By Richard Nakamura, missionary to diaspora Japanese near Seattle — The lotus flower, rooted in mud, grows and blossoms above the swamp in beauty and purity. This Buddhist image attracts many as it conveys peace in the midst of life’s hard realities. As my parents shared this illustration with a much younger me, I was inspired. I longed to be like the lotus, to transcend trials, to rise above the rat race, to escape pain, to find happiness and inner peace. I wanted to share this beauty with those who were hurting around me. The fact that it was describable meant that it was attainable. I determined that I was going to be like that lotus!
We all long for peace, but what does it look like? How do we attain it? The Buddhist response is to pursue and follow the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.
Eight sounded simple. I figured I could do that.
And then I was taught the Five Precepts: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t engage in immoral sex, and do not partake in alcohol/drugs.
For those where were serious in their dedication, I discovered there were five more precepts: do not decorate yourself (jewelry/tattoos); do not sing, play music, or participate in performances or amusements (gambling); eat modestly (before noon); do not sleep in luxurious beds; and do not touch gold, silver, or money.
Then my siblings and I were taught to practice the Six Perfections — generosity, morality, perseverance, effort, meditation, and wisdom — which represented the outward expression of the Buddha nature within us.
We were all given our very own Buddhist beads, which represented ourselves, to carry always. We heard stories of how they would protect us from harm. To help us on this journey, we were also taught to chant a mantra (Namu myoho renge kyo, “Glory to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Supreme Law”), every day, everywhere, in all situations, along with reading the Sutras (Buddha’s teachings). We were assured that this would also build merit for ourselves.
Superior, yet insecure
In my effort to grow in Buddhism, build my merit, and better my karma, I became more and more prideful as I discovered that I was doing more than others around me. I was confident that my next life would be better than all those around me. I felt superior, yet insecure. Peace was elusive. I worried … a lot. I still hurt people through my words and actions. The harder I tried, the less peace I had. Friends and family members continued to fight and feud. Gossip was rampant within the temple. Doubts began to creep in. What was the solution? I was taught that the root cause, my ego, had to die.
In the end, the Lotus flower will wilt, rot, and become part of the swamp from which it grew. The flower fades and dies. Ironically, that is an accurate picture of the goal of Buddhism, which is to eliminate the “self” or the ego. The idea of peace in Buddhism is to be one with the universe, but it also means your hopes, dreams, longings and desires have to be curtailed, even your desire for peace. The end goal is the extinguishing of self — who you are as a person. In that nirvanic state, you won’t feel anything. There will be no suffering because you will cease to be. Buddha called that peace.
In contrast, the Bible offers a different definition of peace. The Hebrew word shalom mean peace, but also conveys the idea of being complete, perfect, and full. It is putting the complex parts into their perfect place. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came to put us back into a right relationship with our Creator God. We as individuals are cleansed and made whole again through Jesus. That is true peace in the Biblical sense, the fulfillment of the longing of our souls — to be made right with our Creator God. It is not the absence of the ego. It is the full expression of the true self in the way it was intended.
How I found peace
It was my older brother who first became a Christian in our family. The more he shared his faith, the more upset I got. Yet, I could not deny the good changes that took place in his life. My questions changed from attack mode to sincerely desiring the truth. His love for me never changed. He was a safe person with whom I could struggle through my questions.
In reading the Bible, I was convicted of my sin. Realizing that I was a sinner made me think that I might need a Savior, just like my brother said. It was then that I began comparing Buddhism and Christianity, and I realized the major differences. With all the Buddhist rules and regulations, I knew I could never attain the goal. Jesus, knowing our condition, came down to live the life that we never could, and then to die for our sins. No more striving. Jesus called me to believe and to rest in him. I did just that.
There are Buddhists all over the world who have the same struggles and who are longing for inner peace. Striving in our own strength will never give that peace. As I know from experience, it is too exhausting. My good works were never enough.
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The Bible says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” The lotus flower might be a beautiful symbol, but it represents a belief system that does not offer peace. Throughout the world, SEND workers are bringing Jesus’ offer of peace to Buddhists. In the coming weeks, we will share their stories, answer some questions you might have about Buddhism, and offer prayer and other resources so that you, too, can be involved in helping Buddhists journey the path to peace.
- We’ve gathered resources about interacting with Buddhists and engaging them in spiritual conversation on our Path to Peace page.
- Intro to Buddhism: A three-part series covering basic Buddhist beliefs, symbols and traditions, and how to engage Buddhists in meaningful spiritual conversations.
- She became a Buddhist nun to find freedom. 20 years later, she still felt trapped: Desperate to escape the pain of her childhood, she joined the temple. Now she shares how that life also brought bondage.
- ‘Your God answered our prayer’: Surely he who parted the Red Sea could clear the fog away to delight a band of weary hikers and show his might.
- Don’t miss a story in the Path to Peace series! Sign up to be notified each time we post on this blog. (Just enter your email at the bottom of the page on mobile or in the upper right corner on your computer).