Arguments & Books Against Buddhism

Hi,

So I’m looking for Christian books and arguments against Buddhism, more specifically Theravada Buddhism. I know of Paul Williams’s book, The Unexpected Way, and I agree with a lot of the arguments there, HOWEVER - one thing that is not well-addressed is how us Christians account for the experiences of Buddhists.

Clearly there are Buddhists who claim to have achieved Nirvana, and it is said in Buddhist Scriptures that even before full enlightenment, when someone achieves Stream Entry ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sotāpanna ) it is impossible for them to doubt the Buddha. They have seen and understood for themselves that the teaching of the Buddha is true with regards to its essential elements, including reincarnations and karma (which are incogruent with Christianity).

Now how do we as Christians interpret such experiences? What exactly is happening to them spiritually, and why can’t the Holy Spirit bring them back?

Please - in order to participate in this thread - I kindly ask that you are familiar and have studied Buddhism, because otherwise we will not get anywhere. Trite answers like Buddhists don’t have Christ, etc. are not useful, since these do not speak to Buddhists.

Thank you, and looking forward to reading your answers and suggestions for books & arguments.

It’s getting late In my time zone so I’m going to keep it simple. I’ll come back to this tomorrow if I have enough time between classes. The biggest problems with Buddhism and the Karmic cycle is that it is completely nonsensical in logic, cosmology, and reliability.

  1. The Buddhist worldview depends on a strong faith in an eternal universe for which there is no evidence.

  2. No reliable set of scriptures. They will try to insist that an oral history is reliable. If you have ever played a game of telephone you will know just how unreliable and untrustworthy oral histories are. Now imagine a game of telephone being played for 3-4 centuries.

  3. They say that every birth is a rebirth and every birth is a payment for the previous birth. If you start from now and go backwards through time will you have had a finite number of births? (The answer here is YES. A highly educated Buddhist monk in Thailand answered this question with “YES I WOULD SAY SO…) What were you paying for in your first birth? The Buddhist at this point only has two options

1.) “We choose not to ask such questions.” (This was the answer given by the monk.)

2.) “The Universe is eternal so time goes to infinity forward and backwards.” (Looking at you Rossum) of course if they give this answer they are revealing their belief in an eternal universe which has been scrapped by science and sent to the garbage heap decades ago.

A Christian Convert from Buddhism in India had this to say. “Even my bank manager tells me how much I owe and how long I have to pay it back. In my karmic cycle I have no idea how much I owe and how long I have to pay it back. It’s a heartless system.”

He is grateful that Jesus Christ set him free.

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@Duke12VonFalkenburg This is a great post, and really summarizes many of the qualms that Paul Williams (Buddhist scholar who converted to Christ) has with Buddhism.

However, I agree with this argument, but even after establishing this logical case, there is one next step that the Christian needs to do.

Namely, explain the experience of the Buddhist in our own system of thought. How do we make sense of it?

Because what will happen is the following: a Buddhist (or even someone here like @rossum whom you mentioned) at this point will say that these “theoretical” questions are irrelevant to our suffering, and the point is to end suffering. If that’s what we want, then we have to do what they say - follow the Noble 8Fold Path - and then we will see for ourselves. And once we reach Sotapanna (and then enlightenment), we will know the answers to such theoretical questions for ourselves, with complete certainty, via direct insight.

So the question moves to accounting for these experiences that the Buddhist has from the Christian POV. We must be able to tell the Buddhist what is happening to him when he reaches Sotapanna and then enlightenment. How do we account for the fact that they perceive their insight to be correct with 100% certainty? And so on.

Without answering these very practical concerns, and providing an alternative interpretation for what is going on, the escape of “try it for yourself and see if we’re wrong” will always remain a valid escape route.

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The Buddhist universe has both material and immaterial components. The material component is not always present. The immaterial component is always present: heavens, hells, gods etc. The Buddhist universe is closer to the philosophical universe: All That Exists. That universe is also eternal in Christianity since God exists and is eternal.

All scriptures are written in a human language, subject to transmission errors and variant translations. Buddhism does not rely as much on its scriptures as Christianity, it is one of the differences between the two religions. Buddhism relies more on “Try it and see”:

[The Buddha said:] “Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea ‘this is our teacher’. Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them. … Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blameable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.”

– Kalama sutta, Anguttara Nikaya, 3.65

This can perhaps be summarised as: “By their fruits shall you know them.”

The number of specifically human births will be finite, since humans have only existed for a few hundred thousand years. Animal births will be a larger number, but still finite.

Counting “births” will underestimate the number of lifetimes. Animals may hatch from an egg rather than being born. There are also whatever methods the alien inhabitants of other planets in the Buddhist universe may use. In Buddhism gods are not born into the heavens but magically appear for a lifetime. Similarly for the hells.

The overall number of lifetimes in hells, heavens and on a material planet is infinite:

At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said: “From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on.”

– Assu sutta, Samyutta Nikaya 15.3

That seems an odd request. Wouldn’t it be better to investigate Buddhism and then make a decision as to what your personal views are about different aspects of it?

All you are doing in this case is exacerbating confirmation bias.

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For one thing, how is the Stream Entry phenomenon different from say, the experience of taking psychedelic hallucinogens or even claiming a vision or locution?

It’s one person’s testimony.

If they think they had a revelation of new knowledge, they still have to match it against known reality or at least be able to make a logical case.

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These are two completely different things. Heaven in Christianity exists outside the universe separate from it. Christianity also says that the universe had a beginning that space, matter, and time had a beginning out of nothing. God is eternal but not the Universe. You never address the problem of a first birth in a non-eternal material universe. You can’t because that’s checkmate. You Know it is complete utter nonsense to say that the material universe is eternal.

Right, but it’s even worse in an oral tradition because things can be lost, forgotten, or just downright altered for personal reasons. Do you remember the example I cited straight from Islamic Hadiths that clearly show that reciters of the Quran completely forgot entire chapters. This isn’t a problem if you have a reliable set of scriptures. Do you remember when I gave you evidence for the reliability of the New Testament? In an oral history there is no way to build trust or reliability. It’s just a game of telephone.

Indeed. Let’s take a look at some “fruits” Buddhism has accomplished but little for the uplifting of humanity.

Buddhist charity did not, like the Christian form, extend to the prolonged nursing of unfortunates stricken with contagious and incurable diseases, to the protection of foundlings, to the bringing up of orphans, to the rescue of fallen women, to the care of the aged and insane. Asylums and hospitals in this sense are unknown to Buddhism.

The consecration of religious men and women to the lifelong service of afflicted humanity is foreign to dreamy Buddhist monasticism. Again, the wonderful efficacy displayed by the religion of Christ in purifying the morals of pagan Europe has no parallel in Buddhist annals. Wherever the religion of Buddha has prevailed, it has proved singularly inefficient to lift society to a high standard of morality.

It has not weaned the people of Tibet and Mongolia from the custom of abandoning the aged, nor the Chinese from the practice of infanticide. Outside the establishment of the order of nuns, it has done next to nothing to raise woman from her state of degradation in Oriental lands.

It has shown itself utterly helpless to cope with the moral plagues of humanity. In short, Buddhism is all but dead. In its huge organism the faint pulsations of life are still discernible, but its power of activity is gone. The spread of European civilization over the East will inevitably bring about its extinction.

If a person is reincarnated as an animal… how does a pig or chicken do moral or immoral acts that brings it closer to nirvana or worsens it’s karmic cycle? Do you not realize how nonsensical this sounds?

OK… let’s take your for example. In your past life you were a rice farmer in vietnam. Before that you were a French soldier in WW1 before that you were a feral cat in New York City, and so on and so forth maybe at some point you were a Neanderthal, maybe before that you spent a good few million years reincarnating as various dinosaurs and before that as a single celled bacterium, and before that when the earth was a molten ball of rock too hot for life you were an alien Xenomorph on the planet Dagobah and as we continue to go backwards eventually we come to the Big Bang the beginning of time in this material universe. So… in your first birth what were you paying for?

You don’t see how this is a problem? Come on. So in other words they are not eternal they just pop into heaven or hell? With no agency or control over anything at all? Those poor gods who magically appear in hell. SMH. No wonder Buddhists are half atheists because the gods in their worldview are as the Hulk said in the Avengers…

The argument would be that it is different - after the experience happens, they say, there is no turning back anymore since the insight you’ve had persists. Whereas with psychedelic hallucinogens, the experience and insight - whatever they are - come to an end.

What I find important is to understand what is happening to those people who claim enlightenment or stream entry. I have studied Buddhism in the past, so I am quite educated in it. Still, it’s not easy to come to a decision when you lack information.

It does not exist outside the All That Exists (ATE) universe, obviously. The ATE universe is not the STEM material universe of science; the STEM universe is a sub-universe of the ATE universe. You are talking about the wrong universe here.

A god who has come to the end of its life in an immaterial heaven is the first to appear in the hitherto empty new material universe:

[The Buddha said:] “There comes a time, monks, sooner or later after a long period, when this world contracts. At a time of contraction, beings are mostly reborn in the Abhassara Brahma world. And there they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious - and they stay like that for a very long time.”

“But the time comes, sooner or later after a long period, when this world begins to expand. In this expanding world an empty palace of Brahma appears. And then one being, from exhaustion of his life-span or of his merits, falls from the Abhassara world and arises in the empty Brahma-palace. And there he dwells, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious - and he stays like that for a very long time.”

Brahmajala sutta, Digha Nikaya 1

Do not confuse the actions of individuals with their religion. Christians were killing each other over religion in Ireland until 1998. Christians in America fought a civil war over slavery, which was specifically barred by the Buddha as a wrong livelihood. Christians didn’t stop killing witches for about 1,700 years after the founding of their religion.

The fruits Buddhism promises are individual: peace, happiness and nirvana. Buddhism delivers those fruits: Buddhists really are happier.

Your actions in whichever of the immaterial heavens or hells you were in previously. All Buddhist heavens and hells are temporary; lifespans are not eternal for anyone.

So, are you saying that every Christian newly arrived in heaven does not pass through the Pearly Gates, but is instead born into a heavenly hospital to a heavenly mother as a squalling heavenly baby? Erm… I don’t think it is me who has a problem.

This is a very weak argument. First of all, we’re not sure that the material Universe had a beginning. The Big Bang is just a theory - theories, including ones with very very solid proof (such as Newton’s Law of Gravity) have been disproven before. With the little knowledge that we do have, it does seem like the Universe had a beginning. But this could just as well not be so. It remains to be seen. Physical sciences are never conclusive, and empirical evidence can always turn the other way.

Well… not really. The quote tells them not to be led by reports, tradition, hearsay, authority, religious texts, mere logic or inference, nor appearances, speculation, possibilities, or gurus. Instead they are to be led by their own personal discernment… which opens the gates to subjectivity. And the fact remains that something MAY appear morally right to me (or someone else), but still be objectively wrong.

One advantage that the Christian tradition has is that it tries to put truth outside of the human being, and coming in as it were. This means that truth can have a solid, objective basis in God. Of course things get messy with the fact that one’s relationship with God is often mediated by the Church (other human beings). But still, the impetus is there - man, being born sinful (or in ignorance as per Buddhists), cannot of his own accord, pull himself by his bootstraps. Therefore something outside of man is needed -> hence God coming after man as it were.

And presently, the Church represents the final, absolute authority on Earth - that which corrects subjective points of view, and tries to bring them closer to what is objectively true.

I think what you mean rather is to a high standard of material well-being - which is true. But let’s not necessarily confuse material well-being with morality.

And yet, Buddhism is very much against abortion, and so on. Buddhism is less of a social religion than Christianity, in that it doesn’t try to change society, it tries to change the individual. Whereas Christianity is about a social form of salvation - God coming to save all of us. The Sacrements of the Church are inherently communal.

But, even so, Buddhism has its own forms of community. Remember the three Jewels Budda advocated: the Sangha, the Dharma, and the Buddha. The Sangha is the community. So even there, elders and community are necessary for guidance and from preventing rampant subjectivism.

Actually it doesn’t… Animals are also capable to show compassion. The lion does not always murder the helpless victim when it’s not hungry. Some lions do - others don’t. Now whether they do this or don’t do this from instinct, with no possibility of free choice (and hence impossible to be a moral or immoral act) is a different story. Us Christians obviously think that animals don’t have freedom of choice. Whereas Buddhists think that there is some freedom of choice there.

P.S. Sorry multiple posts, but it doesn’t let me post in a single one!

Impossible to know what really happened in the early stages of the Universe… if there was a prior Universe, or what. Our laws break down at that point.

That’s why this is a very ineffective way of arguing. You could always wake up tomorrow when the evidence of science suddenly leans towards an eternal Universe… what do you do then?

Aquinas’s argument doesn’t care if the Universe is eternal or not. The point Aquinas makes is that regardless of whether the Universe is eternal or not, the Universe does not have its own ground of being in itself. So it requires God who re-creates it every single moment of existence -> regardless of whether God did this for eternity, or not.

So we go back to my point. The best way to counter Buddhism is to explain the phenomena of Stream Entry and Nirvana that Buddhist practitioners claim to experience under a Christian framework… namely, what is really happening to them, such that they can have these experiences, and yet be wrong about the interpretation?

Roger that. I’ll be no help but rossum will be able to give you all the info you need.

The Kalama sutta also says: “censured by the wise” for wrong actions and “praised by the wise” for right actions. That is non-subjective external input to a moral decision.

Ultimately all moral decisions are personal; it is ourselves who act and who suffer the consequences, good or bad, of those actions.

Unfortunately I am nowhere near Stream-entry. A lot more lifetimes to go I suspect.

Hang in there, buddy!

Is that factually correct?

Has there never been a case of somebody experiencing Stream Entry who later “fell away” from Buddhism?

I suspect that any answer would be along the lines of the Calvinist, “He wasn’t really among the elect after all.”

Having said that, I am not aware of any cases, though the great majority (¿all?) Streamwinners will be Theravada monks, so we are less likely to hear of any cases.

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Also, be aware that Buddhism is one of the many Vedic religions and shares a lot of similarities with Hinduism, Janism etc. You might want into those religions and see how they compare and contrast one another. For example, you could try asking why the Buddha in Buddhism (he’s in many religions) argues that there is rebirth through samsara dependent on karma, but that there is no soul (or atman) because nothing is permanent, including their gods? This would be an interesting conversation between a Hindu and a Buddhist. It would be better for you to educate yourself in Buddhist theology/understanding rather than just reciting someone else’s work if you don’t understand what you’re saying.

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