In the same manner, for Buddhists, when we receive the Buddha’s teachings in our hearts and minds, then the Buddha comes “alive” for us. Shakyamuni is not just a great teacher that lived over 2500 years ago, but is a “living teacher” in a spiritual sense for us today. Shinran Shonin lived over 700 years ago, but when Shin Buddhists sincerely follow the path of the Nembutsu, Shinran Shonin comes alive for us today. Of course the Buddha and Shinran do not “literally” come alive or come back from the dead, but their teachings, their way of life of the Dharma, “comes alive” for us today.
Buddhism is not as concerned with historical fact as it is concerned with religious truth. Historical fact stands at one point in time. Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. America became independent on July 4, 1776.
Religious truth, however, stands beyond time. While Shakyamuni Buddha lived and died as a human being in history, the truth that he attained is a timeless, eternal truth. What is significant for Buddhists is not to simply celebrate the historical events of the Buddha’s life like his birth or entrance into Nirvana, but that the Buddha “come alive” for us in our life here and now.
If Christianity focuses on the historical event of Jesus rising from the dead, then it stands on one event in time. If instead it focuses on Christians receiving the teachings of Jesus in their hearts, then it becomes a religion that stands beyond time.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist monk and prolific author of Buddhist books, writes:
“Redemption and resurrection are neither words nor objects of belief. They are our daily practice. We practice in such a way that Buddha is born every moment of our daily life, that Jesus Christ is born every moment of our daily life” — Going Home.