World Religions: Buddhism and Christianity
This roadmap of this paper is chiefly twofold. On the one side of the spectrum, it attempts to make a successful presentation of the fundamental nature and key teachings of Buddhism as a particular religious movement. On the other side of the spectrum, this paper hopes to make an equally successful juxtaposition of the salient points relative to the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity. The starting point of this essay will be to firstly lay the foundational elements and fundamental characteristics of the Buddhism faith, as a jumping board from where the succeeding discussions shall be drawn.
Secondarily, in order to better place the Buddhism’s teachings within the larger purview of religion as a phenomenon, its comparison with Christianity shall comprise a significant part of the discussions as well. In the process, this paper hopes to establish that there is in fact an array of aspects for both religions which, even when on the surface they appear to be wholly distinct, nevertheless share common strains and resemblances, as far as doctrinal beliefs and ethical norms are concerned.
This is a concept of no little importance; for history has been a constant witness to the divisive nature of religious pluralism. On a careful analysis, what this paper hopes to ultimately achieve is not to lay judgment on either the correctness or wrongfulness of any doctrine, as it merely wants to appreciate of the distinctness and uniqueness which defines both Buddhism and Christianity, and all world religions for that matter. Fundamental Tenets of Buddhism Buddhism is a religious tradition believed to be already in place around 500 years before the coming of Christ (Griffiths, 1997, p. 5). The exact location of its initial inception and formation is relatively unknown, inasmuch as the exact time of its emergence remains to be fully determined. But many thinkers believe that the religious movement started from the Indian peninsula, only to be dispersed from the neighboring regions later on. An exact definition of Buddhism may be difficult to identify, as a whole array of versions of Buddhism claim origin and affinity from the force which may be called as the chief inspiration of the religion – Gautama Buddha, also known as Gautama Sakayamuni.
Far from being a movement characterized by an universal bond of uniformity or structure, Buddhism is one the few religions in the world which readily embrace diversity from its adherents. In fact, Griffiths would claim that one of the most notable uniqueness of Buddhism lies in its “very differentiated” character (1997, p. 5). To concretely cite the case in point, one may perhaps discover that the version of Buddhism being practiced in, say, South Asia, may differ distinctively from the one being observed in adjacent states, say, the countries found in South-East Asia.
By inference, it is therefore not without good reasons to suppose that Buddhism is a religious movement that neither demand nor teach an adherence to a uniform doctrine to all its followers. As hereinabove hinted, Buddhism takes root from the inspiration and teaching left by its recognized founder by the name of Gautama Sakayamuni, who later on, would be called Gautama Buddha by his followers. At the very least, this is precisely the reason why the religion is named after its founder; since Sakayamuni is believed to be the religion’s supreme exemplification of a life marked by total freedom.
It is commonly accepted that Gautama Buddha left a host of teaching pertinent to the methods of meditation as a way to attain a totally blissful existence. This state is called Nirvana. Buddhism, it must be mentioned, is largely about an adherence to a kind of life geared towards the search for enlightenment, as did their founder Gautama. Thus, in view of this, Humphrey believes that this particular religion does not chiefly concern itself with the worship of a Transcendent as an accommodation of a particular “way of life” (1997, p. 13).
In many ways, this is yet another glaring testimony of Buddhism’s peculiarity. Normally, the most fundamental definition of religion – which by the way is accepted for most part by nearly all thinkers – has, one way or another, the element of a belief in a Transcendent as one of the chief conditions to be satisfied. Taylor thus puts it simply: religion is nothing else but a “belief in a Supreme Being” (cited in McCutcheon, 2007, p. 22). As for Buddhism, many thinkers believe that the element of Transcendence in its core doctrines is not that apparent.
Which is why, Williams would contend that Buddhism is a religious movement which is not so much associated with doctrinal beliefs as a “body of teachings with spiritual benefits (1989, p. 2). In fact, many of Buddhism’s teachings are concerned not really with religious worship as with lifestyle, rituals, devotions and meditations (Mitchell, 2002, p. 1). Buddhism believes reality is always in a constant flux. In other words, it maintains the absolute “impermanence” of all things (Griffiths, 1997, p. 16).
In fact, in the entire corpus of Buddhism’s teachings, one may notice that the theme of impermanence is patently recurrent. Since this religion draws heavily from the fundamental recognition that nothing in the world is ever permanent, it therefore believes that human persons must exhibit a detached comportment in relation to the things of the world. In other words, the more a person appreciates the true implication of diversity and impermanence, in a manner being unattached to all things ephemeral, the more a person is closer to the truth about reality (Williams, 1989, p. 3).
Taking cue from this fundamental belief, Buddhism teaches that human life is in a perpetual pursuit of enlightenment against the backdrop of an impermanent world; and this entails being constantly ‘dissatisfied’ by what – read: everything – the world offers (Williams, 1989, p. 34). In many ways, it is only by right of mere inference that one cannot anchor his or her happiness or enlightenment on something that ceases to become as time passes. Thus, the plain admission that reality is in fact impermanent should therefore lead believers to equally recognize that nothing in this world ever satisfies human existence to begin with.
Buddhism also acknowledges that reality can sometimes be illusory. Put in other words, Buddhism subscribes to belief that, since things are subjected to a constant flux of change, “things (therefore) are not what they seem” (Griffiths, 1997, p. 20). To this end, the value of meditation takes concrete shape. Meditation allows a person to enter into the truth that the world cannot satisfy the longing for human contentment and bliss. It is even said that Buddha himself taught that one must always take on the attitude of “dissatisfaction” even in meditation.
In this way, one can therefore sift through the elements which constitute eternal happiness from a world replete with ephemeral things (Mitchell, 2002, p. 33). Through meditation, Buddhism offers a way towards the ultimate state of blissfulness called Nirvana. Through it, one is able to create a standpoint marked by a deliberate renunciation of the world; i. e. , a total freedom from the world. It also has to be pointed out that Buddhism offers a set of belief systems that demands concrete actions as well.
The doctrine called the four noble truths for instance essentially begins with the fundamental belief that “life is suffering” and subsequently demands correlative actions to address it. To concretely cite, Buddhism holds that there are four noble truths in life: namely, (1) life is suffering, (2) the cause of suffering is cravings for pleasure, (3) freedom from suffering is temperance from pleasures, and (4) the way to stop suffering is to practice the eight-fold path which includes, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right living, right conduct, right mindfulness and right concentration (Mitchell, 2002, pp. 5-47). Buddhism and Christianity: a Juxtaposition It has to be firstly remembered that the task of the succeeding discussion is not to draw a point-for-point correspondence between Buddhism and Christianity. The whole point of comparing and contrasting is the inference of resemblances in either religious themes and moral tendencies of both religions in question, while affirming the innate distinctness each of them primarily possess. First, it is noteworthy to cite that both Buddhism and Christianity are religious movements that accede to the authority of their founders who act as the primordial and focal point of their emergence.
Buddhism on the one hand sees Buddha as the exemplification of their journey towards a transcendent end. Buddha, while considered not as a divinity, remains to be the only figure of transcendent to whom Buddhism profess a faith. Christianity is pretty much the same; except that the person whom they recognize as its founder – Jesus Christ – is firstly believed to as a divinity. Like Buddhism, Christianity owes its emergence from the life and teachings of its recognized founder. In fact, according to Alister McGrath, “the precipitating cause of Christian faith and Christian doctrine was and is a man named Jesus” (1997, p. ). Put simply, the belief on the Lordship of Jesus Christ was the primordial force that pushed Christianity to become a distinct religious movement out of the mainline Judaic religion. Second, it is also wise to note that both Buddhism and Christianity believe on an ideal existence apart from this world. Buddhism, as mentioned, relegates a serious amount of its teachings on meditations, in the hope that such a practice would usher its believers onto a state of complete bliss.
Christianity too believes that in state of utterly blissful vision of the Lord, translated into heaven (Sheed, 1957, p. 220). Christians believe that when a person dies, his or her soul can either go to heaven or be condemned to hell. Be that as it may, the belief in the incomparable happiness brought about by man’s “living contact” with the “infinite perfection of God”, or the concept of an afterlife still emerges. Third, with equal interest it must also be mentioned that both Buddhism and Christianity place the question of suffering within the very context of their respective belief systems.
Buddhism acknowledges that suffering needs to be purged and surpassed by letting oneself become free from the lures of the world. Christianity meanwhile believes that suffering has a place in the faith it professes. While Christianity recognizes the undeniable nature of human suffering, it treats the latter with much profoundness and uniqueness. Christianity does not teach that all sufferings must be purged; instead, it teaches that there are sufferings that must be embraced for the sake of heaven.
This is supremely exemplified by Jesus Christ himself; the God-man who, by “suffering “ in “His soul and body” on the cross saved the world from its sinfulness (Sheed, 1957, p. 127). By way of contrast though, it needs to be acknowledge that there are certain strains of beliefs that distinguish Buddhism from Christianity in a manner being patent and obvious. One can perhaps note how, first, Buddhism differs from Christianity on account of the belief in a divine transcendence. Christianity believes in a God which is Trinitarian in character.
This means Christians profess to a God who comes in three distinct persons – the Father, the Son (who is Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit (Sheed, 1957, p. 54). If Christianity has a very concrete way of imaging its belief in a divinely transcendent Being, Buddhism’s belief system, by contrast, cannot sufficiently pinpoint the image of a divine; and a belief in the Supreme Being is highly ambiguous for them. Far more critical, there are even those who doubt if the idea of a Supreme Being is tenable for the Buddhist faith.
Griffiths for instance notes that ‘the metaphysics of impermanence’ makes it difficult for Buddhist to conceive of a god, who, at least for Christians, is considered to be enduring, impermanent and most of all, unchangeable (1997, p. 23). Second, briefly it can be cited too that Buddhism differs from Christianity in terms of religious structure. It was previously mentioned that Buddhism does not appear to demand a uniform set of doctrines for all its members to observe. This is why, there are a number of different versions of Buddhism throughout the world.
Christianity on the contrary insists on a universal acceptance of its official corpus of teachings. While this does not imply that Christianity does not have its own minority versions, the crux of the matter here is that, Christianity, unlike Buddhism, emphasizes, or, more appropriately insists on the need, for its adherents, to profess in “one” – i. e. , uniform – set of key doctrinal tenets (Sheed, 1957, p. 140). Conclusion This paper concludes with a thought that firstly affirms the need to recognize the value of Buddhism as a movement distinct and unique on its own.
As a religion which has been in place for the longest time in human history, it was learned though the discussions that Buddhism takes root from the life and inspiration lent by its recognized founder, Gautama Buddha. Moreover, it was also learned that Buddhism has long established itself as one of the major religions of the world to date, offering its adherents a doctrine which on the one hand embraces a perpetual dissatisfaction towards all things, and on the other hand longs for a state of complete happiness that can only be found within.
By right of mere logic, it is not for nothing that millions of people embrace this faith with much devotion and passion; for its doctrines allow its believers to glimpse beyond the ephemeral affairs of the world. With equal interest, this paper also presented a ponderous juxtaposition of Buddhism and Christianity, and therefore concludes that there are indeed strains of similarities which can be gleaned from between the two religions.
Among others, it was learned that both of them recognize authoritative figures as their revered founders – Gautama for Buddhism and Jesus Christ for Christianity. And surely, there are lot more similarities and differences which can be cited to this end. In the final analysis though, this paper further concludes that despite teeming differences, many of the aspects of both religions manifest areas that may be taken as facets for future dialogue and mutual appreciation.