Religion is an integral part of every person’s life, and every culture worldwide represents different beliefs. Two of the most respected religions globally are Buddhism and Christianity, both with colorful histories and millions of dedicated followers. Despite originating from different time periods, their influence is so great that it has helped shape the beliefs, cultures, and customs of people throughout history. This paper aims to discuss the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity as well as the effects of their teachings.
For two of the most popular religions in the world, both Buddhism and Christianity have their own humble beginnings. Buddhism originated in India approximately 500 years before the Apostolic Age, dating back to the 6th century BC, making it an ancient religion. A prince named Siddharta Gautama was born into the Shakyas clan during the Magadha period. He is also known as Buddha or the awakened one”. Gautama’s father wanted to shield him from harsh realities experienced by men; thus, he lived a life of luxury and remained clueless about the outside world for 30 years. When he finally came in contact with reality, he was shocked and disturbed by what he saw which led him to begin his quest for enlightenment. Determined to be enlightened, Buddha sat beneath a Bodhi tree where he achieved a state of impeccable bliss (Kondracki, 2).
Christianity started approximately 2000 years ago in Israel with Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples. Jesus Christ claimed to be the son of God, but he was hated by other religious practitioners. When Christ was 30 years old, he was baptized by John the Baptist and received the blessings of God. After his baptismal, he began spreading the word of God through healing and teaching. He was crucified by the Romans, but after three days, his tomb became empty. After his death, Christianity continued to spread to many parts of the world until it became one of the most popular religions in the world (“A One-Page Overview of Christian History”).
It is difficult to pinpoint one specific tradition of Buddhism due to its many branches. However, just as the teachings of Christianity stem from Jesus Christ, Buddhism looks to their founder, Siddharta Gautama (also known as Buddha). There is a difference between Jesus Christ and Buddha in that Christians believe Jesus came to earth as a man in order to fulfill prophecies about the Messiah. In contrast, Buddha could not reconcile the existence of hardship and suffering with omnipotence, leading him to reject certain doctrines of Hinduism (Comparison – Christianity and Buddhism”).
Buddha and Christ share similarities, but they differ in significant ways. Both religions revolve around one man, but Christianity believes that Christ died for the sins of humanity and that salvation can only be achieved through God’s grace. Because of Christ’s crucifixion, humans no longer need to suffer the penalty of death. This concept magnifies Christ’s saving role compared to Buddha.
On the other hand, Buddhism does not concern itself with sin; its focus is on ending suffering. Buddha neither affirms nor denies the existence of God. His only sacrifice was delaying his entrance into nirvana so he could help others achieve enlightenment. Nirvana is a state where desires cease to exist, and after achieving self-perfection, Buddha could have entered nirvana but chose instead to reincarnate and assist others in finding their own nirvana (Ankerberg and Weldon 1).
Buddhism and Christianity have their own unique customs, teachings, and principles. Buddhism’s teachings are based on Gautama’s ethics, known as the golden rule or the ethics of reciprocity. They believe in not doing unto others what they do not want others to do to them. Similarly, Jesus Christ also teaches his moral lessons using the ethics of reciprocity but emphasizes loving God first as his first commandment.
Both religions share similarities in their way of worship. Buddhists believe in monasticism, using rosary and incense, ringing bells, and praying and meditating. Christians follow a similar pattern of worship with monasticism, rosary usage, incense burning, bell ringing along with prayer and meditation.
Buddhists believe in loving everyone – friends or foes alike. One of Christianity’s ten commandments is love thy neighbor as thyself,” which means love should be given to everyone – not just friends (“Buddhism & Christianity”).
Christians are monotheistic because they worship only the Lord God, while Buddhists differ in that they believe in finding enlightenment or what they call the Four Noble Truths. Although there are similarities between the two religions, their different interpretations of the world and life after death make them unique from each other. In the afterlife, all men will be judged and sent to heaven or hell by God depending on how they lived on earth. This concept of Christianity is similar to Buddhism because Buddhists believe that every person must live their life to the best of their ability because in the afterlife, they will be reborn in heaven. However, those who were evil will be given a second chance to have a life here on earth (Basics of Buddhism”).
The aspect of ethics is always central to the doctrines of both Buddhism and Christianity. These two religions focus more on the ethics of men through their beliefs and worship. Both Buddhism and Christianity believe that humans are sinful and imperfect, and moral principles are ways by which people may cleanse themselves.
Christians believe that the original sin caused by Adam and Eve was passed down to today’s generation. The most important teaching from Adam and Eve is that disobedience to God’s commandments is the root of original sin (The Story of Adam and Eve”). This act gives an ethical connotation, as a person is deemed guilty if they transgressed the law. From this point of view, it can be said that sin is not only the original sin committed by Adam and Eve but also disobedience that lies in everyone’s heart.
Therefore, Christianity’s ethics are based not only on faith in God but also obedience to His word. In this context, God is considered as a perfect model for ethics, disobeying Him being tantamount to committing a sin. Men have always had issues about obeying not only God’s commandments but also standards set by other men.
On the other hand, Buddhism does not believe in original sin. According to Buddha, all humans are born from ignorance and as a result, they are often reborn in the samsara – the cycle of birth and death. Buddhists believe that enlightenment can only be achieved by destroying ignorance. Buddha’s own experience taught him that imperfections and bad karma originate from within every individual’s mental faculties rather than from external sources. Their idea of human ethics is that sin is composed of oneself and can be purified by the individual (Samsara”).
Christians believe that God’s forgiveness and grace are the only powers through which they can improve their ethical goals. Buddhists, on the other hand, model their ethics after the character of Buddha himself. His life and teachings serve as their ethical guide.
It is evident that in both Buddhism and Christianity, the ideal ethical model plays a significant role in religious morality. All ethical teachings focus directly on the lives and characters of Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha because followers believe that their lives on earth were perfect examples of how to live.
The lives of Buddha and Christ will always be the foundation of all religious discipline for these two faiths.
Studying a religion that differs from our own comes with many dangers that must be avoided. Some individuals believe their beliefs possess the true light and reject other religions outrightly as false. Others fail to appreciate the beauty and light in anything but their own dogma, lacking the sympathy needed to reconnect with others, leading them to apply false standards of comparison (Berry, 6). Despite differences in doctrines and traditions, Buddhism and Christianity have touched and transformed millions of lives worldwide, continuing to do so today. The encompassing power of faith awakened in the hearts of many people cannot be denied.
Allaboutreligion.org provides a comparison between Christianity and Buddhism. This article is available on AllAboutReligion.org and was published in 2010. The web page can be accessed through the following link: http://www.allaboutreligion.org/comparison-christianity-and-buddhism-faq.htm. The article is informative for those interested in understanding the differences between these two religions.
Ankerberg, John and John Weldon wrote an article titled Buddhism vs. Christianity” which can be found on Ankerberg.com. The article was published online on an unknown date and accessed on August 9th, 2010 at www.ankerberg.com/Articles/_PDFArchives/apologetics/AP3W1101.pdf.
Berry, Thomas Sterling’s book Christianity and Buddhism: A Comparison and Contrast is an insightful read. It was published in 1997 by Asian Educational Services in New Delhi.
Bible-Knowledge.com presents The Story of Adam and Eve” on their website. This article is part of the Bible Knowledge collection and was published in 2010. The webpage can be accessed through the following link: http://www.bible-knowledge.com/adam-and-eve/.
Buddhist Tourism explores the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity in an article titled Buddhism & Christianity”. The article is available on Buddhism-Tourism.com, a website dedicated to promoting Buddhist tourism. The article was published in 2007 and can be accessed on the web as of August 9th, 2010 at http://www.buddhist-tourism.com/buddhism/religion/buddhism-christianity.html.
Kondracki, Richard. Buddhism’s Origin and Development.” Associated Content. Associated Content, Inc., 2010. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/13229/buddhisms_origin_and_development_pg2.html?cat=34
Let Us Reason.org. “Basics of Buddhism.” Let Us Reason, 2010. Web. 6 Aug. 2010. <http://www.letusreason.org/Buddh1.htm>
The New World Encyclopedia defines Samsara” as the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Indian religions. This article was published in 2008 and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. It can be accessed on the web as of August 9th, 2010 at http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Samsara.
ReligionFacts.com provides a one-page overview of Christian history. The article can be found on the ReligionFacts website and was published in 2010. It is available online and can be accessed through this link: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/history/overview.htm.