Features

Japan: Three choices

"Japan: Three choices" Continued...

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

2 A second contender in Japan is Jodo Shinshu. Honda Yoshinari did not hesitate to acknowledge that, from his study, the sect originated after Buddhist monks had discussions with Christians: "The monk Ryuju said there is no self, no real existence. Christians said there is existence.... So did Seshin, who took the existence side and said the Pure Land exists." Today, the child's version of what the Pure Land is sounds much like what Christian children say about heaven. Honda's daughter Aya, asked what the Pure Land is like, said, "Lots of beautiful flowers, birds. Everyone is happy, the animals are happy. There are all kinds of occasions to see Buddha, to learn from him. There is no suffering."

More conventional Buddhists also acknowledge the connection but find it annoying. Zen Buddhist Thomas Kirchner spoke of the "connections between Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist cultures" but took exception to the Jodo distinction between jiriki (self-power) and tariki (other-power): "This concept never existed in Buddhism. As long as you think in terms of self and other, you're nowhere. Shinran had gone to the limits of self-power, so he despaired. But Zen says, 'There is no self. Our selves are nothing but a set of habits.'"

The Jodo concept is very real to Junko Blockson, who said that her Jodo Shinshu background helped in her conversion to Christianity, "because I understood that when Jesus says to come just as you are, He will give you the power. I was trained to know I couldn't get there myself, but until I became a Christian I was looking the wrong way for help." A century ago Japanese Christians such as Kanzo Uchimura thought the Jodo Shinshu-to-Christianity route would be a broad highway: "Thirteen million of my countrymen who profess the Jodo form of Buddhism are my brothers and sisters in faith. They take the same attitude toward their Amida Buddha that I take toward my Jesus the Christ. Change the object of faith, and they are like me, and I am like them."

That's not how it turned out. The object of faith in Jodo Shinshu is a bodhisattva, not God. The sacrifice is a putting off of nirvana, not death on the cross, and it's essentially the waving of a magic wand rather than a reconciling of a holy God and sinful man. Movement from Jodo Shinshu to Christianity proved a small step for a few people but a leap too large for millions who did not yet understand the importance of worshipping a Savior who truly lived on earth in space and time.

One big problem with faith in Amida and the Pure Land is that it has no substance. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, was frank: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ.... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." How much more so are Jodo Shinshu Buddhists to be pitied when they put their trust in someone who never existed.

3 Japanese men and women, like others, need to go past Buddhism, past Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, and all the way to a third way that begins with Genesis 1: "And God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light.' And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness." Buddhist temples are often very dark. Jodo Shinshu temples tend to have more light, and Jodo Shinshu's emphasis on faith can be satisfying to some of the people for some of the time. But because Buddhism has no Genesis 1, showing a God outside of and above creation, it has no true answers to the discontinuities and disappointments of life, and no variety of Buddhism can satisfy forever or save adherents from sins.

Let's compare and contrast Christ and Buddha. Christianity has historical accounts written by eyewitnesses to Christ's teaching. Buddhist materials are from 250 or so years later. When Christ encountered death, He wept. When a mourning woman asked Buddha about death, he led her to realize that everyone suffered, so get used to it. Christianity teaches resurrection. Buddha's body was deposited in a grave at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains. Christianity emphasizes God's holiness. Buddhism is essentially agnostic. Christianity asks us to attach ourselves to what is good and true. Buddhism demands detachment from everything.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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