 2:17) We learn from this passage that who decides what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. Throughout the Bible, what is right and wrong behavior is laid out. (Isaiah 5:20) Jesus pointed out what causes sin and what to do to avoid sin and He taught no one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18) God sets the standard of good and we are judged by what we choose to do. (2 Cor 5:10)

Scripture teaches Christians that there is a righteous desiring and "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied," (Matthew 5:6). God will reward your right desire. Ephesians 4:22-32 lays out clearly what are wrong and harmful desires and what are good desires. "What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted," (Proverbs 10:24). Clearly, it is wrong to rid ourselves of all desire. Rather, we are to lay aside evil and selfish lusts and instead cultivate righteous and good desires. We cannot do this ourselves, we first must confess our sins, our guilt, and then turn to God, the giver of all that is good and the satisfier of every righteous desire. 

Buddhists accept that Jesus was a great moral teacher but of course with no God in their belief system Jesus is not anything different than Buddha. He would have to be a great bodhisattva, who allegedly postponed nirvana for the sake of others. Jesus and the Buddha were similar because they taught through parables; condoned strong moral conduct; did not seek personal power; lived righteously and stressed compassion and love; condemned the religious orders and social norms of the day as hypocrisy and did not leave behind written teachings. Yet there are glaring differences between their two teachings.

Strong Fundamental Differences
Buddha Christ
God does not exist. God is Spirit, Father, creator, judge - John 4:24, 1Cor. 8:6
Creation is independent of anything. God created everything. Gen. 1:1
The soul does not exist. We have a soul and it is important - Mark 8:36, Matt. 10:28
Good and evil is a false dualistic concept. Good and evil exist - Isaiah 5:20, Gen. 2:17, Mark 7:20-23
There is no right and wrong it is a personal distinction. God is good and wrong is being out of character with God good. Matt. 5:6
Sin does not exist. Sinning causes suffering through alienation from God and good. 1John 3:4
Moral justice arises out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgment, who is law-giver. Thus there can be no moral justice. God is the absolute law-giver which establishes absolute moral behavior.
Life is suffering, suffering is useless Suffering teaches, is impermanent, ends with union with God's will. Isa. 59:2
Suffering is caused by attachments and desires Sin is the root cause of suffering & alienation from God. Gal. 6:7-8
The ultimate goal is nirvana. It is the ultimate reality where everything is. The ultimate goal is to become like Christ and to glorify God. John 5:28-29, 1Cor. 10:31
There is no I, you, or me. The personal self is an illusion. We were created in the image of God. Gen. 1:26-28
Salvation is through self-disciplined reshaping following the 8-fold path. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12
Buddha died and was cremated. Jesus died, resurrected and ascended.


C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, had this to say about those who call Jesus just a great teacher.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God."

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

For a Christian, the big difference between Christianity and Buddhism is that Christianity has a God. Buddhism has no God. So if I was a Christian who converted to Buddhism I would basically be saying I am an atheist. In the ascended master teachings, students there believed the Buddha that talked through the messenger as an ascended being did believe in God, as all the students did. Yet central to Buddhism is the impermanence of all things and the doctrine of no distinct and enduring self in existence. If there is anything eternal and unchanging, Buddhism is false.

Many who are attracted to Buddhism like to argue that the advantage of Buddhism is that it has no spiritual doctrine, is not centrally organized, and it has no notion of a personal God. In this way, there is no God lording over anyone. The New Age/New Spirituality God is a universal God that is one and the same as the universe (pantheism). This God they can become one with through becoming one with the all. Losing your "self" in this context only means blending with the one by denying the separateness of self. The advantage is to becoming God yourself.

Some final questions to ponder.

  • If all things are impermanent, how does karma remain the permanent part that follows us from lifetime to lifetime?
  • If self-effort is imperative to curry good karma, how does this mesh with the aid of a bodhisattva?
  • Is it not a contradiction to want enlightenment while professing that any wants are the cause of suffering?
  • In order for a bodhisattva to teach another enlightenment, they must exist and be distinct from you. Yet Buddhism teaches that there is no you separate from any other you. Enlightenment is the realization that you do not exist.
  • Buddha made quite scathing remarks about the foolishness of speculation not based on experience. If experience is suffering, how could the experience of enlightenment result in liberation?
  • On the other hand, if there is true nothingness in Nirvana than that may imply that there is "no thing" that experiences it. Nirvana means an absolute void and Buddhism would be nihilism. How could it rightly be described as ‘liberation’?
  • If Nirvana was a blissful place then there would have to be a self to enjoy it.
  • If the doctrine of anatta and all other Buddhist philosophy were coherent, wouldn't that render life utterly meaningless, purposeless, and without priority or values? The only meaning would be to become a bodhisattva to save others from this purposeless life for even Nirvana holds that nothing will remain after enlightenment.

Christians would have no problem with understanding the unreality of the universe in the sense that it will pass away. It is written in Scripture that a new heaven and new earth will appear and the old will pass away. (Is 65:17 & Is 66:22),  (2 Peter 3:13), and (Rev 21:1). Yet seeking to avoid the gifts God gave us while in this world is not part of the belief. Sin is real and evil is against all that is good. Redemption is through Christ whereby our sins can be forgiven. Christian contemplation is the closest thing to Buddhist meditation. Through contemplation and prayer, a Christian can draw closer to God and in that closeness desire to do good over evil. Suffering is accepted as the result of making the wrong choices, though not always. Suffering can also be a means to take on the sins of the world and take the burden off of Christ to suffer alone. Saints have spoken that in their suffering they contacted bliss. Suffering is our teacher to help us see where our action is wrong and harmful to ourselves and other parts of life. Suffering develops empathy and compassion. Some may choose to turn their suffering into hate. That is their choice, but it is not the only choice by far. Some who are truly wise give thanks to God for their suffering.

Buddhism is believed to be a way out of suffering, and for Buddhists, the only way. Christians have a different view not only on suffering but in seeing that it is not our enemy or what keeps us from oneness with the Father. Christians may not have every view and understanding of God right but they have Christ and the Savior. No other religion has a Savior God who took on form to become man and rose from the dead to take on everlasting life.