Buddhism vs Christianity

By Dr. Samuel Inbaraja

1. Creator God

Buddhism – No creator God exists .

Christianity – Creator God exists . Created our universe a finite period of time ago, as explained by the Big Bang theory.

The arguments for the existence of a creator God are:

2. Moral law

Buddhism – Moral law is there, but no moral law giver . But still moral and immoral actions have consequences. Morality is relative . All their compassion, non -violence and eight-fold path , none of it absolute or objective. Buddhism is just one way of obtaining liberation. There may be other ways.

Christianity  - Moral law exists and a moral law giver gave it to us. Therefore an absolute and objective moral law exists. This moral law giver has made it obligatory for humans to live according to the moral law. There is judgement day when everyone has to account for his life before this moral law giver.

3. Man

Buddhism : Man does not have a soul or Atman. What we call as man is just his consciousness which is made up of one physical element and four psychic elements.

Christianity : Man is made in the image of God. Man has a soul and has essential worth, because he is made in the image of God. He is different from animals which do not have the image of God. Man was created so that he can have a relationship with God and also exercise dominion over the world. The soul of man is not eternal but immortal. God loves mankind.

4. Man’s problem

Buddhism :The four noble truths describes the problem of man. Suffering caused by craving is man’s problem. If man continues in his cravings , he will experience rebirth in another body after his death and will continue in suffering , because “all of life is suffering” and as long as you are reborn you will keep experiencing suffering.

Christianity : Sin, which is the cause of suffering. Man is a sinner and he inflicts suffering on others and himself. Man is in bondage to sin. God is holy and he cannot tolerate sin. He will punish sin. Justice of God stands against the sins of man. Man deserves judgement for his sins. Sin has separated man from God . The relationship is broken.

5.  Solution to man’s problem

Buddhism : Man needs liberation , “nirvana” from existence and suffering. For achieving this , different schools of Buddhism teach different solution.

Theravada School teaches that the noble eight fold path as the Buddha taught is the way to obtain liberation.

Various Mahayana Schools teach various ways of attaining nirvana . It includes devotion to Buddha and the Bodhisattva’s whose karma can be transferred to the devotee through devotion, the eightfold path, chanting the name of Amithaba Buddha, faith in the Buddha or other enlightened beings etc.

Christianity : Man’s sin and rebellion deserves punishment . God , who is just and loving, sent his Son Jesus, who took the punishments of  all the people in the world, so that whoever believes in him can escape the judgement of God and enter into a relationship with God. This is called Salvation in Christianity.

Salvation is a gift of God , obtained by repentance and faith. Once we enter into the relationship with God, the faith will have outworking which are the works of faith, a foolproof indicator that the person has been delivered from sin and it’s power. Salvation is worked out by faith, sustained by faith and consummated by faith. This Salvation is the gracious gift of God, based on the finished work of Christ, on the cross. This gift of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection is a demonstration of God’s love to rebellious sinners, wooing them to respond to his great love.

It is of utmost importance to state the fact that Jesus used suffering to express his love to a rebellious human race. Suffering which is seen as the greatest problem was used by Jesus, on the cross, to bring about the greatest good that any human can attain, which is Salvation. Suffering which was the result of the curse was used by Christ for the highest good and thus he redeemed suffering from the curse and turned it into an instrument through which the greatest plan of God for mankind could be accomplished.

6. Rebirth and transmigration of the person

Buddhism :Buddha taught that any person , who dies  without attaining nirvana , would enter this world again in another birth. This another birth occurs because the non-enlightened man died with cravings and attachments which were the cause of suffering and rebirth. The passing on of the consciousness from one body to another is called transmigration .

Christianity : The Bible teaches that man is born once , dies once and then faces judgement.

7. The ethical teachings of Christ vs Buddha

Christ’s teachings :

Love God with all your heart , soul , mind and strength.

Love your neighbour as you love yourself .

Love one another , as I have loved you.

Loving your enemies .

Holy living – in thought , word and deed. Lust of the eye is equivalent to adultery. Anger is equivalent to murder.

Forgiveness of  friends and enemies.

Jesus taught that ,he himself is the incarnate God and not just a mere human.

Soul is immortal but not eternal.

Faith in Christ , as the son of God, a very important prerequisite for salvation.

Ten Commandments – No idolatry, no other gods, no killing, no lying, no coveting, honoring parents etc

Buddha’s teachings:

Eight fold path

“The Buddha’s Doctrine of compassion and Love – Metta (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassionate Action) has a refreshing validity and relevance to today’s world. The Buddha’s concept of Metta -LOVE, like that of the Bhagawan, is universal and all encompassing. It includes every living thing; not only ones family, or race, or caste, or religion but everything that is sentient, including the animal world.”

http://www.saibaba.ws/articles2/contributionofbuddhism.htm

This doctrine is not a commanded and it is not an absolute moral value. It is about being kind and nothing close to the self-giving love which modelled and also commanded. There is no obligation to love anyone. If you want nirvana, you should practice compassion, meditation and the eight fold path of the Buddha. If you don’t practise the eight fold path, you will get a rebirth and suffer not because you did not obey the moral law but because you were attached to world things through your cravings. Life on earth is suffering. You are already in a “hell”. The Buddha is teaching you to get out of this world of suffering. There is a open denial in this reductionist view that “all life is suffering”. This is too much pessimism, which is not consistent with the truth.

Whereas the Buddha taught how to attain nirvana, Jesus taught how to live the abundant life, on this earth, before you can have it in heaven .

Buddha ‘s system is a work based system. You have to work out your salvation by yourself (Theravada) or with the help of the Bodhisattva’s, whose karma can be obtained  by  you, by your sincere devotion to them (Mahayana).  In  Christianity, you receive the salvation by repentance and faith. No works are need before receiving the gift of salvation.

Because the teachings of the Buddha’s teachings were very tough for the average layman to practice, Buddhist teachers modified the teachings of the Buddha to make it easy for the laymen and thus started the whole system of devotion to Buddha and the Boddhisatva’s. Buddhist teachers in order to obtain political legitimacy and support for their religion also allowed emperor worship and ancestor worship, which had no place in Buddha’s teachings.

Christ and his apostles on the other hand do not water down his moral demand Jesus promises change in the one who has submitted himself to him and has become his disciple. He gives

1. The new nature to anyone believes in Christ.
2. The Holy Spirit to anyone who believes in Christ.
3. His Holy word.
4. The fellowship of other believers, the Church, the family of God.

In Buddhism there is no need for repentance. There is no new nature, there is no Holy Spirit to empower you to live according to the teachings of Christ. They do have the Buddhist Scriptures. They do have a Sanga or body of believers which is similar to the Church.

This makes Christianity more practical and appealing to the average man.

8. Contributions towards ending suffering

Buddhism – the teachings of the Buddha.

“The Buddha’s Doctrine of compassion and Love – Metta (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassionate Action) has a refreshing validity and relevance to today’s world. The Buddha’s concept of Metta -LOVE, like that of the Bhagawan, is universal and all encompassing. It includes every living thing; not only ones family, or race, or caste, or religion but everything that is sentient, including the animal world. It is founded on the principle of non violence – ahimsa movingly and tellingly employed by modern India’s greatest sons – Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the march to freedom and beyond”

http://www.saibaba.ws/articles2/contributionofbuddhism.htm

Though this passage claims that Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa(non-violence) is a Buddhist concept, ahimsa is a Jain concept which Buddha borrowed from Mahavira’s teachings. Moreover Mahatma Gandhi was more influenced by the sermon on the mount, than by the Buddha. He read the sermon on the mount daily. He tried to live according to the sermon on the mount. He even named his first ashram, which he started in South Africa, after Leo Tolstoy the Russian Christian universalist and pacifist. Gandhi was more influenced by Jesus, Bible and Christians than by Buddha.

Buddhism greatest contribution to the ending of suffering were it’s theoretical teachings. It had it’s effect in the life of Emperor Asoka who changed from a warrior king to a emperor monk. Buddhism had the showed it’s potential by transforming Asoka from a blood thirsty man to a monk. We should acknowledge this aspect of the influence of Buddhism in world history for promoting peace. This Asoka sent his children as missionaries to Srilanka and Srilanka became a strong Buddhist country. Inspite of the strong Buddhist influence and culture, Srilanka as a nation indulged in systematic discrimination of Tamil Hindu in the recent past which resulted in a bloody civil war in which Buddhists were fighting with mission guns, rockets and fighter jets. The strong Buddhist heritage and culture did not stop the Srilankan army from massacring innocent Tamil civilians. Recently the U.S, U.K and other western powers have passed a resolution against Srilanka for the War crimes encted during the close of the civil war. So Buddhism though it had the potential for promoting peace, did exactly the opposite. What’s the big deal after all, the Buddhist will have another rebirth where he can work towards nirvana. Even the cold blooded murders which the srilankan Buddhist committed were not violation of any absolute moral law for which they will be held resposnsible (except of course by international community), for there is no God in the Buddhist system who will hold them accountable and all their morality is just relative. Though on the surface Buddhism seems to promote peace, it has proved itself of having a greater potential to inflict harm and suffering , by relativizing morality and denying the existence of a God, who will judge them.

One of the greatest contributions of Buddhism in ending suffering in India is the formation of a casteless society where equality prevailed on a social level and this was far better than the Hindu system with it’s demeaning caste system. But with the revival of Hinduism, through the devotional or Bhakti movement, caste system came back into Indian society and still inflicts pain and suffering to many. The main reason for the revival of the Bhakti movement was the absence of a God in Buddhism to whom people can express devotion. The Non-theism and legalism ofTheravada Buddhism was impossible for the average man to live out and the heart of man longed for a easier way to attain liberation and express devotion. So Buddhism which initially started to reform society by giving a classless society could not satisfy the deeper longings of man for devotion and personal relationship with God. The Hindu Bhakti movement filled this void by making devotion to a deity of choice, the path to liberation and Hinduism came back to regain it’s dominance in India. Buddhism we can say gave a good try, but did not succeed in the long run to end suffering as it intended to.

Christianity – the teachings of Christ which led to formation of many hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities, scientific inventions, medical discoveries etc.. Christians left the comforts of their home, renounced their privileges and comforts and went into uncharted territory proclaiming the love of Christ, starting hospitals, schools and leprosy homes, destitute homes and  working to liberate people from different forms of slavery and bondage. These missionaries renounced and served and made an impact many times greater than that of Buddha and his followers.

Christians worked to promote peace. Christianity transformed savage tribes into peaceful men. In the north-east of India is one of the largest Baptist states in the world, Nagaland. The Nagas were head hunting tribes, who were fighting each other. Missionaries from U.S came and shared the Gospel to these head hunters and they were transformed into a peaceful and civilized people, now sending missionaries to other parts of India. The same happened to many tribes in that region.

The conversion of the white tribes of Europe into a civilized society was because of the direct influence of Christianity.

Mahatma Gandhi, the pacifist who used non-violence to fight the British tyranny, was more influenced by Jesus and his sermon on the mount. Jesus directly influenced Gandhi and led to the non-violent freedom struggle which gained freedom for India.

Jesus directly influenced another reformer Rev.Martin Luther King, who used the Jesus influenced Gandhian way of non-violence to fight for the rights of the black people in USA.

The influence of Christ in promoting peace and ending suffering is unparalleled in the history of the human race.

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The Offer of Christ to  Buddhists:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”. John 10:10

By defining life as synonymous with suffering, Buddhism has made the life on earth equivalent to that in hell. While the God of the Bible, loves man and has given himself on the cross as a demonstration of his love and wants man to have an abundant life, Buddhism denies people this goodness and abundant life. The false teachings of the Buddha, steal, kill and destroy people’s lives as any false religion would do. No matter how good it appear to the human mind, it falls short of God’s great plan for man and the universe. Jesus is calling the Buddhists too to participate in the abundant, eternal life he is offering to those who would come to him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. Matthew 11 : 28

The second part of the invitation of Christ is an invitation to rest from their efforts and trust God and Christ who has worked out everything for us. By repentance and faith man can enter this rest and God will transform him to live the new life in Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to man to accomplish this end. The Holy spirit comes and resides in man. Christ offers rest from the work based system of Buddhism. But Jesus also challenges his followers to take up a lighter yoke, a cross, to deny the sinful self but not doing all this by one’s own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit and the new nature which is given at the point of reception of the gift of salvation.

Pascal’s wager for the Buddhist

So considering this possibility of judgement, anyone should reasonably wager that God exists and get ready to face judgement. If he is wrong, it does not matter, as he would have lived a moral life and would attain nirvana or another chance in another rebirth or just disappear after death. If he is right in his wager, he gets to be with God and enjoy bliss forever. If there is a God and he is wrong in his wager, he would suffer in hell for eternity, which is a terrible prospect. So the wager calls for Buddhist to wager that the Christian God and Gospel are true, the safest bet.