Introducing World Religions

A Christian Engagement

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3. Buddhism

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is Buddhism so appealing nowadays? What features of the Buddhist tradition are attractive to non-Buddhists? What do these insights tell us about what people find meaningful, necessary, and helpful today? What are the aspects of modern, Western life that make Buddhism so attractive?
  2. An important Buddhist commitment is to take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. What do Christians take refuge in? What biblical passages come to mind that might illustrate your insights?
  3. The Buddha made no claim for himself other than, “I am awake,” and that he was the teacher of the fact of suffering. Compare and contrast the claims of Jesus and the Buddha; how were they similar and dissimilar?
  4. A crucial insight of the Buddha was his understanding of suffering (i.e., dukkha). How does a Buddhist understanding of suffering compare to a Christian interpretation? For instance, how does Christianity make sense of suffering? Furthermore, in terms of the Buddhist notion of impermanence (i.e., anicca), how might Christianity see impermanence?
  5. The notion of thirst (i.e., tanha) is central to a Buddhist perspective on life and all kinds of suffering. According to Christianity, what is the fundamental problem to be overcome? How might the problem of thirst be a part of a Christian understanding of salvation? How does Christianity deal with the concept of thirst—that is, as the craving for permanent satisfaction and happiness?
  6. Some of the diversity within Buddhism is reflected in the general orientations of Theravada and Mahayana approaches to understanding and implementing the truths to which the Buddha awoke, with Theravada more reliant on scripture for wisdom. How does Christianity (i.e., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) also reflect diverse orientations with regard to scripture and practice?
  7. The concept of emptiness (i.e., sunyata) is one of the most enigmatic notions in religious studies. Its paradoxical insight is meant to challenge our thinking and perceptions. Compare and contrast the Buddhist notion of sunyata with the Christian notion of kenosis (i.e., self-emptying) as described in Philippians 2:7 onward. What can we learn about Buddhism and Christianity by comparing sunyata and kenosis?
  8. Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the importance of bodhisattvas as quasi-saviors to help liberate people. How might Christians communicate their faith to Buddhists in a way that maintains the integrity of both traditions? What are the advantages and drawbacks of perceiving Jesus as a bodhisattva?
  9. How might the Christian notion of the image of God (i.e., imago Dei) be compared and contrasted with the Buddhist concept of skandhas? How might Christians communicate genuinely about “the fall” to Buddhists?
  10. For Buddhists, the battleground is the mind, where one seeks to overcome thirst and craving. For instance, some Buddhists employ mandalas (e.g., diagrams, symbols) to train their minds to pursue single-pointed concentration, the ability to focus on just one thing. Are there Christian practices that might help Christians achieve the same result of eliminating distractions in their lives in an effort to achieve a state of inner calm? What is the battleground for Christians?