The link above takes you to a study of world religions and cults, which some people call “alternative” faiths or other paths to God. Our stand will be on the truth of Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is this view narrow-minded and outdated, as some suggest? Quite the contrary. The words Christ speaks are “spirit” and “life” (John 6:63). To disregard them is perilous. Yet many do.
There are roughly 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide, 820 million Hindus, 400 million Buddhists, 13 million Mormons, 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses, and millions more engaged in other false religions, or no religion at all. By all appearances, these people are sincere. They want to know the truth and believe they have found it. How can so many people be wrong? This study answers that question — and many others regarding people’s quest for ultimate truth.
Through this study, we will look at many belief systems, from Islam to Scientology. In each case, we’ll examine the background of the “alternative” faith and compare its beliefs to what the Bible says. We also will discuss effective means of witnessing to people who embrace these false religions.
Our purpose is not to condemn anyone or to assume God’s role as sovereign judge of the universe; rather, it is to compare the teachings of the world’s major religions and cults with biblical, historical Christianity so that we might be more effective in praying for and witnessing to the lost, and wiser in our ability to discern false doctrines. Every person, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, is precious in the eyes of God and is someone for whom Christ died. Our attitude as we study these false religious systems should be one of humility, love, and grace.
The words of the apostle Paul are clear: Those who are not grounded in the Word of God are subject to deceptive teachings about “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel.” Every world religion and every cult that we study professes belief in Jesus and has an exalted place for Him in its theology. But without exception, each of these belief systems fails to correctly answer the key question Jesus asked in Matt. 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” They also have false views of the Holy Spirit and without exception embrace a works-based doctrine of salvation.
Paul warned Christians in Acts 20:29-31: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men from among yourselves will rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert …” Our prayer is that this study will help protect you, your family and your church from false teachers who proclaim “another Jesus … a different spirit … and a different gospel.”
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
|What the Bible says about God:||What the Unification Church says about God:|
|There is one true and living God, who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Deut. 6:4; John 10:30, 20:28; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:13; 1 Peter 1:2).||God is one person only, with dual characteristics (positive/negative; male/female). He is not omniscient. God is the author of all religions; each one is a part of His attempt at restoration.”If you want to understand what God is you have only to investigate Father [Moon] to find what God is … Father is visible God” (The 120 Day Training Manual).|
|What the Bible says about Jesus:||What the Unification Church says about Jesus:|
|He is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:35). He is eternal, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-14; Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-13). Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3), rose physically from the dead (Matt. 12:38-40; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4-8; 1 Peter 1:18-21) and is coming back physically and visibly one day (Matt. 24:29-31; John 14:3; Titus 2:13; Rev. 19:11-16).||Jesus was a special creation of God – a perfect man who was faithful to God and attained deity; not equal to God.”One of my most important revelations is that Jesus Christ did not come to die” (Rev. Moon, interview in F. Sontag, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church, p. 154). Jesus was to restore the original relationship between God and humanity by marriage. His mission was incomplete because he was crucified before marriage. He is a spiritual, not a physical, savior.The second coming occurred with the advent of Sun Myung Moon.|
|What the Bible says about the Bible:||What the Unification Church says about the Bible:|
|The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God, and is His sole written authority for all people (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).||The Bible is one of God’s revelations, replaced by Moon’s superior revelations. The Bible is largely unreliable and interpreted symbolically. The Bible is authoritative only as it is interpreted in Divine Principle (Moon’s basic teachings).|
|What the Bible says about sin and the solution:||What the Unification Church says about sin and the solution:|
|Sin is the violation of God’s perfect and holy standards. All humans are sinners (Rom. 3:10) and are under the curse of sin – spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17, 3:17-19; Rom. 3:23). Only faith in Christ and His work on our behalf frees us from sin and its consequences (John 3:16, 5:24; Eph. 2:8-9).||Human beings broke their relationship with God through disobedience and misuse of love and are now related to Satan as a result of sexual sin in the Fall. Satan seduced Eve to have sexual relations, resulting in the spiritual fall of man. Eve then had intercourse with Adam, resulting in the physical fall of man. Everyone, then, has Satanic blood and is physically “possessed” by Satan.To be saved, followers must accept Jesus for spiritual salvation and the Lord of the Second Advent (Moon) for physical salvation. “Father [Moon] took responsibility for our sins…. Therefore, instead of me being tortured, the sinless Messiah was tortured by Satan (through the North Korean Communists)” (The 120 Day Training Manual).”I have the right to forgive another’s sins” (Master Speaks).”Do not believe in the Christ upon the cross…. The cross is the symbol of Satan’s victory” (Master Speaks).
“Christians believe they can simply believe in Jesus and go to church in order to go to heaven…. No one can take you there, you must do it yourself…. Our Leader (Moon) worked for the salvation of the world; you are only required to work for your own salvation. He paid the world’s debt, but you pay just yourselves….Nothing like salvation can come from the cross….By the crucifixion, everything was denied and lost” (Master Speaks).
|What the Bible says about the Holy Spirit:||What the Unification Church says about the Holy Spirit:|
|The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the triune Godhead (Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19-20). The Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son (Acts 5:3-4).||The Holy Spirit is seen variously as a female spirit (a creature) and an impersonal element or essence. “The Holy Spirit who worked with Jesus was the element of the original Eve…. [a] female element of God…. When you are speaking of the Holy Spirit, it is all right to say ‘it.’ You don’t need to say ‘she.’ If it’s just wind or power, we can say ‘it'” (Master Speaks).|
|What the Bible says about life after death:||What the Unification Church says about life after death:|
|Physical and spiritual deaths come upon all people as a consequence of their sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:1). A person becomes spiritually alive when he or she is “born again” by receiving Christ (John 3:3-6; Eph. 2:1-5). At physical death, our souls and spirits separate from our bodies [which go into the grave to await resurrection and final judgment] and enter an everlasting state of blessedness [for those born again] or torment [for those who die in their sins] (Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 14:9-11, 20:10).||All humans will become divine in an earthly kingdom of God. At that time, a perfect relationship with God will be restored.The existence of death was part of God’s original purpose in creation. “God created man to grow old and turn to dust; this would occur even if man had not fallen” (Divine Principle).|
|What the Bible says about heaven and hell:||What the Unification Church says about heaven and hell:|
|Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 14:9-11, 20:10). As for Heaven, all believers have God’s promise of a home in Heaven, will go there instantly upon physical death, and will return with Christ from Heaven to earth one day (Luke 16:19-31; John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 19:11-16).||These are various spirit realms and not eternal places. Everyone will be saved in the end, even Satan and his demons. “The ultimate purpose of God’s providence of restoration is to save all mankind. Therefore, it is God’s intention to abolish Hell completely…. The Bible infers that Satan will be cast out forever. Will he be restored completely? Of course. But … Lucifer will not be restored to his original position, but will serve in the lowest position” (Master Speaks).|
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
On Easter Sunday 1936, 16-year-old Yong Moon claims he saw a vision of Jesus Christ. “In that vision, Jesus asked him to continue the work which he had begun on earth nearly 2,000 years before. Jesus asked him to complete the task of establishing God’s kingdom on earth and bringing His peace to humankind” (Unification.org). Moon reluctantly accepted the challenge, changing his name to Sun Myung Moon (Sun Shining Moon) and eventually launching a new religion that blends Eastern faiths, occult practices and Christianity. Moon’s church began as The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity in 1954, and today is officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
From prisoner to self-proclaimed prophet
Raised in the Korean Presbyterian Church since his family converted to Christianity in 1930, Moon says he was spiritually tested as a prisoner of war during the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II. By the time of his release, he claims he spent nine years in the world of the occult, consorting with the spirits of Jesus, Confucius, Mohammad and Buddha. He says he confronted Satan and forced him to reveal the real reason for the fall of man, namely that Eve had sexual relations with Satan and then passed sin on to mankind through sex with Adam. By 1946 he had adopted a peculiar set of new doctrines and began to preach them boldly. That same year he was charged with sexual immorality and heresy and expelled from the Presbyterian Church. Two years later the North Korean Communists took him captive until Allied Forces liberated him in 1950. Within a few years he released The Divine Principle, considered the authoritative scriptures for the Unification Church (UC).
The next 50 years were characterized by divorce and charges of cruelty by his first wife; remarriage to Hak Ja Han in what the UC calls the “Marriage of the Lamb,” establishing “The True Family;” a growing following throughout Asia and in the United States; charges of psychological, spiritual and labor abuse by “Moonies;” charges of tax evasion and 18 months of incarceration in U.S. federal prison; the establishment of The Washington Times newspaper; a tell-all book alleging sexual infidelity, family abuse, and illegal drug use; and several family tragedies.
Through it all, Moon preached the doctrine of his “True Family” as the model for all people, insisting that his children would reinstitute a pure and perfect godly line of humanity. He also grew emboldened in his claims to be the Messiah. In 1985 Moon revealed for the first time his grandiose self image, boasting in a public speech, “With my emergence as the victorious Lord of the Second Advent for the world, a new order has come into being.” In 2004 he and his wife were crowned by the church as the world’s “Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parents.” The event was held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.; it was attended by several members of Congress and local D.C. church leaders.
The church is less prominent today than when it burst upon the U.S. scene in the 1970s, yet it retains considerable investments in U.S. property and business, and Moon continues to yield absolute authority over his followers, estimated to number between 1-2 million worldwide. There likely are fewer than 30,000 Unification members in North America.
Authority. The main tenets of UC doctrine are featured in a number of books, most significantly The Divine Principle and Master Speaks, a collection of Moon’s sermons. Other messages by Moon also are considered authoritative. The UC makes reference to the Bible only to justify its doctrines, even though its doctrines clearly are unscriptural.
The Fall. Borrowing from the Yin-Yang dualism of Taoism, Moon’s worldview embraces the “give and take action” of creation. God, according to the UC, is the “Universal Prime Energy” who constantly interacts with the universe in what Moon calls the “Four Fold Foundation” of human history. All creation had its origin in God, who then made a division in his creation by making Adam (masculine) and Eve (feminine) according to the “give and take action,” which through sexual union would produce a divine bloodline of pure perfect children. In other words, the God-Adam-Eve-child union would complete the four fold foundation.
However, according to the UC, before Adam and Eve could produce their perfect offspring, Satan deceived Eve into having sexual intercourse with him. She then had sexual relations with Adam, resulting in a Satanically sired human bloodline through Cain. Later, with Adam, Eve bore the godly line through Abel.
Jesus. Because the human race was now corrupted, God must send a redeemer to restore people to their proper state. The UC says Jesus was sent to “pay indemnity” (suffer) to redeem the human race from spiritual death and to restore the pure godly bloodline of humanity. According to the UC, Jesus accomplished only spiritual redemption – the first phase – of his mission. He failed to complete the second phase (physical redemption) because he was crucified before he could marry and have children. Thus, another redeemer (Moon) would need to come about 2,000 years later to finish the divine mission. Like Jesus, he would suffer – as Moon did as a prisoner of war – but then live a long life, marry a perfect mate, produce perfect children and thus complete the “Four Fold Foundation.”
Salvation. According to the UC, all people may receive the benefits of Moon’s suffering and triumph as Messiah by joining his “true family.” One completes the “divine adoption” process by joining Moon’s church, pledging total obedience to him, and entering into a marriage relationship blessed by Moon to a mate personally selected by him. Over the years, Moon has conducted mass weddings with thousands of couples taking their vows before him. In most cases, the brides and grooms did not even know each other before their wedding day. To make matters more difficult, after their wedding ceremony, UC couples are required to observe 40 days of celibacy, followed by three days of consummation and then three years of celibacy.
Financial support. The UC uses “heavenly deception” in its fund-raising efforts. For example, healthy will solicit funds from wheelchairs. As Moon explains, lying to advance the UC is not a sin because “even God tells lies very often.” The annual income from the UC in Japan, the U.S. and Europe in charitable donations is estimated at more than $150 million.
|What the Bible says about God:||What Buddhism says about God:|
|There is one true and living God, who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Deut. 6:4; John 20:28; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:13; 1 Peter 1:2). God is personal and is to be the only object of worship (Ex. 20:2-3; Isa. 43:10, 44:6; Matt. 4:10).||Buddhists do not worship a God who created and sustains the world. Theravada Buddhism considers the concept of God irrelevant; it is basically atheistic. Mahayana Buddhism worships the Buddha as a god, along with other gods. Other forms of Buddhism add shamanism and elements of the occult.|
|What the Bible says about Jesus:||What Buddhism says about Jesus:|
|He is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:35). He is the eternal God, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-14; Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-13). Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3), rose physically from the dead (Matt. 12:38-40; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4-8; 1 Peter 1:18-21) and is coming back physically and visibly one day (Matt. 24:29-31; John 14:3; Titus 2:13; Rev. 19:11-16).||Jesus was a great religious teacher who may have achieved enlightenment. Even so, he was one among many and therefore not unique.|
|What the Bible says about salvation:||What Buddhism says about salvation:|
|Christ’s death at Calvary completely paid our sin debt so that salvation comes by grace alone through faith in the person and work of Jesus (John 3:16, 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).||The goal of life is to achieve nirvana, or the cessation of suffering.|
|What the Bible says about the Bible:||What Buddhism says about the Bible:|
|The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God, and is His sole written authority for all people (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).||The authoritative writings for Buddhists are the Sutras and the Tripitaka (The Three Baskets). The Bible contains good teaching but is not authoritative.|
|What the Bible says about man:||What Buddhism says about man:|
|God created man in His image – with a human spirit, personality and will. A person’s life begins at conception and is everlasting, but not eternal; that is, our lives have no end, but they did have a distinct beginning (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 139:13-16).||Buddhists embrace the concept of anatta (no self). In traditional Buddhism, “no self” means there is no permanent identity to continue from one moment to the next. The human personality is made up of five skanda, or parts, which are only momentary, but they group together to give the illusion of permanence, like the flow of a river or the flame of a candle.|
|What the Bible says about sin:||What Buddhism says about sin:|
|Sin is a violation of God’s perfect and holy standards. All humans are sinners (Rom. 3:10) and are under the curse of sin – spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17, 3:17-19; Rom. 3:23). Only faith in Christ and His work on our behalf frees us from sin and its consequences (John 3:16, 5:24; Eph. 2:8-9).||There is no such thing as sin against a supreme being. The human condition is suffering, caused by attachment to things and the cravings / desires accompanying the attachment.|
|What the Bible says about death and the afterlife:||What Buddhism says about death and the afterlife:|
|Physical and spiritual deaths come upon all people as a consequence of their sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:1). A person becomes spiritually alive when he or she is “born again” by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-6; Eph. 2:4-5). At physical death, our souls and spirits separate from our bodies [which go into the grave to await resurrection and final judgment] and enter an everlasting state of blessedness [for those born again] or torment [for those who die in their sins] (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Cor. 5:8).||Buddhists believe the cycle of death and rebirth, known as samsara, has been going on since time without beginning. Their goal is to end this cycle by attaining nirvana, a state of being that is realized through eliminating desire. Nirvana comes at two moments: at awakening or enlightenment, and at parinirvana, when the fire of personality finally flickers out (final death). The path to nirvana is divided into eight categories of disciplines that are meant to avoid bad karma that leads to dangerous and difficult forms of rebirth.|
|Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 14:9-11, 20:10). As for Heaven, all believers have God’s promise of a home in Heaven, will go there instantly upon physical death, and will return with Christ from Heaven to earth one day (Luke 16:19-31; John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 19:14).||There is no heaven or hell as understood by Christians.|
With about 365 million followers (920,000 in the United States), Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world (after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism). Buddhism was founded in northern India by the first known Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, a prince who lived about 563-483 B.C.
Traditional belief is that he was born a prince. His father, Suddhodana, was king of the Sakyas clan; his mother was named Maya. Miraculous stories are associated with his birth, including reports that he emerged from his mother’s side without causing her any pain, and that at birth he stood up, took seven steps, and announced that he would be the “chief of the world.” He was given the name Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha means “one who has achieved his aim.”
Prophecy said he would be a great king if he stayed home, but a savior of mankind if he left. His father wanted his son to succeed him as king so he kept him confined to the palace. But the son wanted to see the world. His father ordered the streets cleared and cleansed, but Siddhartha Gautama saw the “Four Passing Sights,” which were experienced either while on chariot rides or through visions:
- A frail old man
- An emaciated, diseased and depressed man
- A funeral procession with grieving family members
- A monk begging for food (but serene)
The passing sights so impressed the prince that he left his wife, child, luxurious lifestyle, and future role as leader of his people in order to seek truth. He became a pauper and wandered from place to place seeking wisdom. He tried meditation, then breath control and intense fasting. He realized that neither the extremes of hedonism nor mortification of the flesh would lead to enlightenment. He determined that a better path to achieve the state of nirvana – a state of liberation from suffering – was to pursue the “Middle Way” through moderation and meditation.
One night, at age 35, he was in deep meditation beneath a large tree when he began to experience spiritual breakthroughs. He developed the ability to recall the events of previous lives in detail. He was able to see how the good and bad deeds of one lifetime bore consequences in the next life. Finally, he learned that he had progressed beyond the “spiritual defilements” of craving, desire, hatred, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, fear, doubt and delusions.
“With this experience, he became a Buddha, someone who has ‘awakened’ from the dream of ignorance and whose wisdom has ‘blossomed’ like a flower,” writes Boston University’s Malcolm David Eckel in the Course Guidebook to The Teaching Company’s Great World Religions: Buddhism. “He also achieved the state or the goal that Buddhists call nirvana, which means ‘to extinguish’ or ‘to blow out.’ A Buddha is someone who has understood the causes of suffering and haw ‘blown them out,’ meaning that he no longer suffers from the ignorance and desire that feed the fire of death and rebirth” (pp. 8-9).
He spent the rest of his life sharing what he had learned. He was no longer Siddhartha Gautama but the Buddha, or enlightened one. He wandered around northeast India for decades, teaching all who would listen, and died at the age of 80. He left no successor, believing that the Dharma (his teachings), plus the Vinaya (his code of rules for monks and nuns) would be adequate guides. More than 200 years later, a council of Buddhist monks collected his teachings and the oral traditions of the faith into written form, called the Tripitaka.
Basic Description of Buddhism
From the time of Gautama to the present day, Buddhism has grown from a tiny religious community in northern India into a movement that now spans the globe. According to Boston University’s Eckel, “Although Buddhism plays the role of a ‘religion’ in many cultures, it challenges some of our msot basic assumptions about religion. Buddhists do not worship a God who created and sustains the world. They revere the memory of a human being, Siddhartha Gautama, who found a way to be free from suffering and bring the cycle of rebirth to an end. For Buddhists, this release from suffering constitutes the ultimate goal of human life” (p. 3).
“Buddhism was founded as a form of atheism that rejected more ancient beliefs in a permanent, personal, creator God (Ishvara) who controlled the eternal destiny of human souls,” according to the North American Mission Board’s belief bulletin on Buddhism. “Buddhism is an impersonal religion of self-perfection, the end of which is death (extinction) – not life.” The essential elements of the Buddhist belief system are summarized in the Four Noble Truths:
- 1. Life is full of suffering (dukkha).
- 2. Suffering is caused by craving (samudaya).
- 3. Suffering will cease only when craving ceases (nirodha).
- 4. Following the Eightfold Path will end suffering (magga).
The Eightfold Path consists of:
- 1. Right understanding of the Four Noble Truths.
- 2. Right thinking; following the right path in life.
- 3. Right speech – no lying, criticism, condemnation, gossip, etc.
- 4. Right conduct by following the Five Precepts (do not kill; do not steal; do not lie; do not misuse sex; do not consume alcohol or drugs).
- 5. Right livelihood; support yourself without harming others.
- 6. Right effort; promote good thoughts, conquer evil thoughts.
- 7. Right mindfulness; become aware of your body, mind, and feelings.
- 8. Right contemplation; meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness.
Types of Buddhism
After Gautama’s death, Buddhism eventually died out in India but became established in Sri Lanka. From there, it expanded across Asia and evolved into three main forms:
Theravada Buddhism. Also called Southern Buddhism, it began in the 3rd century B.C. as Buddhist missionaries left India for Sri Lanka. In the Pali language the word “Theravada” means “the Doctrine of the Elders” or the “Ancient Doctrine.” The Theravada school bases its practices and doctrines exclusively on the Pali canon. Theravada Buddhism now dominates all the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia except Vietnam.
Mahayana Buddhism. The word means “Great Vehicle.” It emerged as a reform movement in the Indian Buddhist community around the beginning of the Common Era and eventually spread to China, Tibet, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Mahayana texts claim to be the teaching of the Buddha himself, delivered to a special assembly of bodhisattvas, or “future Buddhas,” from which other Buddhist practitioners were excluded. A bodhisattva does not attempt to go straight to nirvana but returns to this world to help others along the path.
Vajrayana (Tantra) Buddhism. The word means “Diamond Vehicle.” This form of Buddhism shares the basic concepts of Mahayana, and is thought by some to be a part of Mahayana, but also includes a vast array of spiritual techniques designed to enhance the Buddhist practice. Two major subschools are Tibetan Buddhism and Shingon Buddhism. By harnessing certain psycho-physical energy, the practitioner may achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime.
One other form of Buddhism that should not escape our attention is Zen Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that has become widely known in the west. There are no sacred scriptures. The teachings of Buddhism are transmitted from mind to mind and do not need to be explained in words. Zen actually developed 1,000 years after the death of the Buddha. “Look within, you are the Buddha,” it teaches, stressing finding your own way through self effort. Central to Zen is the practice of Zazen – sitting in Zen meditation under the guiding hand of a master (roshi).
Doctrines of Buddhism include:
- Nothing in life is permanent (anicca)
- Individual selves do not truly exist (anatta)
- All is determined by an impersonal law of moral causation (karma)
- Reincarnation is an endless cycle of continuous suffering, and the goal of life is to break out of this cycle by finally extinguishing the flame of life and entering a permanent state of pure nonexistence (nirvana).
The Buddha taught that there are five ways people attach themselves to the world and to self:
- Matter (rupa). Physical matter, sights, odors, sounds, etc. – our physical existence – make up the illusion of You.
- Sensation (vedana). When material elements in the world bump into each other in the human body, sensations arise. Happiness and sadness are in this category because they are the effects of material causes.
- Perception (samjna). The Buddha said perception is recognizing physical or mental functions – e.g. recognizing a certain sound as the sound of music. A person has no control over their perceptions; they are reflexes resulting from “matter” and “sensations.”
- Formation of mind (samskara). When you direct your mind towards a particular thought/action, you experience a “mental formation.” For example, when you hear music you may decide to turn up the volume. Mental formations also include concentration, desire, hate, jealousy, etc. There is no You controlling these mental formations; there are just the formations themselves.
- Consciousness (vijnana). This is simply an “awareness” (not “perception”) of the presence and characteristics of a thing. Consciousness is the awareness of sound, whereas perception identifies the sound as the sound of music.
The Buddha taught that the sum of these five parts does not make up a greater whole called the Self. All that exists are the parts. The Buddha wanted to remove the notion of Self because he believed the idea of the Self is the root of all suffering. Since there is no soul or You, there is no reincarnation. Buddha instead taught rebirth. Rebirth does not involve getting a new body for an old soul (as in Hinduism). Instead it is the continuation of the Five Aggregates in a long chain of cause and effect.
Professor Eckel explains it this way: “What do Buddhists mean when they say that there is ‘no self?’ In traditional Buddhism, ‘no self’ means that there is no permanent identity to continue from one moment to the next. If there is no permanent identity, what makes up the human personality? The answer to this question is: five ‘aggregates,’ from material form (rupa) to consciousness (vijnana). These five aggregates are only momentary, but they group together to give the illusion of permanence, like the flow of a river or the flame of a candle” (p. 13).
Buddhism does not share most of the core beliefs of historical Christianity, including:
- Creation of mankind in innocence and the subsequent fall of humanity into sin.
- A worldwide flood in the days of Noah.
- A God-man Savior who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, was raised physically from the dead and ascended into heaven.
- Salvation achieved by grace through faith – or even through works or sacraments.
- Everlasting life in heaven or hell after death.
- The future return of a Savior to the earth.
- The future end of the world as we know it.