Every so often on my alms rounds, or here and there, I encounter Christians who approach me. Usually within the first sentence, they announce themselves as Christians to me as if they were holding a cross near to my face. However, I listen to their questions and give them answers. Many times they are trying to convince me my path is wrong and since it is a predictable pattern for them, I can anticipate what they will say, and put logic into their own path. It took a while, but I’m getting better at speaking with them because I get a lot of practice as a stand out from the rest of the crowd. If they know the Bible and they are true to their religion, we can have an intelligent religious debate. Last week I was approached in this way at Ha’ena State Park by a Christian couple. The husband was very nice.
He asked me questions about who I was and what I do. I explained that my main message is to teach others practice morality, pay attention to cause and effect, and because of that, one should only speak or act when you have a loving-kindness mind. When one has anger, keep your mouth closed, don’t send emails and certainly don’t do anything. Morality in Buddhism refers to the five precepts. Not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie or take intoxicants. This is my main message and it is agreeable to people of all faiths.
Christians are most concerned with getting into heaven and that it is only done by taking Jesus as a savior because, “He died for all of our sins.” Dying for our sins appears to apply only to those who are Christians. That is why they want to make me a Christian so I can be included in the club that is above the law of cause and effect. The last phrase is sort of like a James Bond, “License to Kill,” and as long as you have Jesus as your savior, your sin is absolved. I save this part for later because no Christian can agree with this James Bond license and I know the quote in their Bible that proves this too.
The conversation went further and I am asked if I believe in a Creator just as Christians, Jews or Muslims believe. I tell him that Karma is our creator. Many Christians can’t argue that because they know that if someone does many bad things, (bad karma), they will be “re-created” into the Hell Realms. Then I say, “It does not matter how much faith one has in Jesus, such a bad person won’t get saved.”
“But Jesus died for our sins and he will save all of them,” his wife said to me, which is the exact phrase I expected to hear.
Then I tell them… “If you are a bad person and you do not follow the teachings of Jesus or God, then when you die, no matter how much faith you had, Jesus will say to you (if you can find him), “I never knew you, begone evildoers.” (Matthew 7:22-23)1
It is an interesting point because it proves that our actions and speech are very important and trump the end result (destiny) over faith. After I start quoting the bible to prove this, little is said after that. They cannot go against quotes from Bible and they were at a loss for words. However, I didn’t let them walk away feeling bad and I told them that if they were really “with Jesus”, then they would be following his teachings and therefore they were not real Christians after all. Devoted Christians like that designation between real Christians and everyday Christians, and I trusted they were some of those rare true Christians. They had good intentions of approaching me and seemed to be the type that practices as they teach. So they smiled and walked away feeling happy. (John 2:3-6)2
Besides this conversation with Christians who approach me holding an invisible cross in my face, we could say the same about Buddhism. If someone does not follow the basic morality prescribed by the Buddha (and most other religions), it is difficult to call them a Buddhist either. That is why taking The Triple Gem (declaring The Buddha, The Dhamma, and the Sangha as one’s refuge is coupled with taking the 5 moral precepts (not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie and take intoxicants). This small ceremony is what officially makes one Buddhist if one feels she needs some official ceremony to do that. In Buddhism, it is all you and your kamma. You don’t need to officially take Triple Gem and the five precepts with a monk and recite the Pāḷi language to be saved. What matters is if you follow the teachings of Morality, Concentration and Wisdom. It is you and your body, speech and mind which matter. However, doing such a ceremony may inspire you to keep the Dhamma nearby. I should also assert that Buddhism has a different end-goal than other religions. We desire no rebirth at all through the power of concentration and wisdom and heaven is considered as only a temporary stopping ground in the realm of pleasure.
With this, we can conclude that our body speech and mind are most important and one’s faith is irrelevant in “name”. This principle is universal and should span across all religions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and I let the them walk away with a few bible verses I Googled beforehand3.
Picture: Modified from here
- Luke13:27 says something similar to Matthew 7:22-23
- John 2:3-6 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. They smile and feel good about it and walk away.
- Actually, I got the knowledge from some real Christians who I once lived with in Kauai who answered my questions about why a devoted Mafia Christian person can go to heaven. Their answers were surprising and logical and more or less repeated here. I later Googled the general phrases that I could remember and found the quotes.