Why I am Not Buddhist

I’m continuing my series on ‘why I am not,’ and today I’d like to discuss Why I am not Buddhist.    

Now, whether you believe Buddhism to be a religion or just a philosophy is irrelevant for this discussion, because my answer wouldn’t change for either category. However, for ease of discussion, I’m going to simply refer to it as a religion, while recognizing that not everyone would do so. 

Buddhism is considered the fourth largest religion in the world, claiming some 350 million adherents. It originated in the East and remains widely popular in eastern countries. However, its influence is not just felt in the east. Here in the west Buddhism is quite popular.

The first Buddhist that I ever met was at the jail where I minister. There, I met a young man who was Buddhist. He was quite excited to show me what he had learned about life, and he was also interested in showing me how Christ-like the teachings of Buddha are. During that encounter I learned just how complex of a system this religion can be. So, let me break it down for you a bit here today and give you some highlights before I share my thoughts.    

Siddhārtha Gautama, who would later be called the Buddha, was born sometime around the 5th or 6th century BC in modern-day Nepal. Legend has it that he was born into a wealthy family and that he had lived a very privileged life for much of his early years. His father reportedly insulated him from the world, but one day he became exposed to people being sick, people getting old, and people dying. Faced with his own mortality, he set out to discover the way out of this cycle of suffering.

So, one night he slipped out, abandoning his wife and small child, he left the palace to become a wandering ascetic. I have to admit, deserting your duties as a husband and father isn’t an impressive way to start a new religion, but hey, I guess it worked for the Buddha.  Eventually, after nearly starving to death, Buddha believed that he had discovered the way out of suffering.  He developed what is called the Four Nobel Truths, which are:

1. Life is Suffering.

2. The cause of suffering is craving or desire.

 3. The end of suffering comes by ending craving. And

4. There is a path that leads to the end of craving and suffering.       

Now, this path that leads to the end of suffering comes from following eight steps:

Right view,

right intention,

right speech,

right action,

right livelihood,

right effort,

right mindfulness, and

right concentration.       

As you can see, there’s no mention of a God in any of this. That’s because primitive Buddhism doesn’t recognize God as you and I might imagine a God to be.  To the Buddha, God is not a personal being with a mind, who chooses anything, or feels pleased, or even gets angry. Rather, God is much more of an impersonal force, like the universe.

And here we have our first reason why I am not a Buddhist, and why I believe Buddhism is fundamentally flawed. Buddha teaches that part of the path out of suffering involves doing and speaking the right thing. Buddhists are encouraged to do no harm to others. While this may seem very upstanding, it is logically inconsistent. One cannot claim that there is an objective right and wrong, while at the same time denying the existence of a personal God. Without a personal God, there can be no objective right or wrong.         

Let’s say that you and I are Buddhists. We’re sitting around talking about what we do. You tell me how you divested yourself of some of your belongings and gave those things to charities to help others. I tell you how I broke into people’s homes and stole their stuff for myself. You would be aghast and tell me that what I did was wrong. However, that’s the problem: you can’t tell me that what I had done was objectively wrong because you deny a personal God.  When I ask you to demonstrate that stealing is wrong, without a personal God, or something with a mind out there, it would be impossible for you to do so. At best, you could only tell me how you prefer not to steal, but you couldn’t condemn it as being objectively wrong. You can’t appeal to the universe, because the universe is unable to care.  You see, an impersonal force can never create or enforce laws of morality.   

There are lots of impersonal forces in our universe. For example, we have gravity and centrifugal force. We have moving rivers and blowing winds. Though these forces have the ability to move and shape the world around us, none of them care about how we conduct ourselves. That’s because they’re not personal beings; they’re impersonal forces, which don’t even have the ability to care. If two people jump from a cliff at the same time, one an evil person and one a good person, they will both reach terminal velocity at the same moment. Gravity is in capable of taking into account a person’s moral standing.  It’s for this reason that Buddhism is flawed. It claims that there are good things to do and evil things to avoid, but at the same time it clings to a system that is unable to produce a cause for objective right or wrong.     

Now, if that were not enough, there’s another logical inconsistency that would prevent me from being Buddhist: reincarnation. You see, when the Buddha began his quest for understanding, he had at least one assumption already in place: and it is that he had been reborn many times and would be reborn many more times. The concept of reincarnation is the fuel that moves the religion of Buddhism.  But is it true?   Well, it’s certainly not intuitively obvious that you and I had had many past lives or that we’re coming back again. We can’t look at the world around us and find obvious evidence that this is necessarily true. There’s obvious evidence that we are born and we die, but none suggesting that this happens many times over. However, this lack of evidence doesn’t prevent many from believing in it.

And, while on the topic of reincarnation, I understand that to a lot westerners this is an attractive thing. The thought of coming back again after I die is kind of a cool thought. However, in the east, it’s not so cool. Because it means you must begin suffering all over again. The only way out of the continual suffering is to break the chain by finally getting the chance to stay dead – which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.  Nirvana is not heaven. Rather, it’s a state of nothingness, in which you no longer get to live as a person. Not exactly a thrill, in my book. But, anyway, what about reincarnation? Well, it’s the belief that you have to come back to pay for the bad karma from the previous life. But, what about your very first life, when you began this seemingly endless trek of suffering?

Well, if karma were true, then you would have started with no bad karma because you had no previous life.  Therefore, there should have been no suffering and you should have reached Nirvana then. Also, once again, how can an impersonal system even care how you live in order to assign bad or good karma?  It can ‘t.  Impersonal forces can’t think.          

Now, one might say, “what about all of those people who claim they have memories of past lives? Doesn’t that verify that reincarnation exists?” Well, in some cases people are seemingly able to recount information that they should not have known otherwise. This is held out by some as evidence that reincarnation is real. Though it may sound convincing, I think we need to be more cautious.         

If I open a door and walk into a room to see you sitting there, I may conclude that you entered through the same door as I did. However, for me to say that you necessarily came through the same door would first demand that I have reasonably ruled out other ways to enter the room. Maybe you came through another door, or a hallway, or you climbed through a window?     

You see, to conclude that reincarnation is true based on someone’s memory of it, we would have to first rule out every other possibility for that supposed memory.  Is it possible that a person could have knowledge of something without remembering how they came across that information? Of course.  Is it also possible that that information can be revealed to someone from outside sources? Since Buddhists believe in the reality of spirits, both good and evil, they would have to admit that it is entirely possible that information, which is immaterial, could be passed on from an immaterial being to the immaterial mind of a person. Therefore, we would have to rule out the possibility that the alleged proof of reincarnation didn’t come from spiritual entities that have reason to screw with us.       

So, why am I not Buddhist? Well, the logical inconsistencies of the belief in objective right and wrong without their being a great mind out there to create those rules, plus the obvious problems with reincarnation – just to name two problems – should warn anyone that this system of belief has got serious problems.       

And what of the young man I had met in jail who was a Buddhist? Well, as it turns out he would eventually have a powerful experience with a resurrected Christ, which caused him to abandon his Buddhism and exchange it for a relationship with a God who cared and loved him, something Buddha could never, in an infinite number of lives, ever offer him.



Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.





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