06 October 2007

Comparison of Buddhism with Christianity

Since about 75% of American adults identify themselves as Christian and only 0.5% view themselves as Buddhist, it may be useful to compare Buddhism with the U.S.'s dominant religion.

We define as "Christian" any person or group who thoughtfully, sincerely, prayerfully regard themselves as Christian. This is the definition that pollsters and the census offices of many countries use. It includes as Christians the full range of faith groups who consider themselves to be Christians, including Assemblies of God members, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, United Church members, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, etc. Many Christians have a much less inclusive definition of the term "Christian."
Some shared beliefs: Buddhism and Christianity share some features:
  • Ethic of Reciprocity: Buddhism, Christianity and all of the other major world religions share a basic rule of behavior which governs how they are to treat others.
Two quotations from Buddhist texts which reflect this Ethic are:
"...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?" Samyutta Nikaya v. 353.

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18.
This compares closely to Christianity's Golden Rule, which is seen in:
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Matthew 7:12.

"...and don't do what you hate..." Gospel of Thomas 6.
  • Life after death: Almost all religions teach that a person's personality continues after death. In fact, many religious historians believe that this belief was the prime reason that motivated people to originally create religions. Christianity and Buddhism are no exception. However, they conceive of life after death in very different forms:
Buddhism teaches that humans are trapped in a repetitive cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. One's goal is to escape from this cycle and reach Nirvana. Once this is attained, the mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. Suffering ends because desire and craving -- the causes of suffering -- are no more.

Christianity has historically taught that everyone has only a single life on earth. After death, an eternal life awaits everyone: either in Heaven or Hell. There is no suffering in Heaven; only joy. Torture is eternal without any hope of cessation for the inhabitants of Hell.
  • Themes of morality, justice, love: These themes are found through both the Buddha's teaching and the Hebrew and Christian Bible.
Beliefs shared by some Buddhist traditions and Christianity:
  • In its original forms, Buddhism did not teach of the existence of transcendent, immanent, or any other type of God, Gods, Goddess, and/or Goddesses. However, many Buddhists -- particularly in Japan -- do believe in a pantheon of deities.
  • Some traditions within Buddhism believe in the power of prayer; others do not.
  • Some Buddhists believe in Miroku, the "future Buddha." They expect Buddha to be reborn in our future and spread Buddhism further.
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