Recently I had a conversation with a woman on her way to teach her brother’s Sunday school class. This would not be unusual except that she was planning to tell them that she is a practicing Buddhist and has been for forty years.
Her brother asked that she share the teachings of Buddhism and what her religion “does for her.” So I asked her, “What does Buddhism do for you?” And, “What do you find appealing about the teachings of Buddhism?” Her answers surprised me. After forty years as a practicing Buddhist, it was not the teaching that most attracted her. Rather, it was how she felt when she was in the presence of a “great Buddhist master.” She said, “Over these years I have met many of the great Buddhist teachers of the world, including the Dali Lama, and the peace I feel in their presence is what most attracts me to the religion.”
Her response to these questions reminded me of a general truth: before a person converts to our religion or belief system, they first convert to us. People do not consider our message until they decide whether they trust us, like us, and want to spend time with us. That’s really what this woman was expressing. She finds the Dali Lama attractive as a human being and that’s what most appeals to her. We can argue that it shouldn’t be this way, and that people should first consider the message and the truth claims of a religion. But the reality is that most people make a decision about the messenger before they decide on whether to believe the message. Even followers of Jesus do this. Before a person joins a Sunday school class, choir, or church family, they ask themselves, “Do I like these people? Do I want to spend time with them?” The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16), but when the gospel is shared by a neighbor who loves us, we hear the message more clearly.
Now, back to my Buddhist friend. I followed these questions up with another: “What hope does Buddhism give you for the future, after you die?” She said that she had no certainty about the future, but that the Buddhist teaching of Karma assured her that she would get what she deserves.
As a parenthesis, you should know that Karma is one of the most diabolical and wicked concepts ever hatched in the human brain. Karma teaches that the inequality of mankind has a just cause. For example, the wealthy and strong among us, including those with brilliant minds and fit bodies, have such because they were a good person in a prior life, before reincarnation into their present life. If, however, you are mentally dull, physically deformed, steeped in a life of misery, you are getting what you deserve because you were a bad person in a prior life. Karma does include consequences for actions in our present life, but the weight is placed on “prior lives.”
I did not challenge her belief in Karma, but I did share with her what the Bible says about salvation, including the message of the Gospel, and how this is very different from Karma. I then inquired as to her “feelings” about Jesus, including her knowledge and understanding of His teachings. She had a general understanding of Jesus and was quite positive about Him. So I quoted John 3:16 and asked her what she thought Jesus was saying. We discussed a couple more of Jesus’ teachings, and how they compared with her understanding of Buddhism. By the end of the conversation she agreed that what Jesus taught is incompatible with her beliefs. She couldn’t have Jesus and Buddha. She agreed that she needed to learn more about Jesus so I encouraged her to read John’s Gospel.
I tell you this story because it includes some elements that are important in sharing Christ. First, listen carefully. As you listen you will hear the discrepancies and contradictions in their beliefs. Rather than confront these beliefs directly, you can ask thought-provoking questions that will allow the truth to surface naturally. When this happens you can more easily build a bridge to the Gospel and share Christ in a way that is natural, winsome, and personal.
I did not see repentance and faith in my Buddhist acquaintance that day. But she was made to think about what her faith teaches, and how this compares to Jesus’ teaching. She came to see that she cannot have both Jesus and Buddha as supreme in her life. She even told me that she was going to rethink how to teach her brother’s Sunday school class!