Comparing Christian and Buddhist Ethics
Religion is a part of every man’s life. Every culture found all around the world represents a different belief. Two of the most respected religions in the world are Buddhism and Christianity. They both have a very colorful history and millions of dedicated followers. Even though they came from different time periods, their influence is so great that it helped shape the beliefs, cultures and customs of people from all ages.This paper aims to discuss the similarities and differences of Buddhism and Christianity and the effects of their teachings.
For two of the most popular religions in the world, both Buddhism and Christianity have their very own humble beginnings. Buddhism came from India approximately 500 years prior to the Apostolic Age. Its origin dates back to the 6th century BC which makes it an ancient religion. A prince was born into the Shakyas clan at the dawn of the Magadha period. This prince was named Siddharta Gautama, otherwise known as Buddha or “the awakened one”.
His father wanted to keep him away from the harsh realities experienced by men. Gautama’s life was one of luxury and because of his father’s protection, he was clueless about the outside world for 30 years. When he came in contact with the world, he was shocked and distubed by what he saw so he began his quest for enlightenment. Determined to be enlightened, Buddha sat beneath a Bodhi tree and there he achieved a state of impecabble bliss (Kondracki, 2).
Christianity started approximately 2000 years ago in Israel with Jesus Christ and his twelve desciples. 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 wherein he received the blessings of God. After his baptismal, he bagan 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 religion in the world (“A One-Page Overview of Christian History”).
It is hard to try and pin down one of the traditions of Buddhism because of its many branches but just as the teachings of Christianity emanates from Jesus Christ, Buddhism looks to their Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, as the founder of their faith. However, Jesus Christ differs from Buddha in a sense that the Christians believe that he came to earth as a man in order to fulfill the prophesies about the Messiah. On the other hand, Buddha cannot seem to reconcile the existence of hardship and suffering with omnipotence so he rejected the doctrines of Hinduism (“Comparison- Christianity and Buddhism”).
Buddha and Christ are similar yet they differ in more ways than one. As much as both religions relied on one man, they are different because Christians believed that Christ died for the sins of men and salvation can only be attained through God’s grace. Men no longer need to serve the penalty of death because Christ already died for everyone when he was crucified on the cross. This idea magnified the saving role of Christ as compared to Buddha. In Buddhism, Buddha does not have any concern with sin, only with ending the suffering. He does not affirm nor deny the concept of God. The only sacrifice he did was his act of postponing his entrance to nirvana in order for him to help other find enlightenment. Nirvana is a state wherein the desires and men cease to exist. After achieving self-perfection, Buddha can now enter nirvana but he chose to be reincarnated again to assist others in finding their nirvana (Ankerberg and Weldon, 1).
Buddhism and Christianity each have their own set of customs, teachings and principles. The teachings of Buddhism are based on Gautama’s ethics called the golden rule or the ethics of reciprocity. Buddhism is known for their belief in the saying that people must not do unto others what they do not want others to do to them. In the same way, Jesus Christ also teaches his moral lessons using ethics of reciprocity in order for the people to easily understand what he means but it is his first commandment to love God first. Buddhism and Christianity also have similarities in their way of worship. The Buddhists believe in monasticism, using of rosary and incense and ringing of the bells. Oftentimes, monks of the Buddhist temple are found praying and meditating. In the same way, Christians follow almost the same pattern of worship because they also believe in monasticism, rosary and incense usage, ringing of the bells, prayer and meditation. The Buddhists believe in loving everybody, friend or foe. One of the ten commandments of the Christians is the principle of living thy neighbor as one loves thyself. This means that love must not only be given to friends but to everybody as well (“Buddhism & Christianity”).
Christians are monotheistic because they only worship the the Lord God while Buddhists are different because they believe in the idea of finding enlightenment or what they call the Four Noble Truths. There are indeed some similarities between the two religions, however, their different interpretation about the world and life after death make them unique from each other. In the afterlife, all men will be judged and put to heaven or hell by God depending on how they lived here on earth. This concept of Christianity is similar to that of Buddhism because the Buddhists believe that every men must live their life the best way they know how 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. As a matter of fact, these are two of the religions that focus more on the ethics of men through their beliefs and worships. Both Buddhism and Christianity believe that men are sinful and imperfect. The existence of the moral principles are ways by which men may cleanse themselves. According to the viewpoint of Christians, the original sin caused by Adam and Even were passed down to the generation of today. The most important teaching to be learned from Adam and Eve is that the disobedience of men to God’s commandments is the root of the original sin (“The Story of Adam and Eve”). The act of disobedience gives an ethical connotation. For instance, a person is deemed guilty if he transgressed the law. Taken from the context of the original sin, God is considered as the perfect model of ethics and disobeying him is tantamount to committing sin. Men have always had issues about obeying not only the commandments of God but also the standards set by men. From this point of view, it can be said that sin is not only the original sin committed by Adam and Eve but also the disobedience that lies in the heart of everyone. Therefore, the ethics of Christianity is said to be based not only in their faith in God but also in their obedience to his word.
On the other hand, Buddhism does not believe in the original sin. According to Buddha, all men came from ignorance and as a result, they are often born and reborn in the samsara; the cycle of birth and death. Buddhists believe that enlightenment can only be achieved upon the destruction of ignorance. Buddha’s own experience taught him that the original cause of the sins of men are the imperfections and the bad karmas which did not orginate from the outside world but from the mental faculties of every man. Their idea of human ethics is that sin is composed of oneself and as such, it may also be purified by the particular individual (“Samsara”).
Christians believe that God’s forgiveness and grace are the only power through which they can improve their ethical goals. On the other hand, the model of ethics for the Buddhists is the character of Buddha himself. His life and teachings are their model of ethics. It can be aptly observed that in Buddhism and Christianity, the most significant role in the whole religious morality is their ideal ethical model. All their ethical teachings directly focus on the life and character of Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha because their followers believe that their life here on earth are the perfect examples of how men should live their life. The lives of Buddha and Christ are and always will be the foundation of all their religious discipline.
There are many dangers that must be avoided in studying a religion that is different from the one that is ackowledged within ourselves. There are those who people who have the habit of believing that their belief alone possesses the true light and as such, they outrightly reject the claims of other religions as false. On the other hand, there are those who fail to appreciate the beauty and light in anything but their own dogma, they do not have the sympathy needed in order to reconnect with others and as such, they tend to apply false standards of comparison (Berry, 6). Buddhism and Christianity have touched and transformed the life of millions of people around the world and they continue to do so even until today. Even though there are indeed notable differences in their doctrines and traditions, one cannot deny the encompassing power of faith that these two religions awakened in the hearts of many people.
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Berry, Thomas Sterling. Christianity and Buddhism: a comparison and contrast. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1997, Print.
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