- Sharing Jesus with your Hindu neighbour (1)
- Top tips for sharing Jesus with Muslims (2)
- Sharing Jesus with your Sikh neighbour (3)
- Sharing Jesus with a Jehovah’s Witness (4)
- Sharing Jesus with your Catholic neighbour (5)
- Sharing Jesus With Your Buddhist Neighbour (5)
- Sharing Jesus with Mormon Missionaries (6)
A few months back, as I settled into my seat on a plane from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur, I was joined by a young lady from Thailand. I introduced myself and we got to know each other. It turned out that Sawat (not her real name) was on a spiritual quest and had been in Nepal, staying at Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
‘Have you heard about Jesus?’ I asked her. ‘I heard some stories when I was young,’ she replied with interest. So I told her Jesus’ story, how he was the eternal God who created the universe, how our first parents had been created good but rebelled against their maker, and how the Son of God had taken on human nature and been born into this world to make people right with him.
Her face contorted as she listened. This was obviously all new to her. ‘Maybe I was meant to sit here in this seat,’ she said. One question followed the other as she wrestled with each new concept. As she wrestled, it seemed that it was starting to sink in. ‘What is sin?’ she asked. ‘It is rebellion and failure to live up to God’s standard.’ Her face fell as she acknowledged that she too had done bad things. ‘But how can one person die for the sins of someone else?’ Back and forth we went until the cabin crew dimmed the lights and we settled down for some sleep.
The roots of Buddhism
Sawat is a Buddhist. She is a follower of the tradition associated with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a wandering Indian mendicant, living a few hundred years before Christ, who came to be known as Gautama Buddha, ‘The Enlightened One’. The story is that Gautama grew up in a sheltered environment with wealth and pleasure, but as a young man he ventured outside the palace and encountered the darker side of life, suffering and death. It was this that set him on a quest to discover the answer to the problem of pain and suffering.
Rejecting the teachings of the priests he turned away from all pleasures, beginning a life of meditation, and gaining enlightenment one day, as the story goes, under a fig tree. The teachings of Buddha spread through India and from there across much of Asia. Buddhists in the United Kingdom are mostly people who have grown up in places like Thailand, Vietnam and China.
The Buddhist quest
Buddhism is not so much a set of beliefs as a path that leads to the end of suffering and ignorance. You live the holy life by experiencing life as it is, full of suffering, and seeing that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory and empty. The cause of this is craving – self-centred desire for life and pleasure. The goal of the holy life is to rid one’s self of this craving and so achieve nirvana.
Buddhists come from various traditions that might emphasise meditation, self-realisation or mantras (powerful sounds). In some traditions, becoming a monk or nun puts you on a fast track to achieve nirvana.
In recent times, globalisation has had a huge impact on Buddhists, especially in countries like Thailand and Japan, which have prospered greatly. Many, however, are critical of the new individualism that has been unleashed which challenges the traditional emphasis on community.
This also affects the way people see the call to follow Christ. In many Buddhist countries, Buddhist identity is equated with being a good citizen. ‘Conversion’ is seen as disloyal – an abandonment of one’s family, community, nation and heritage.
Until recently, evangelists to Buddhists have often favoured an apologetic approach that challenges intellectuals at the level of ideas. But the vast majority of Buddhists are not well versed in Buddhist philosophy and doctrine. These folk Buddhists, as they are sometimes called, are more attracted by stories than complex debate.
Ten tips for sharing Christ with Buddhists
- Be bold. You may never have talked about Jesus to a Buddhist before and may find it intimidating. But remember that the Lord himself helps us in our witness by his Spirit. And you may well be the only true follower of Christ they know.
- Be clear. Try to ensure that your friend understands what you are saying by asking questions and encouraging them to ask questions of you.
- Be humble. Your character, as a follower of Jesus, is fundamental to any presentation of the gospel to a Buddhist. If you are not humble but come across as a spiritual know-all, you will not commend Jesus.
- Be hospitable. Many Buddhists in the United Kingdom have never entered a British home. Their lives revolve around family meals and community feasts. Always offer food to guests or they might find your hospitality rather cold and begrudging.
- Be interested. Ask them what they think of life and spirituality. What do they think of suffering? Where do they think beauty and love come from? How do they decide what is good or bad?
- Be focussed. Centre in on the person of Christ. Buddhist people love stories, and many are very attracted to the story of Jesus. Be prepared for plenty of questions, as many of the historical details may be completely new. If you don’t have the answer, tell them you will try to find out for the next time you get together.
- Be sensitive. Put yourself in their shoes. If they are from another country, they might feel intimidated by a local person. A big issue for many Buddhists is honour: it is important to preserve the honour of one’s family and nation. It is also important to preserve the honour of someone who has been friendly to them. It would be shameful to do something that would reflect badly on someone else – make them lose face. So, don’t push them into having to choose between loyalty to their roots and to you, their new friend.
- Be patient. When a person has had very limited exposure to the message of the Bible, you should not expect them to want to follow Christ after one conversation. It is often only after a few years of patient contact and friendship that such a person comes to really understand the gospel.
- Be prayerful. When we share Christ with others, we are completely dependent on the Lord to change their heart. He uses our words. But the heart is not changed automatically. God must work by his Spirit (John 3:5-8). We show our dependence on the Lord by bringing our friend to him in prayer, asking the Lord to perform a work of spiritual transformation.
- Be encouraged. Buddhists are coming to trust in Christ. The Lord has said that he will honour his word and make it fruitful (Isa. 55:10-11).
Next in this series: Sharing Jesus with Mormon Missionaries »