The trials of being both a Buddhist and a PK.

Hello everyone, my name is Keith and I’m a Buddhist. I am also a pastor’s kid (PK). With the impending visit of my parents, I’m hoping that my father (a retired pastor) and I can have a civil conversation about the fact that I have decided to follow a different spiritual path than he has.

There are some irreconcilable differences between Buddhism and Christianity.

  • Free will vs. predestination.
  • Karma vs. Grace
  • Heaven vs. Nirvana
  • An eternal soul vs. no-self
  • An omniscient, omnipresent God vs various devas/gods.

Being brought up in one tradition, and immersing myself in another has made it difficult for me to definitively say which side of each of the above differences I side with. One of the core ideas of Buddhism is to see for oneself things as they really are. There have been several times in my life that I’ve experienced things that I can not explain with my rational mind. Were these things a result of the presence of a higher power, or were they due to experiencing the true nature of a moment, being beyond words and concepts? Honestly, I don’t know.

In preparation for said civil conversation, I’ll put my thoughts down for each of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism listed above.

Free will vs. predestination

As Buddhist practitioner B. Allen Wallace said “although we may be empty of an autonomous self, we function in the phenomenal world as autonomous beings. And as long as that is so, we are responsible for what we do.” This conclusion softens the strict notion of karma, but also flies in the face of “God has a plan for each of us.” I lean towards the free will side of this one.

Karma vs. Grace

In the Christian tradition grace is “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it.“[1] Karma on the other hand is “the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.” As much as I like love and mercy, I’ve seen time and time again in my life that good returns to people who do good as negative consequences ensue for those who act in unwholesome ways.  Once again, I’ll stand with the Buddha on this one.

Heaven vs.  Nirvania

According to Buddhist belief, Nirvana “is the ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism and marks the release from rebirths in saṃsāra.“[2] All those who are not fully enlightened will continue to be reborn (according to their karma) and inevitably experience suffering at some point. Heaven on the other hand is the place you go when you die if you accept Jesus as your savior. The pragmatic part of me says that it’s a lot less work to accept Jesus and live an ethical life from there on out than it is to spend lifetimes developing the mind and spirit with the goal of enlightenment. Also, spending eternity in a happy place, floating on clouds and playing a harp sounds more appealing than total cessation. I’m going to have to side with Jesus on this one.

An eternal soul vs. no-self

The best quote I’ve found relating to the Buddhist side of this pairing is as follows: “The Buddha regarded soul-speculation as useless and illusory. He once said, ‘Only through ignorance and delusion do men indulge in the dream that their souls are separate and self-existing entities. Their heart still clings to Self. They are anxious about heaven and they seek the pleasure of Self in heaven. Thus they cannot see the bliss of righteousness and the immortality of truth.’ Selfish ideas appear in man’s mind due to his conception of Self and craving for existence.”[3] On the other hand, I think this quote pretty much sums up the Christian view of things:

“Although mankind is physical, subject to death, the good news is that God promises a resurrection to eternal life to everyone who repents, worships God and accepts Jesus as the Messiah and His sacrifice. The first resurrection to immortality will take place when Christ returns to establish God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Later will come another resurrection—to physical life—for people who had never had a relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ. They, too, will gain the opportunity for immortality. The true final answer is not death but resurrection. “[4]

My stance on this one is wait-and-see. If through meditation and and living ethically (from a Buddhist perspective) I am someday able to grasp full the concept of no-self, I’ll take the side of the Buddha. Otherwise, if after meditating and living ethically (from a Christian perspecive), I end up in heaven, I’ll side with Christ.

An omniscient, omnipresent God vs. various devas/gods

I have no doubt in my mind that a higher power exists. However, I believe that the human mind, as radiant it can possibly become, just doesn’t have the capacity to understand the fullness of the divine.  For this one, I will not take a side.


I don’t know how my cursory preparation for the discussion will fare against my father’s M.Div. and 22 years of experience as a pastor, but I have a feeling I won’t convert him. :-) That’s ok, since I’m not really trying to convert anyone. If we can get through our conversation without getting too fired up, and with a mutual respect of each others beliefs, I will consider it a success.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>