Could Buddhism be a True Religion That's Become Distorted?
Although up to this point we've examined Buddhism as superstitious and false, at the same time, we must say that it contains some positive moral principles. Buddhist scriptures warn people against stealing, encourages them to be helpful to one another and cleanse themselves of selfishness and worldly ambitions. All of this suggests that Buddhism possibly began as a religion founded on God's revelation, only to become corrupted over the course of time.
In the Qur'an, God tells us that to every nation, He sent messengers to deliver His warnings:
We have sent you [Muhammad] with the truth bringing good news and giving warning. There is no community to which a warner has not come. (Qur'an, 35: 24)
We sent a Messenger among every people saying: "Worship God and keep clear of all false gods." Among them were some whom God guided, but others received the misguidance they deserved… (Qur'an, 16: 36)
Elsewhere in the Qur'an, He affirms that, "Every nation has a Messenger" (10: 47) and "every nation [is] summoned to its Book" (45: 28). These verses show us that God could certainly have sent a messenger to the Hindus; and one of them could have been Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism resembles revealed religion in another one of its tenets: that throughout history, prophets have come to reveal the same truths to humanity, but after them, human followers have debased these religious truths. Indeed, after Gautama's death, his teaching may have lost its roots and become distorted in just this way, mixing with the religions and cultures of the countries to which it spread, and assimilating various local myths and superstitions. (But of course, only God knows the truth.)
In such case, doubtless the real biography of Siddhartha Gautama would be much different from the mythological stories about him that we know today. There exist conflicting versions of his life story—a clear sign that the reality may have been probably quite different from the "history" we are now familiar with. Some of the true moral principles that Buddhism promotes lead us to believe that it might have developed from an originally monotheistic religion. Western scholar J. M. Robertson explains the Buddhist belief of the "chain of prophets":
[Buddhism] did not claim to be a new teaching. The tradition holds that it had been promulgated many times before—that Gotama [sic] was only one of a long series of Buddhas who arise at intervals and who all teach the same doctrine. The names of twenty-four of such Buddhas who appeared before Gotama have been recorded . . . It was held that after the death of each Buddha, his religion flourishes for a time and then decays. After it is forgotten, a new Buddha emerges and preaches the lost Dhamma, or Truth.14
All of this suggests that Buddhism could be one of the perverse, distorted beliefs that came to degenerate in the wake of the prophets. On the other hand, Buddhism's set, conservative structure reminds one of the classic distortions that can occur during the degeneration of the true religion.
In the Qur'an, God says that Christians and Jews have fallen into the same trap and have smothered their religions with useless minutiae and prohibitions. For example, erroneous ideas in Buddhism about withdrawing from the world and subjecting one's self to pain also arose in Christianity as it degenerated through the years. God speaks of this error in the Qur'an (57: 27):
Then We sent Our Messengers following in their footsteps and sent Jesus son of Mary after them, giving him the Gospel. We put compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. They invented monasticism—We did not prescribe it for them—purely out of desire to gain the pleasure of God, but even so, they did not observe it as it should have been observed. To those of them who believed, We gave their reward, but many of them are deviators.
Buddhism may have been a true religion that was ruined after the development of a priesthood. It has certainly degenerated much more than Judaism or Christianity. However much these two religions have been distorted over the course of time, still they are devoted to God's revelations and found their faiths upon Him. Even if the essence of Buddhism actually comes from a true source, it has completely departed from that essence and become smothered in superstitious ritual, with only a few true moral principles left.
Buddhism resembles the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in another way: It, too, believes in the End Times and in one ultimate savior for humanity—Jews and Christians know him as the Messiah; and for Muslims, he is the Mahdi.
The End Times is the period immediately preceding the Last Day. Both the Qur'an and the sayings of the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) contain a number of indications that in the End Times, Islamic morality will spread throughout the whole world. The Qur'an says that Jesus (peace be upon him) did not die, that he was not killed but was raised to the presence of God while he was still alive, and that he will come to earth again. The Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him peace) also announced the good news that Jesus will be sent to the world again, and in those End Times while he is here, the world will be filled with peace, justice, well-being, and prosperity. The Prophet's sayings reveal that the Mahdi will assist Jesus in his blessed work. (For a more detailed account, see Harun Yahya's Jesus Will Return, Ta-Ha Publishers, London, 2001.)
In the Prophet's sayings, the End Times are divided into two distinct periods. In the first, God will be openly denied; the number of people living according to the values of religion will be few; the cost of living and distress from material want will be great. There will be famines. People will suffer from natural disasters; injustice will be widespread, wars and conflicts will increase, and pitilessness and cruelty will dominate over love, mercy and compassion. Afterwards, humanity will be saved from the godless and irreligious philosophies that are the real source of all their anguish and turn to the values of religion. As a result, conflict, injustice and cruelty will come to an end. Instead of anxiety and repression, humanity will live in comfort, peace, security and prosperity. The whole world will be filled with plenty and abundance.
In Islam, as well as in Judaism and Christianity, there is the belief in the Mahdi, the Messiah, and the End Times. The Bible—made up of the Old Testament (the Torah and other Jewish writings) and the New Testament (the four gospels and other books and letters)—offers several descriptions of the end times. The gospels especially deal with the coming of Jesus (peace be upon him) and show important parallels with what is written in the Qur'an and in the sayings of the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace).
Although the name of Jesus does not occur in the Old Testament, of course, the Hebrew Bible does foretell a Messiah as a savior from the lineage of David (peace be upon him). And in some places in the Old Testament there are mentions of what will happen at the Time of the End. The Messiah, whose coming is promised and about whose deeds are spoken of in the Old Testament, is—as in the Qur'an—Jesus. Apart from the title "Messiah," this person is called by other descriptions such as "king," "lord" and "most holy."15
The Old Testament speaks of the Messiah's coming, and much is said about the kingdom he will found on earth. Some of the essential things said about him are that he will gather the nations under his rule, that he is of the lineage of David (peace be upon him) and that he resembles his ancestor, David (who in his own time, established his dominion everywhere he went). Some of these relevant passages from the Old Testament are as follows:
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed. (1 Samuel 2: 10)
And in the days of these kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. (Daniel 2: 44)
Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench; he will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for his law . . . I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. (Isaiah 42: 1-7)
But with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his loins . . . (Isaiah 11: 4-5)
The New Testament gives much information about the Second Coming of Jesus to the world:
I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14: 2-3)
This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1: 11)
Therefore if they say to you, "Look, he is in the desert!' do not go out; or "Look, He is in the inner rooms!" do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24: 26-27)
Iurge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus. . . that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, The King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6: 13-16)
The kingdom that will come into being with the second coming of Jesus will be a period of justice, wealth and high morality:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5: 5)
In this manner, therefore, pray . . . "Your kingdom come . . . ." (Matthew 6: 9-10)
There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last. (Luke 13: 28-30)
As we mentioned earlier, Buddhism also foretells and expects a savior-messiah. Buddha said that 1000 years after him, the Metteya (or Maitreya) would come and bring divine mercy to the whole universe; and with his coming, religion would reach its completion. The following are some examples of this expectation from Buddhist writings from two different countries. First Burma:
Buddha said: "Our cycle is a happy one, three leaders have already lived . . . The Buddha supreme am I, but after me, Maitriya comes. While still this happy cycle lasts, before its tale of years shall lapse. This Buddha, called Metteya, shall be supreme chief of all Men."16
Now, from Sri Lanka:
I am not the first Buddha [awakened one] who has come upon the Earth, nor will I be the last. In due time another Buddha will rise in the world, a Holy One, a supreme enlightened one, endowed with auspicious wisdom embracing the Universe, an incomparable leader of men. . . He will reveal to you the same eternal truths, which I have taught you. He will establish his Law [religion] . . . He will proclaim a righteous life wholly perfect and pure, such as I now proclaim. His disciples will number many thousands, while mine number many hundreds. He will be known as Maitreya.17