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Straying from the Buddhist Path
by Mary Joni Harris
This month’s never-before-published article is guest-authored by Mary Joni Harris of Denton, Texas. Joni studied Buddhist teachings independently for three years, having been drawn by Buddhism’s emphasis on peace, know-ledge, and self-awareness. She first contacted AIIA in August of 2002, having read and related to our web-posted article, Ten Questions for the Buddha. Today Joni is a Christian. She attends the Denton (TX) Community Church. She plans to graduate from Texas Woman’s University in August 2003 with a B.A. in English and then begin graduate study in the Fall. Those wishing to contact Joni directly may do so at: email@example.com
I came to the Buddhist path as a seeker. I was skeptical about relig-ious claims, but felt a deep void in my life. I yearned for meaning and truth in an unpredictable and often hostile world. In Buddhism, I thought I had found what I was searching for. Buddhists had never started a war. There was never a Buddhist Inquisition. They emphasized wisdom, compassion, lovingkindness, and personal transformation. And they certainly never threatened me with eternity in a lake of fire.
But it was not meant to be. That deep void in my life? It was what has often been described as a “God-shaped vacuum”-the emptiness that only God can fill. We are His creation, made in His image. He intends for us to have a relationship with Him and, when we are without Him, we feel empty and alone. No matter how long I meditated or what teachings I read, I could not fill this emptiness in my life. For in Buddhism, there is no sovereign, loving Creator.
True, some Buddhists purport to believe in a god, or in a realm of higher beings called devas. Others pray to statues of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama). But as a whole, Buddhism is not a theistic religion. It has a law – the law of karma- but no lawgiver.
According to the Buddhist worldview, all beings accumulate karma based on their actions, and karma dictates their life circumstances. When a person dies, the karma accumulated in that lifetime (and all previous lives) determines his or her lot in the next life. To many Buddhists, this means that a person born into a wealthy family has good karma, while someone who lives in a poor, disease-infested village would have accumulated negative karma. Buddhists believe karma keeps one trapped in an endless cycle of death and rebirth (samsara), and the only way out is through enlightenment. To become enlightened, one has to eliminate desire. Buddha taught that desire is the root of suffering; that it causes attachment, which leads to suffering, and in turn causes other beings to suffer. This produces negative karma. If one eliminates desire and stops causing suffering, one can become enlightened, as he had.
But eventually I began to question. Who or what had set this law of karma in motion? Who judged these beings’ actions and sentenced them to another life of pain? Why were beings punished for actions they would be unable to remember? Was desire always a bad thing? Wasn’t the desire for enlightenment still desire? If so, how could one ever attain enlightenment?
So I strayed from the Buddhist path, the emptiness within me greater than before. I began to examine the claims of Jesus of Nazareth in a new light, laying aside the biases and prejudices that had caused me to dismiss Him as merely a “great human teacher.” The more I searched, the more I came to believe that there was a sovereign God who loved me and that Jesus was who He claimed to be-the Son of Man, fully human and fully God. I accepted Christ into my heart. In doing so, I now feel that I’ve found true enlightenment-through a personal relationship with my Creator.
What’s more, I discovered that what I had sought through the Buddhist path -wisdom, compassion, and lovingkindness- were found in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The supreme act of compassion was His sacrifice on the cross-that while we were still sinners, He died for us. No human alive could ever demonstrate this kind of unselfish, unconditional love. No human can match God’s divine mercy and lovingkindness, no matter how long we meditate or what books we’ve read. Yet we must try, for when we receive Christ, we become a new creation and begin the process of becoming Christ-like. The apostle John wrote, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6, NKJV).
If this kind of personal transformation is not enlightenment, I do not know what is. To me, having a personal relation-ship with God and the assurance of salvation brings true peace. And it’s ours if we but ask for it!
Further reading: Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias, ©2000 Word