Wednesday, June 07, 2006

489: Meeting the Mahayanas

As I was exploring campus today I stumbled upon some buildings behind the student center, buildings that are the homes of student clubs. I went up to one of the open doors and enquired as to what it was, and I learned it was a Buddhist club. In the course of a following conversation, I learned from a young woman named Pakkad that they are Mahayana Buddhists, a rarity in Thailand, as the nation is almost exclusively Theravada Buddhist. (Without going into the nitty gritty, Theravada Buddhists follow the teachings of the Buddha much closer than the Mahayanas. Mahayana Buddhist groups include Tibetan and Zen schools of Buddhism. Think Protestant versus Catholic.) After a while, they invited me to join them for a meditation session. I asked them if I could watch, and not participated. One of the students, who had served two years as a monk, told me that I would feel happy afterward. I replied that I did not need to meditate to feel happy because Jesus had made me so. They granted me permission to observe only.

Before returning to their building, I spent time in prayer to prepare for what I was about to face. When I arrived, they invited me into their worship room. Centered in its middle was a three foot high shinig gold Buddha. In front of the Buddha were meditation mats, with the spots for the women on the left, and spots for men on the right, as Buddhism places men of higher importance. Pakkad asked me if I would like to honor her Buddha. I realized that I had come to a moment of truth. To say yes and bow three times before the statue would be nothing short of idolatry and was rephrehenisble to me, but saying no might offend her. I delicately replied that I would gladly honor her, but that my God would not allow me to honor Buddha. She accepted this, and in fact, brought me a chair so I would not have to sit on the floor.

I watched the students worship their god (and in Mahayana schools, Buddha is essentially worshipped), for an hour and a half. They chanted, sang, and sat in silence. As they worshipped, I prayed. Amongst other things, I prayed for their salvation, and prayed that they would know the Jesus who takes away all karma, both good and bad. When they finished, Pakkad asked me what I thought of it all. I responded with the same words that my namesake used in a nearly identical context in Acts 17. I told her and her friends that I could see that they were very religous, and I added that it was obvious that it meant a lot to them, was an important part of her life. I went on to ask if they did this everyday, or just on Wednesdays. She responded that they do this every night, and every morning. They spend 3 hours a day praying to what is not a god, and the average American spends about 10 minutes praying to the Ancient of Days, and I'm fairly close to average.

I got Pakkad's e-mail and phone number, and I hope to follow up with her. Other than that, Scripture is what's on my heart right now, so Scripture I will relate.

"Who will you compare Me or make Me equal to? Who will you measure Me with, so that we should be like each other? Those who pour out their bags of gold and weigh out silver on a scales - they hire a goldsmith and he makes it into a god. Then they kneel and bow down to it. They lift it to their shoulder and bear it along; they set it in tis place, and there it stands; it does not budge from its place. They cry out to it but it doesn't answer; it saves no one from his trouble." Isaiah 46:5-7

But we must not despair, for verse 10 reminds us that God is in control. Take heart and rejoice, friends, rejoice and join the fight in your prayer.

"I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will."


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