The central beliefs of the two religions differ greatly. Expressed very simply, the basis of Christianity is God; the basis of Buddhism is mind. More specifically, traditional Christianity is based on the doctrine of Trinity. In the sense of Trinity “God is not simply One, but, in terms of the divine ‘being’, God is a unity of three ‘somethings’, typically three ‘persons’ or perhaps three ‘references of identity’ or three ‘locae of relational activity’” (Pratt 1993:242). It is commonly expressed through creedal formulae such as the Trinitian Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to this doctrine, God exists in three different persons or as Pratt (1993:242) expresses it: three “somethings”. This means that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have the exact same nature as God the Father. However, from this one must not conclude that God in his essence is Father, or at all a male being. Jesus mentioned mutual giving and love with the Father that followers can experience through the Spirit. (McClymont 2001:353) The Holy Spirit is an enigmatic and powerful presence of the divine. Moreover, the main points of Christianity are an adherence to the Ten Commandments which are found in the Torah, specifically Exodus Chapter 20 and Deuteronomy Chapter 5. These ten rules are: 1. Not to have or worship other Gods, 2. Not to worship any image or idol of a deity, 3. Not to blaspheme (i.e. swear against God), 4. To observe the Sabbath, keeping holy the seventh day of Creation. 5. To respect parents, 6. Not to commit murder, 7. Not to commit adultery, 8. Not to steal, 9. Not to bear false witness, 10. Not to covet – desire or crave – what is not properly one’s own (Pratt 1993: 248). These rules are regarded as the basis for living a moral life and are meant to be followed for one to be listed as one eligible to race his way in climbing the stairs to heaven. If one does not obey these rules one is believed to go to Hell. Furthermore, Christians believe their »saviour«, Christ, will come, end this age and usher in another one. However, in terms of Christianity, the salvation effected by Christ is not limited by the finite boundaries of this existence. (Pratt 1993:249) Buddhism, on the other hand, does not believe in a God. The Buddhist beliefs are expressed through “Dhammas”, the Buddha’s teachings. They believe the search for how the universe was made is irrelevant and instead the focus should be on how to enlighten oneself. Moreover, the Buddhist way of teaching is natural. It does not violate the body or the mind. Buddha noticed that people are born and die depending on their actions, also called “Karma” – deeds, works, the principle of inexorable cause and effect. (Noss, Grangaard 2008:149) Although since Buddha’s death, several different forms of Buddhism have been created; today the most common ones are “Theravada” or “Teachings of the Elders” and “Mahayana” or “Great Vehicle”. Today, roughly 62 % of Buddhists are adherents of the Mahayana and 38 % are Theravada followers. (Esposito et al. 2009:392) Even though those two are different sects, they both agree on the same fundamental principles. These principles are called “The four noble truths”. They represent the fundamental teachings of the Buddha and form the essential foundation of the system of Buddhist beliefs. They reflect an analysis of the human condition and show the way to attain ultimate liberation from that condition. (Pratt 1993:210) The first noble truth is the truth of “Dukkha”, Dukkha in English means “suffering” or “sorrow”. The Second Noble Truth is the truth of “Tanha” – “the grasping, desiring, thirsting, self-seeking wish-to-fulfilment that predominates human existence.” (Pratt 1993:210) It relates to our endless craving for what is enjoyable in things we taste, smell, hear, think, touch and see. The third truth is given in the term “Nirodha” and it declares that “Dukkha” can be overcome through the extinguishing of “Tanha”: the ultimate cessation of life’s unsatisfactoriness comes with the attainment of “Nibbana” or “Nirvana”. The fourth truth is called “Marga”, in English “the Path”. In it Buddha spells out a concrete way of living which will eventually lead to the goal of “Nirvana” (salvation). It is a path of positive intentional discipline, a structured way that governs all of life. Through the fourth truth Buddhism becomes a technique. It declares that the way of the Buddha is to be found in the “Noble Eightfold Path” or “Magga”. It is a set of moral teachings that must be pursued with intention and deliberation. It encourages self-discipline and development of wisdom through which the overcome of a life condition can be achieved. Each step on the path is a matter of pursuing something in a right manner. The steps are broken into a pattern of wisdom (understanding, insight) covered by steps 1 and 2; morality and ethical conduct as denoted by steps 3 to 5; and discipline, both mental and spiritual, covered by steps 6 to 8. It namely includes: 1. Right Understanding, 2. Right Thought, 3. Right Speech, 4. Right Conduct, 5. Right Livelihood, 6. Right Effort, 7. Right Mindfulness, 8. Right Concentration. (Burke 1996:64) When comparing the “Noble Eightfold Path” to the “Christian Beatitudes” it is noticeable that they both seek to recognize knowledge, ethical conduct and spiritual development through these writings. (Pratt 1993, Burke 1997)
Buddhism is a very pragmatic and practical religion. It declares a way of life, a way of the pursuit of ultimate liberation understood in terms of enlightenment and exemplified in the person of the Buddha. (Pratt 1993:213) Christianity is also a way of life. Christians have largely understood their way of life as a matter of “becoming” what they “are”. The Christian life is ideally lived in response to, and as an expression of, the transformative effect of salvation found in Christ. (Pratt 1993:248) This is the big difference to Buddhism. Buddhists are longing for enlightenment within themselves, whereas Christians put all their faith in Christ.
Another significant aspect that has to be considered when comparing these two religions are the executed ritual practices through which believers want to achieve their spiritual goals. The two main forms in Christianity and Buddhism are prayer and meditation. What is similar in both practices is the aim to create a feeling of closeness and a sense of unity within the group or congregation through group activities. Another similarity is the motive of suffering. It is common not only in the Buddhist and Christian religion but also in most other world religions. Both founders, Siddharta Gutama and Jesus Christ endured suffering, thus believers of either religion aim to achieve either the state of Nirvana or Lent sacrifice. Through sacrificing something that is of utmost importance to the disciples they proof their faith and show the dedication and devotion to their religion. However, when considering the actual act of praying or meditation, numerous differences are apparent. Christian prayer is preserved as “talking to God”. It is not compulsory and believers can pray when and wherever they feel the need. It is a very personal, controlled but yet spontaneous method of praise, petition or thank. Christians gather, sing praises and pray in order to seek solution to problems of their life. The purpose is to love God as a Father and ask for solutions. It is a devotional ritual. A Buddhist meditation is entirely different. Contrary to Christian prayer, the focus here is on oneself. Although the many schools and traditions of Buddhism have different rituals, and there are diverse explanations for the rituals, the purpose of all of them is the same: the realisation of enlightenment. And this is a significant disparity between Buddhist and Christian worship. The Buddhist way of meditation is a personal experience, a subjective experience, and consequently everyone must tread one's own path towards the summit of Enlightenment. It is at all times a physically and mentally solitary experience, whereas Christians pray in private or in public. Moreover, Buddhists believe they can benefit from prayer but Buddha does not claim the capacity to answer prayers. Christians, however, believe their prayers can be heard and answered by their God.
The most significant difference between the moralities of those two religions becomes apparent when examining the ethical principles of them. Christians tend to focus on pleasing their God and aspiring to be like their God, whilst valuing service and justice. In Buddhism, however, based on the example of Buddha himself, compassion and concern for others are the most important principles. (Crotty 1999:55) Moreover, it is evident that the Catholic Church is involved in a variety of discussions and issues in contemporary society. It is pro-active in discussing a number of issues including refugees, cloning, consumerism, gambling, abortion etc. Buddhist involvement in these issues is less evident, as they believe it is more important to concentrate their energies on developing qualities that will assist in achieving “Nirvana”.
Bearing all those mentioned aspects in mind, it can certainly be said that Buddhism and Christianity are very different yet significantly similar. Through the comparison the distinct doctrinal outlooks of the religions became clearly apparent; however, the central teachings about spirituality remain the same. Both religions have a very similar underlying message and it seems as if people all over the world long for someone or something to believe in and entrust their faith in which helps them live a comfortable life. When considering all the religious conflict in nowadays societies one should bear in mind that the idea of a higher being and being saved when we pass is definitely a prevalent aspect of everyone’s lives. Both religions, Christianity as well as Buddhism, have developed through centuries, from their early origins into religions with both traditional and contemporary elements that continue to have much influence on today’s modern society.
- Burke, T. P. 1996, “Buddhism”, in The major religions, Burke, T. P., Cambridge, Blackwell, pp. 57-93
- Crotty M. et al., 2003, “Finding a way: the religious worlds of today”, Harper Collins, Sydney
- Esposito J. L., Fasching D. J., Todd L., 2009, World Religions Today, New York, Oxford Univesity Press
- Fisher, P.M. 2005, Living Religions, Prentice Hall Inc., New Jersey.
- McClymond M. J. 2001, “Jesus”, in The Rivers of Paradise: Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus and Muhammad as religious founders, eds. D. N. Freedman & M. J. McClymond, W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich., pp. 351-389.
- Nelson, K. G. 1987, “Charisma and organisation”, in Cults, new religions and religious creativity, Nelson K. G., Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, pp. 115-127.
- Noss D. S., Grangaard B. R., 2008, “Glossaries: A History of the World's Religions”, in A History of the World's Religions, eds. D. S. Noss & B. R. Grangaard, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey pp. 103-151.
- Pratt D., 1993, “Christianity: Foundation Phenomena.” in Religion: a First Encounter, Douglas P., Longman Paul, Auckland NZ, pp. 95-111.
- Pratt D., 1993 “Christianity: Expression Phenomena”, in Religion: a First Encounter, Douglas P., Longman Paul, Auckland NZ, pp. 241-254.
- Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., McDaniel, E.R. 2003, “Communication between Cultures” (5th edition), Wadsworth Publishing, Belmont, CA