Thoughts on Buddhism – Rewards

As a Christian, I can’t deny that other religions have some very attractive aspects to them. In this entry, let’s focus specifically on rewards and reward systems.

One of the key aspects to Christianity is the concept of Original Sin, stating that we are all born into sin and that it is only through God’s forgiveness that we can be purified. There is no amount of work, no set of good deeds, that we can do to earn this, because our sin is so great. We are so tainted, and continue to fail so regularly and to such degrees, that the bridge between humanity and God can never be completed by our work alone.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is extended to all of humanity, and those of us who are called by His name have been grafted into His family and will enter heaven when we die. We will transition from this life to the next in an instant, to spend eternity with our heavenly Father.

Our reward is assured because God promises it.

Buddhism accepts the karmic system as a natural law, in that good actions will return to the actor, just as negative actions will return to them. Good actions that fall within the Buddhistic laws earn an individual merit, or puñya, and an abundance of merit will ensure an improved rebirth. You will not escape saṃsāra, but you might be reborn as a god in the heavens.

This has a strong pull and attraction to me. As humans, or at least I perceive Americans this way, we want to earn what we have and/or receive. To work hard and do good works and thereby achieve godhood; to be reborn in heaven to live thousands of years and have immense power… well, it’s certainly appealing.

The problem is that it’s not true, no matter how appealing it is. My statement and subsequent arguments aren’t convincing to either believers or unbelievers, but I know what is true based on my relationship with God and His Holy Word. Buddhism and Christianity, despite the attempts of some, are simply mutually exclusive. Not to say there aren’t aspects of Buddhism, such as meditation, that can’t be employed by a Christian, but our focus and goals are entirely different.

We cannot save ourselves, nor can we earn our respite or rewards. I really wish we could, but in my (recognizably) limited experience, I am confident that we cannot earn heaven. And though there are certain things about God and this life that I must take on faith, I do so whole-heartedly.

So, what does it mean that our reward is assured by God, rather than our own works? Some have interpreted this to mean that we do not have to work for it, or something along those lines… and that argument has gone round and round for centuries.

The truth is, we owe Him our thanks and love, and I think if we really understood both God’s sacrifice and His love, we’d gladly give it. I’m only recently beginning to understand this concept, and intend to write more on it at length… just not now. Let me leave it with this:

Our earthly kings wear crowns of gold and jewels to denote their greatness. Our Heavenly King wore a crown of thorns, and gave His everything for us. Yes, earning our reward has a certain satisfaction inherent in both the belief and the action, but it’s not only false and impossible, it rejects the gift given to us by our King. We should work to serve, but we can never supplant Him.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Suffering – Part 2

Last Monday night, I posed my question to our professor regarding the assumption that suffering is bad, and he corrected me. While the goal of Buddhism is, indeed, to end suffering, there is at least tacit recognition that suffering has its place in the world. It is recognized that the Buddha would not have sought enlightenment if he had not seen suffering, and therefore it is valuable in motivating us towards nirvana.

Moreover, he outlined the levels of beings in the world, which goes something like this (if I can remember it correctly)

  1. Gods
  2. Humans
  3. Titans
  4. Animals
  5. Hungry Ghosts
  6. Hell-dwellers

Buddhists consider reincarnation as a human to be the luckiest and best among these six possibilities, for only humans are capable of awakening. Better to be a human than a god, for instance, because gods do not experience suffering. Because of this, they cannot achieve nirvana and thereby escape the cycle of birth and death.

Everything below humans experience a great deal of suffering, so much so that they can never achieve self-actualization (which I would assume is necessary for enlightenment) and, afterwards, nirvana. As you move down the list, suffering increases, as does potential time spent. If you are sent to one of the many Buddhist hells (say, because you murdered someone), it could be thousands of years before you finally escape as something higher up the chain.

You’re too busy suffering to pursue nirvana in one of these states, so once you’ve reached number 2, you finally have a shot. Of course, even then, very few people obtain nirvana. Only 230 million to 1.6 billion people (depending on who you ask) are Buddhists in the world, and relatively few of those achieve enlightenment. Mostly, we all just die and are reborn hundreds of thousands of times.

In response to Traveller’s comment, my professor spoke at length about ignorance, and you are correct in that Right Thought, as one facet of the Eight-Fold Path, is essential to ending ignorance and achieving nirvana. However, it should be noted that I am 1) taking this class to learn about Buddhism, not because I’m Buddhist, and 2) that in doing so, I am working on ending my own ignorance of the subject. As I stated at the beginning of my first entry on Buddhism, my thoughts will change as I learn more about Buddhism, as this post aptly demonstrates 😛

However, I must reply to your statement “as a christian, your suffering maybe the ignorance of god’s love, and the way to get out of it is, embrace the love of his, and then, your nirvana is life in heaven with him, well maybe.” My consideration on the topic of suffering has nothing to do with my own, personal suffering. I was simply curious about the assumptions made by Buddhism (and will continue to write about them, for they fascinate me). I am by no means ignorant of God’s love, a subject on which I hope to write someday soon (as in sometime in the next two years). At some point in this semester, I will also have to write about the mutual exclusivity of Christianity in relation to Buddhism.

The concept of nirvana in Buddhism is nothing like the concept of heaven in Christianity, just as our saviour Jesus is nothing like the Eight Fold Path. One cannot compare Jesus to the Buddha, even, for they served very different purposes. But again, I will write about this at a later date when I can expand on the idea properly.

Thank you for commenting, and keep them coming! This is an exciting religion to study.