I am the son of a Buddhist father of Chinese and Thai heritage, and a Pentecostal African American mother from New York City. My home growing up was multicultural, to say the least.
At a young age my father briefly served as a monk in Thailand. As an adult he would occasionally go to the temple, and he had a little Buddha statue, but that was the extent of his devotion. Very rarely did my father talk about what it meant to be a Buddhist; like many, Buddhism was more cultural than personal.
My father was a very proud man. He emigrated from Thailand, pursued a masters degree in engineering, eventually working for the Boeing Corporation nearly 25 years. He achieved the ideal American dream. He loved to work out, watch football, and eat healthy foods.
He always assumed he would live a long healthy life, until the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Suddenly a man who had much confidence in himself became frail and weak. For the first time in my father’s life he wanted to go to church with my mother. He started saying and doing things that he had never done before. He began to wake up early and get ready for church on Sundays, before my mother. Instead of her telling him he needed to get ready, he was telling her she needed to get ready. The imminence of death changed him.
In the final year of my father’s life he prayed to receive Christ. In the last few months I remember still being worried for my father’s spiritual state. The night before he died my mother decided to stay up with him — she prayed with him one last time to receive Christ in his heart. He repeated those words with her and went to sleep with a reassured peace.
The next morning my father lay in the bed, weak and feeble. I remember grasping his hands one last time. He held onto me tightly, as though he knew this was the last time we would be together. As he lay in his bed, he appeared at peace. Slowly falling into a deep sleep, he passed away surrounded by family and close friends.
My father was not a perfect man, but I watched him transform through the years. God used the tragic circumstances of terminal cancer to cause him to open his heart. He showed my father the reality of eternity, and he responded. I believe that my father knew in his heart there was no comfort or hope in Buddhism.
Christianity shares many commonalities with Buddhism. Both teach good values and compassion for others. Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by desire, and freedom from our reality of suffering is attainable only by following the path. The “eightfold path” is not a list of commandments; it is simply a guideline, summarized by right actions, wisdom, and the right mentality. The culmination of this roadmap is the end of suffering; by eliminating desire, we ultimately eliminate suffering.
The Buddha himself epitomized this self-detachment by leaving his life of luxury, his wife, and his family to pursue enlightenment. By contrast, Jesus Christ willingly embraced suffering because he loves humanity.
There is no God in Buddhism, no heavenly father — simply a series of steps to escape this existence. Ultimately you have to save yourself.
My father turned to Christianity because Christ offered hope in knowing a personal God who offered grace over works. My father found that there was “someone out there”, a person that transcended all cultures, traditions, and religion.
Jesus knocks at the door of our heart. He wants us to know him and live in communion with him. He brings hope, peace, and rest to those who ask. That is the power of the Gospel.
Photo by (Flickr CC): Roberto Trombetta