I have reflected and written about the fact that I was enamored by Buddhism in college, especially after a world religion class my freshman year but Buddhism is not where I found my enlightenment. I found enlightenment in reading the Bible.
I didn’t find enlightenment in reading what other people said about the Bible. I found enlightenment in reading the Bible myself.
I have written about the facial similarities of Christianity, Buddhism and oneness. They both place some emphasis on losing or denying one’s self and achieving oneness, but that is where the similarities end. In Buddhism, oneness with the cosmic essence of the universe is something we achieve. In Christianity, oneness with God is achieved in us as we submit to God and allow Him to take His rightful place in the center of our lives.
Whereas, Buddhism encouraged me to ignore myself, look past myself and to escape myself and all of my feeling, ambitions and ego into a cosmic forgetfulness of self, the Bible confronted me with myself. Reading the Bible was like having a one-on-one soul-searching conversation with a stern but loving Father who knew me more intimately and fully than I knew myself.
And then I met Jesus in the Gospels. I can only describe him as divine love incarnate. He is a figure like no other. Bold, daring, fearless, loving, brotherly, piercing, healing. He is everything we would expect a God, a father, a brother, a friend to be. (It wasn’t right away that I was introduced to and experienced the person of the Holy Spirit.)
It wasn’t in reading books, listening to my professor or considering what other people said about the Bible and God; it was reading the Bible myself that led me to my enlightenment. Indeed, the Bible was like a sharp, two-edged sword penetrating into my psyche, dividing soul and spirit, exposing and judging the thoughts and intents of my heart. When I read those words, I knew it to be true because I had already experienced them.
Reading the Bible was like holding up a mirror to my soul. It was like a skillful surgeon’s hand touching on exactly what was out of joint, finding the cancer and putting a finger on it. At the same time, it was the beacon of hope I was searching for. A surgeon must assess the illness honestly. The Bible resonated with me in its stark exposure of what was wrong with me, and, at the same time, it offered me the way out.
I recognized real hope juxtaposed with a most brutally honest reflection of who I was in my inner being. I trusted the hope because I recognized the honesty.
Buddhism was for me escapism. Christianity, emanating from the words of the Bible, without philosophy, psychology or other layers that men put on it, was like a light bulb turning on in a dark room, like day dawning after the night. It confronted me with myself but held out a real and genuine hope.
I think about these contrasts even now. I think about how each religion affects people, and how the journey of each religion looks and is lived out. We don’t see many devout Buddhist contributors to society, perhaps, because enlightenment in the Buddhist religion takes people on a journey away from society. The very best and most enlightened Buddhists are the ones who live off the grid in a solitary life. Sure there are Buddhists who are scientists and social workers and other kinds of people who are doing good things, but they are not the best Buddhists. The best and highest example of a Buddhist is a solitary, priestly man who lives far away from the rush of society.
In contrast, the very best Christians are the ones living in the middle of the crush of society and ministering to people where they live. I think of Mother Teresa. I think of Jesus, himself. He did often go off into lonely places for solitary time alone with God the Father, but he always returned to the marketplace where the crowds lived and he had his greatest impact.
I very much had within me a desire to retreat to a mountaintop, away from the bustling busyness of society that bombarded and assaulted me. I believe this is why Buddhism was so appealing to me in college. I did not want to face the crush of humanity and all of the needs and demands on me that are part of society. Jesus had me turn away from my dream of solitary contentment. He had me pick up my cross and follow him into the marketplace. This is not where I wanted to go.
When I contrast the Buddha with Jesus, when I contrast the end game of Buddhism with the endgame of Christianity, I see differences that are continents apart. In that world religion class in college, I not only went through the academic ritual of learning the facts about the various religions, I tried them on in my heart and my mind. I was searching for truth for myself in a personal way.
I found in the Bible, in Jesus, in God the father and God the Holy Spirit, something that cannot be found in any of the other world religions, philosophies or ways of thinking. I found more than personal knowledge of the essential truth of the Universe. I found more than a personal connection with the essential reality of the Universe. I found a personal relationship with the God of the universe who began actively to work within me to change me from the inside out.
I did not get this from books or from listening to other people. I did not even get this from reading the Bible myself and taking it to heart. I got this from engaging the God who is reflected in the Bible, on a personal, one-on-one kind of way. I took the step of faith to engage God in the same way the Bible engaged me, by being brutally honest and opening myself up in trust and commitment. As I engaged God, He engaged me.
Faith is not believing something without evidence. Faith is not believing something in spite of the evidence. Faith is grasping the evidence in all of its brutal honesty and dealing with it squarely, one-on-one. Faith is being honest with oneself and entrusting oneself to the God who knows me better than I know myself. Faith is committing myself to that God.
Buddhism promises change to be achieved in the inner man as one progresses from this illusory, emotional world to enlightenment. Christianity promises a change in the inner man brought about by relationship with God who works within us to accomplish that change. I have experienced this. I know this by experience to be true.
Having entrusted myself and committing myself to the God I saw a reflected in the Bible, to the God who expressed who he is in the most humanly intimate way possible through Jesus Christ, I have found that He does what he says He can do. He has changed me from the inside out, and he continues to change me.
I am afraid that many people, including many people who call themselves Christians, do not really know God in a relational way. They do not approach the Bible as if it were a surgeon’s knife, engaging with it, as God through his Holy Spirit engages with them. It’s easy, less risky to the fragile self, to keep it on an academic, surface-level. I believe that some people do this their entire lives, not realizing that God is relational.
 Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”