Testimony of an ex-Buddhist from Thailand converted to Jesus Christ
How did I become a Christian? Well, I was born into a Buddhist family, a normal thing in Thailand. We lived a stone’s throw from a temple, I was at the temple school. My grandfather was a wise and pious man, it is to him above all that I owe both a good base and a good example of theoretical and lived Buddhism.
Around the age of 13, the image of the Cross appeared in my previously closed universe, in a catalogue of jewelry sold by mail! This figure of suffering on the cross attracted me, intrigued, somewhat frightened. I had already asked myself the question about the identity of Man. The answer was given in English class, by a non-Christian teacher. It was December 1977. My teacher said that December 25 was a holiday for the « whites » because it was the day of birth of a certain Jesus who would be, basically, their Buddha. Here I am. This man’s name was Jesus.
Then one evening, between two zappings, my family stumbled upon an evangelistic show made by Thai Christians. I just had time to hear a sentence: « Do you know why Jesus came to be born in a stable? Well, that’s because the world had no place for him. How about you? Do you have a place for him? » My family did not want to know more. But for me, it was clear. That was my call. This man called Jesus came to pick me up in my living room. So, on that clear night, I went out to meet him. Looking instinctively to the sky, I told him that I had room if he wanted to come. This is my first Christmas. Afterwards, providentially, I found an advertisement in a newspaper announcing a Bible lesson by correspondence. And then the adventure begins. I acted more out of emotion than conviction. This was evident in the irregularity of my lessons (thanks to which I still acquired some useful bases) and in the lack of attendance in the church. I welcomed the faith with sincere joy, but without true submission. That is why for years I wandered between the Bible and the Buddhist teachings I had received, passing through other things. No spiritual progress was sustainable. I was going from a moment of quasi-mystical piety to almost immediate abandonment.
Of course, I tried to combine the legacy of my fathers with the new faith. How could it be that the One Being is not the end consumer of all cults? (It was with this formula that one of our kings responded to the Jesuit missionaries.) Also, for a few years, I had a relationship with God that was modelled on that which one could have with one of our deities. That is, I recited the Christian prayer before going to bed hoping that it would bring me protection and blessing. I could then understand nothing of the true new birth, the total conversion by which « the world would have been crucified for me as I would be for the world » (Galates 6:14).
The Lord has been good and patient all this time. He was gradually showing me who He was, thanks to the Word. The « love at first sight » was beginning to mature to give way to love and worship. I asked for baptism at the age of 17.
He will continue to work for many years to break my pride, my fortresses, etc. Other falls took place even after this consecration. But each time he fordmed me and I came back to him like a prodigal girl who kept trying to run away. It took an extremely painful experience that almost cost me my life for me to learn to recognize that he is the Lord. This happened a long time ago now. This time, I came home for good. Not that I have such confidence in myself, but I have finally learned to trust in Him!
What has changed, from my point of view: lifestyle change, for example I stopped running away from school, frequenting heavy metal fans who smoke cannabis among others. This has resulted in a better academic result, a better relationship with those around me. Change of heart, attitude, values. The certainty of obtaining salvation through grace, of breaking definitively with the infernal circle of samsara, of knowing a hitherto unimaginable love that has made me, shabby and insignificant, a child of God. What has changed, from His point of view: And that is the main thing, now God counts. I used to be in a world where « God didn’t exist, » I did what I thought was right, I lived as I saw fit- but now there’s Him! Vis-à-vis God, I become his child, redeemed by the blood of Jesus. A loving relationship was established in us, soon the discovery of other brothers and sisters in Christ would further strengthen this bond. It is « my reason and passion to be ».
A word about Buddhism.
I still believe that Buddhism would probably be the best religion on earth if God did not exist. It is a religion based on reason, the search for causality and the solution by oneself; a humanist and atheist religion: man « runs away » himself by his own means. Buddha is just showing the way forward. In short to a strict vital minimum, one can thus schematize the fundamental and characteristic teachings.
A glimpse of history.
There are myriad excellent books on the subject and my contribution may not add much to the Buddhist study. Let us then settle for a brief reminder for the use of our discussion. Buddhism was born thanks to the discovery of the nature of all things by Prince Gautama Siddharta who lived in India 600 BC.
Prince Siddharta had everything to be happy: wealth, power and extraordinary intelligence. Astrologers had predicted at birth that he would be either a great monarch or a great spiritual master. His father preferred the first destiny. Thus he filled his son with all the pleasures that the earth could offer, palaces for each season, a wife of great beauty and a court exclusively composed of young people cultivated, beautiful and healthy. Although confined to this ideal universe, the prince eventually encounters the realities of existence. Tradition explains that the gods, wanting to incite Siddharta to take the spiritual path, set themselves up and set out in his path, in the form of an old man, a sick man, a corpse that was brought to burn. In the end passed a cleric. These visions so disturbed the young prince’s mind that he decided on the spot to leave everything to go in search of the solution of man’s overriding problem: suffering.
He began by studying the existing pathways, going as far as the most demanding exercises in terms of mortification, where he almost perished. None of these teachings brought him the peace he longed for. He then decided to radically change his method, leaving aside the excesses and focusing solely on meditation and this was how he obtained enlightenment.
Some main doctrines.
Buddha teaches for final deliverance: nirvana, the definitive end of suffering related to being. But not everyone can reach nirvana in one life. Buddha therefore invites them to improve little by little. Its motto is very simple: do not do evil, do good, keep one’s mind pure. There is a progression in this simple principle, we begin with the most urgent and the most basic: do not harm. Then we cultivate good deeds. Finally, we will be ready to work the mind. When it comes to ethics, Buddha advocates a variable number of rules to follow. Lay faithful can choose to follow a basic set (do not kill, not to steal, not to lie, not to fornicate, not to get drunk). Religious people can add other prohibitions (do not perfume themselves, do not sleep on a mattress too comfortable, do not dine) and so on. Finally, to be bonze, you have to respect 227 rules of life.
As we cannot go into detail, here are the key points that underpin and characterize Buddhism, all denominations combined.
The four truths: suffering, its origin, its extinction and the means to achieve it. This is what Buddha discovered during his enlightenment. Starting from his primary goal which is to fight suffering, inherent and natural thing in every being, every thing, every state, Buddha found that Suffering had a Cause, an Origin. Man suffers because, in his ignorance, he attaches himself to beings and things that can only deteriorate, fighting against this natural tendency is doomed to failure. But the ignorant man persists. The more he attaches himself, the more he appropriates, the more he suffers. There is, however, a possibility of extinguishing suffering. However, the Extinction must be done originally and not the result. Finally, Buddha proposes the ways to end the chain of suffering. There are 8 of them: good understanding (of the 4 Noble Truths), good thought, good word, good deed, good livelihood, good effort, good awareness, good concentration. The 3 characteristics (suffering, inconsistency, non-shortness of events) common to all things, all beings. To understand why nirvana is a desirable goal, one must constantly remember that, according to Buddha, being is necessarily an ill-being. Hence the interest of the non-being. The 3 cycles (samsara) due to ignorance of these truths, which leads beings to attach themselves to things that, by definition, are not true; karma – good or bad actions that produce results, for example birth, which perpetuate the cycle of suffering. Is this compatible with faith in Jesus Christ? Not!
First of all, the debate should be de-overstinate. Let us simply say that among many spiritual paths in the world, there are those that lead to the God of the Bible, to the Cross, to Jesus. They may differ in some aspects, but they go in the same direction. And then there are others who go for other goals. They can be very different from each other, however, compared to the Cross, they have this in common: they do not lead to it. Buddhism is one of those. It is not a question of intolerance or bigotry, but of seeing the facts from a given point of view: that of the Cross. Let’s take a bit of a big example: you are here in Paris and you want to go to Strasbourg. Are you going to take the highway from the east or west? Imagine you choose the western ring road and then head to Nantes. At first, you may be about the same, you are neither closer nor further from your destination. Then continue on the road. As you progress, you move further and further away from Strasbourg. At the end, when you arrive in Nantes, you should hardly be surprised not to be in Alsace! You may say: but I followed a highway, are not all the motorways the same?
Well, I’m deliberately choosing an innocuous example. At worst, you lose a few hours and your weekend changes schedule. But imagine the road of your life. Imagine that the road leads you to a final, definitive destination. And let your tank run out over time without being able to refill it. Here, the stakes are far more important. You really have to know where you want to go. For me, the main « problem » was the conviction of God’s existence. I could no longer ignore it. This is where you have to make a choice, either I continue my journey in MY direction, or I turn around and turn to IT. Either I remain Buddhist, I assume my karma and try to do good – according to my own definition and by my own strength – or I recognize that God is God, that what he says is true, that forgiveness by the Cross is possible. But the two roads separate. One leads to the search and realization of the « good » by oneself, the other leads to repentance and faith in God as a creator, redeemer.
You can’t be both Christian and Buddhist. The desire of the King of Thailand, quoted above, shows a complete ignorance of God’s personality. No, it is not ‘the consumer of all cults’. There were whole swathes of worship, religion, philosophies in biblical times. God never wanted to identify with any. On the contrary, he denounces the falsity of the other gods, the vanity of other methods produced by man to attain holiness. Certainly, God is just enough to take into account what man knows of Him. Thus, he approved Abel’s offering even though he knew nothing of the ultimate sacrifice that the Son of God was going to make. Noah was not a Jew and could not know the Law since it was not yet given. The epistle to the Romans contains valuable information: All those who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who have sinned with the law will be judged by law. (…) When the pagans, who do not have the law, naturally do what the law prescribes, they are, they who do not have the law, a law for themselves; they show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts accusing or defending themselves in turn. This is what will appear on the day when, according to my Gospel, God will judge by Jesus Christ the secret actions of men (Romans 2:12-16).
Let the defenders of universalism not shout victory too quickly: the same epistle also says: God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all the impiety and injustice of men who unjustly hold the captive truth, for what we can know of God is manifest to them, God having made them know. Indeed, God’s invisible perfections, his eternal power and divinity, can be seen as with the naked eye, since the creation of the world, when one considers them in his works. They are therefore inexcusable, for having known God, they have not glorified him as God, nor have they given him thanks; but they strayed into their thoughts, and their unmormized hearts were plunged into darkness. Bragging about being wise, they went mad, and they turned the glory of the incorruptible God into images of corruptible man, birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles. (Romans 1:18).
No, God doesn’t want to be accepted as one of the possible gods. Jesus does not ask us to consider him a prophet, a « good » master or an avatar of anyone. It is literally to take or leave. What he reproached his people of Israel so much was not the complete abandonment of the temple, but the introduction into the temple of the posts of Achéra. « Until when will you limp on both sides? If the Lord is God, go after him; If it’s Baal, go after him! « Screamed Elijah (I Kings 18:21). This is not to our taste of hyper-tolerant syncretic fusional, I grant you. But God calls it fidelity. I believe that if there were other ways to erase sin, Jesus could have avoided an atrocity of death on the cross, a sacrifice not very well understood and which divides opinions. If good works were enough, if human goodness did the trick, redemption would be superfluous. Also, if there were other ways to come to the Father- by admitting that God exists – Jesus would not have said that he was the only way and that no one came to the Father except through him! Unless Jesus is lying… Which I think is impossible.
Certainly, there are commonalities with Christianity. Four of the Ten Commandments also exist in the basic Buddhist code of conduct (do not steal, lie, not kill, do not commit adultery). Humanist values can be shared by all. There are wonderful men humanly speaking who are not Christians. That is not the issue. Whether you are on the A4 (Highway 4) or the A11, the road code is absolutely the same, although the destination differs. Moreover, it will be reductive to summarize Buddhism and Christianity to these 4 principles. The differences are in fact on the merits and thus condition the purpose. For example, the first commandment (you will have no other gods) is « violately violated » by the Buddha’s teaching.
First, Buddhism is totally foreign to the very concept of personal God such as that of the Bible. Buddha recognizes the notion of divinity, here is what he says: there are three categories of deities: « deities by convention of men » such as kings, « deities by birth » who are beings of a spiritual nature and « deities by purification » who are Arhats, those who have attained enlightenment. With all due respect to Buddha, he still thinks he is God; what the Bible calls a sin. Now, the Bible presents us with a God who wants to be unique, who says he wants to establish a personal relationship with man, who has become a man in the person of Jesus Christ, who asks that we believe in him! It has no place in Buddhist logic.
By the way, does « good » mean exactly the same thing to the two masters? Who decides who’s right, who’s wrong? As a former Buddhist, I found it hard to believe that the God of the Bible considered it an evil that man does not believe in him! What does it matter, after all, if I’m kind and honest, isn’t it? On the other hand, Buddha considers it a subtle evil to « believe » in something, since it is still an attachment.
Moreover, the principle of karma makes the idea of redemption absurd and vice versa. In Buddhism, beings are defined by their karma. It is an immutable law of nature. Jesus’ forgiveness breaks the cycle. The sinner, instead of paying for his karma, is freed from it; even worse, for that, he did nothing meritorious! He believed, and this is counted to him as justice (Galates 3:6). Either the karmic system is true and in this case redemption is futile, or it is redemption that is true and the karmic system collapses. But the two logics cannot co-exist.
Reincarnation has no place in biblical logic where: « it is reserved for men to die only once after which comes Judgment » (Hebrews 9:27).
Starting from these fundamental differences, the two paths develop by moving away. In practice, Buddhism recognizes or even encourages things that are literally forbidden by the Bible, such as the act of reverence to a statue, the modification of consciousness through emptiness that has nothing to do with meditation in the biblical sense of the word and which is an open door to so-called paranormal phenomena, some of which are condemned by the Bible as occult (the voyance for example).
Grouped in a few points, here are the main areas of divergence between Buddhism and Christianity: Absence of God; Man’s self-sufficiency; Defication of man; Negation of the founding assertions of the Bible (creation, judgment, etc.); Negation of the redemptive work of Jesus: Practice of activities condemned by the Bible; Alteration of consciousness.
So rational, Buddhism?
Many of you have this panegyric view of Buddhism. Buddhism is intelligent, scientific, empirical, tolerant; it brings serenity, wisdom and spirituality while respecting the freedom of man; he does not ask to believe; Finally, it is perfectly rational religion. Is that true? Apart from the famous 14 questions that Buddha did not want to answer (about eternity, the infinity of the self and the particular world), others remain or are aroused by internal inconsistencies. Far be it from me to discredit all the teachings of the Great Awakening. But since he himself invites and encourages the students of his doctrine to question it, to experience it and to judge for themselves whether it is valid, I invite you to join me in this journey.
If I say « everything sucks, » my sentence is also null and void because it is part of the « Everything ». This is the problem generated by any generalization. To say that « nothing exists » can be reasoned as follows: If I do not exist, if what I do is nothing, where does karma come from? If the individual soul is not, how did I come into the world, in other words: from whom does the karma I pay come from? Are we all paying a social debt from a ghost society that we do not own? Nothing is true – except the Dhamma rule, why would she be an exception? If the Dhamma « exists » in the challenge of the rule arising from him – why could God not exist too? 0-0-1! The soul (viyana) is one of the 5 aggregates that form the being, along with the body, sensation, perception and mental formation. All of this being subject to the Three Common Characteristics. What if there is no reincarnation? How to console those who are born miserable this life for whom the explanation comes from the previous life and the hope of the next. Strange observations about reincarnation: Thais are often reborn in Thailand and we have never seen Atlantis! While in the USA, this is the main source. Many Egyptians, contemporaries of Jesus, Romans, French under Louis XIV. Why don’t we ever see Laotians, Luxembourgers?
The more a nation, a period arouses the imagination, the more there are rebirths. Recently, we have identified ex-Tibetans in Thailand, as if by chance after the 7-year-old outing in Tibet that had been a hit and lifted the centuries-old disagreement between Hinayana and Tibetan Buddhism.
A word of Buddha will surprise many of our contemporaries. He described qualities required for people likely to reach Nirvana. Thus, these people must not have certain disabilities (blindness, deafness, motor impairment, etc.) and should not be female. So if there is no reincarnation, half of the men – who are women – are lost! It is amazing that in the chain of causality according to Buddha, it misses precisely the beginning. Ontological questions are completely overshadowed, considered irrelevant. Where does the first ignorance come from? What doesn’t she know? Who doesn’t know what? In practice, Buddhists of all denominations continue to pray to Buddha, as a god, asking him for help, protection, etc. (e.g. Chinabanchara mantra). It is no more! Who are we calling? And who answers if there’s an answer?
The attribution to personal responsibility is not without danger. How often do we hear « it’s his karma » to justify the misfortune that strikes someone. It also means: it’s his fault, he’s just paying for what he’s done. And that explains why in many countries of this belief, inequality is never questioned. For example, the caste system in India. Excuse me for being ironic, but it is no coincidence that we did not invent the Red Cross, or that the first hospital in Thailand was opened by Christian missionaries. The main flip side of the karmic system is this fatalistic attitude of resignation that you in the West find so « zen ». Scholars are shredding the Bible, but no one seems to want to exercise his critical mind on Buddhist writings, especially the original teachings that make authority because emanating from the master himself. Now, how can we prove that Buddha had experienced enlightenment? How do I verify that he did not return to the samsara after the last death? How can we ensure that the transmission has been faithful, from the outset and in the continuity of tradition, especially when there are great differences in more recent forms of Buddhism such as the Tibetan school?
I wanted to come to this conclusion: that it takes as much faith to be a Buddhist as it does to be anything. It is a myth that everything is explained and understood by human reason. Another myth, thanks to Buddha’s teaching, people are more « nice » in Asia. Certainly, the Dalai Lama exudes sweetness. But let us not forget too quickly that China that massacred Tibet was also bathed in Buddhism for about 23 centuries. You know, there, we did wars and other horrors like here. Zen was the religion of choice for Japanese warriors and watch the movie Ran to see if they are tender. A famous episode recounts that a master, to show the non-existence and non-substantiality of being, beheads one of his disciples. We Thais have plundered Laos and Cambodia, our Buddhist neighbours – a considerable number of times, as our Buddhist neighbours in Burma have plundered us. Religious/racial hatred still kills in Sri Lanka, and it is the majority Buddhists who persecute the Tamils. You have a similar scenario in Laos where the Christian minority is being plundered.
In a sense, Buddhism, the state religion, is as ineffective on human behavior as any state religion – from The Inquisitor Christianity of Spain to Khomeini Islam. Man needs a change of nature, not an institution. He needs to be born again.
No, we are no more or less mean in Asia than elsewhere. It is my opinion that men have many values and problems in common. We are all sinners and deprived of the glory of God. All brothers in suffering, all united in the inevitable passage to the afterlife. Everyone seeks his way as he can, as he sees fit. Only everyone can decide for themselves which will be the good one, and his own. For me, I decided to follow Jesus, because one day he came to pick me up. We got to know each other. Little by little I learn to know him better, to trust him, to accept him as he is —so different, so holy but so close. Of course, his teaching is no more rational—I humbly confess to you that the trinity exceeds me, as does the love of a God who gives himself on the cross as a ransom of fallen humanity.
Honestly, Biblical Christianity is not a marketing product! By that I mean that it was not designed to flatter the ego of man, to meet his demands as a potential religious consumer. Let me make this seemingly insolent comparison. I think the West has taken consumerism a little too far. The « I buy, I pay » logic, which I demand I like, applies, in my opinion, to the explosion of contemporary spirituality. Analyze it well. I’m the subject. The act of believing is within my power. I want to choose (which is normal). I don’t want coercion. I want the package that gives me the maximum and that costs me the least, with the possibility to change as often as possible. I intend to take the best from each menu and compose MY own menu.
My friends, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. But the spiritual domain should not be confused with the mobile phone market. Do not believe that my Savior is a boss who sends me to you to sell his Bible and that he must try to make it cheaper than his competitor, the Dalai Lama! It has nothing to do with it. Today, the world tells you that men are gods in the making, that duality exists only in ignorance, that sin does not exist, that all paths lead to the same light. If this were true, Jesus would be the greatest liar of all time. And besides, I think it would also be known! We saw together that 23 centuries of non-duelle thought did not lead China to respect human rights and that 67 millennia of Hindu civilization did not improve the condition of the Untouchables – and yet they would have had time to reincarnate! Let’s make no mistake. The challenge of the spiritual realm, if Jesus is true, is your soul! This is played out here and now, in this life which is the unique opportunity for man to choose where he wants to spend his eternity.
God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son, Jesus, so that anyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). For this, God calls for repentance. No, it’s not to make you feel guilty, on the contrary it’s to end it, he wants to make you free! Free of all the bonds, the harm you have done, what you have done to yourself, the wounds suffered or inflicted, the chains of karma that you think you must carry for a thousand years. God calls you to the New Birth. It has nothing to do with reincarnation. A spiritual birth marks your new life. You give up your old life where you lived without Him. You become a child of God, he becomes your Father, your best friend and your Lord to save you, to accompany you on his journey. It is a love story that has no end. I often say that I did not adopt a new religion: I converted not to an institution, but to a person, you can quite say that I fell in love, except that the person in question happens to be God.
You can protest, « Why didn’t he come and get me? » Dear friends, if you are reading this, it is because he has already picked you up. You did not come here by chance. Maybe a friend invited you there. But behind your friend, there’s another one who wants to meet you. If you don’t want to.