Years ago, a group of folks in a congregation I served mailed me eight questions and asked for my written answers. They were concerned about my theology as it related to issues of abortion, homosexuality, the reality of hell, the authority of Scripture, the nature of salvation, and whether people of other religions will be in heaven.
These folks, twenty in all, were no slackers. Most of them were college educated, some with graduate degrees. They approached matters of church life with the seriousness that pastors appreciate.
I’ve forgotten how they framed all the questions, but one has stayed with me over the years: Can a good Buddhist get to heaven? Their question raised in my mind a host of other questions: Why don’t you ask a Buddhist? Does a Buddhist want to get to heaven? Is heaven a place anyone “gets to”? How do people know when they’ve arrived? Is the emphasis on being a “good” Buddhist or does any ole Buddhist qualify? What about a good Muslim or a good Hindu? Can a good Christian get to heaven? What is heaven? Where is heaven?
I thought about re-interpreting some of the familiar stories Jesus told, giving them a Buddhist twist. More and more questions swirled in my mind. What if the story of the Good Samaritan was really a story about the Good Buddhist? Wouldn’t Jesus exalt the Buddhist as the one who acted like a good neighbor and shouldn’t we do likewise?
What about poor, hungry Lazarus lying at the gate of the rich man? When Lazarus dies he goes straight to heaven not because he has faith (his faith is never mentioned!) but because he was poor; what if he was a Buddhist to boot?
What if the good Buddhist is the one who, in Matthew 25, gives the cup of cold water, visits the prisoner, feeds the hungry, and clothes the naked, as Jesus says the truly righteous do?
All these questions came to my mind when I was asked: Can a good Buddhist get to heaven? I copped out. I didn’t give a lengthy, well-reasoned answer. I took the easy way. As they tightened down the bolts of their theology, I realized the bolts were pretty tight on my own. I wrote down my single-word answer. Yes!
I believed it then . . . today as well . . . tomorrow too.