My acquaintance with Buddhism began when I was a high school student in a small town in southern India. The history books that we read in school had many favorable references to Gautama Buddha (sometimes referred to as Siddhartha Gautama) and portrayed him as a selfless person who preached (and seemed to be the embodiment of) nonviolence and peace. Allegedly, he forsook his kingdom and his position as a prince to seek “true” knowledge of the meaning of life. Indian leaders, small and great, regional and national, would always refer to him as a great philosopher, full of divinity, who impacted the whole world as no other person has. Buddhism is the greatest Indian contribution to humanity, they would declare, pointing out the many countries in Asia that eventually embraced Buddhism as their own religion. Little did I realize at that time that the didactic literature dealing with morals and ethics in my mother tongue, Tamil, actually is based mainly on Buddhism, even though these books were all supposed to have been written by Hindus.
I was brought up a Hindu. I believed in and worshiped idols, and I sought the favor of gods and spirits through animal sacrifices, sorcery, divination, and witchcraft. Like many of my classmates and other friends, I always put pictures or images of Gautama Buddha, that serene face, on the wall in my parents’ home. There was no objection to this practice from my parents, who took the Buddha to be one of the many gods that we might worship.
Vegetarianism, a distinguishing mark of the upper castes in southern India, was reinforced with the study and knowledge that the Buddha was against the killing of animals. Some of the highly regarded Tamil literary works raised the question, “How could one consider himself merciful if he eats the flesh of another (animal) to fatten his own flesh?” The argument, put as it was in this perspective, was so convincing that I was persuaded to become a vegetarian for a number of years.
Over time I began to look at Gautama Buddha as both an incarnation of a divine being and a great social reformer because he preached against the rituals of the Brahman priests, who dominated the Hindu religion, and offered a plan of nirvana for even the members of the lowly communities. As a person coming from an agriculturist non-Brahman caste, I started seeing validity in the Buddha’s arguments against caste practices. Here was an Indian philosopher, a “divine” person, who sought to change Indian society; this appealed strongly to me, as it did to many other educated persons who were dissatisfied with the socioeconomic and political situation in India (and throughout the world). In the midst of all this, however, I never thought that my spiritual experience would be enhanced or improved if I read and followed Gautama Buddha’s teaching.
Rather, I felt attracted to the implications of the Buddha’s teaching toward our local conditions. Mahatma Gandhi spoke about nonviolence as the major tool for social transformation, and most of us who were drawn to the Buddha in India were already agnostic, indifferent to and not believing in the existence or nonexistence of God (or a god). Buddha’s argument in favor of right conduct, right thinking, and right speech was a social program, and thus rationalists and agnostics felt very much at home with him.
Later on I realized that the entire scope of Buddhism is geared more toward individuals than toward society. The disciplines recommended in Buddhism are aimed at the nirvana of the individual. The distinction between the laity and the clergy (monks) bestowed some special worth on the latter, while degrading the hard work of the peasants and laborers as not leading to nirvana. Those who did not want anything to do with karma in Hinduism were now faced with another type of karma that simply enslaved the individual in this life.
That man cannot live by bread alone or by the meditative disciplines alone, and that he needs the grace of God for his salvation, became clear to me once I came to know who Jesus is. While my Buddhist friends and their exemplary Buddha tried to avoid suffering through their efforts, I saw Jesus standing up to the Evil One and overcoming him for our benefit. I saw Jesus suffering for us and with us: He is not the One who simply shows the way but actually walks with us throughout our life.
I found in Jesus a friend who loves me, cares for me, counsels me, and participates in my life for my sake. He says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). He assures me that I will find rest for my soul if I take His yoke upon me and learn from Him. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light (see Matthew 11:29–30).
This is not all. He assures me that if I ask anything in His name, He will do it (John 14:14). He came to serve you and me and all of us—His creation—and to give His life as a ransom for us (see Mark 10:45). He offers us eternal life, and if we receive it we shall never perish (see John 10:28). We live on forever, while Gautama Buddha’s way focuses on extinction.
Jesus is always with us, even to the very end of the age (see Matthew 28:20). I don’t have to carry my burdens on my own; Jesus is always there to help me. Through His death on the cross and through His resurrection, He enables me to live a life that is pleasing to God the Father, and by His grace, not by my meritorious works, I am assured of my salvation. He forgives my sins, and He does not even remember them anymore (see Hebrews 8:12). So in Jesus the question of my suffering in the life beyond does not arise at all.
Gautama Buddha, on the other hand, offers no such help. The Buddha tells me that it is futile for me to seek the help of anyone on my journey toward nirvana. I should achieve it on my own, with no help from others. He tells me that I cannot escape from the operation of karma (past acts defining my eternity, in some sense), that I must continue to suffer because of my karma, and that there is no hope for me in this life.
The grace of the Lord Jesus is available to us not only as individuals but also as members of His community—even in this life. The Lord Jesus Christ gives us the confidence that we will “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). There is no need to torture ourselves in order to become God’s children.
Even as I can make a list of good things that flow from my faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of all, I know in my spirit that God is worthy of praise and adoration regardless of circumstance. We worship Him for who He is and not simply for what He gives us. Surrendering ourselves totally to His will gives us rest and peace beyond description.
The Word of God is concerned with the well-being of God’s creation. God wants us to be stewards of what He has made because we are made in His image. He wants to be with us because He is our Father—He loves us like no other. In due course, He will transform us into holy and fit vessels worthy of His name and worthy to worship and praise Him. Recitation or repetition of words, both meaningful and obscure, is of no consequence to Him. What He wants are contrite hearts. He offers love, hope, and security.
My prayer is that our Buddhist friends will come to know God as their Father, worship Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and be led by the Holy Spirit to come to the true faith, giving up their image worship and other similar practices.
The name of Jesus is alive. Thousands like me are hearing of Him, and many are admitting that He is gracious, caring, mighty, and worthy of our worship. The Holy Spirit stirs desire in the hearts of the people He has created, and these stirrings in the hearts of Buddhists need to be nourished. It is my hope and prayer that this book will serve the function of helping us to become co-laborers with the Spirit in His ministry of saving souls.