Amid century of change, Oakland’s Buddhist Church serves as point of continuity for Japanese-Americans

The Buddhist Church of Oakland's nokotsudo, a small room in the hondo (worship room) where urns of the deceased are kept.

The Buddhist Church of Oakland's nokotsudo, a small room in the hondo (worship room) where urns of the deceased are kept.

The Buddhist Church of Oakland (BCO) is one of the last remaining physical reminders of the Japanese-American community that thrived in Oakland’s Chinatown before World War II. Located at the corner of Jackson and 9th Streets, the church is part of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), a community that formed in the United States in the late 19th century.


















A woman and two children bow at the front of the hondo, the room of worship at the Buddhist Church of Oakland (BCO) before walking inside. Heat streams out of the room and into the hallway, a striking contrast from the autumn chill that fills the rest of the century-old building. A warm light exudes from lamps on the walls.

The onaijin (altar) stretches across the front of the room, engraved with intricate wooden carvings of birds and flowers, and plated by gold leaves. A tall red candle stands in a bronze holder on one of the altar’s tables, its flame stretching nearly half a foot high while small candles are encased by lamps hanging from the ceiling. Orange and yellow flowers fill a vase on the left side of the table. Behind them perfectly round tangerines and bright red apples are grouped on two golden shelves, offered in gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence.

A light scent of incense travels through the room.

Sachiko Matsui, 88, walks in and bows. She’s just under five feet tall and has short grey hair. Dressed in a grey coat and pants, she makes her way to the front of the room. She places incense in a deep round burner so that its lingering fragrance can clear her mind for the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings). She places her palms together and bows before the naijin, finds a seat on one of the cushioned wooden pews and greets other church members as they come into the room.

The gong-like sound of a bell called a Kansho reverberates throughout the hondo. The conversations in the room begin to trail off. After a few more strikes and silent pauses, the bell is hit rapidly. The chatter fades to a silence and the only sound left in the room is the lingering ring.

The bell stops.

Three ministers, all men, are dressed in long black robes. Around their necks, they each have a kesa, tightly folded cloth made from the robes that Buddhist monks traditionally wear. They sit in chairs on the sides of the altar and begin to chant. Their voices together create a drone that engulfs the room.

Matsui sits among the congregation and looks ahead at the altar. Born in Acampo, California, in San Joaquin County, she is one of the oldest members at the church and has attended it since she was 6 years old. Her life in the Bay Area tells the story of many members who have walked through the church’s doors for more than a hundred years in Oakland.

The church is presently located on the east end of Oakland’s Chinatown on Jackson and 9th Streets. The predominantly Japanese-American sangha (congregation) has experienced a history of relocation over the last century. In 1942, as World War II raged on, Japanese members were moved into internment camps. In 1950, the building of the Nimitz 880 Freeway necessitated picking up the entire church and moving it three blocks away. Today, the church sits on a block within the half-mile radius around what the city calls the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan. In 2006, BART and a consulting team unveiled their planning efforts around the Lake Merritt BART station, which are intended to improve neighborhood commerce, and increase station access for the large institutions in the area, including Laney College and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission building, as well as local residents and employees.

Although the plan is still only in its beginning stages, and will not impact the church’s physical property, it may significantly change the future landscape of the neighborhood, and church members want to be sure they have a voice in the planning stages. “I want to make sure that whatever happens, we’re an important player in the process,” BCO president Steve Terusaki said.


Matsui stands with the sangha and opens one of the three books on the back of the pew in front of her. Along with the other members of the church, she sings a hymn about Shinran Shonin, a monk who lived at the turn of the 13th century, who valued gratitude, humility and self-reflection.

‘Soyo kaze wa taru asa no mado

Hataraku te nohira awasetsu tsu Namuamidabutsu to naereba

Shinransama wa niko ya kani watashi no tonari ni irashsharu.’

‘As the gentle morning breezes waft through the window,

And I press my hands together to recite Namu-Amida-butsu,

Shinran-sama, with a smile, is present by my side.’

Founded in 1901 by a group of young first-generation immigrants who had moved from San Francisco to the East Bay, BCO is one of the first Japanese-American Buddhist temples in the country. Its overarching religious organization — Buddhist Churches of America, or BCA — was then called the Buddhist Mission of North America. This group is the American branch of the Jodo Shinshu Nishi Hongwanji faith based out of Kyoto, Japan. Nishi Hongwanji is a branch of the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism which is one of the largest faith groups in Japan. They follow the teaching of Amida Buddha and trust in his promise to save all beings. They also recite his name in Japanese, Namu Amida butsu, in gratitude for his compassion.

The first BCA temple in the United States was founded in 1889 in San Francisco. At the time, Buddhism was a foreign religion in the predominantly Christian United States. Half a century later, World War II brought heightened fear and skepticism toward people of Japanese descent.

There are cultural echoes of a Protestant church service at the Buddhist Church of Oakland, including the long wooden pews and the organ, having a service on Sunday, and the use of the word “church” rather than the typical reference to a “temple.” The architecture of the church itself, a two-story tan building across from the spacious Madison Square Park, combines a traditional red-tiled Japanese rooftop with sixteen Western-style white paneled windows that stretch across its front.

“Eighty some odd years I’ve been coming to this church,” Matsui said while sitting on a folding chair in front of the social hall after Dharma Family School (the Sunday service). Her family was part of the larger Japanese-American community who lived in Chinatown before World War II. Today, the church building is one of the last physical reminders of the Japanese-American community that thrived there. Prior to the war, what is now known as Chinatown was inhabited by a mix of Asian immigrants, including Japanese, Chinese and Filipinos.

During the church’s early days, the minister of the BCA San Francisco temple commuted by ferry to Oakland for services. When the 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco, many Japanese left the city and settled in Oakland and brought more members to the church. The Japan Town Atlas created in 2007 by historian Ben Pease, maps out Japanese-owned businesses in downtown Oakland in the 1940s that by then included bath houses, grocery stores, cafes and barber shops.

“There were many Japanese living throughout the area so we felt very relaxed and at home,” Matsui said. “There was a Japanese market down the street from this church on 6th Street, so we used to go there all the time.”

Matsui said she would often venture out to downtown Oakland when she was young, and that every Sunday after church, she and her friends enjoyed going to the movies. “There was the Roxy, there was the Orpheum, there was the Fox Oakland and the Paramount. We were teenagers — yeah, a group of us used to travel places together,” she said. “My parents were always at the afternoon service here, so us kids, we were free,” she said, her voice trailing off to a subtle laugh.

But soon after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Matsui’s family were forced to leave the neighborhood under President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. They had been living in what became known as a “war zone,” or an area where the U.S. military forbade access to people of Japanese ancestry, as well as to other “enemy aliens” including German- or Italian-Americans. According to Matsui, the “war zone” near Oakland’s Chinatown ran from 7th Street down to the waterfront.

Matsui’s family lived in West Oakland for a month until they moved to California’s Central Valley to stay with her father’s friend. They lived there for half a year until 1942. When Matsui was 20 years old, she and her family were evacuated with more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans to internment camps under the heightened phase of the executive order. Across the West Coast, people of Japanese descent were forced to leave their homes, jobs, schools, farms and businesses and relocate to detention centers. Matsui’s family went to Camp Three, of one of the largest centers in Poston, Arizona.

During internment, the Buddhist Church of Oakland was boarded up and served as a storage place for members’ belongings. Most of the sangha’s members were sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno before moving to the internment camp in Topaz, Utah.

According to the BCA 75th anniversary book, church leaders in the camps officially changed their organization’s name from Buddhist Mission of North America to Buddhist Churches of America to avoid further discrimination.

John Minamoto is a 65-year-old sansei (third-generation Japanese-American) and longtime church member who was born at the internment camp in Topaz. Retired from working at the Chapel of the Chimes on Piedmont Avenue, throughout his career he was able to serve the Japanese and Chinese community in Oakland by performing traditional funeral and memorial services. He now spends a lot of his time helping out around the church. He has broad shoulders, graying black hair, and wears a silver ring embedded with natural cut blue stones on each of his hands. Although he was still an infant when his family left the camps, he was raised in its aftermath by a Nisei (second-generation) community that avoided talking about internment experiences.

“Niseis never talked about ‘the camp,’” Minamoto said, sitting in the small library of the church he’s known his whole life. “But their introductions were interesting because it would be, ‘You’re Yamamoto from where? What camp were you in? Oh, we were over in Manzanar. Oh, you were over in the L.A. area, the Fresno area.’ That was the extent of the conversation,” said Minamoto.

The internment camps not only had a significant impact on the Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated, but also on the communities that they had left behind. Many did not move back to their neighborhoods because they no longer had a home or a business to return to. Most did not return to Oakland’s Chinatown.

“When we returned from the war,” Matsui said, “There was no place to go.” She said that after the war she and her husband, whom she met in the camp, had to apply for a federal housing program for internees, by which they found an apartment near the naval air station in Alameda.

Now nearly all the members of BCO live outside of Oakland in other East Bay cities. But many return for Sunday services at the church they grew up in, a space where they can share Japanese and Buddhist traditions with their children. It’s also the place where their ancestors’ urns are kept.

“Well when I come to church I feel relaxed, but the area I don’t know,” Matsui said. “I just don’t know the area anymore. I think it’s changed a lot.”


BCO’s sangha was not only uprooted by the war, but also by infrastructure development in the area. When the Nimitz Freeway was built in 1950, the church was condemned by the State of California on the grounds of eminent domain and had to move to a new location. Ultimately, they purchased a lot between 8th and 9th Streets. But instead of constructing an entirely new church, the members decided to cut the original building in half and move it in increments to the new space.

“I don’t know how they did that,” Matsui said, with a look of amazement on her face, “They just rose it.” She explained that nearly every room in the church is in the same place as before. She then looked around and pointed out the few changes that had been made in the hallway she was sitting in, like the bathroom installed in front of her and the office down the hall that had once before been the minister’s parlor.

Today, the church is just one block away from the Lake Merritt BART Station that was built in 1972. It stands in the middle of what may become the Lake Merritt BART Area Plan that — if it proceeds — will directly affect the three blocks closest to it that run between Fallon and Jackson Streets.

The 2006 Lake Merritt BART report suggested the project might add new buildings, parking lots and businesses to the area. But BART has not confirmed it will move forward on the project. BART Chief Spokesperson Linton Johnson says they do not have further details except that they are at the preliminary stages of the planning process.

Although it won’t directly affect the BCO’s property that takes up most of the 800 block of Jackson Street, the church has a 108-year history in the community and BCO President Steve Terusaki said his congregation wants to have a say in decisions made in the neighborhood.

“We’re interested in knowing and helping to influence what may happen to Madison Square Park,” Terusaki said on behalf of the church. The park that sits directly across the street was dedicated by the church’s former minister Zuikei Taniguchi in 1973. It was intended to be used for BCO’s annual Obon Festival that honors ancestral spirits and celebrates the Japanese-American community, one of the largest public events that they host each year. But the church stopped using it for their festival just a few years after it was developed because the plaza was too small for their participants, and because of increasing trash and homelessness in the park.

The surrounding community also stopped actively using the park, although that has begun to change in recent years. Since BART began tearing down their headquarters on Madison Street, tai chi groups that used to meet on the former BART plaza have begun to gather every morning at Madison Square Park. On a given morning, around 100 people can be found doing tai chi and other exercises to music emanating from a sound system.

According to The Lake Merritt BART Station Final Summary Report from 2006, Madison Square Park “was initially celebrated for its unique design features.” It has benches, stretches of green grass on the park’s rim, a basketball hoop and a dragon-shaped play structure for children. The Chinatown Coalition–made up of Chinatown community advocacy groups, residents, businesses, and commerce supporters–is addressing the potential project’s impact on their neighborhood. Its members agree that the park needs work.

“We consider that area [around Lake Merritt BART Station] a suburban part of Chinatown because most of it right now is pretty much residential. There’s a park over there and the last few years small businesses have been going toward that direction,” said Jenny Ong, executive director of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Chinatown Coalition. “I think [Madison Square Park] could use a lot more improvement,” she said.


BCO has existed throughout the last century as a spiritual place for worship, but also an important Japanese cultural and community center during a time when Japanese-Americans faced great discrimination. The Issei (first generation) intended for it to be a place to pass Japanese traditions down to new generations.

Matsui and her husband had two children and made sure they attended services and the Japanese language classes that were once offered at BCO on Saturdays. John Minamoto was from one of the few Japanese-American families that lived in Chinatown in the 1950s; he also attended Japanese language classes and watched samurai movies on a big screen in the church’s social hall. His two daughters, now in their twenties, spent weekends throughout their youth playing on the church’s thriving basketball team that competes in a Bay Area league. “There’s this element of community and an element of spiritual practice. The athletic practices, that’s all part of it. All part of the deal,” said Minamoto, adding that the church has acted as a safe haven for Japanese-Americans, a place to socialize, and a space for marriages and funeral services.

Today, BCO has a relatively young minister, Reverend Harry Bridge, 39, who began working at the church last year. He has a responsibility to serve a church with a wide-ranging age spectrum — from the elderly community, many of whom were the first children of the church, to the emerging youth. A biracial Japanese and Caucasian minister who speaks English and Japanese, Bridge is using his background and ministerial experience to address the congregation’s changing demographics, including the increasing number of interracial families and an emerging fifth-generation of Japanese-Americans.

“The old model was passing [church practices] on to the next generation. Niseis pass it on to the Sansei,” said Bridge. “The question for not only Oakland, but for the Buddhist Churches of America in general, is what’s the next generation going to be like? Just Japanese or a shift to a more diverse membership?”

Bridge said that there are more interracial families attending BCA churches in the East Bay because one parent maintains family or ethnic ties, but that there are not many members who come who are not linked in some way by family or Japanese heritage. “How much is it going to remain family-oriented Buddhism, meaning families that have been there for generations?” Bridge asked. “We are trying to make it available for everyone.”

Bridge and his colleagues want to reach out to the next generation of Buddhists who no longer depend so strongly on the church’s physical community as the issei once did. He has started a podcast on Buddhism with Dr. Scott Mitchell of the Institute for Buddhist Studies. The podcast is called the DharmaRealm and gets over 500 hits per episode, a number that initially amazed Bridge since on any given Sunday at church his talks reach around 100 people. The BCA is also extending beyond individual church communities via social networking sites frequented by the church’s younger members, and through the building of the Jodo Shinshu Center that opened in 2006 and offers both on-campus programs and Web-based correspondence classes.

Back in the hondo, BCO continues with many of the same rituals they’ve practiced for more than a century. The candlelight on the altar flickers and reflects off the nearby white post. The door to the small room where ancestral urns are kept in niches, enclosed shelves, is open. There are small bouquets of flowers that sit upright in front of each memorial niche. A gatha (song) called “Farewell” is sung about saying goodbye to loved ones and wishing them well until they see them again.

At the end of the song, a few elderly women gently place their prayer books to their foreheads as a sign of respect. Teenagers fill the first two pews in the room. They’re part of the BCA high school program called the Junior Youth Buddhist Association and make up the future of the church. They walk to the center of the room in their fashionable and brightly colorful attire, and form a line down the front of the aisle as other members stand behind them. One by one, they pinch the ground incense from a small box and sprinkle it into the incense holder, bowing one last time before leaving the service.

Audio courtesy of Reverend Harry Bridge

Archival photos courtesy of Buddhist Church of Oakland


  1. Lived in Oakland for several years, and John Minamoto was a very good friend during our high school years. I was even employed by his parents at Tosh and Dick’s Home Furnishings on Franklin Street. Please give him my regards, been a long time. I miss the annual bazaars.

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    Many specific prophecies about Jesus have been reviewed. We know that the Old Testament manuscripts were made before the time of Jesus. Likewise the New Testament manuscripts, widely circulated during the time of Jesus, provide evidence that the fulfillment of prophecies was accurate.

    So the essential question is, what does this mean? Are the prophecies statistically reliable enough to draw conclusions about Jesus and his claims? To answer these questions, let’s start with an estimate of only 30 of the prophecies about Jesus.

    Messianic Prophecy A “Guesstimate” of Odds

    1. Shem an ancestor (Genesis 9-10) 1/3
    2. Abraham an ancestor (Genesis 22:18) 1/1000
    3. Isaac an ancestor (Genesis 26:4) 1/10,000
    4. Jacob an ancestor (Genesis 28:14) 1/100,000
    5. Judah an ancestor (Genesis 49:10) 1/1,000,000
    6. Jesse an ancestor (Isaiah 11:1-5) 1/10,000,000
    7. King David an ancestor (2 Samuel 7:11-16) 1/100,000,000
    8. Bethlehem Ephrathah as birthplace (Micah 5:2) 1/100,000
    9. Star connected with birth (Numbers 24:17) 1/100,000
    10. Called “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14) 1/100,000
    11. Calming the sea (Psalm 107:29) 1/10,000,000
    12. “Special” miracles (Isaiah 35:4-6) 1/100,000,000
    13. Names given (Isaiah 9:6) 1/10,000
    14. Use of parable (Psalm 78:2) 1/10
    15. Ultimate king over all (Isaiah 45:23; Psalm 22) 1/10
    16. Sin offering and Passover Lamb (Isaiah 53) 1/100
    17. Will die with “wicked men” (Isaiah 53:3-9) 1/10
    18. Will be buried with a rich man (Isaiah 53:3-9) 1/10
    19. Timing of entry into Jerusalem (Daniel 9:20-27) 1/10,000,000
    20. Entering Jerusalem as a king on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9) 1/100
    21. Betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12-13) 1/1000
    22. Rejection by Israel; will say nothing at his trial (Isaiah 8:10; 53) 1/10,000
    23. Hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22) 1/10,000
    24. Identifying the place of crucifixion (Genesis 22) 1/1,000,000
    25. Will thirst while being put to death (Psalm 69:20-22) 1/10
    26. No bones broken (Psalm 22) 1/10
    27. Identification of words at the beginning and end of
    execution (Psalm 22) 1/1000
    28. Lots cast for clothing (Psalm 22) 1/1000
    29. Will be given gall and wine (Psalm 69:20-22) 1/10
    30. Will be “pierced” (Isaiah 3:5; Zechariah 12:10) 1/100

    The cumulative probability of all these prophecies randomly coming true in one person would be 1 chance in 10110. This would be like winning about 16 lotteries in a row. Even if a skeptic were to substantially reduce some of the above estimates, the result would still be deemed impossible. For example, let’s very conservatively assume the above estimates are off by a factor of a trillion trillion! This would still result in the “impossible odds” of all prophecies coming true in one man, Jesus, of one chance in 1086 ! How remote are these odds? They would still be like taking all of the matter in the entire universe (that is, one billion
    billion stars and solar systems) and breaking it all down into subatomic particles, and randomly selecting
    one marked electron! Truly the prophecies made about Jesus in the Old Testament alone verify his divinity
    because they verify the Bible’s claims about him, and his claims about himself.

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    Prophecies Made by Jesus Himself

    Old Testament prophecies provide powerful evidence about Jesus. However, there is also evidence that Jesus himself is a divine prophet. Although he prophesied many things, by far the most significant were his multiple prophecies that he would be betrayed, crucified, and on the third rise from the dead:

    Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them,
    “we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and
    the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the
    gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
    (Matthew 20:17-19).

    Jesus prophesied his death and resurrection numerous times, in all four Gospels:
    • Matthew 12:40;16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 26:61; 27:40; 27:63
    • Mark 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34; 14:58; 14:58; 15:29-30
    • Luke 9:21-22,44-45; 18:31-34
    • John 2:13-22; 3:14-16; 12:32-34

    If there was ever an unusual and amazing prophecy, it would be one with the specific details of the prophesier’s death, and far more, that he would rise from the dead in three day! Out of all kinds of prophecy, this one is phenomenal and would be beyond any odds imaginable!

    So central was this prophecy to Jesus’ life that he stated it many times; it was recorded in the Gospel accounts in 18 places! It is a prediction that only an all-knowing God could make and fulfill.

    In addition to this, Jesus also prophesied specifically about other things as well:
    • One of his disciples would betray him (Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:17-21; Luke 22:21-22)
    • His disciples would desert him (Matthew 26:30-31; Mark 14:26-27).
    • Peter would disown him three times (Matthew 26:33-34; Mark 14:29-30; Luke 22:31-34).
    • He would meet the disciples in Galilee after he had risen (Mark 14:28).

    Other People Believed That Jesus Was God

    An obvious question is, with all the prophetic evidence, did the Jews of the day, who certainly would be aware of the prophecies in the Tanakh, think that Jesus was God? In fact, the Jews in Jerusalem were very rapidly accepting reported that the number who immediately believed in the resurrection (presumably the eyewitnesses) was at least 120 (Acts 1:15) before the Feast of Pentecost, which was 50 days after the resurrection. (It could have been more since this verse refers only to believers present at that setting.) When Peter spoke on the Day of Pentecost, immediately 3000 men were added to the group of believers (Acts 2:41). Why was Peter’s message so compelling? Because it was based on the prophecies the Jews knew and the events they had witnessed or had heard about. The Bible further reports that the number increased daily (2:47).

    One of the most striking indications of the early belief that Jesus was God in the Gospel of John. John himself was an eyewitness to all the events of Jesus’ life, and his account was both written and circulated during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with
    God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has
    been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness,
    but the darkness has not understood it.

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    There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. [This is speaking of John the Bap-
    tist.] He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might
    believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that
    gives light to every man was coming into the world.

    He was in the world, and through the world was made through him, the world did not recognize
    him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received
    him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born
    not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

    The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the
    One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-14).

    John’s words clearly show that he believed that Jesus was God. And others who were close to him also believed that he was God.

    • Peter worshiped him (Luke 5:8). A Jew would worship no one other than God.
    • Likewise, Thomas worshiped him (John 20:28).
    • Peter, James and John witnessed and reported the “transfiguration” (Matthew 17), a visible demonstration that Jesus Possessed the same glory as God the Father.
    • Elizabeth, Jesus’ relative, believed that he was God (Luke 1:41-55).
    • Simeon, a devout Jewish prophet, believed that Jesus was God (Luke 2:25-35).
    • Anna, a prophetess, believed he was God (Luke 2:36-38).
    • Even Jesus’ half brothers James and Jude eventually believed that Jesus was God (see the books of James and Jude).
    • A Roman centurion and others who were at the crucifixion believed Jesus to be God:

    At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth
    shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people
    who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrec-
    tion they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

    When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and
    all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
    (Matthew 27:51-54).

    The high priest and others at Jesus’ trial believed that Jesus was claiming to be God incarnate:

    The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God. Tell us if you are
    the Christ, the Son of God.”
    “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son
    of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then
    the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more
    witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy” (Matthew 26:63-65).

    Not only did the high priest officially declare that Jesus had blasphemed, but his tearing of clothes was a
    sign of mourning and revulsion over blasphemy.
    Other Holy Books Fail the Prophecy Test

    Given that prophecy is a true test of something from God it is not surprising that very few holy books attempt any prophecy. After all, since only God can prophesy, and we would expect that most supposed
    “holy books” are not really from God, it would be difficult to concoct testable prophecy that would be
    verifiable (like the Bible).

    Considering other well-known religions, we find the following:

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    Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucius, Shinto). These religions are essentially “mystical,
    philosophical” religions and therefore tend not to use or depend on prophecy.

    Islam (and the Qur’an). Although Islam is history-based and agrees with many of the same historical figures mentioned in the Bible (Abraham, Ishmael, Jesus, Mary, and so on), it cannot prove its inspiration from God using prophecy. The Qur’an was written based on dictation by Muhammad (570-632 A.D.).

    Sura 9:14; Sura 28:85; Sura 48:16-21,27,28; Sura 54:44-48; and Sura 56:1-56 all deal with end time prophecy that was excluded). Sura 5:70; 15:9; 41:42; and 15:96 are not prophecies, but generalities and warnings. Sura 24:55 is a promise of blessing of land and wealth to believers is Islam. However it does not specify what land, as in the case of Israel. Sura 54:44-48 prophesies military action against enemies of the religion, but this doesn’t say much, as it is what people tend to do anyway. And Sura 110:1-2 promises help from Allah (Islam’s God) in time of war. Again, this isn’t specific, for instance, a claim to victory in a specific battle or war.

    Sura 30:2-4 is the only potential historical prophecy, although it has problems. It essentially says that, “The Roman Empire has been defeated in a land close by; but they, (even) after (this) defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious with a few years. With Allah is the Decision, in the past and in the Future: on that Day shall the Believers rejoice.” In history, the Persians were victorious over the Eastern Roman Empire in A.D. 615,
    and then the Romans returned to defeat the Persians 13 years later in 628. According to Muhammad, “a few” years in this prophecy was meant to mean 3 to 9 years, with 13 falling outside of this range. Even so,
    the prophecy would not be particularly surprising since there was an ongoing war in this region, and it was
    not uncommon for territory to be recaptured.

    Mormons (the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants). The Book of Mormon was actually written in the early 1800s, supposedly translated from golden plates written before the time of Jesus (unfortunately,
    these valuable plates have never been available for verification). Even so, giving the plates the benefit of
    the doubt, the Book of Mormon contains two prophecies about Jesus, both of which are false:

    And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she
    being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the
    power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yes even the Son of God (Alma 7:10, Book of

    Of course Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Some may claim that Bethlehem is a suburb of
    Jerusalem; however, when transportation was by foot, a town an hour and a half away would not be considered a suburb. Even the Book Mormon indicates it is a separate city (1 Nephi 1:4). Here’s
    another example:

    But behold, thus saith the Lord God: “When the day cometh that they (the Jews) shall believe
    in me, that I am Christ, then have I covenanted with their fathers that they shall be restored in
    the flesh, upon the earth unto the lands of their inheritance” (2 Nephi 10:7, Book of Mormon).

    Of course the Jews did return to the land in 1948 despite not yet “believing” in Jesus.
    The Mormon book of Doctrine and Covenants contains several prophetic errors (with none right, in fact)
    regarding a Temple that was to be built in western Missouri within a generation of Joseph Smith’s prediction in the early 1800s: 1) A temple was to be built at a consecrated site in Jackson County, Missouri (“Zion”), within a generation of 1832 (Doctrines and Covenants 84:5,31). 2) The city (“Zion”) was
    “never to be moved” out of that place (98:19; 101:17-21). Over 150 years have passed with no temple built there.

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses (The Watchtower, Studies in Scripture). This non-Christian group has repeatedly failed in attempts to prophesy the end of time.

    • (2:101) – 1914 to be the year of the “battle” of the great day of God Almighty (Revelation 16:14)
    • (1914 edition) – “end of the world” date changed to 1915
    • (7:62) – date changed to 1918
    • (7:542) – date changed to 1920
    • (Miscellaneous other publications) – date of the end of the world repeatedly changed to 1925, 1942,
    1975, 1980…

    With continuing research, one would find that there is no religion, person, or holy book that contains prophecy of any substance whatsoever, and certainly nothing close to the prophecy in the Bible. This would lead one to carefully heed the words of the Bible as truth.

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    22 Important Questions for the Buddhistic Worldview

    Philosophical Questions
    Let’s begin with some questions springing from basic philosophical concerns:

    1. If Buddhists themselves cannot agree on which scriptural writings or traditions for practice are actually true statements from Buddha, how can Buddhism as a system claim any truth?

    Even within Buddhism, there are contradictory claims related to the validity of a variety of late appearing religious texts, all of which claim to accurately represent the words of Buddha. None of these texts stands unchallenged as having come from the time in which Buddha lived. Many have very questionable origins. How are we to know which are authoritative? Many scholars believe it is impossible to say with confidence, “This is what Gautama Buddha said.” How can anyone make a claim for the truth without first establishing the foundation for Buddhistic truth?

    2. If life is just suffering, as Buddhism claims, why is it some of us don’t see it this way? Why do some of us see life as wonderful rather than filled with suffering?

    Buddha’s observations about the world seem to come from his direct experience; the entire religious system is built on the notion life is filled with suffering with no positive value on the individual. But what if the individual doesn’t see the world in this way? What if the individual, even though he or she experiences hardship, understands the value of this experience and does not see it as suffering?

    3. If our present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, what is the real present remedy for suffering in this life?
    Can all suffering be alleviated in this life through our efforts with the Eight Fold Path? Why engage in any effort related to the Eight Fold Path, if the only true benefits are to be realized in the next life?

    4. Who is the Karma Judge?

    If, as Buddhism teaches, there is no personal God interacting with His creation, who determines whether or not a person has done something to merit either “good” or “bad” Karma? If this decision is made at the end of one’s life, who is actually making the decision? How can an impersonal force “decide” anything? Who is the final judge of Karma, and mustn’t this judge by necessity be a personal being (capable of making a decision)?

    5. If achieving “nirvana” means that we will be liberated from the illusion of consciousness, how then will we know (be conscious of) our achieving this “nirvana”? How can we be “conscious” of this, if “consciousness” will no longer exist?

    Our existence outside the material, physical world, presumes a conscious existence in which we can “realize” or enlightened condition. How can we be conscious of this if consciousness will no longer exist?

    6. If there is no transcendent “self” or “soul”, how do we transcend this life in order for reincarnation to be possible?

    If reincarnation is true, it makes sense something of our true identity would move from one life to the next. What is this “something” if not a soul? Who (or what) moves on from this life to the next?

    7. What real evidence do we have that reincarnation is true?

    Why is there not consistent evidence for the notion of reincarnation? On what evidence is this idea based, aside from the writings of Buddha? While we have good philosophical reasons to believe in the existence of the soul, what philosophical reasoning brings us to the conclusion that reincarnation is true?

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    8. If all of us are re-incarnations of prior human beings, how do we account for the growing population? Where do “new” humans come from?

    Reincarnation implies all of us were here before, in a prior life. But if humans can only be reincarnated from prior humans, how is it the global population is growing? If humans can be reincarnated from other animals, does this mean the total animal population on earth has always been constant?

    9. If “buddhas” and “boddisatvas” exist to help others in achieving “nirvana” what is the true value of “self-effort”?

    If, as a Buddhist, I rely on the help of a “buddha” or “boddisatva” how can my assisted work be accredited to me as Karma (or even as true obedience to the Eight Fold Path)? Doesn’t assistance negate the self-effort required to establish Karma in the first place?

    10. If “buddha-hood” is actually achievable in this life, how are we to know we are talking to a true “buddha” or “boddisatva”?

    If there are those in our midst who have actually achieved this level of enlightenment, how are we to identify them? Why should we trust their own proclamations of “buddha-hood”? How will we recognize them or even distinguish them from non-Buddhist people who display all the attributes consistent with “buddha-hood”?

    11. If a person’s present suffering is the result of bad karma from a prior life, why should we try to do anything to change their present condition? Aren’t they simply getting what they deserve?

    Why help those who are simply paying the price for an evil prior life? Passivity and apathy seem to be a common problem within Buddhism, largely in response to a concept known as “samsara”. Take a look at this article from an online Burmese magazine:

    “This passivity is largely due to the promotion of samsara. Taken from the Pali word sam (succession) sara (going, wandering), it refers to the cycle of human existence, or the cycle of life and death. Samsara poses that people are mere guests in this life, and life is just a transit point. Samsara is the flux of mind and body, of mental and physical phenomena. Humans are travelers in the realm of samsara, where nothing holds permanent. Moments of sadness and misfortune, as well as glory and happiness, are accepted as part of the natural ups and downs of life. Burma’s political and religious elite has affirmed samsara as the only indisputable Buddhist doctrine, and the public has meekly signed on. Because so many Burmese Buddhists tend to see themselves against the backdrop of samsara, it has wide reach over existing social structures, even though Burma is not religiously homogenous. Every experience, even a bad one, is seen as part of life and the impermanent nature of the world. Rather than being angered or aggrieved by unfortunate experiences, Burmese Buddhism preaches that it is best to let them go.”(by Min Zin, Engaging Buddhism for Social Change, March, 2003

    12. If our present existence is the result of something we could not control (from a prior life), what hope can we have related to our present situation in this life?

    How do we hold on to hope for this life if our situation was predetermined for us and our present behaviors have more impact on the next life than on the present one? Doesn’t this view of our present life lead to an inevitable hopelessness? As it turns out, heavily Buddhist countries like Japan, Korea, and Sri Lanka have some of the highest suicide rates (from young to old). The top twenty most suicidal countries are almost all countries with strong Buddhist or Communist (atheist) histories.

    Biblical Issues
    Now let’s examine some questions related to topics directly addressed in the Bible. Buddhism makes a number of claims about the way in which the world operates. Let’s compare these ideas directly to the claims of Christianity:

    1. You don’t believe in the existence of a personal God. As a Christian I do believe that God exists, and I believe Him to be a personal creator:
    Genesis 1:1
    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

    Romans 1:19-20
    because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

    Psalm 14:1

    The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”

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    2. You don’t seem to have an answer for the origin of the universe or for us as human beings. As a Christian, I believe the universe (and all of us) were created by God and that we are therefore real:

    Acts 17:24-31
    The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

    Isaiah 45:18
    For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), “I am the LORD, and there is none else.”
    3. You seem to deny the reality of our material existence and you also deny the existence of the soul and spirit. As a Christian, I believe humans are real in body, soul and spirit:

    Genesis 2:7
    Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

    1 Thessalonians 5:23
    Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Zechariah 12:1
    The burden of the word of the LORD concerning Israel. Thus declares the LORD who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him

    4. You seem to devalue our present life as fleeting and illusionary. As a Christian, I believe this physical life may be temporary, but it is valuable and worth living:

    Isaiah 40:6
    A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.

    Isaiah 40:21
    Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

    1 Peter 1:22-2:3
    Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

    And this is the word which was preached to you.

    5. You believe the goal of good living is all about the personal reward of enlightenment. As a Christian, I believe the goal of good living is to honor God and demonstrate His worth so others would desire to know Him:

    Ephesians 2:10
    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

    1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
    …just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

    Colossians 1:9-10
    For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God

    6. You believe suffering is the result of desire (and attachment) and may even be the result of “bad Karma”. As a Christian, I believe suffering is the result of sin, our intentional rebellion against God. I believe sin is not an abstract notion or a relative concept. It is clearly defined:

    2 Chronicles 6:36
    “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near

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    Romans 3:23
    for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

    Romans 5:12
    Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

    Psalm 51:3
    For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

    John 8:34
    Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”

    Galatians 6:7-8
    Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

    Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death

    Isaiah 3:11
    Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, For what he deserves will be done to him.

    Proverbs 21:4
    Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.

    7. You believe suffering is something we should want to eliminate. As a Christian, I also want to eliminate sin, but I also see the positive value in suffering; it can teach, it can discipline, it can provide a contrast to joy. As a Christian, I know we can even find joy in the midst of suffering:

    Romans 5:3
    And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance

    James 1:2-4
    Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

    Hebrews 12:11
    All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

    Psalm 30:5
    For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

    2 Corinthians 8:2
    that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.

    1 Peter 4:13
    but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

    1 Thessalonians 3:7-9
    for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account

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    8. You believe we cease to exist after death. As a Christian, I believe we do not cease to exist after our physical death, but will instead live on to be judged for our actions:

    Revelation 20:12-13
    And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.

    John 5:28-29
    “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

    Hebrews 9:27
    And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment

    9. You believe humans can achieve perfection and reach “nirvana”. As a Christian, I believe we can never achieve perfection in this life, freedom from suffering, or any permanent more noble existence by self-effort:

    John 3:3
    Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    Romans 3:10-12
    as it is written,


    Galatians 2:16
    nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

    Titus 3:5
    He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit

    10. You believe we can escape the suffering of this world and the limits of our material existence by observing and practicing a set of practices. As a Christian, I know tat the way of “escape” is only through faith in Jesus Christ as we are spiritually reborn with God’s life through the Holy Spirit:

    John 3:3
    Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    Galatians 2:20
    “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

    Ephesians 2:1-9
    And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    Philippians 3:9
    and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith

    2 Peter 1:2-4
    Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

    So, Could This Be True?
    Every worldview has to be both internally and externally consistent. The challenge for Buddhism is to account for a system of judgment and reward (Karma) without a personal judge who has the ability to decide whether an individual has achieved something noble or committed something despicable. The very judge required by a Karma system is, in fact, lacking from Buddhism altogether. In addition, there are many open philosophical questions related to the first question of all worldviews (“How did we get here?”), and the system seems to lead (in many formations) to a sense of despair and hopelessness. In addition to philosophical difficulties, Christians must recognize that Buddhism is incompatible with the Christian worldview (for all the reasons we’ve already discussed). As our culture embraces pluralism and tries to find similarities between every view of the world, we must be clear about the concepts and claims defining us and ask the tough questions differentiating Christianity from Buddhism.

    J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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