There are two ways to approach the subject of Buddhism. One approach is to look at Buddhism as it has existed in Asia. It is a very important part of the culture there. It is engrained in the habits and lifestyle of millions of Asian people. The other way is to study it as practiced by people in the Western world. Many who practice Buddhism in the west have first rejected the Bible and so-called “Christianity.” When they do not see what they like in this area, they turn to eastern religions. Unfortunately, most of these have never been exposed to true New Testament Christianity, and therefore do not make a true comparison between what the Bible teaches and what Buddhism teaches. We will do that in this lesson. Because many have already rejected false “Christianity,” they have difficulty accepting the truth (Genesis 37:31-34; 45:26-28).1

A Taiwanese woman, who believed all religions are from God, illustrates this view. Even though all of the different religions teach many contradictory doctrines, she believed that since they all came from God, we should just pick and choose the best of each one and leave the rest alone. She also believed that since all religions came from God, we should not criticize various religious groups. There are many people in this world who share her views (I have several samples of letters in my files illustrating this point). We also know God did not institute contradictory religions because “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). There are so many religions or philosophies that claim to be the guide for people in this life. Buddhism makes this claim. There are millions of Buddhists living in the world today and the number continues to grow, especially in the United States.

Because there are many similarities between Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism (pronounced “daoism”), and because various parts of these “paths” are practiced by many Asian people, we will also give a brief overview of these views as well. “Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism constitute the essence of the traditional Chinese culture. The relationship among the three has been marked by both contention and complementation in history, with Confucianism playing a more dominant role.”2 Buddhism is one of many Eastern religions that fits into Paul’s description of those who “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man...Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:23, 25).

Origin and History


Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-c. 483), also known as Shakyamuni. Gautama was born in what is now Nepal. He was born into a noble family and was raised in wealthy circumstances. He married at the age of sixteen and had a son at the age of twenty-nine. “Legend has been prolifically at work on the scanty facts concerning the childhood of Siddhartha Gautama. Tradition insists that the father hoped his son would become ‘a universal monarch,’ the emperor of all India. But if this was in actual fact his expectation, it was doomed to disappointment.”3

It was after the birth of his son that Siddhartha Gautama began his search for enlightenment. After trying the ascetic way of life, he turned to meditation. It is claimed that through meditation he realized enlightenment and began to teach his beliefs. “Deep in meditation, he reached the highest degree of God-consciousness, known as nirvana. He supposedly stayed under the fig tree for seven days, after that the fig tree was called the bodhi, or the bo tree (the tree of wisdom). The truths he learned he would now impart to the world, no longer as Siddhartha Gautama, but as the Buddha, the enlightened one.”4

For the next forty-five years, Gautama worked in the preaching and teaching of those things he had learned. Buddhism was born in India, the home of Hinduism. Since Gautama came out of the Hindu background, there are a number of similarities between Hinduism and Buddhism, e.g., teachings regarding reincarnation and karma. It is said Gautama died at the age of 80 after eating spoiled food.

The greatest early growth of Buddhism was in India. It spread into the other Asian nations, such as Thailand, China, and Japan. Several forms of Buddhism have been developed through the years. We will discuss that when we talk about “Authority and Doctrine” later in this chapter.


The claimed founder of Taoism (pronounced “daoism”) is Lao-tzu. The word tao means “path.” Concerning him, McDowell and Stewart said: Many scholars feel that Lao-tzu never existed at all. His date of birth is uncertain, being put variously between 604 and 570 B.C. One legend said that he was never young but rather was born old with white hair, a long white beard and wrinkled skin…. However, he was known to the people as Lao-tzu, meaning “the old philosopher.”5

Chuang-tzu, a disciple of Lao-tzu, popularized Taoism by his many teachings on the subject of the “path.” Taoism provides us with “yin” and “yang,” which literally means “feminine” and “masculine.” It carries many additional meanings in Taoism. Taoism still has a large following in Taiwan and has a growing following in the United States. Those who practice Taoism in Taiwan also mix it with Buddhism and Confucianism.


The name Confucius is the romanized version of his Chinese name, Kung Fu Tzu. He was born about 550 B.C. in China. He lived at about the same time as Buddha. He was an official in local government, holding minor posts until about the age of fifty. It was at that time he became a high official, but because of a disagreement with his superiors, resigned, and spent the next thirteen years traveling and spreading his teachings. After spending the last five years of his life writing, he died in Shantung Province in 479 B.C.

Rod Rutherford gives a concise account of the origin and history of Confucianism in his book on world religions. He says in the introduction: Confucianism has been described as a “religion of optimistic humanism.” Confucianism is not a religion in the sense of man worshiping a god or gods, but is mainly an ethical system dealing with getting along with one’s fellow man.

It was Confucius’ purpose to try to bring reform to the society at that time because of the corruption among government leaders. “Confucius believed that the solution to this chaos was to return to the kinder, gentler ways of their ancestors. He was basically a humanist, believing that man was essentially good, and just needed to be called back to his better instincts. He sought to reform society by reforming government and education according to his principles of behavior.8

One of his students, born about two hundred years later, was Mencius. Like his teacher, he spent much of his time in traveling spreading the message of reform. He was mostly responsible for the teachings of Confucius becoming well known and popular throughout China. It may be the case that Confucius had no intention of establishing a new religion, but through the centuries, steps were taken to “deify” Confucius. Today, there are Confucius temples throughout China. In Taiwan, sunrise services are conducted each year on September 28th to remember him.

Authority and Doctrine


Buddhism is divided into three main branches. The oldest branch is Theravada, the “Way of the Elders.” Theravada is predominately found in southern Asia (Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia). By far the largest branch of Buddhism is Mahayana or “Great Vehicle.” It is predominant in northern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam). Zen Buddhism “is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that has become very popular in Western nations in recent years. Zen developed about a thousand years after the death of Buddha. Adherents of Zen say their beliefs do not need to be explained, but are directly transmitted from one mind to another… A statement of Buddha frequently repeated by advocates of Zen is: ‘Look within; you are the Buddha.’”9 The third branch of Buddhism is the Vajrayana or “Diamond” tradition. It is dominant in Tibet. The Dalai Lama is the leading figure of this branch.

Though there are different branches of Buddhism, there are some basic teachings accepted by all. These include: The Three Marks of Existence, The Four Noble Truths, The Five Skandhas, The Six Realms, The Eightfold Path, and the Ten Perfections.

“Theravada Buddhism has three groups of scriptures. Together, they are referred to as ‘Tripitaka’ which means ‘Three Baskets.’ The Tripitaka is about eleven times the size of the Bible. It includes the sayings of Buddha, lectures on discipline, and philosophy. Mahayana Buddhism has no fixed canon of scripture. They have more than 5,000 volumes and the number continues to grow. Some sects choose one portion to follow; some another.” Some of the main doctrines of Buddhism are karma, reincarnation, and nirvana.

The Meaning of Karma

Buddhism teaches that happiness or suffering in this life is the result of our deeds (karma) in past lives, or past actions in our present lives. Karma is “intentional action, that is, a deed done deliberately through body, speech, or mind.” The effects of karma may be evident either in short term or in the long term. Karma can either manifest its effects in this very life or in the next life or only after several lives.

“A man does wrong and suffers for it. But he may suffer when he has done no apparent wrong. Hence his wrong was done in a former life, and if he does wrong and apparently receives no retribution, he will be punished for his sin in another birth.” The Buddha said,

“According to the seed that is sown,
So is the fruit you reap.
The door of good will gather good result. [sic]
The door of evil reaps evil result. [sic]
If you plant a good seed well,
Then you will enjoy the good fruits.”

According to the idea of karma in Buddhism, an individual has free-will, but he carries the baggage of deeds done in previous lives.

Reincarnation or Rebirth

The idea of reincarnation permeates our society. In the early 1980’s, almost one in four Americans believed in reincarnation.14 There have been a number of books written, television shows and movies produced that promote this teaching. Many famous people in history believed they were someone else in another life. In some forms of Buddhism, all creatures (including animals) have a soul, so it would be cannibalism to kill and eat animals. Many who believe in reincarnation are vegetarians. Buddhists are not the only animists in the world. Animism is the belief that all sorts of motionless objects…have souls or spirits in them.15


In Sanskrit, nirvana literally means, “extinction, blowing out.” Nirvana is the ultimate goal of spiritual practice in Buddhism. It is the liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering. Nirvana is the total, absolute and permanent cessation of suffering. Buddha says, “one without attachment realizes nirvana.” Buddha also says, the “end of craving is nirvana.” The Buddha described nirvana as supreme happiness, peace and immortality. It is the merging of the individual into being one with the universe. Nirvana means “never having to be reborn.”16

View of God

As in Hinduism, there are many Buddhists who believe there are many gods, or no gods. “Zen holds that there is no god outside the universe who has created it and created man…Each of us is but a cell as it were, in the body of the great Self, a cell that comes into being, performs it functions, and passes away, transformed into another manifestation.”17 “In Chinese style polytheism, the pantheon of gods is open...In China...religions are viewed as inclusive, and a person may commonly be a combination of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucianist, with some other elements thrown in as well. Chinese tend to look for a ‘god’ that can solve a specific problem at an immediate time, and to fill a particular need. They visit a variety of temples and shrines to give offerings. When the westerner inquires as to which idols or images in the temple are representative of which religion(s), it is most likely none of the Chinese in attendance knows.”18

Buddhism is a religion that “offers the chance to be an atheist without having to dispense with religion.”19 So in Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, you can be a polytheist or an atheist. It does not affect their final outcome or goals. The Psalmist said, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).


The Tao Te Ching is the main source of the authority of Taoism. It accepts unquestionably the theory that when things are allowed to take their natural course, they move with a wonderful perfection and harmony.20 Yin-Yang represent elements in the universe that are contrary to each other, such as life and death, light and darkness, good and evil. The Yang represents the positive elements, the Yin the negative elements.21 It also teaches one can get his life in harmony with the Tao and live as he is meant to live. This is called “the concept of inaction.”22

The practice of ancestor worship comes from Taoism as well. Confucianism also advocates this practice. It is believed that if the family provides for the needs of their departed loved ones, the departed will continue to bring good luck to the living. However, if the ancestors are neglected, bad luck will come to the family. In the Chinese culture, it falls to the oldest male in the family to lead in the worship of the ancestors.


The doctrines and authority of this view is based upon a number of the writings of Confucius, Mencius, and their followers. These books include: The Five Classics, The Analects, The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, and The Book of Mencius.

One of the main things Confucius stressed in his writings was the teaching on filial piety. “Confucius taught that an orderly society was based on the stability of the home, but the home was based on respect of children for their parents. He was credited with saying, ‘The services of love and reverence to parents when alive, and those of sorrow and grief when dead, these completely discharge the fundamental duty of living men.’ Throughout Chinese history, loyalty to the family has been the highest consideration.”23 That is why in many countries where Chinese people live, there is a very low crime rate among the Chinese people. It comes from the respect for the family.

Confucius’ statement, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do unto others” has been used to show Jesus’ statement was not original. Unlike Jesus, however, Confucius applied this only to friends, not enemies.24 Also, Confucius looked at it from the negative standpoint, while Jesus stated it positively. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Eastern Religion Versus the Bible

It is granted there is some good in all religions. Who would be interested in following a religion that did not have anything good about it? However, as we pointed out at the beginning of this lesson, God did not want many different conflicting religions existing in the world. How can we know which one is the one He authorizes?

Just as with many Eastern religions, Buddhism is very idolatrous in nature. The Bible is filled with passages that show the folly and sinfulness of idolatry that has existed in Eastern religions through the years (Psalm 115:4-8; Psalm 135:15-17; Isaiah 40:18-20; Acts 19:24-28; 1 Corinthians 12:2). How can religions that promote idolatry be a religion from God? It is not possible.


According to the idea of karma in Buddhism, an individual has free will, but he carries the baggage of deeds done in previous lives. What does the Bible teach? The Bible teaches each individual is responsible for his own life (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). We do not inherit the sins of our ancestors, nor do we inherit sins from previous lives.


Some who believe in reincarnation try to use the Bible to uphold their doctrine. In the Old Testament, they refer to the examples of Job (Job 1:20-21) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-5) to try to uphold their doctrine. They also use Psalm 139:13-16 to try to support their teaching. In the New Testament, they try to use passages that speak of Paul (Gal. 1:15-16) and Elijah (Matthew 11:14; 17:10-13; Luke 1:17). None of these passages remotely suggest this teaching.

The Bible does not uphold this doctrine. In fact, the Bible refutes reincarnation. Take, for example, the case of Elijah. Reincarnation teaches that when a person dies, he is born as someone else in another life. But Elijah did not die (2 Kings 2:11; Hebrews 11:5). Also, Elijah appears as himself with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5). John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Reincarnation teaches we die over and over again.25 However, the Bible tells us “it is appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). This same verse tells us that after we die, we wait for the judgment.


Earlier in this lesson we gave the definition and meaning of nirvana. It was to cease from an existence of pain and suffering. The goal of the Christian is also to go to a place where there will be no suffering or pain (Revelation 21:4; 1 Peter 1:3-9). However, a heavenly reward does not mean we cease to exist (John 5:28-29; Matthew 25:31-46). These passages also point out the unrighteous are not reborn, but will be doomed to hell.

Defeating Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism

The Buddhists do not like this phrase, “defeating Buddhism.” It makes it sound like we are at war. We are at “spiritual war” with Satan (Ephesians 6:10-17; 2 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 John 3:8). If these religions did not come from God, they came from Satan. We are not interested in “killing” those in these religions, but instead trying to free them from the captivity of the devil (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).

The key to succeeding in this effort is to first establish the truth of the Bible. If the Bible is true, then anything that contradicts the Bible must be false. We can prove the truth of the Bible.

What is so special about the Bible that makes us realize it is the greatest book ever written? The Bible claims to be from God (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus said “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). He then says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17). The Word of God is our source of truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We have proof Jesus is who He said He Is.

Many people do not believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. If He is not the Christ, then our faith is of no value. If He is the Son of God, we must obey Him to go to Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus is a real person. He lived on this earth about 2,000 years ago. Not everybody believes He is the Son of God. Some say, “He was a good man, and a great Teacher, but He was not the Son of God.” This is impossible. Either He is the Son of God, or He was the biggest liar in the world. He said He was the Son of God. Why do we believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? To believe something we must have good reasons. We must be able to prove why we believe Jesus is the Christ (1 Peter 3:15). People must believe that Jesus is the Christ to be saved (John 8:24; John 14:6). We can give many reasons for believing Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 1:1-18; 5:17-18; 8:58; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; 1 Peter 2:21-22; Hebrews 4:14-16; John 3:1-2; 20:30-31; Matthew 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-18; 1 John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 1:4).

There are no contradictions in the Bible. The Bible was written by about forty different writers over a period of about 1,600 years. The writers of the Bible were men who lived in different periods of time, had different occupations, and lived in different places. In many cases, the writers did not know each other. In spite of this, there are no contradictions in the Bible. This could not have happened by accident. Buddhism does not even try to claim there are no contradictions in their sacred writings.

We can also consider the scientific facts found in the Bible. The Bible is not a science book, but it has scientific facts in it. Columbus and Magellan proved the earth is round. That was just about five hundred years ago. The Bible told us the earth was round thousands of years before anybody ever heard of Columbus or Magellan (Isaiah 40:22; Proverbs 8:27).

The Bible also tells us we are not able to number the stars. In 1940, astronomers finally came to this conclusion. Almost 2,500 years ago, Jeremiah recorded: “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me” (Jeremiah 33:22). Almighty God cannot only count the stars, He can call them by name (Psalm 147:4).

There are more than one thousand prophecies in the Bible. The fact that every prophecy is fulfilled is further proof that the Bible is true. More than three hundred of these prophecies are concerning the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled every one.

The Bible teaches there is only one right way (John 14:6). We will be judged by the words of Christ (John 12:48). There are only two choices in life—the narrow way or the broad way (Matthew 7:13-14). If we want to go to Heaven, we have to obey the will of God (Matthew 7:21-23; Romans 6:17-18; Hebrews 5:8-9). The Bible is the proven guide for the lives of all people.

The Bible teaches there is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6). The Bible also emphasizes the existence of God (Genesis 1:1; Daniel 2:28; Acts 17:23-29). Buddhism teaches there is either no God or many gods. You can chose. The Bible is right! Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism contradict the Bible. Therefore, they cannot be right!

The Bible teaches it is our guide in life and it reveals all truth (Psalm 119:105; John 14:26; John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:3). Buddhism teaches the writings of Gautama and one’s own feelings are the guide in this life (Proverbs 14:12; Jeremiah 10:23).

The Bible proclaims Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (Romans 1:4; John 20:30-31). The Bible teaches that Jesus rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Buddhism denies Jesus rose from the dead and denies Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Since Buddhism contradicts these plain passages, Buddhism cannot be true!

The Bible reveals God’s eternal plan to save mankind through the church (Ephesians 3:8-11; Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 5:23). Buddhism denies this is the path of salvation. According to Buddhism, a person is to follow the Eightfold Path that will lead to Nirvana. Since this contradicts the Bible, it cannot be right!

The Bible teaches that our souls are eternal and we will be judged according to our works, by the Word of God (Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The difference between humans and animals is that humans have an eternal soul, but animals do not. Yet Buddhism teaches all life, human and animal, is of the same value. Buddhism also teaches reincarnation, which is a continual rebirth. These views are in conflict with the Bible. The Bible is true. Therefore these doctrines of Buddhism are false.


Buddhism stresses self-dependence and self-salvation. It cannot be true because it is a religion from man (Matthew 15:8-9, 13-15). Christianity is far superior to any other religion in the world. It offers forgiveness of sins through our obedience to Christ (Hebrews 5:8-9). The only hope this world has is through Christ (Ephesians 2:12; John 14:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Those who established these Eastern religions have died and are still dead. Jesus died and rose from the dead never to die again (Romans 1:4).

May God help each of us to use every opportunity to preach the Gospel of Christ to those who practice and follow Buddhism, and give those who have good and honest hearts the opportunity to believe and obey the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Romans 1:16).26

All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version.

1. Jacob had a genuine reaction to false information. When he learned the truth, at first he refused to believe it.

2. http://chineseculture.about.com/library/weekly/aa030400a.html

3. David S. Noss and John B. Noss, Man’s Religions (New York, NY; Macmillan Publishing Company, 1984), p. 106.

4. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Understanding Non-Christian Religions (San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1982), p. 49.

5. Ibid., p. 97.

6. Ibid., pp. 77,78.

7. Rod Rutherford, Survey of World Religions (Memphis, Tennessee: Rutherford Publications, n.d.), p. 38. Brother Rutherford’s book has twenty lessons dealing with all of the major religions in the world. It would be an excellent study book for Bible classes.

8. Ibid., p. 41.

9. Rutherford, p. 32.

10. http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/dharma/introduction/overview.html and http://www.easternreligions.com/buddhacom.html.

11. Rutherford, p. 32.

12. Edward J. Thomas, The Life of Buddha (London: Broadway House, 1949), p. 174.

13. http://home.earthlink.net/~srama/

14. Norman L. Geisler and J. Yutaka Amano, The Reincarnation Sensation (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), p. 7.

15. Noss and Noss, p. 15.

16. Ibid., p. 122.

17. Ruth Fuller Sasaki, “Zen: a Method for Religious Awakening,” The World of Zen: an East-West Anthology, edited by Nancy Wilson Ross (New York: Random House, 1960), p. 18.

18. Richard W. Hartzell, Harmony in Conflict (Taipei: Cave Books, 1988), p. 565.

19. Wulf Metz, “The Appeal of Buddhism in the West,” in the World’s Religions (Herts, England: Lion Publishing, 1982), p. 242

20. Noss and Noss, p. 247.

21. McDowell and Stewart, p. 109.

22. Ibid., p. 109.

23. Rutherford, p. 41.

24. Ibid., p. 41.

25. Geisler and Amano, p. 170.

26. Additional websites for further study on Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism:
• http://www.omsakthi.org/religions.html
• http://www.friesian.com/confuci.htm
• http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVL-Buddhism.html

Please note: Truth For The World is not responsible for websites other than its own, nor does it necessarily
endorse any and/or all information contained on websites other than its own.