Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Interfaith Series: Buddhism

This semester, I'm working as a teaching assistant in a non-Western religions course. A couple of weeks ago, the professor asked me to write a series of devotionals for the students, relevant to the ideas they would be discussing each week. So my task was to write Bible-based devotions for students at a Christian university who are studying non-Christian religions. Fun, right? It was. So I thought I'd take a few days and share some of these devotionals in this space.

Today: Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion that finds it deepest value in the kind of "mindful meditation" that has monks and devout followers everywhere clearing their minds of the concerns of this world, all in the hopes of finding peace. It's an attractive idea, especially in a society where our minds are often overflowing with too much information and peace is nowhere to be found. 

It also sounds very much like something God would want for us. Right? God repeatedly tells us to meditate on His Word, to meditate on His promises, to meditate on them day and night. He tells us to do things with "prayer and fasting," and isn't that essentially the same thing? 


No, it's not.

When God tells His people to meditate, it's not to empty their minds; it's to fill them. He intends for us to get His Words, His promises deeper into our hearts and minds. He's not just content to have us quiet the voices of this world; He wants to replace those voices with His voice. He doesn't want us to disengage from the world around us; He wants us to engage it more meaningfully. 

To see what God has in mind when He speaks of meditation, we need look no further than Psalm 77. Just look at all the things the Psalmist says he is doing while meditating:

I sigh as I remember God.
I begin to lose hope as I think about him. (You keep my eyelids open.)
I am so upset that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old, the years long ago.
I remember my song in the night and reflect on it.
My spirit searches for an answer...
I will remember...
I will remember...
I will reflect....and think. (Emphases mine.)

All of this, the Psalmist is doing while meditating. All of this is a vital part of the Christian idea of meditation. It is not emptying our mind, but filling it with the promise and presence of God.

Well, surely, then, the Buddhist pursuit of peace is something God would want for us. God's always talking about peace. 

Yes. ...and no.

The Buddhist idea of peace is that it's something rather elusive, that it's something you have to deliberately go in search of and find. It is not found anywhere but in the depths of yourself, and in order to find it, you must enter those depths and close off the rest of the world in order to do it. In a sense, then, it may be possible, or even preferred, for the Buddhist not only to find his own peace, but to make his own peace. 

Any of us who have tried such a thing know it's quite difficult, if not impossible, and it doesn't work.

The peace of Jesus is something much, much different. Because the peace of Jesus is a gift freely given. Just look at John 14:27 as one example. Jesus is leaving His peace with the people, promising it to them as He turns His eyes toward Calvary. It's not an elusive peace. It's not a peace you have to go searching for; it's being given to you right before your very eyes. It's not a peace that has to shut out the world; it's a peace that embraces it.

And anyone who heard Jesus' words would know this, for when He says He is giving them peace, He doesn't just say "peace." He says "my peace." And this idea of His peace would certainly mean something to them, too. It's the same peace  that all the region of Galilee saw Him live with - peace on the hillside, peace on the sea, peace in the Temple, peace in the homes of sinners, peace in the midst of the broken, peace in the face of the Pharisees, peace on the edge of Jerusalem, peace on the hill of Golgotha. When Jesus said He was giving the people His peace, this is what they were getting - the peace to live a holy life on the streets of a broken world. Right there for the taking. All they have to do is receive the gift.

A lot of people have been drawn into the Buddhist ideas of meditation and peace as they permeate our present culture, and they sound like good things. They sound like beneficial things, and the sort of things that God would want His people to have. But we must remember that the Buddhist definitions of these beautiful things are quite dramatically different from God's ideas of them. 

Absolutely, we should meditate. God tells us that again and again. But we must meditate on Him. We must meditate to fill our minds, not to empty them. Absolutely, God desires us to have peace. He desires it so much, in fact, that He gave it to us freely as His gift. Real peace. Lasting peace. Jesus' peace. We don't have to go digging in the depths of our hearts for it; we simply have to open our hands to receive it.

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