What Do Buddhists Believe?

By Jason Carlson

Buddhism is one of the most influential religions in the world. Originating in Southeast Asia, Buddhism today is rapidly growing in popularity here in the United States. Many people are drawn towards Buddhism due to the perception that it is a uniquely peaceful and tolerant religion. Others are attracted to the supposed inner-peace that various Buddhist meditation techniques offer. However, the truth is that Buddhism, at its core, is a philosophy that offers men and women nothing more than a system of human works and effort that cannot save anybody.

There are a number of schools of Buddhist thought in the world today, the most prominent being Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantric Buddhism, and there are vast differences between them. However, in-spite of the diversity within Buddhism, all Buddhists will adhere to a basic core of beliefs.

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism and the original Buddha (meaning “enlightened one”), explained basic Buddhist philosophy through his teaching of the “Four Noble Truths”: 1) Life is suffering; 2) Suffering is caused by desire- our attachment to a world of illusion; 3) Freedom from suffering comes by eliminating our desire; 4) Desire can be eliminated by following the “Eightfold Path”- eight ways of living (attitudes and actions) which would help a person eliminate suffering and ultimately find freedom from the cycle of reincarnation that traps us in a world of illusion.

While millions of people have attempted to find peace by following the teachings of the Buddha, the reality is that right attitudes and actions cannot save us from the real source of human suffering, sin. Apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ true peace and salvation cannot be found (Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). This truth is probably best summed-up in the testimony of my friend Lou.

Lou grew up in the nation of Thailand and he was a Buddhist for the first 20 years of his life until he became a follower of Jesus. When Lou shares his testimony he tells the following story about the real peace he’s found in Jesus Christ:

“When I was a Buddhist I felt like I was in the middle of a large lake. I was drowning and I didn’t know how to swim. As I struggled to keep my head above water, I looked out towards the shore and saw Buddha walk up to the edge of the lake. Buddha began shouting out instructions to me, teaching me how to swim. Buddha shouted, ‘Kick your legs and paddle your arms.’ But then Buddha said, ‘Lou, you must make it to shore by yourself.’

As I desperately struggled to follow the Buddha’s instructions, I looked out towards the shore again, but this time I saw Jesus Christ walk up to the lake. However, Jesus didn’t stop at the edge of the lake. Jesus dove into the lake and he swam out and rescued me! And once Jesus had brought me safely back to shore, then he taught me how to swim, so that I could go back and rescue others!”