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The trouble with Buddha

Buddhism, meditation, and other spiritual aspects of the Far East are increasingly creeping into the lives of Christians. Amelia explains the spiritual dangers of incorporating elements of non-Christian religions into everyday life, even if no religious conversion is intended.
Look around people's houses. Look in their yards and gardens. Flip through a popular magazine or turn on the TV. Walk down the aisles of a store that sells decorating items, and you'll see: Buddha statues are everywhere.

Rub belly for good luck peace of mind.

The Buddha craze isn't just about style; it's about lifestyle. For so many worn-out, stressed-out Americans, Buddha represents an escape. He promises peace of mind, freedom from everyday cares, and his own version of enlightenment. Many other spiritual traditions of the Far East, not just Buddhism, also promise these things. Not realizing that these promises are empty, many disillusioned Christians are running to them for solace, all the while putting the health and fate of their souls on the line. They think these Eastern spiritual practices can offer them something that God and Christianity can't.

The reason that so many Christians are disillusioned with life and the Christian faith in general isn't because Christianity is starting to fail; it's because so many of us are forgetting what it means to be Christian. We've started to fall away from an accurate understanding of what it means to follow Christ. If we would do a better job of trying to walk in His footsteps, we would find that the Church is quite thorough in offering us everything we need.

Non-Christian Christianity.

In the Western world, we're slipping away at a dangerous pace from the correct definitions of right and wrong. Forget, for a moment, the differences between Christian denominations and their various theologies; the basic morals of right and wrong used to be the same for all of us who recognize Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. Those values are starting to change, however—some to the point of no longer being recognizable as Christian.

Consider prayer, for example. Many of us have come to look at prayer as nothing more than a means of submitting wish lists to God, and when these wishes don’t get granted we either blame God or lose faith. In reality, however, prayer is two-way communication; we're not the only ones speaking—God also speaks. In that two-way communication with God, sometimes His answer to our requests is "no," because sometimes our wishes go against His will. But are we concerned at all with God's will for us? Often, we're more concerned with our will for God, which is to say getting what we want. If this is how we think prayer works, we can easily start to believe that prayer doesn't work. This is only one example of how a faulty understanding of Christianity can fail us.

We need to remember and focus on the fact that Christianity is the path to salvation—the only path. Many of us are under the impression that the Christian faith is only meant to be some kind of utility, a philosophy that helps us get through the tough times in life. While it's true that God and faith do help in that respect, neither is merely a philosophy. Nor is the Christian faith a strategy to help us secure all the niceties we want in life. Christianity is about following Christ God. All other spiritual paths were created by people, but the Christian path was laid out by our Creator before the beginning of all time. It's the only path that can lead us back to Him and save our souls from ultimate destruction.

On "Christian Buddhists."

Some of us are under the misguided impression that a person can be wholly Christian in faith but still strive toward certain ideals of the Far Eastern religions. To believe so is a dangerous mistake.

Because many of these Eastern religions don't have a creed, we tend to think that they don't imply any kind of religious teachings. However, in no way does the lack of a creed within Buddhism imply that Buddhism doesn’t teach anything. Buddhism teaches many things, nearly all of which contradict harshly with the Christian Creed. If we were to look at Christianity as one set of teachings and Buddhism as another, we would see that they’re mutually exclusive. We can’t believe in and live according to both at the same time; we have to choose. In our Lord’s own words, we can’t serve two masters; if we love and serve one, it means we hate the other (Matthew 6:24).

Embracing any absence of a Creed that reflects the dominion of a Triune God indicates a rejection of that very Creed. And embracing any of the various non-creedal teachings of Buddhism indicates a rejection of the contradictory teachings of Christianity.

How do self-proclaimed Christian practitioners of Buddhism attempt to reconcile this issue? What I often hear is: “Well, Christianity is my religion, but I follow Buddhism for its spiritual practices.” This delineation is arbitrary; anyone who claims to have made it reveals that he or she really doesn’t understand what it means to be a Christian (or a Buddhist, for that matter). The “full faith” of Christianity has many layers to it, and being Christian requires us to partake of each of those layers. It’s not just a matter of believing in a God Who creates or salvation via a Savior; genuinely being a Christian requires a lifelong and life-changing spiritual transformation. People whose Christianity doesn’t involve any type of spirituality (whether or not they seek spirituality elsewhere) can’t really justify calling themselves Christian. Such so-called religion is entirely in vain. And the same can be said for their so-called Buddhist spirituality—following the Buddhist spiritual path means detaching from everything, including one’s belief in God, and working toward a multi-life process of reincarnating into a certain state of being, which means abandoning all “delusions” of salvation and eternal life in God’s Kingdom. We can’t have it both ways. We really do have to choose.

The Christian path is indeed a spiritual one, but it’s not to be equated with other spiritual paths. Buddhism and other non-Christian paths are spiritual as well, no doubt, but it’s the kind of spirituality that can take us straight to hell. Christianity speaks of how to care for the God-created soul, while many of the Far Eastern religions teach that no such God, creation, or soul exists. It's because of disparities like this that we can't assimilate aspects of Buddhism into our spiritual life while still retaining our Christianity; each bit of Buddhism that we embrace is accompanied by a renunciation of a bit of Christianity. The Lord explicitly states that whoever isn’t with Him is against Him, and whoever doesn't gather with Him scatters (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23). If we're gathering with the Buddha, meaning living according to his spiritual teachings, we’re scattering.

The trouble with Buddha, in a nutshell, is his disbelief in God. Everything else taught and practiced in his name is based on that belief, so how could any of it ever lead us closer to God? Through its exercises in "letting go," Buddhism systematically rips us away from the Lord's loving embrace.

Meditation: Shutting out God.

The most obvious example of one such exercise is meditation. If we don't think about it too deeply, meditation can seem like a nice way to de-stress. But if we look at it through Orthodox eyes, nothing can separate us farther from God. Make no mistake: Eastern-style meditation is blasphemy. Sometimes it's focused on "centering" the self—in other words, putting ourselves at the center of our concentration. Other times, it's focused on realizing our place in the universe, which, depending on the type of meditation, could either mean we're isolated and disconnected from everything and everyone, or that we share the exact same essence with everything and everyone.

What's so wrong about these goals of meditation? First, all of Creation is centered around God, not around us, but we won't recognize Him or be receptive to His grace if we're trying to force ourselves into the center of His Creation, where only He belongs. Second, we're neither alone in this universe, nor are we equal to everything else in it; we have our own unique, very special place. God has created us in His own image, which makes us different from the rest of Creation yet doesn't cut us off from it. We're not the same as everything else, but we're still interconnected with all of it. We're not God ourselves, but we're also interconnected with Him. What cuts us off from God is when we intentionally seek experiences such as these, whose goals are to erase Him from our consciousness altogether.

Meditation is also about suspending “mental chatter” in order to become more existentially "aware." In Christian terms, that suspension is essentially a paralysis of the soul. In that paralyzed state, the soul is extremely vulnerable to any kind of contra-Christian influence in its presence. And "contra-Christian influences” doesn’t just mean Buddhist teachers, or yogis, or whoever else leads people in meditation; it also includes demons. The conclusions of which meditation seeks to make us "aware" are the handiwork of none other than the devil. (For an in-depth discussion of the spiritual dangers of meditation and related practices, please see the article Soul-killing state of mind.)

In short, meditation doesn't really bring us the spirit of peace and harmony that some of us think it brings. It systematically destroys, piece by piece, whatever Christian faith we do have. Not only is this atheism—it's atheism with a vengeance.

Without God, we're absolutely nothing. He created us out of nothing. When we reject Him, we thrust ourselves back into the very nothingness that existed in our place before He formed us and gave us life. The blessed Father Seraphim Rose said that this is why an insatiable feeling of emptiness exists in every soul who refuses to acknowledge God.1 We can choose to believe He doesn't exist or that He didn't create us, but we can't make our disbelief true. When we meditate on the Buddha's notions of disbelief, we make them stronger in our hearts but still not any less false.

The "peace" that Godless meditation seems to bring isn't actually peace but rather a gradual process of emptying and killing the soul. When we drain our souls of God, we also drain them of the very life that He gave us. For a while, we might feel good doing so (if our lives are so damaged by sin that we'd rather just be numb), but only in the same way that a painkiller would make us feel better if our body were dying a slow, painful death; it could take the edge off of the pain, but it couldn't do anything to stop the dying process.

If there's any peace at all that comes from Buddhist practices, it comes from detaching oneself from the passions—from denying the soul of its feelings of necessity and lusts for things of the world. But Christianity calls us to do this very same thing—it's just that most of us don't bother. The important difference is that when Christians rid themselves of the passions, the inherent effort and struggle are toward the glory of God and to rid our souls of all that separates us from Him. Buddhism doesn't have a problem with passions because they're "sinful"—only because they get in the way of experiencing the desired state of Godless nothingness.

Need enlightenment? Seek the Light of Christ.

The goal of Buddhism is enlightenment, but it's the same kind of enlightenment that the serpent promised to Eve—it was a lie, and she never actually received it. We can't be truly enlightened, meaning in communion with God, if we don't believe He exists or if we believe we're in any way equal or superior to Him.

If we try to become spiritual without the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, then the only spirit left for us to be filled with is that of the antichrist. Simply put, there's a Spirituality that heals and saves, but there's also a spirituality that destroys. The difference is easy to recognize if we're looking for it, but not if we're convinced that everything labeled "spiritual" is good for us.

Every struggle with the passions can be either holy or unholy, depending on how we approach it. For example, chastity is a holy virtue when it's practiced in the Christian way—for the purpose of honoring and obeying God, to keep the body and soul free of what would defile them. Chastity is considered a virtue in some Eastern religions, too, but it's an empty virtue because it's sought by utterly incorrect means. On the path to becoming a monk in one particular religion from the Far East, a man has to spend a prolonged period of time locked in a room with 20-some young girls, everyone nude, and attempt to resist his temptations. This is how he becomes "holy." But what kind of holy achievement could that possibly bring? Even if he succeeds in his test of celibacy, he certainly can't say he's been chaste. Anyone with any regard for chastity whatsoever wouldn't allow it to be put at such tremendous risk. The risk of falling is just as detrimental to the soul as the fall itself. Moreover, how is his quest for holiness justifiable with regard to the poor girls?

There's more to the Christian idea of holiness than simply gaining mastery over our temptations; another critical part is avoiding them. If a man so much as looks with desire at a woman who isn't his wife, he's already committed adultery in his heart. That's what the Christian Bible says (Matthew 5:28). To be holy, he can't even look. This is because desire gives birth to sin, which grows for a while and then gives birth to death (James 1:15). Saint John of the Ladder urges: Let us by every means in our power avoid either seeing or hearing of that fruit which we have vowed not to taste. In Eastern religions, much to the contrary, we're allowed to see and hear, maybe even to taste a little—we're just not allowed to enjoy it.

This should be evidence enough that what some religions call holy are really abominations in God's sight. But Christians don't often think about the ugly side of Eastern spirituality—the God-denying, God-tempting side. Many of us probably aren't even aware that that side exists. We just see things like Buddha statues, meditation poses, and yoga classes as novel ways to relieve stress. We're attracted to the parts of Eastern spirituality that promise us spiritual peace, but we don't realize that we'll never come close to realizing true peace unless God gives it to us. If we want peace from God, we have to turn to Him for it.

The peace we receive from the Lord comes from feeling His very presence inside of us, and from seeing our entire existence nestled in the palm of His holy hand. Not only is this a better, truer kind of peace; it's the only kind that lasts forever. Even if we could somehow manage to live out our whole earthly lives in a meditative, atheistic delirium, whatever effects we derived from it wouldn't survive beyond the grave. What will we be able to do to placate our suffering then? If we forsake God's love on earth, it's too late to decide to claim it in eternity.

Eternal life exists only with Christ, but even in eternal death the soul can't deny Him. In fact, in eternal death, the soul becomes painfully more aware of God—more acutely and more intensely aware than it ever could have been on earth. On earth, an unbelieving soul can hide behind any number of lies about God, but those lies can only exist on earth. No matter what we believe on earth, and whether we make it to heaven or hell when we leave here, we can't "will away" the Lord Jesus Christ. All we can will away, temporarily, is our awareness of Him.

God saves our souls from death in eternity, but He also saves us from anxiety, anguish, despair and necessity in this life, too. Buddha’s teachings can’t save us; the best they can do is numb us. And sometimes they can't even do that much.

Do you have a Buddha statue in your home or office? Take it down and replace it with a cross. Do you meditate on yourself, or on things, or on nothingness? Meditate on Christ our True God instead. Do you chant mantras to stay focused? Get a prayer rope and recite the Jesus prayer until you're focused on Him and your sins. Do you bang a drum or make eerie vocalizations to express your spirituality? Listen to Church music and sing along—prayerfully. Do you plug in a magic rock to release "good energies" into the air? Unplug it and light a candle in front of a cross or the image of Christ instead. Do you practice yoga to stay limber? Take gymnastics or learn ballet. There's a lot we can do—even without trying to invoke God's grace—that would be better than practicing atheism.

If your soul is clenched from trying to cut itself off from all of Creation to be at peace, let go. Embrace God and all that He's given and continues to give us. Most of all, pray. There's no peace from the world that God's peace can't far exceed. Ask, and you shall receive, so that your joy can be made full (John 16:24). But at the same time, let's not forget that God also asks things of us.

If the Christian life we're leading doesn't bring us peace from God, then maybe the life we're leading isn't quite as Christian as we think …

[1] Rose, Fr. Seraphim (2001). Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age. Platina, CA: St. Herman Press.