Islam and Buddhism are two distinct religious traditions that provide their own meaningful responses to the fundamental questions about life. Their views on issues relating to the possibility of a Supreme Being, the purpose of life and their understanding of the cycle of life and death are all quite distinct from each other, but at the same time, having minor similarities. These can be seen in the following comparative study between the teachings of these two world religions.
Is there a Supreme Being? What is the nature of the divine?
All Muslims profess the existence of the One and Only God, God Almighty who is also referred to as ‘Allah’. They firmly believe that Allah is the most high and honored, the creator and the sustainer of all that exists and he has no physical connections between any thing he has created whether it be the creatures or human beings on this earth. He has no beginning and no end. Allah has no physical dimensions like hunger, sleep or rest for he is the one who gives such attributes to his creatures. Buddhism on the other hand, recognises no creator god who initially brought the universe into existence and continues to control it in the way that Allah controls everything that is or happens in the universe from the smallest to the greatest events. The founder of Buddhism, who is known as Buddha, did not want to be worshipped as a god. He taught that people would be happier if they took responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. His teachings were simply a guide for living. Muslims can some what relate to this in the way they are taught to be responsible for their own actions and sins. The two religions are also similar in the way they both believe in the concept of god/s existing in the afterlife. Muslims firmly believe in the existence of Allah in heaven while Buddhists consider the possibility of gods existing in the heavens that their karma has created.
Islam teaches that God created human beings and endowed them with immortal souls. Each individual possesses the quality of uniqueness and the duty of each person is to work out his or her own destiny and each is responsible for his or her own action. Buddhists would say that rather than being created by a Supreme Being, humans actually got themselves born due to karma made in past lives. This was made with a particular father and mother with whom we have karmic connections. Islam also teaches that the task of a human being is to make a sincere effort and strive to do his/her best. Islam discourages its followers to sit in resignation. However, whatever results from effort is to come from God’s decision and should be accepted with patience. At the same time, giving thanks and praise to God is also part of the central purpose in life. In contrast to Buddhism teachings, Buddha did not want to be worshipped as a god, but instead, taught people that the central idea of life was to reach as sense of incomprehensible peace in their minds. In Islam, life is essentially preparation for the Day of Judgement when Allah will call all people to hear an account of how they have lived. This will determine their destiny after life. On the other hand, Buddhists believe that humans are on this earth because of the evil things that they have committed in past lives and the main purpose of life is to reach the state of enlightenment. To escape the cycle of rebirth is to enter the supreme reality of Nirvana where there is freedom and bliss. To attain nirvana is simply to be out of existence. The way in which Buddhists are taught to go about this is to devote their life to compassion, charity, and non-violence and to clear their mind of all content and learn to drift away from the consciousness of this world.
How do we understand the cycle of life and death? Is there life after death?
In Islam, life on earth is considered to be a minute part of the totality of existence. The life in the hereafter is of eternal duration. Every individual is accountable for his performance in the worldly life and is answerable in front of God on the Day of Judgement. On this day, God will raise every one from the dead and he will allow those who have lived a good life to enter the paradise of heaven and those who have done evil will be punished by suffering in the torment of hell. People will be judged not only on their deeds but also on their faith. Believers may have their sins forgiven or undergo a period of punishment and will go to heaven, but disbeliveers will go to hell. They had their chance to turn to Allah and now it is too late. Only when they have complete submission to God may they be salvaged. In contrast to Buddhist teachings’, our future lives may or may not be in a human form but while we are on this earth we may continue to be reborn due to the evil things that we have committed in our past lives. Buddhists consider rebirth as another chance to work toward realisation, while Allah considers life to be the only chance of proving your worthiness to God so that you may enter Heaven. The ways in which both religions encourage people to go about reaching Supreme Reality (whether it be reaching Heaven or Nirvana), are also different to each other. In Buddhism, the only way to escape the cycle of rebirth is by following the “Noble Eight-fold Path”, a strict ethical system and by committing ourselves to meditation so that we are no longer conscious of this world. As stated before, Muslims are worthy of entering Heaven if they have completely submitted to God and if they have performed good deeds, while Buddhists mainly focus on the importance of attaining peace in one’s mind so they can reach Nirvana.
An average Muslim believes that God gives life and death and that death may come at any time, thus, every one should try to send on ahead for good deeds that will earn the pleasure of God. With this perception, a Muslim has to live a virtuous life all the time. Buddhists also believe in living a virtuous life all the time, but rather than it being for the purpose of pleasing a god, it is mainly for reaching enlightenment.
In summary, the two world religions share both similar and distinguishing beliefs on their various teachings of life and the existence of Supreme Beings. Their major differences are mainly that Buddhism ignores the issue of a Supreme Being, while Muslims consider Allah as the One and Only God who created this earth. Buddhism also teaches that humans can be reincarnated when they die, while in Muslims believe that after death, there is a life of eternal duration. Although their main similarities are minor, the two religions can relate to the existence of a supreme reality after life on earth, with Buddhists believing in Nirvana and Muslims believing in Heaven. The religions also believe in committing good deeds in order to enter these supreme realities.