October 20, 2011

Buddhism vs. Christianity

Picture from Wikipedia

The pursuit of truth is often a winding road, unpaved, and marked with signs of discovery along the way.  The most priceless commodity in the world? The Truth.  Therefore, we should, above all else pursue it, should we not?

Given the fact that all of us will face death, some sooner rather than later, we should be inclined to study not just what the culture nearest us believes, but what others around the world near and far profess to be the Truth.  While each belief system can enlighten us to the true nature of Truth, not all religions can provide us with the Truth.  The fundamentals are entirely different, as the poet Steve Turner once said, "We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one we read was. They all believe in love and goodness, they only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation."

Reading into the comparison of Buddhism and Christianity is a hypothetical conversation between Buddha and Jesus in relation to the topic of sin and pain in the book, The Lotus and the Cross by Ravi Zacharias.  A good summary can be found at facetofacecultural.  

The key difference, perhaps the fundamental difference is the response to sin. 

Buddhism in large has a response that looks within while the Christian looks to Christ.  Both belief systems recognize this need for reforming the inner heart, take a read of the following quote from one the leading Buddist scholars in the world:

Ikeda's Buddhist-inspired believes that a profound inner reformation not only enables a person to successfully form creative and constructive responses to the harsh realities of everyday life, but also enables him or her to lead contributive lives in the service of other people, is a theme that is central to all his writings.

-Daisaku Ikeda, writer of over 100 books and a scholar on the topic of Buddhism.  

The need to reform is evident, our sin nature compels us to find the answer.  In Buddhism, the answer must come from within.  We must look within and eventually become one with our self, like the picture at the top of the page.  We find reformation through right living and the elimination of our  desires--ie 'sin' or 'wrong' that conflicts our minds. 

Christianity on the other hand presents Christ and the conquering of sin and death at the cross.  It is only through the cross that we find victory over sin and death.  Can we erase our sin? Can time forgive our past transgressions?  Christianity states that even our 'good deeds are like filthy rags' and that we can never repay our sins as we are measured against a perfect and holy law.  Thus, the reformation must come from without, from a perfect sacrifice that can only pay the debt of a perfect law.

Both moral living and good conduct are important, but in Christianity it is the outworking of our salvation, while in Buddhism it is central to it.  Essentially in Buddhism, we must earn our own salvation through the practice of the four noble truths in order to become one with our self and enter into Nirvana (the ultimate state of being released from desire).  Christ turns that on its head, shines the light on our dark soul, and our conscience bears truth to the fact that salvation cannot come by works and can only come from outside of ourselves. 

A summary here on comparison between the two faiths.


The year was 1893. The place was Chicago. Buddhists had arrived from the East to attend the inaugural World’s Parliament of Religions. While their contingent was sizable, they were vastly outnumbered by Bible believers from the West. One hundred years later, at the centennial celebration of the original Parliament, Buddhists outnumbered Baptists and saffron robes were more common than Christian clerical clothing. Given its growing impact, it is important to grasp basic Buddhist beliefs and use them as springboards for sharing the liberating truth of the gospel.

First, Buddhism, a historical offshoot of Hinduism, teaches adherents to seek refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Embracing the triple gem is to find refuge in Buddha who became the “enlightened one” for this age during a deep state of meditation under a bodhi tree; to find refuge in the Buddha’s teaching—dharma; and to find refuge in the community of Buddhist priests—sangha—who guide devotees along the path to enlightenment.

Furthermore, the essence of Buddhism is summed up in the Four Noble Truths: 1) all life is suffering (dukkha); 2) the source of suffering is desire and attachment because all is impermanent; 3) liberation from suffering is found in the elimination of desire; 4) desire is eliminated by following the eightfold path.

In sharp contrast to the Buddhist teaching that we must eliminate desire, the Bible teaches that we must exercise disciplines in order to transform our desires.
Finally, the eightfold path consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness, and right meditation. By following this path through many reincarnations, Buddhists hope to erase karmic debt and achieve the nirvanic realization of “no self,” thus attaining liberation from suffering and escaping the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth (samsara).

In sharp contrast to the Buddhist teaching that we must eliminate desire, the Bible teaches that we must exercise disciplines in order to transform our desires (Romans 6:17–19). Ultimately, suffering is not overcome through stamping out the self, but through the selfless sacrifice of a sinless Savior.
 Check out the following as well on the parallels between Buddhism and Christianity.

Buddhist-Christian Parallels

Parallel Beginnings
God the Unconditioned
Heaven Nirvana
(Yeshua of Nazareth)
(Siddartha Gautama)
Jewish founder of Christianity Hindu founder of Buddhism
virgin birth account virgin birth account
tempted by Satan tempted by Mara
Good News of the Kingdom of God the Dharma (law) of Liberation
Sermon on the Mount Sermon of "Turning the Wheel of Dharma"
taught in parables taught in parables
Feet kissed by Mary Magdalene Feet kissed by Pasanedi
Betrayed by Judas Betrayed by Devadatta
Crucified possibly poisoned
Ascension Parinirvana
the Anointed One (Messiah, Christ) the Awakened One (Buddha, Enlightened)
Savior Bodhisattva
Parallel developments
the Church the Sangha
Gospels Sutras
Bible Tripitaka, Prajna Paramita, and many other writings
Apostolic succession Lineage of dharma transmission
Faith promoted 300 years later by Emperor Constantine Faith promoted 300 years later by Emperor Ashoka
Church councils Buddhist councils
missionaries missionaries
monasteries monasteries
After flourishing in the Middle East, now a minority religion in area of its birth After flourishing in India, now a minority religion in area of its birth
Parallel Paths
agape (spiritual love) maitri (lovingkindness)
the world samsara
Purification (Purgatory) Rebirth (Reincarnation)
hell hell realms
imago Dei (image of God) Buddha-nature
Christ within you Realizing your Buddha-nature
Theosis/Deification Awakening, Enlightenment
the Way the Dharma
chant chant
prayer candles prayer flags
saints buddhas, bodhisattvas
angels devas
demons demons
relics relics
Shroud of Turin Buddha's Tooth
Four Spiritual Laws Four Noble Truths
10 Commandments Eightfold Path
rosaries rosaries (malas)
icons icons (thangkas)
statues statues
the "Jesus Prayer" nembutsu
Sign of the Cross Taking Refuge
contemplation meditation
New Jerusalem Western Paradise
sin dukkha (unsatisfactoriness)
Parallel Schools???
Eastern Orthodoxy
(teachings of the Church Fathers)
(teachings of the Elders)
devotional Catholicism
(saints, Heaven)
Kwan Yin, Amitabha, Pure Land
(enlightened beings, Paradise)
(direct experience of God)
(direct experience of the Ultimate)
(Scripture and salvation)
Nichiren, Pure Land
(Scripture and salvation)
Charismatic / Pentecostal

Another link, the Buddhist association for peace, culture, and education in America: SGA-USA
Wikipedia on Nichiren Buddhism

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