Siddhartha Gautama, who would one day become known as Buddha ("enlightened one" or "the awakened"), lived in Nepal sometime during the 6th to 4th century B.C. While scholars agree that he did in fact live, the events of his life are still debated. Early in his life, he was troubled by the evil and suffering he saw in the world and desired to find a way to end mankind’s ills by discovering the secrets of the universe.
According to one version of his life story, after seven years of living an ascetic lifestyle he decided to let his entire pursuit for truth end in success or death. Siddhartha proposed to sit under a fig tree until he found spiritual enlightenment or died of starvation. The gods, knowing that Siddhartha was close to the critical moment of illumination rejoiced, except for Mara, the evil god of desire who tried to tempt Siddhartha in various ways to break his concentration.
Siddhartha touched his hand to the ground and asked the Earth to bear witness to his enlightenment, which it did, banishing Mara. And soon a picture began to form in his mind of all that occurred in the universe, and Siddhartha finally saw the answer to the questions of suffering that he had been seeking for so many years. In that moment of pure enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha.
For decades, the Buddha shared his teachings all across northeastern India. Barefoot in his robes, he was still walking the roads when he was eighty, but old age was upon him. His back hurt, his stomach was often in pain. He told a trusted disciple, “I am old, worn out like a dilapidated cart held together with thin straps.”
Buddha became ill near Kushinagara—a remote village near the border of Nepal—when he was offered a meal which would prove deadly. The food was spoiled and the guru was poisoned. Buddha died peacefully in grove of trees. Legend says that the earth shook, and the trees suddenly burst into bloom, their petals falling gently on his still body as his spirit entered nirvana.
Some historians believe that after his cremation a few of Buddha’s bones were saved, one of which was a finger bone. The Buddha's finger bone is one of the most sacred relics in Buddhism. Supposedly, monks carried it from northern India to the Shaanxi Province in China about 200 years after the Buddha's death.
Buddha’s bones along with the finger were eventually given as a gift to the emperor of China during the Tang dynasty (618 to 907 AD). The Tang, devotedly Buddhist, built a sepulcher for the bones, buried deep under the ground beneath a high tower. But when the Tang Dynasty fell, they closed up the vault filled with riches and, for all purposes, threw away the key. Later dynasties were less enamored of Buddhism, and the vault was officially forgotten.
It wasn’t until 1981 when the tower from the Tang Dynasty crumbled to the ground and a complete modern reconstruction was begun that the hidden chamber beneath it was unearthed. The finding of Buddha’s long lost finger and other bone fragments was a sensation to Buddhists everywhere, and the bones are now visited by many Buddhists in China’s Famen Temple.1
The same cannot be said of Jesus, for he has no temple, tomb or mausoleum. As the angel said when the women ran to tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6). The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity. Everything else that was said or done by Christ is secondary in importance to the resurrection. Christians either have an empty tomb or an empty faith because everything stands or crumbles with the resurrection.
Bible scholar Henry Morris wrote:
“Death is our greatest enemy. No man is wise enough to outwit death or wealthy enough to purchase freedom from death or strong enough to vanquish death. The grave always wins the victory and every person sooner or later returns to the dust. In fact, the inexorable triumph of death applies not only to people, but to all things. Animals die and plants die, and even whole species atrophy and become extinct. Cities and nations, like people, are born and grow for a season, and then fade away. Homes and automobiles and clothes wear out and must eventually go back to the dust, just as do their owners. Even the universe itself is running down and heading toward an ultimate "heat death." This universal reign of decay and death is called in the Bible "the bondage of corruption" (Romans 8:21). In science it has come to be recognized as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Also known as the Law of Increasing Entropy, this Law is now recognized as a universal law of science, with no known exception ever observed. It says, quite simply that every system tends to become disordered, to run down and eventually to die. Its entropy, which is a measure of disorder, always tends to increase. The universality of the reign of decay and death is the measure of the absolute uniqueness of the resurrection of Christ. All other men, even the greatest men and the holiest men, have died. Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Confucius, Caesar, Marx--men who made a profound impact on the world in one way or another--are all dead.”2
This is where the resurrection separates Jesus from Buddha and any other religious guru. I don’t know about you, but wouldn’t it be much more difficult to follow Jesus and believe in His audacious claims to be the Son of God if the story ended at his grave? It would be a whole lot more improbable to believe in heaven if Jesus had a tombstone. Would you trust in a Savior who promised eternal life, but couldn’t find a way out of death himself? That would be like a lifeguard who couldn’t swim. If Jesus’ body is still in the ground somewhere then at best we are left with a martyr who lied about what He could do.
But the resurrection changes everything because it proved that Jesus has the power to make good on any promise that He makes. Before going to the Cross Jesus told his disciples in John 10:18, “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” Besides that, the resurrection makes Jesus Christ unique among the religious leaders of the world. The empty tomb is the ultimate trump card against Buddha, Muhammad, or Joseph Smith, because all those dudes died and stayed dead. Search the world and you will not find any remaining finger bones of Jesus to be venerated.
Thomas Arnold, formerly Professor of History at Rugby and Oxford, one of the world's great historians, said, “I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better, fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died, and rose again from the dead.”3
Sir Lionel Luckhoo was known in the legal world as the greatest defense attorney that ever lived. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records has him listed with the most wins ever by a defense attorney with 245 consecutive murder acquittals. He was knighted twice by the Queen of England. Luckhoo, was an avowed atheist. Someone asked him if he had ever investigated the evidence for the resurrection and challenged him to apply his legal prowess to the New Testament. He accepted the challenge and at the end of his investigation he went from being an atheist to being a Christian. He said, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”4
Finally, In one of his books, Erwin Lutzer writes about meeting a Buddhist who converted to Christianity and he asked what convinced him to follow Christ over Buddha. He replied, “It’s like this, if you were walking along and came to a fork in the road and two men were there and one of them is in a casket with a sign overhead that reads, ‘Follow me and I will show an eight-fold path to reincarnation’ and another man was standing there with scars in his hands and feet and said, “Because I died and now live, you shall live also,” which man would you follow?”5
1. Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,1998), 220-223.
2. Henry Morris, The Resurrection of Christ - The Best-Proved Fact in History”
3. Thomas Arnold, Sermons on Christian Life, “Its Fears and Its Close” , 6th ed. London, UK: 324.
4. Ross Clifford, The Case for the Empty Tomb (Claremont, CA: Albatross, 1991), 112.
5. Adapted from Erwin Lutzer, Christ Among Other Gods (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 144.