Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are some of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus. But those concepts didn’t originate with Jesus.
He found them tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the Torah. Almost every saying in the Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. The genius of Jesus was the way in which he put his own “spin” on the Scriptures, highlighting and elevating the positive aspects of God’s personality, while ignoring and rejecting the negative aspects.
The ideals of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity weren’t the unique property of the Judaic tradition, however. They could also be found earlier, and further east, in what is now India, Nepal, Bhutan. In the Fifth Century before Jesus, a man named Gotoma developed a body of teachings based on what are called “The Four Immeasurables”:
1. Unconditional love: An unselfish interest in the welfare of all sentient beings;
2. Compassion towards everybody: Wanting others, without exception, to be free from suffering;
3. Sympathetic joy: Being happy with the good fortune of others;
4. Equanimity: Regarding every living being as equal, with no distinction between friend, enemy, stranger.
Gotama became known to history as The Buddha.
So: Where did The Buddha get his inspiration?
Can there be any doubt that the source was Divine? From where else could the inspiration have come? What source other than God could lead human beings so long ago to organize their lives around the high-minded concepts of selfless love and universal compassion? I submit that there is no other possible source.
If we recognize the divinely inspired nature of Buddhism, it stands to reason that adherents of the Buddhist way are already, to use Christian terminology, “sanctified.” They have divine approval. They’re accepted, by God, just as they are.
It then follows that it would be wrong to attempt to dissuade Buddhists from the Way they’ve been given. In fact, one could argue that the holy lives of many Buddhists put most Christians to shame, and that Christians could learn much at the feet of our Buddhist sisters and brothers.
In my mind it is shameful that, if Christian missionaries had their way, all Buddhists would be converted until not a single one were left. How much poorer the world would be without the Buddhist witness.
Given the above, I would like to call on all Mennonite mission agencies (in particular the Mennonite Mission Network and Eastern Mennonite Missions) to place a moratorium on proselytizing activities in Buddhist countries, and/or in countries where Buddhists are targeted for conversion.
At the same time, I call on Christian missionaries everywhere to consider changing their orientation with regard to the Buddhist world, to recognize that the light of divine truth may be found in that world as well.
I would encourage all Christians, in future, to visit Buddhist lands, with open hearts, not for the purpose of preaching, but rather to seek out the truth and beauty in Buddhist cultures, and to bring those discoveries home for the appreciation and edification of believers in their own countries.