Some of my friends in Thailand can get disconcerted when they hear that I spend alot of my time talking with Buddhists. They may hear a word or phrase that I use in the Thai language that is more “Buddhist” than “Christian” and their minds are bent by it. They may automatically start thinking that my allegiance has changed and that I am “watering down the truth” or even that I am becoming something other than what they have always known me to be.
The reality is that I am building bridges with people and not walls. Am I perfect at it?; as you will see, the answer is no. But I am working on it and when the right time comes, I am always bringing the truth of the Gospel to bear on my conversations.
I sometimes suppose that many of my critics are not actively engaged in ongoing conversations in the Thai language with Buddhists. They are people who live in Christian “bubbles” who are more content in their own incomplete knowledge rather than seeking out what people really believe and speaking directly to that rather than their own “straw men”.
Below is a recent conversation that I had with three monks at a temple here in Thailand. The conversation was completely in Thai as you can tell by the monk correcting my use of tones in the Thai language! But through my friend’s recording of the conversation, you can get a glimpse into my message and my way in Christ.
Here is the excerpt:
“We always start by asking the monk if he is doing well. He always says the same thing. My spirit is well, but my body is dying. He says this to show that he has found a way to overcome suffering in the state of impermanence. Then the monk proceeded to explain to John how Thai has five tones, and so on, to help him say some things clearer.
From the introduction and asking the monk about how he is doing, John asked him, “do you believe human beings have a spirit?” The monk said yes, because Buddha taught this. He said Buddha taught that we have 2 areas. They are matter and mind. He went on to explain again about the 5 existences which are: comprehension, mental formation, feeling, perception and consciousness. These 2 are in two areas, called mind and matter. Matter is about things you can comprehend, things that fit together. These have to do with the 4 elements: earth, fire, water and air. The next part he explained was the mind. He said it has to do with being conscience or consciousness. Then he explained that with the mind there are 3 things that fit together.
He called this the factors or of mental formation. The parts of the mind are feeling, perception or being able to know something and mental formation. He said these 3 things come about when the spirit or conscience is there. He mentioned that they also go away, or fail when the spirit or consciousness changes in a person. These could be called the characteristics of consciousness. The monk called them the factors of the mental state. He said that humans have a spirit and therefore have consciousness. He said if we did not have this we would not be able to live life.
Then Ron asked, “When we do, what happens to our spirit after we die, what kind of state is it in, does it live eternally?” The monk liked this question and said, “This is a very important teaching of Buddha.” He said that we need to ask, what the spirit is becoming, because it enters into the circle life. He mentioned that the spirit of a person goes to different levels. He wanted to change the focus of where is the spirit to what is the spirit after it enters the circle of life. He said every spirit enters the plain of conscienceless. This plain has 4 levels. There is the sensual plain, the physical plain or the place of using the concentration and meditation, the formless plain and the unlimited plain.
Then he started to explain that if you are evil you go to the Buddhist hell. If you were a good person and made lots of merit, then when you are born again, you will come back as a human being. If you were really good you can become a Buddhist god, or angel in one of the 6 levels of the Buddhist heaven. Then if you’re really special and did a good life you can go to another level with in the 6 levels that has 16 levels and you will have more peace and happiness than a Buddhist god. If you use concentration and meditate and use your mind to awaken or open up your consciousness then you can go to the next level that has 3 levels within it. This is the formless place. This is for the people who are enlightened and they arrive at a place of not being born again. They no longer exist and no longer suffer. This is the end result of following the 4 noble truths.
Which state that we suffer, desire leads to suffering, we can get out from under suffering and Buddhism is the way out of this suffering? When a person goes to this limitless place, they are going to be with absolute truth, or be absolute truth. They arrive and become this absolute truth. He said, you say, when a person dies, where do they go? I ask do they really die. He is said if you’re a normal average person, you need to be born again over and over, but if you have arrived to enlightenment, then you don’t need to be born again. You are put out and you are in a place of no suffering and have overcome craving and attachments. You ask, “When we die, where do we go?” We ask, when we die, what are we going to be.”
Then he went back to the 5 consciousness and the fact that a spirit of a person does not actually be made new again, but that if the spirit come from nature and it keeps developing into something more advanced or something like that. I was getting a little lost at this point in his explanation. He related a person’s spirit to age, or getting older. It just runs out of time, and then it is born again and does this over and over again. He said the moment a person dies, a new something or someone comes into being. He said that animals don’t really die, they just change their condition and become some other animal. He went on to talk about the 5 existences again and who we can become and about the 4 places of formlessness.
Then John asked, if we are in the process of this, which the monk called soullessness, how do we do it ourselves? How do we depend on our selves like Buddha said to do if we are soul-less (anatta)?
The monk said, you need to follow 3 things, higher morality, higher concentration and learning higher wisdom. Monk said our spirit is a natural thing, but we can use this to practice these 3 things. The Monk said we can control our spirit, or our consciousness by the practical out working of these 3 areas and we do this on our own, not by any outside help. He went on to say the person who is not interested in this receives bad conduct and causes bad effects. But a person can change if they follow these 3 things. Then he gave an example of a person who was a heavy drinker. When they see the damage it does and the foolishness of it, they stop. They stop because they are practicing these 3 things to some degree. He said a person can develop the consciousness and become stronger and it will change a person’s mind and they will start to think of good things and stop doing bad things and this will effect who they are the next time they are born again.
He said in the end good and bad are things that are impermanent and deal with the physical world. So, he said if you’re still alive, you need to practice these things. Once you die you will not have to. For those who don’t try, they will not come back as a better person. He talked about good morality, good concentration to make the mind pure. He mentioned the idea of being active and applying things. He said if we continue to live in these truths we will see what the truth is and we will understand the true reality of all things. We will understand the laws of nature and we will know what is what. He said there are 4 things we get teaching from, or instruction, principals to live by. They are nature, law of nature, actual truth verses absolute truth. His idea of absolute truth is about ideas and things that are not affected by desire and suffering. It could be said more like, spiritual, or mystical truth, verses the physical world kind of truth. He said science is conventional truth because it is based on supposition.
John asked if the spirit of a person is impermanent (anatta). The monk said yes. John went on to ask if a person has soullessness and is impermanent, how can they depend on themselves to save themselves from suffering, or getting ahead in life.
John went on to explain everything as dependency on something else. He used the word picture of a boat being dependant on water to work. The monk went on to explain eating, living, doing things we need to do to live is not dependency on those things; we do those things in the right ways. He went on to explain that John did not know the Thai words very well. He said it is more about right contact and working in and doing the 8 fold path of Buddhism in one’s life. This is not dependency, but it is the practical working out of getting out from under suffering and living one’s life the right way. Klang my friend who takes me to the temple, went on to explain that the picture John used is a Thai idiom that means the same thing as what Jesus said about that we are love our neighbor as our self and love God with all our heart and mind.
He told John he basically did not understand what they were talking about. John emphatically said, yes I do, I understand every word you are saying. Then John went on to explain that if it is like you say, then I don’t think human kind can really help themselves very well. I could have not got that part very clearly. Then the novice monk went on to explain again the idea of reincarnation and that it is just the way it is and it happens like a law of nature. He used the florescent light as an example how it turns on and off so fast you can’t see it an in the end it give off light. He said it is like that. It just is a system that works in nature and if it is broken or slow it down, will not work. Something like that, not sure about all he said.
John then asked the monk if humans were “tiang” (actually I said “tiang ter”), which I am not sure what he meant, but I think he was asking the question about human kind being different from animate to in animate things. (I was actually talking about “tiang” being something unchanging)
He basically explained yes, humans are and animals are alive, but have soullessness and can go to the state of unlimitedness, where a table or a book cannot. The monk said we all start out with no bad karma, then it happens when we have ignorance. Then he went on to explain at times we have peace like when sitting at the beach or under a shade tree, but then we are bothered by our metal formation process and then suffering is born in us again. He suggested that we take the time to purify our minds and we can overcome this kind of thing. In the end he said the goal of Buddhism is to no longer have to suffer through being born and dying again. He said this is absolute truth and happiness. He said it is true peace. He said that the peace in Nippon is not the kind of peace we have on earth. He said we can experience this kind of super peace through meditation and through following the ways of Buddha.
He said that excitement is not really true happiness or peace. He said that happiness is not really peace. It is more of an idea of calmness. He said this kind of peace comes with right knowledge and wisdom and development of the inside. He said it is not about stuff, or doing things in the physical world, that all has an ending will not last. It is more of a deliverance from these cravings and dependencies of the world. He said we can do this hear and now. He said it is a place of pure existence, a place of pure peace and nothing can get to you. Your soul has been put out and you no longer have to suffer. This state of being is being in Nippon here and now on earth.
John asked, is Nippon (Nirvana) a real thing? The monk said yes, very real, it is absolute truth. He went on to tell John that it has many names also. Monk went on to say it is being pure, deliverance and super peace. Monk said that other nations and peoples have different names for it, but it is the same place or state of being. He said the Buddha did not say it was a place of peace, but more of a place of no suffering. So, when we don’t have any more suffering we have true peace. He said for the most part people just want more peace, more happiness, but don’t really want to get rid of suffering.
John said that he likes the way the monk teacher explained the way Nippon is. John said when you explained this, I thought of Rev 21 a description of Heaven in the Bible. John went on to explain that the Creator has a kingdom and he is the king of kings. He said it has everything you just said and it is found in the Bible. But, it is not a formless place; it is the kingdom of God. It will have no more dependency on ourselves and we will have super peace there too. It says there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more broken bodies, but perfect spiritual bodies.
John said this is absolute truth. He said when I think of God, the creator I think that He is absolute truth. John went on to say that he agreed with the monk that people are anata (actually I said or meant to say that they are “mai tiang” or unstable in contrast to God who is unchanging) He went on to say that God has given human being a great experience in being able to know Gods love and power of The Holy Spirit.
He went on to say that we (humans) are very special and great worth and we are not like anything God has created. He went on to say that we are made in the image of God no matter what part of the world we are from and that we have great worth in the eyes of God. John went to say that the Bible teaches humans have a spirit and he agrees with this. That we have ability to think, mood and we can decide on things. John went on to say that we have a brain like the monk was talking about and we live in bodies that are changing little by little. He said that our bodies change but our spirit does not. Then we read in the Bible in Revelation 21.
Before we read Klang brought up a paper he brought with him about how people have changed into different people through reincarnation about a Chinese, Indian and an American. He wanted to prove that people come back as others and that these stories were about people who could remember events but never had seen or knew about them.
Then I read Revelation 21. Then John asked the monk if he has ever heard this before? Then John asked him, what do you think of this description of heaven? The monk said, there are many things in there that is the same as Nippon, such as no more suffering, but only peace for ever. No more pain. But, the difference that the monk saw was that heaven in the Bible is a place.
But, Nippon is not a place. It is there so that no one will have attachments. He agreed that a person could get out from suffering just like a Buddhist if they went to the heaven that the Bible explained. Monk said that Nippon is not a place and there is not owner of it. It is different than what the Bible explains. He said the main thing is that one is a place and other is not a place, other than that they sound the same to him. He said “John, if God is a personality and has a place that is ok, not wrong, it is what you believe and your faith and it is good.” He said for us Buddhist, we don’t go to a place, we go to Nippon and this is the way of nature, or the natural way to think. Then John brought up that Buddha was alive around 500 years before Christ. He went on to say that Buddha said he lived many lives and he was part of this world.
John went on to say, what if there was a Lord who was not part of this world (above it all) and he knows more than any of us have ever heard or experienced. He went on to try and explain that we don’t see everything. We only see pieces of truth. Suppose there was a Lord who knew all things perfectly and he wanted to show this to the human race even though we don’t understand it all. John went on to say, if this Bible is true we should study it, know it and believe it. If it is false, we should throw it away. He went on to say many people have not heard the truth in the bible including many Thai people. He said Thai people don’t like to think about things (in general).
Then the Monk started to talk, he said I have studies Christianity and Taoism and Islam. I did this before I became a monk. John asked him, did you read books about the Bible, or have you ever really read the Bible for yourself? He said I studied the import teachings of the Bible that others wrote. John asked again, but you have never read the Bible for yourself? The monk said, I studied the important parts and I saw that every religion teaches that we are to be good people and do good things. The monk went on to say that Buddhism you can see cause and effect. You can see the truth in it and how it affects the regular person. Don’t need to talk about who started it or about ideas until you have seen the absolute truth of it. Monk said; don’t need to be caught up in ceremonies and tradition. But, need to see the truth of it and how it affects our life.
Then Klang asked if we would be eating in heaven? John explained all we will need, God will provide and His kingdom is coming into the world again. He mentioned that God is going to make a new world and a new heaven and a new nature too.
John said that everything we see in the world today is cursed. It is beautiful, but it is cursed. He said animal eat each other and everything is dying. But, God did not create it for this reason. He created it for our pleasure and created us to know Him.
God does not want us to suffer anymore John said, but if we do not listen to God then we will end up suffering.
John said when a person decides to turn away from God that is the decision of the person. God will separate himself from this person. John reminded them that Buddhism teaches about hell and God has created a place for his enemies. John told them that this enemy is called Satan. John said God is going to throw the fallen angels and everyone who is an enemy of God in this place. I mentioned that God did not make hell for people, but for Satan and the fallen angels. He created us to know him, not be separated from Him.
Then Klang asked: “So, if Thai people don’t believe in Jesus, are they going to go to hell?” John explained we are cursed with sin and we are heading that direction anyway. He said God has provided a way to be saved. Then he used the illustration of many swimmers some go far some don’t but in the end they all drown without some outside help. (I used this illustration to show how some could swim only for 5 minutes, some for a few hours, some for a few days. The monks may feel superior because they can swim for days while others can only swim for minutes, but in the end, we all need a rescuer because we fall short of being able to save ourselves.)
Klang said: “I want to explain something; we do receive help from others as Buddhist, but we take responsibility for our own actions. We do not let others take responsibility for us. He said a Thai person would receive the help if he was drowning, and this would be good news. But, Thais take the responsibility themselves.” Then he asked, “ are there mansions in America? We said yes. He said, every place has mansions and nice things, therefore heaven is here and now. Klang reviewed the Gospel and he said you are saved simply by faith, right?” He went on to compare that Buddha did something similar and that it is not a problem for a Buddhist to believe in Jesus, he is a good man too.”
John went on to talk about God being the only true God and human kind has been tricked to worship all kinds of other things. Klang went on to talk about Jesus and who he is in the Bible and all he claimed to be, and asked, what do we do as a Christian? What did Jesus say about Karma? What did Jesus say about how to get out from under being born again?
John went on to say that we don’t see the spiritual and that God did the ultimate by sending his Son as a gift to love us and save us from sin. That is true love, real love and talked about His forgiveness. John said as believers in Christ we develop ourselves, but we cannot do it ourselves, we need God to do this in us.
We can’t trust ourselves (depend on ourselves alone). We trust in Christ and then we can do things, good things in the power of Christ, in the Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit is our helper and our spirit is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We can communicate with God. We are operating in (our own ideas and thinking), but God speaks through his Spirit.
Klang said that when we study Buddhism we are studying spiritual truths. Then he went on to read the different stories of the people who remembered and saw things in their former lives.
The monk went on to explain that when we sleep, in a subconscious state, that we are effected by other karmas from other lives that mix with ours. Therefore we can remember other people’s lives that we have never heard about before. He said we can’t really understand this; it had to do with subconscious activity and it coming out in our conscience state.
Monk went on to say that Buddha knew these things and understood them because of the many lives that he lived. He said Buddha had a kind of magic that he could see in the future or see things far away, or could see or know what animals would turn into when they died at times. He could see the process of reincarnation of animals and people at times. He understood and discovered the circle of life and why we suffer. He said Buddha did not have the desire to become like we want to become, in the Buddhist thinking, a small god in a place with a big God. He wanted to be free of the cycle of birth, pain oldness and death and doing that over and over again. He wanted to be in the state of Nippon and be free of birth again. He wanted to be free of death and decay and pain. Monk said the Buddha knew about the stars, universe everything because of all the lives he lived and that he was enlightened.
Monk said: The most important thing we need to know is how to get out from under suffering and advance in that process. The monk believes if there was not suffering present, there would be no problems, only peace. For example he said, if you’re hungry you crave food. But if you’re satisfied with what you have and know what is what and don’t crave, you don’t suffer therefore you don’t do wrong. He used the idea of a super star needing to use drugs to get ahead in life, even though he as everything. In the end he dies from it. On the outside he has everything he needs but in the inside he is suffering.
John went on to explain that there are spirits that lie to us and trick us and they can give us information that is not true. He related a story when he was in the Military and how these spirits lie and tricks us (Actually I told a story of how familiar spirits work like soldiers assigned to an individual. They know everything about that person and his life. If that person dies, they can deceive others through their knowledge of the person thus making them think that they are being visited by the person through someone else or have been that person in a previous life.)
John mentioned that there are fake miracles. He said that the Bible tells us that there will be many who will do illusions and trick us with fake miracles. John said that these things that you have read are real, but how do you know that they come from? We believe they come from a demon, a fallen angel. Ron helped John explain that we should not talk to dead, or we could receive a curse. John went on to say that Buddha believed in spirits and did things to protect himself. Klang said, he did this to protect himself from desire, not really from bad spirits. He said that there are many things we should not believe in this world.
The monk started to talk and explained that many strange things are happening now days that are fake. They are started by religious teachers. If a person has an inside wisdom and an understanding of how nature works, this person will not be tricked. A child will be tricked. But, a person with experience will not be tricked. I asked where did this wisdom come from. He explained it comes from inside us, comes from nature. It is just there, it is in us. It is not from a book or a technical source. It comes from our former life, from our karma. The monk went on to say that many people know things from many other lives that have been lived because of the concentration and working out the teaching of Buddha. He said that a person can overcome desire this way too.
John went on to say that we have wisdom and knowledge that is higher than nature. We believe in the Creator that is outside of this system. When we trust in Him, he is higher than nature and we will get a higher wisdom. He went on to say that Jesus is the way to this (wisdom).
Nain, asked, “If we don’t have the chance to read the Bible, we will not go to Heaven right?” John went on to say, I don’t know, but knows, and that God will judge a person and he will be held accountable.
Nain went on to say that we can find wisdom and knowledge in nature we really don’t need to read the tip taka (Buddhist scriptures) or the Bible. John asked him, “can you create a star or make an animal”?; to make the point that the Creator is above nature and natural things.
Nain went on to explain each piece of nature has its place and is under the laws of nature. John went on to explain that we cannot create an eye, humans cannot do it to help him see the idea of God being a creator. He used the example of a doctor who studies all his life, but he cannot make an eye, only God could do this.
Nain went on to say that humans can do incredible things and can create a fake limb. This shows that humans can take care of themselves. Said that people need to rely on themselves if they don’t we will die. People create things to live, like hospitals or air planes and other things in order to relay on themselves. John went on to say, the humans do take care of themselves (in every day life and take responsibility for themselves too), but there is a limit to man’s knowledge and abilities.
Ron went on to say that God can do anything, but cannot sin. The nain asked “why did Jesus come and do all of this when he did”? Ron answered that he came at the best time and it was in Gods timing. The nain asked, if Jesus came at just the right time, why are there so many different religions? Why doesn’t every one believe in Christ? Why is there is war? Why did Christians kill Muslims and Muslims kill Christians?
John broke in and asked why do Buddhist (called that by themselves) have addictions? Why do they drink and do bad things. Then he quoted Romans 3:23. (We have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God). (Yet, ) He said people in Thailand are not interested in God. He said for a person to refuse God (not recognize, not give honor, ignore our Creator King) is the worst sin.
Nain went on to say, if this is true about Jesus, then Asians people are in trouble and don’t have a chance to go to heaven. He said this means people have no hope and they are lost. (Good observation) Why wasn’t Jesus born in Thailand because people here have great faith, this is not fair. I explained God made us and he can do whatever he wants to do he is our owner.
John had the nain monk read out loud out of Acts (17) about God over looking times (of ignorance) so that he wants every person to have salvation. The monk brought up before Christ came, there was no Christianity. What happened to people before Christ came? What happened to people before the Bible came into the world? (I quoted Acts 17 where Paul says that God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he commands men everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world through Jesus Christ.)
Nain said Buddhism is not like this. Not necessary to do all of this. It is more about if you are good. If you’re good you can find what you need in you and be better. John brought up the point if you don’t do the 5 moral laws of Buddhism, he said that Thais are going to Buddhist hell (according to Thai Buddhist teaching.) John said that all of Thailand is not following even the 5 precepts of Buddha (and not really interested). He mentioned (as an example) that Thailand is number one in Speed addiction in Asia: Yaa Ba.
Buddhist monk broke in and asked if he could tell a story. He told a story of an American who says he is a Christian. He talked about growing up in the church and smelling the incense at the temple and he called it the smell of hell. He heard this song called come inside and he was reminded of the Buddhist temple and he started to go and he found peace and quietness. He taught or studied at Chulakorn University. John asked if this man had a vision. Monk said he lived in Thailand for many years. He studied Buddhism when he lived here. He was very interested in different religions. He said Buddhism was quiet and peaceful. He visited 200 temples and found peace and a difference. He calls himself a Christian. He did not compare like we are doing.
John said this (we were talking about meditation) is good and a good experience. ( I talked about how meditation could be used to clear the mind and empty ourselves so that we could focus on the right thing. Scripture speaks of meditating on the Word of God, etc)
Suppose we go to the beach to meditate and a flood comes, would we be saved (through meditation)? Monk explained meditation is to develop mental formation and wisdom, not to be checked out in an altar state of mind. To help us live our lives in wisdom and knowledge. Sometimes it is for peace and quiet our spirits. If we are to relay on ourselves we need to have wisdom and light in how to do it.
John said that when he reads the Bible he sees promise of a spiritual flood coming into the world. ( I was speaking of judgement and that we must prepare ourselves in truth for it) He said (that even the) Buddha said in 5000 years, the world will end. John said, how will we be have salvation and be saved from this? We don’t know what the future holds, but we know what the promises of God are. We are going to see more wars when we read in Mathew. In the end Jesus is coming back. It is the time to read and know the truth in the Bible. Not read books about the Bible, but read the Bible its self. In the end, every nation will be there before God. (standing to be judged) John suggested that the monk should read the book of John to understand more.
Klang said that as Buddhist we will be at peace because we all die and if we know the truth of how things work we will not being worried. John said he has peace about all God has said, and we should all be ready (prepared) for the things to come. (If we prepare, we don’t have to be worried or afraid. The preparation is “putting on Christ.” Klang understood that Jesus Christ is the parachute that saves us from the coming destruction.)
John went on to try and explain the need to be ready by using the illustration of if we were all in a plane and some had a parachute and some did not. If we had a parachute to give someone who didn’t we should give it to them. If they don’t want it, we are sad, but we should try and give it to him.
Klang said if you really know Buddhism you won’t be afraid to die. John went on to say that the Bible teaches that we have only one life to live and we will go before God and be judged. Now is the time to respond.
Klang said Jesus said we are to love our others as ourselves. This is enough to go to heaven. John said that to love God is more important and then we can (truly) love our neighbor. We can receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit and believe.
So, what stands out to you? Where do you see points of agreement or disagreement in this sample of one conversation out a many, many others not posted? Do see the way of being a patient listener versus the only one doing the talking?