The Last Airbender: How Should Christians Respond to Buddhist Philosophy?
The Last Airbender is the newest movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Based on a popular Nickelodeon cartoon, the movie is filled with references to Buddhist philosophy. With the increasing popularity of Buddhism in America, what should be the Christian response?
Daniel King is a missionary who thinks he has an answer to this question. He has ministered in over fifty nations around the world and led over 1,000,000 people to Jesus, many of them Buddhists.
He explains, “The basic problem that Buddha confronted was suffering. In The Last Airbender we see a young Buddhist monk attempt to deal with the suffering caused by an evil dictator. Jesus also encountered suffering, but His solution was completely different from Buddha.
Suffering is a universal problem. In these modern times, one only has to watch the news for a few moments to discover horrible suffering somewhere in the world. A fire burns down a house. Famine causes starvation. War kills the innocent. Disease ravages bodies. The wealth of one stands in sharp contrast to the poverty of another. Children go to bed hungry. In many places, there is no hope, no dignity, no self-worth, and no future for humanity.
Buddha was deeply impacted by the suffering he saw four thousand years ago. Buddha was born as a prince and raised in protected luxury until one day he saw a poor leper. This confrontation with reality shook him and he began searching for a solution to the problems of this world.
Buddha revealed the four noble truths of Buddhism. The first truth was “Life is Suffering.” The second noble truth Buddha articulated is that “This suffering is because of our desire.” The third truth of Buddha’s enlightenment is that “When desire is eliminated, suffering is eliminated.” Buddha’s fourth truth revealed the “Eight-Fold Path” to removing desire from your life.
However, Jesus dwelt with suffering in a different way. When Jesus saw a man who was crippled for thirty-eight years, Jesus healed him by saying, “Take up your bed and walk.” When Jesus found a dead twelve-year-old girl, he brought her back to life. When a blind man approached Jesus, He restored his sight. When five thousand men plus woman and children were hungry, Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fishes to feed the entire crowd. Jesus performed many miracles to set people free from their suffering.
Buddha dwelt with suffering by trying to deny its existence. Jesus dwelt with suffering by relieving it.”
According to Daniel King, the movie The Last Airbender provides believers with an opportunity to explain the difference between Buddhist and Christian worldviews.