Debating Bible Basics Duncan Heaster  


6.3.5 Nirvana And The Bible

What happens after we die is a normal question. Buddhism is very weak about this. Even Buddha himself was not certain what lay beyond death. He left no clear teaching on Nirvana or eternity. What he did leave are philosophical speculations. Today the body of Buddha lies in a grave in Kusinara, at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains. The facts of life after death still remain an unsolved mystery in Buddhism.

I believe that Jesus died and resurrected as my representative. Because I have been baptised into Him, on this understanding, I therefore have the hope of resurrection and eternal life with Him, by His Father’s grace, at His return. The Bible does not offer any hope of an ‘immortal soul’ surviving after death. Because the only hope we have is in Christ, and the pattern that we see in Him was of a real man dying and then rising again. Not as a disembodied spirit, not as an abstraction, but as a real, tangible person.

Buddhists claim that Nirvana cannot be concretely expressed as it is inexpressible. There is therefore no concrete understanding of what they are aiming for. There is no clearly defined “hope”. The Bible offers a very definite hope through the work of Jesus- the Kingdom of God, to be established here on earth when Jesus returns.

Buddhism has a very low view of humanity, seeing the human person as a cluster of unsatisfactory forces. The Lord Jesus gave tremendous emphasis to the value and meaning of persons. He told a parable of where He as the good shepherd went and searched for one lost sheep whilst 99 were left to fend for themselves. The individual matters so much to Him. The Bible says that men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be recognisable in the future Kingdom of God (Mat 8:11/Luke 13:28). We, personally, will live for ever in the Kingdom of God. Buddhism claims that the Buddha-nature (Japanese bussho) is sunyata, empty of self. We will be effectively nobody in nirvana. The meaning and value of persons is thus devalued in Buddhism. The Bible teaches a resurrection after the pattern of Jesus. He was resurrected, and the person who came out of the grave was still essentially the same personality who died. And so it will be in the resurrection of all those in Christ. This is an especial comfort at times of death…that the true Christian who has died will be resurrected, and those of us in Christ will see him or her again and live eternally together. The change of nature that will be effected at the judgement seat of Christ is a radical change, unlike the endless cyclical development which characterises Buddhism. In passing I would note that it is important to have a correct understanding of human nature. Stalin, Hitler, the Khmer Rouge etc. all perpetrated the most awful things predicated on faulty understandings of what it is. Buddhists believe that evil arises from ignorance. This is partly true, but the Bible teaches what we surely already know from honest introspection: that wars and fighting’s arise from within the human mind (James 4:1), we are tempted by our own evil desires which are within us (James 1:13-15). In passing, note that the common idea of the devil as a personal being is not taught in the Bible. Satan, the adversary, is basically a personification of the evil desires which reside within our natures. More literature about this is available from the publishers.

The power and possibility of new life is tied closely with the Lord Jesus. Life and immortality are brought to light through the Gospel about Him (2 Tim. 1:10). In Jesus is life, the life of men (Jn. 1: 4). This is because the result of sin is death- real, meaningful death. But Jesus didn’t sin. And yet He died, for us. And therefore for all those baptised into His death and resurrection, and living in Him by faith, there is the hope of resurrection as He rose from the dead, to eternal life. Buddhism teaches that when a person dies, their craving for life, impelled by their karma, causes a supposed “stream of consciousness” to go on and live somewhere else. This is pure supposition. From where does a dead body get life? It seems that this is just another wild, desperate, blind hope that humans have come up with to escape from the awful permanence of death.

The Buddhist belief in re-incarnation has led them to suppose that how one is at the point of death is vitally important, and therefore monks chant near a dying person from the ‘Book of the dead’. And yet salvation cannot be within man nor monks. One speculation has given birth to another. There is no evidence for reincarnation, nor any grounds even for faith in such a suggestion. And so the error has been compounded by then using other people, i.e. monks, to ensure that the dying person has a god reincarnation. How we live is what God will judge. Truly does the Bible say that no man can by any means redeem his brother (Ps. 49:7). The Ullambana festival, in which sutras are recited in order to enable a better re-birth, imply that human salvation is dependent upon others, upon mere words. Surely you want something more real than this…?

Consider the concrete, real descriptions of the Biblical equivalent to Nirvana- i.e., the Kingdom of God on earth:

Those who follow Christ in this life will be “kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). They will have differing degrees of responsibility (Lk. 19:17). Christ will share his rulership over the earth with them (Rev. 2:27; 2 Tim. 2:12). “A king (Jesus) shall reign in righteousness, and princes (the believers) shall rule in judgement” (Is. 32:1; Ps. 45:16).

Christ is to reign on David’s re-established throne (Lk. 1:32,33), i.e. he will have David’s place and position of rulership, which was in Jerusalem. As Christ will reign from Jerusalem, this will be the capital of the future kingdom. Nations “will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:16).

This annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem is also prophesied in Is. 2:2,3: “In the last days, the mountain (kingdom - Dan. 2:35,44) of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains (i.e. God’s kingdom will be exalted above the kingdoms of men)...and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways...for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem”. This appears to be a picture of the early days of the kingdom, as people spread the knowledge of Christ’s reign to others, and they go up to the “mountain” of God’s kingdom, which will be slowly spreading world-wide. Here we have a picture of real enthusiasm in religious worship.

Instead of the confusion and unfairness created by man’s legal systems and administration of justice, there will be one universal legal code - “the law, and the word of the Lord”, which will be pronounced by Christ from Jerusalem. “All nations shall flow unto” these teaching sessions, implying that this common desire to find the true knowledge of God will lessen the natural friction between nations, as it does between individuals who dedicate themselves to gaining such knowledge in this life.

This description of all the nations flowing unto Jerusalem is similar to the picture presented in Is. 60:5, where the Jews “flow together” along with the Gentiles (non-Jews) to worship God in Jerusalem. This connects perfectly with the kingdom prophecy of Zech. 8:20-23.

“There shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go continually (A.V. mg. - cf. Zech. 14:16 ‘year by year’) to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem...ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you”.

This creates the picture of the Jewish people being made “the head, and not the tail” of the nations, due to their repentance and obedience (Deut. 28:13). The Jewish basis of God’s plan of salvation will then be appreciated by everyone. The ignorance of this amongst contemporary Christianity will then be abruptly ended. People will then enthusiastically discuss these things, so that they can tell the Jews, “we have heard that God is with you”. Conversation will then revolve around spiritual things, rather than the vanity which fill the world’s present thinking.

Given this greater commitment to godliness, it is not surprising that Christ “shall judge among the nations...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2:4). The absolute authority of Christ and total justice of his arbitration in disputes will result in the nations changing their military hardwareinto agricultural machinery, and abandoning all military training. “In his days shall the righteous flourish” (Ps. 72:7) - spirituality will then be exalted, and respect will be paid to those who reflect God’s characteristics of love, mercy, justice etc. Contrast this with the present exaltation of the proud, self-assertive and selfishly ambitious.

The beating of “swords into plowshares” will be part of a much greater agricultural change which will come upon the earth. As a result of Adam’s sin, the ground was cursed for his sake (Gen. 3:17-19), with the result that great effort is presently needed to get food from it. In the kingdom “there shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the (once barren) mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like (the crops of) Lebanon” (Ps. 72:16). “The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine” (Am. 9:13), such will be the improved fertility of the earth, and the reduction of the curse on the ground pronounced in Eden.

Such immense agricultural enterprise will involve many people. The kingdom prophecies give the impression that people will return to a self-sufficient, agricultural lifestyle.

“They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid” (Mic. 4:4).

This self-sufficiency will overcome the abuses which are inherent in any system of employment of labour for cash. Spending a lifetime working to make others rich will then be a thing of the past.

“They shall build houses, and inhabit them (themselves); and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat...mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain...” (Is. 65:21-23).

Isaiah 35:1-7 contains a matchless prophecy of how infertile land will be changed, resulting in an aura of joy and happiness almost oozing from the land, due to the easier and more spiritual way of life of those who work it: “The wilderness...shall be glad...the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall...rejoice even with joy and singing...for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool”. Even the natural aggression between the animals will be removed: “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together”, and children will be able to play with snakes (Is. 65:25; 11:6-8).

In the same way as the curse which was placed upon the natural creation will be greatly reduced, so that which was placed on mankind will also be lessened. Thus Rev. 20:2,3 speaks in symbolic language of the devil (sin and its effects) being “bound”, or restrained, during the Millennium. Life-spans will be increased, so that if someone dies at 100 years old, they will be considered but a child (Is. 65:20). Women will experience less sorrow in childbirth (Is. 65:23). “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Is. 35:5,6). This will be due to the miraculous spirit gifts again being possessed ( cf. Heb. 6:5).

It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the Kingdom of God should not be seen as a tropical island paradise, which the righteous will enjoy in a similar way to which men enjoy sunbathing amidst the glories of nature. The fundamental purpose of the Kingdom of God is to give glory to God, until the earth is full of glory to Him “as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). This is God’s ultimate aim: “As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Num. 14:21). Glory to God means that the inhabitants of the earth will appreciate, praise and copy His righteous attributes; because the world will be in this state, God will allow the physical earth to reflect this, too. Thus “the meek shall inherit the earth (in the kingdom), and shall delight themselves in the abundance of (spiritual) peace” (Ps. 37:11), rather than in enjoying the easy life. Those “which do hunger and thirst after righteousness...shall be filled” with it in the kingdom (Mt. 5:6). In passing, Buddhism seems incredibly centred on humans- not on God. I would submit that Biblical Christianity reveals far more of Divine generosity, and thereby the imperative to a life based around praise and thankfulness to God¸ than any other religion.

Just the thought of possessing eternal life in the kingdom is often used as a ‘carrot’ to induce people to an interest in Christianity. However, our possession of it then, will almost be incidental to the real reason for our being in the kingdom - which is to glorify God. In what time may remain to us after our baptism, our appreciation of this should continually develop. To the writer, just ten years of living in the joy of absolute perfection and good conscience with God would be worth all the trauma of this life. That this glorious state will last for ever simply blows the mind, taking us beyond the limits of human comprehension.

Even when viewed in slightly more physical terms, being in the Kingdom of God should be our supreme motivation to despise worldly advantages and materialism. Instead of taking excessive thought for the immediate future, Jesus advised: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:30-34). Everything which we can now imagine and strive for is incomparable to the ultimate fulfilment of being in God’s kingdom.

We need to seek “(God’s) righteousness”, i.e. to try to develop a love of God’s character, which means that we want to be in God’s kingdom because righteousness will be glorified there, because we want to be completely morally perfect rather than just because we, personally, want to escape death and live an easy life for eternity. And not just because we want to escape present suffering, which seems to be what Buddhism is obsessed with. Buddhism claims that the world is periodically brought into being and then after many millions of years it is destroyed and the cycle begins again. The good news of the coming Kingdom of God on earth is that the earth will not be destroyed (Ecc. 1:4), because it is God’s purpose to populate it with immortal beings who lived out brief lives of probation on the planet in this our time of opportunity. There is a tremendous urgency, therefore, to our position. Now is the today of salvation, Paul says (2 Cor. 6:2), today we must hear God’s voice, for tomorrow may be too late (Heb. 3:12-13 ). The physical world is vitally important to the loving God who created it. We can perceive the beauty in it which reflects design and purpose. Only the good news of the coming Kingdom on earth makes sense of what this purpose is. Most people perceive there is some purpose in it, but fail to see what purpose. The world was created “very good” according to the Bible (Gen. 1:31). And any observation of this beautiful creation in which we live would confirm that. It is the Buddhist idea of reincarnation and endless cycles of existence which leads them to insist that the earth is not made “very good” at all. To describe the world as “beginningless” is to really deny creation, to deny design and purpose in creation; it is to deny God. It is really another form of evolution, which is yet another theory of human origin, which lacks any concrete evidence. The coming of the Kingdom of God at the return of Jesus means that the Christian view of history is that time proceeds in a linear way, from beginning to end. We know where we came from, and to where we go. The Buddhist view of time as cyclical means that there is no purpose, no end, no beginning, and therefore no real imperative to live life today with any sense of direction and responsibility towards God. This is why there is so much ‘emptiness’ in Buddhism. Even in nirvana , we will be sunyata, empty of self; the Buddhist tantras teach that all deities of the pantheon are manifestations of this sunyata , emptiness. And in this sense, they lack ultimate existence. The concept of emptiness has been taken to such an extent that it effectively denies not only the existence of God, but also of any real personal existence in the future. Jesus once was present at the grave of a believer, and the dead man’s sister could rejoice that she would see her brother again at the resurrection, in the last day (Jn. 11:23-27). This is the hope that is in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25). To imply that existence doesn’t exist is just playing with words, just as a drunk man may feel existence is suspended for him. Yet reality calls. We are alive, we are real, and so is God and so is Jesus and so is their purpose with this earth.