The Buddha’s most dedicated followers were grouped into a sangha, distinguished by their shaved heads and robes crafted from unsewn orange fabric. These early Buddhist monks, also known as bhikkus, traveled from location to location, only establishing themselves in communities during the rainy season when journeying was challenging.
Theravadan monks and nuns rely on offerings from ‘Lay’ devotees for their daily meals. Conducting funerals and memorial services is a traditional duty of Buddhist monks, where sacred texts are recited and merits are transferred to honor the deceased. In Buddhism, individual worship by lay followers is more prevalent compared to congregational worship.
Theravada does not technically involve worshiping the Buddha, but rather, worship is conducted through the use of a stupa. A stupa is a dome-shaped structure that houses a sacred relic, such as the Buddha’s tooth in Sri Lanka. Devotees show their reverence by walking in a clockwise direction around the stupa, carrying flowers and incense.
It is the main attraction of a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Buddha, which takes place in every Buddhist nation. In Theravada, this festival is called Vaisakha, which occurs in the month following the Buddha’s birth. In Theravada cultures, a special ritual named pirit, or protection, is prevalent. This ceremony involves reciting verses from a set of protective amulets found in the Pali canon. The purpose of this ritual is to expel malevolent spirits, heal ailments, bestow blessings upon newly constructed structures, and obtain other advantages.
Buddhist monks often used meditation to help achieve Nirvana. In Mahayana cultures, ritual is more important than in Theravada cultures. Temples have altars with images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas as a central focus for worship. Devotion is shown through prayer, chanting, and offering items like fruit, flowers, and incense.
The Ullambana Festival, a well-liked event in China and Japan, is a time to pay tribute to spirits and ghosts who have passed away. It is believed that during this festival, the gates to the afterlife open up, granting departed souls the opportunity to briefly come back to Earth. In Christianity, connecting with God or ‘Heaven’ can be accomplished through various means such as the customary act of baptism.
One of the initial figures in Christianity, Jesus, experienced baptism as a form of religious initiation. John performed the baptism at the start of Jesus’ public ministry (Mark 1:9-11). Furthermore, prayer is another extensively practiced aspect within Christianity.
Prayer can be performed in different ways, whether alone or with others, formally or spontaneously, silently or with spoken words. Christian prayer usually incorporates elements like gospel, praise, thanksgiving, confession, and a plea for forgiveness. An analogous practice to “Lay Worship” is the celebration of Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, even though there are few biblical references supporting this belief. Nonetheless, carols are sung to honor this event.
The carols are akin to reciting sacred scriptures. Christianity differs from Buddhism in several ways. One distinction is that Buddhism does not adhere to a concept of a deity. Devotion to a divine being is absent in Buddhism, as that entity was also an ordinary human. The ultimate objective is to attain Nirvana, following the path of the Buddha.
Christianity centers around God and his son Jesus, whom we worship. It emphasizes the pursuit of nobility and goodness while rejecting greed as means to attain happiness and morality.
The purpose of prayer is to achieve honesty with oneself and God, not to attain Nirvana. Attaining Nirvana is like attaining Heaven. Christianity revolves around one deity, unlike Buddhism. Personally, I am more attracted to Christianity because it has been my lifelong belief. Even if I had not grown up as a Christian, I would still choose Christianity because it provides a figure for worship.
Although Buddhism emphasizes self-sacrifice and considering everything else as more important than oneself, it offers a sense of comfort through another tale about the origins of the world. On a personal level, I find Christianity more preferable because it does not require daily chanting, allowing individuals to lead their daily lives freely. Christianity also believes in a constant presence watching over you, which appears more logical.
In Buddhism, individuals are accountable to their own conscience rather than being monitored by others. In Christianity, there are similarities in the concept of accountability but the belief system diverges. The unified entity in Christianity consists of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Conversely, Buddhism does not acknowledge a divine presence but instead offers role models for inspiration.
Christianity focuses on achieving goals such as obeying the ten commandments and being honest with oneself and God. It does not believe in reincarnation, but acknowledges the concept of incarnation of Jesus. In contrast, Buddhism highly values the pursuit of enlightenment and becoming a Buddha.
The goal in Christianity is to attain honesty within oneself and ultimately obtain enlightenment through the study of diverse world religions (1).