Until recently, your chances of witnessing to a Buddhist outside of the far east were very slim. But with 1,500 temples and monasteries now in the U.S., and Southern California adding a new one every two months, you may encounter one at almost any time.
Because of the Tibetan Dalai Lama's campaign to bring before the world the Chinese invasion and oppression of his country, his particular brand of Buddhism is achieving fad status in much of the western world. President Clinton has hosted him at the White House and he was granted the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. Vice President Al Gore visited Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles last year and became involved in a scandal over a $140,000 gift which the Buddhists there offered to the Democratic election campaign.
Now Hollywood has picked up the flag with two movies due out this fall. One is Kundun, the story of the Dalai Lama's life before the Chinese take over. The other is Seven years in Tibet, the story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian who escaped from India in World War II and made it to Tibet where he was greatly influenced by the young Dalai Lama. Actor Brad Pitt reportedly asked to play the role of Harrer for the religious experience. Entertainment Weekly reported that the monks prayed for each shooting and got the cast to sing with them and that Pitt was often in tears.
Many others have taken up the Tibetan cause. A "Committee of 100 for Tibet" includes 13 Nobel Prize winners, folk-singer Joan Baez, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Former ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Theodore Hesbrugh, former president of Notre Dame University. Of concern to soul winners is, of course, what they believe and how to reach them with the gospel. Buddhism has the same three concepts that are common to all the oriental religions:
- Samsara, the continuous round of death and rebirth which we call reincarnation.
- Karma, the law of cause and effect where man's suffering today is the effect caused by his past misdeeds.
- Nirvana, a state of extinction arrived at by accumulating enough merit to offset one's sins so that the cycles of samsara are broken.
Obviously this set of beliefs contains no hope of abundant life or joy with a loving God for eternity. The only escape from the suffering of this life is a vague hope of "extinction" for those who are good enough.
On the flip side of this dreary eternal outlook, however, is a special attraction for Westerners. Buddhist convert Tina Turner is reported to have remarked that she liked Buddhism because "You decide what is right and wrong." There is also in Buddhist teachings, the half truth: "If you change your heart, you can change the world." What modern man doesn't realize is that you cannot change your heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Therefore, eventually westerner converts to Buddhism realize that it is a dead end.
Soul winners should stress the opportunity to know a personal God who forgives our sins completely and commits us to only one life cycle before arriving in a beautiful heaven to live with a loving God forever. Buddhists who have fully understood this "good news" have gladly chosen to follow Christ.