Comparison between Christianity and Buddhism

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Religion has always played a fundamental role in human society. Throughout the course of history, religion has been a part of human experience. It binds a nation, community or group of individuals together. Through the past some controversies regarding religion and cultural communication among people have emerged. These nowadays results in religious conflicts that show the detrimental influences of cultural globalisation. It is generally acknowledged that Buddhism and Christianity are ancient and world religions; however, whether the belief in Buddhism is credible or not, has sparked spirited debate. Some Christians believe the Buddha is a “shadow”, and he is not to be believed. However, there are some similarities in terms of histories, main figures, and beliefs between Buddhism and Christianity and in order to solve sources of conflict, the Buddhists and the Christians should understand the parallels between both religions and respect each other’s beliefs.

All religions have in one form or another a leader, an organisation that claims to have the monopoly of the truth, but on the other hand, there are always those who do not believe in those truths and “it is these people who become seekers, who form and join new religious movements.” (Nelson, 1987:116) Christianity and Buddhism are both religions that were founded by famous characters. Buddhism was founded by one of the most charismatic characters ever known, Prince Siddhartha Guatama also known as Buddha ("Enlightened One"). He is known as a very influential and an utmost charismatic person (Samovar, Porter, McDaniel 2003:67). He was born in 563 BC into a wealthy Hindu family and forced into marriage at the age of 16. By the age of 29 he was disillusioned with his opulence and ventured out of his palace. For the first time, the prince was encountered old age, sickness, and death. He was so moved with the painful realities of life that he left his wife and comfortable home to search for an end to human pain. For the next six years, the prince was discovering the way to overcome the suffering of life.  When he discovered that the path of extreme ascentism was mistaken, his accompanying five ascentists left him. He sat down under a fig tree for 49 days and contemplated his thoughts. During the following seven weeks that he spent meditating, he discovered the truth and became Buddha (Burke 1997:60). The founder figure for Christianity, on the other hand, is Jesus, the Jew of Nazareth. Unlike Siddharta, he grew up in a poor family. However, due to the fact that Jesus’ family was Jewish, Christianity, similar as Buddhism, was formed out of another religion – Judaism. It is believed that Jesus lived on earth, was crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven. (McClymond 2001:351) Therefore, Jesus is seen as the Lord, Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father (Fisher 2005:309). Unlike Buddha, who is believed to be a human being that was perfected through reincarnation, Jesus is believed to have a human as well as a divine nature. (Pratt 1993:245)

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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 ...

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