The Buddha was right in some regards. He took a path that was similar to the one explained in Ecclesiastes. He did not look to heaven as much as he looked to reality, and in seeing the reality of the world he preached a middle way of acceptance. By renouncing the pursuit of gain a Buddhist can find a higher enlightenment and be released from the never-ending circle of existence. However, the Bible goes further. The Bible roots existence in the reality that is created by God. If one is to truly accept reality, one must truly accept God. To accept God means to accept a path of reconciliation and surrender through Jesus, who is the Way. Life with Jesus causes one to mature into a person who accepts all things as coming from the hand of God. One does not try to straighten what God has twisted, but only to straighten what God wishes to change.
The pursuit of possessions was once only available to kings. In this egalitarian age, the pursuit of pleasure, wealth, and scientific understanding has made us rich in our own eyes, but our souls are impoverished. The Buddhist and the Christian can both agree that time needs to be taken out of pursuing our goals and our dreams to see if such things are in line with reality. Reality, though is best accepted when the Creator of reality is the focus of our meditation.
Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:26
12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.
1 I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless
12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the same fate overtakes them both.
15Then I said to myself,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
“This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
Toil Is Meaningless
17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
- Why is the pursuit of good things (e.g. wisdom) meaningless?
- In the writer’s time why would a king be one of the few people to try his experiment?
- How is a life of dissatisfaction oriented toward the future, and how is a life of joy focused on the present?
- How do people today become educated without focusing on the present act of becoming educated, but only on what it will do for them in the future?
- How could you pray daily in a way that would develop appreciation for the tasks and relationships that God has placed in your life today? In other words is there a time when you could discipline yourself to do this?
Buddhism and other major religions have overlaps. Most religions contain truth. Should a Christian dialog with other religions by focusing of the difference or on the similarity? Why do many religions agree about moral behavior and acceptance of reality? Are the differences significant enough to be emphasized?