As thousands of Tibetan Buddhists and admirers of the religion prepare to welcome the Dalai Lama this spring to the United States, a missionary group is setting out to educate Christians about the eastern religion and how to share Christianity with Buddhists.
“The Dalai Lama’s visit to the U.S. this spring is certain to heighten awareness about Buddhists,” noted David Housholder, a missionary and educator with Interserve USA. Housholder has lived in India, Thailand and Nepal for more than 20 years, working among Tibetan Buddhist people.
“It will be a perfect time to defend and share the Christian faith with recent immigrants, high school and college students strongly influenced by Buddhism, and everyday Americans who have woven the Eastern religion into their personal philosophy and world view,” he added.
According to Housholder, author of the new book Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World, the best way to evangelize a Tibetan Buddhists is to start off by being their friend.
“Really be a genuine friend; listen to their story and hear and understand what they mean when they use spiritual terms,” said the South Asia missionary. Housholder said that Tibetans have experienced a traumatic history with the Government of Tibet in exile and Tibetan refugees dispersed throughout the world.
He also recommended inviting Buddhist believers to Bible studies.
“One thing they respect is sacred books of other religions, which includes the Bible,” explained Housholder. “They often respond positively when you invite them to a study of the Bible.
“You should go not with the attitude of teaching them what you believe, but allow them to read and question and let the holy spirit cause them to fall in love with the Lord Jesus through the Scripture.”
However, it is difficult to convert a Tibetan Buddhist, according to Housholder. For Tibetans, their religion is inherently linked to their culture and identity so they are very reluctant to convert. In South Asia where Buddhism is often the dominant religion, villages have expelled whole families when only one member converted to Christianity.
Besides social pressure, another obstacle is that Tibetan Buddhists have a different understanding of spiritual terminology than Christians. Housholder said that Buddhists do not understand terms such as God, sin, new birth, salvation, heaven and hell the same way Christians understand them.
For Buddhists, there is no such thing as a soul, which Christians consider a person. Buddhists view the soul similar to a rainbow composed of many elements but not existing in a distinct form.
“The Buddhists have the concept of emptiness, there is no essential reality, whereas Christians believe there is something very concrete that God has created and a future that he will extend the ideal form of that creation,” explained Housholder.
Tibetan Buddhists contrast with Christians by focusing on how a person lives his life rather than what he believes. Consequentially, Buddhism is a ritualistic religion that some say is more of a lifestyle than a religion.
Housholder concluded that westerners have to be aware that though Buddhism is sometimes presented as a system of meditation to help one relax and feel fulfilled, Christians need to know the spiritual activity being promoted and be able to respond Biblically.
Interserve USA, a Christian professional mission organization, is focusing on educating Christians ahead of the Dalai Lama’s spring tour through its new book Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World and by hosting educational seminars for Christians in the location.