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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
EVANGELIZING THE BUDDHISTS IN AMERICA --
SOME POINTS FOR YOU TO EXPLORE AND PRAY ABOUT
M. S. Thirumalai
1. Buddhism came to the United States about 125 years ago or a little earlier. The official entry of the missionary effort of Buddhism into the United States may be dated from the Congress of World's Religions held in Chicago in 1893. However, Buddhist thought began to influence the intellectuals in the United States earlier than the actual practice of Buddhism in America.
2. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), writer, essayist, and philosopher, was one of the earliest champions of Hindu and Buddhist thought in the United States.
3. The arrival of the Chinese workers for rail road construction and mining, American wars in the Philippines ("the splendid little war" with the Spanish making America a great global power), the Second World War in Asia (Japan) and the Pacific, Korean and Vietnam wars, engagement with the Chinese through Taiwan and all these turned the light on the Oriental in America.
4. Since Europe and America form part of a cultural unit, trends in the appreciation of Buddhism in Europe spread like a fashion in the United States as well. (Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia, 1879, and the works of Max Muller (1823-1900)).
5. Although the number of people who practice Buddhism in the United States is still small, around two million or less, Buddhist thought among the general population, who would not consider themselves to be Buddhist, is becoming pervasive.
6. In many ways, historically speaking, this has been the way Buddhism penetrated into various nations in Asia. Buddhism sought royal or noble patronage and through this patronage influenced the life and thinking of the ordinary people, ultimately to entrench itself as the religion of a people group or nation.
7. There are at least three distinct groups of people who are impacted by Buddhist thought:
- American-born converts to Buddhism and their sympathizers.
- Immigrants and their children.
- The General public, influenced by Buddhist thought in various ways, and thus sympathetic to Buddhist ideas, but have no intention of becoming Buddhists themselves.
8. The converts to Buddhism and the Buddhist immigrants and their children receive knowledge of Buddhism through specific socialization and religious instruction.
9. Members of the public, who actually outnumber the actual Buddhists and who include people like you and me, encounter Buddhist ideas everywhere, in work places, learning institutions, newspapers, on TV, in the movie industry, etc.
10. We are impacted by the Buddhist-slanted information we receive in the mass media, schools, and other domains such as advertising through various channels. Without a moment of thought, we all tend to slip into some Buddhist garb mainly because of the changes taking place in wider American society. If we glance through the writings of dedicated American Buddhists discussing the state of their faith in America, we notice their recognition and satisfaction that their religion has received positive media support consistently.
11. Transcendentalism, Unitarianism, and Universalism all were combined to imitate, follow, and propagate Buddhist ideas as ideas of science and proper living. It was only a small step from the power of the pen wielded by these influential writers to the academia. From the academia, to the general public was a silent and subtle penetration.
12. The Birth of Gautama Buddha and the Spread of Buddhism. Read more on this subject.
13. Basic Beliefs of Buddhism:
- Suffering permeates all existence.
- Desire -- for possession, enjoyment, separate identify, existence - is root cause of all suffering.
- Suffering will cease if we suppress all our desires.
- Cessation of suffering is possible only if we follow the eightfold noble path, avoiding both self-indulgence and self-mortification, and following the ten prohibitions.
14. Karma and Samsara -- Explore the implications, and also the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism in this area.
15. The place of works in the Plan of Salvation through Jesus. Grace is the cornerstone of Christian theology.
16. Buddhism as the oldest missionary religion. Explore their missionary activities and methods in the past and in the present.
17. Buddhist worship: images, rituals, relics and sites.
18. SECTS OF BUDDHISM: THERAVADA (Monastic versus Laity), MAHAYANA (Subdued emphasis on monastic life for nirvana), AND VAJRAYANA OR TIBETAN BUDDHISM (possibility of attaining nirvana in this life itself).
19. The concepts of Bodhisattva and Arhat for evangelism. Jesus-like metaphors, but the implications and the ministries are radically different.
20. Ancestor Worship. This is widely prevalent, but the Word of God clearly prohibits this for various reasons. Explore the Word of God.
21. Folk religious practices: amulets, mantras, sorcery, divination, spirit possession, spiritism, astrology and horoscope, magic, yoga, demons, mechanical meditation, and secret practices. All these are against the Word of God. Pray how you could present the Word of God in this crucial area.
22. The need to disconnect religion and patriotism; religion and nationalism.
23. Some grave questions:
- Absence of a personal God
- Is creation worthless?
- Role of desire in our life
- Worldly activity
24. Some issues of evangelism
- Status of Jesus: not a king, lowly birth as a son of a carpenter, died as a thief, symbol of suffering, simply a magician.
- Primacy of God in Human life over your nation, over your possessions, over your parents - not acceptable for the Buddhists.
- Wrongly Perceived Threat to loyalty and parental authority.
- Many world, many heavens, many lives (as against Hebrews 9:27 "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment").
- Is our God arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent and irrational in his decisions?
- Immanence and Relationship with God.
- Does God prefer one ethnic community over another? (To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:12-13).
- The Cross as a symbol of suffering for the Buddhists. How do we present the truth to them -- that Cross is indeed a symbol of liberation?
- Total Extinction or Eternal Life?
- Heaven or heavens?
- Meaning of Worship: Not simply a ritual.
- Maintaining Ethnic Identity -- a means to brotherhood not for excluding others. Ethnic Identity is highly valued by its recognition in the presence of the Lord.
- Conversion: Rememebr that it is a Gift from the Holy Spirit.
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The Crowd Or the Cross? | What Is Your Response to God's Call? | Spotlight-ism | The Law of the Spirit of Life | Evangelizing Buddhists in America | CONTACT EDITOR | HOME PAGE OF JUNE 2006 ISSUE | HOME PAGE
M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
C/o. Christian Literature and Living
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