In the past 20 years, several books have come out comparing Jesus and Buddha and attempting to put them on the same level, claiming that they have similar teachings. Are their teachings truly comparable?
The alleged figure called Buddha (means “the enlightened one”) was raised in India as a Hindu. However, he came to disagree with many Hindu teachings and wanted to “reform” Hinduism. He ended up starting a new religion, perhaps inadvertently. Buddha hated polytheism, the Hindu ascetic practices, and the caste system, among other things about Hinduism. Buddha not only rejected polytheism but never made a statement about God, so Buddha is non-theistic (neutral regarding a supreme god). He boiled down humanity’s problem to what he called “suffering” (dukkha) and the need for liberation from this suffering. This led to Buddhism.
Buddhism holds that the goal for humanity is to alleviate suffering. The Buddhist core principles about suffering and ending it are embodied in the Four Noble Truths:
1. Suffering exists
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
(Above from http://www.buddhaweb.org/)
The Eightfold Path involves practicing the following: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. (http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble.htm)
The words translated as “suffering” and “desire” encompass a wider meaning than they do in English.
The Pali* word translated as suffering is dukkha and carries the idea that suffering arises from impermanence, which is caused by being attached to this world, reality, or truth (called “conventional truth”) in contrast to ultimate truth. Suffering includes even the concept of enjoying anything that is impermanent. This world and all that is in it is temporal in Buddhism. Enjoying something through this attachment is therefore suffering, because the enjoyment will come to an end. Having joy in anything that is temporal is suffering. (See explanation of dukkah at http://buddhism.about.com/od/thefournobletruths/a/dukkhaexplain.htm).
“Desire” in Buddhism is more than wanting something; it is a grasping at or craving (tanha) for this life, world, or reality. Buddhism teaches that grasping at this world comes from “Ignorance of the self” (http://buddhism.about.com/od/thefournobletruths/a/fournobletruths.htm). The self is temporal and not real (i.e., the not-self, anatta or anatman), thus keeping one in the cycle of rebirth. To believe that that this life is real and that you have an individual identity is illusory and hinders true awakening (also called enlightenment or realization), bodhi. The word Buddha comes from bodhi and means “the awakened one” (http://buddhism.about.com/od/enlightenmentandnirvana/a/bodhinirvana.htm).
Many admire Buddhism because its teachings on ending suffering often include references to compassion. Compassion, karuna, arises from wisdom and in Buddhism, wisdom is “understanding or discernment of the Buddha’s teaching, especially the teaching of anatta, no self” (http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/compassion.htm). Compassion is the desire to free “all sentient beings” from rebirth. “Sentient beings” include all living creatures, including animals, residents of all the realms (similar to worlds of spirit beings), and demi-gods. One must be human to attain enlightenment, so compassion is needed for these non-humans (including demi-gods) to be reborn as human.
Suffering comes to an end when one escapes rebirth and attains Nirvana, which means “to extinguish.” Nirvana is the state in which one has extinguished the notions of false reality and false self (the individual self which does not exist). Some Buddhists sects teach that Nirvana is “oneness with the Absolute” (http://buddhism.about.com/od/enlightenmentandnirvana/a/bodhinirvana.htm).
The path also includes Buddhist meditation, Mindfulness, because the mind is part of this temporal reality and must be transcended in order to grasp true reality and shed attachment to this reality, which causes rebirth. Meditation is not done to calm anxiety, but to bypass the mind and reach a state of no-mind or no-thought so that one sees that there is an existence (the “true” self or Buddha nature) independent of his thoughts and mind. This “true” self (phrase for convenience, not a Buddhist term) is sometimes called the Witness and the “true” Buddha Mind sometimes referred to as Big Mind. Mindfulness meditation is to bring the meditator to realization that he is the Witness.
For this reason, the mind and thoughts are often popularly referred to as “monkey chatter,” “monkey mind,” or “mind chatter” by those in the West promoting Mindfulness. One must learn to control or tame the monkey mind so that Big Mind can take over (http://www.buddhismwithoutboundaries.com/showthread.php?985-Monkey-chatter-in-Theravada-(Mahavihara)-Buddhism; http://www.berkeleyzencenter.org/Lecture/oct2001.shtml).
Buddha Mind is our real nature, the unconditioned ‘Mind’ – and words are metaphors here, remember – that lies beneath the conditioned monkey mind that is interdependent with the world with which it interacts. Moreover, the monkey mind, our everyday mind, is conditioned by our genes, our upbringing, our subconscious, our memories, fears and loves.
Doing Mindfulness over a period of time causes the worldview to shift; one can then allegedly realize his “true” nature and understand that the temporal world is not real. Therefore, the practice of Mindfulness is necessary to end suffering, according to Buddhist teachings.
Quotes from Buddhism
“Buddhism aims at the truth and if not everyone has the capacity to understand it yet, they perhaps will be ready for it in their next life” (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/qanda07.htm).
“The doctrine of anatman (or anatta in Pali) is one of the central teachings of Buddhism. According to this doctrine, there is no “self” in the sense of a permanent, integral, autonomous being within an individual existence” (http://buddhism.about.com/od/abuddhistglossary/g/Anatman.htm).
“Very simply, our bodies, physical and emotional sensations, conceptualizations, ideas and beliefs, and consciousness work together to create the illusion of a permanent, distinctive “me.”
The Buddha said, “Oh, Bhikshu, every moment you are born, decay, and die.” He meant that, every moment, the illusion of “me” renews itself. Not only is nothing carried over from one life to the next; nothing is carried over from one moment to the next.” http://buddhism.about.com/od/karmaandrebirth/a/reincarnation.htm
Jesus, the Son of God, taught that man is sinful and needs redemption. Therefore, seeking things of this world will not bring true happiness because one’s relationship with God is broken due to sin. So Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). True joy only comes from knowing the true God.
True peace comes not in knowing the “true nature of self” (i.e., knowing that it is temporal, according to Buddhism) but in knowing Christ, who reconciles man to God, who is righteous, through faith in Him and His work on the cross. Reconciliation brings peace with God. Until then, one is under the wrath of God because God cannot accept sin.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:16-19
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36
This world was created by God and is real, in contrast to Buddhist teachings. We are individuals with a lasting identity who face eternity with or without God. Jesus willingly suffered inexpressible agonies to pay the penalty for sins on the cross, thereby affording a way of salvation for those who believe. His work on the cross is complete and is sufficient, providing eternal life to those who believe.
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:40
“For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:24-28
The comparison suffers
Any resemblance between Christianity and Buddhism is superficial. In actuality, the contrast between Buddhism and Christianity could not be greater.
Buddhism teaches that this world is illusory, there is no lasting self, one must awaken to true self to end attachment to this life and therefore end rebirth; and the goal is Nirvana, a state of extinguishing all desire and therefore all suffering. There is no God who loves man; no Jesus who suffered to provide the way of salvation; no relationship with a God is offered. Nirvana is extinguishing desire and self for a oneness with an abstract state; eternal life in Christ is peace and joy with God forever.
Whatever one may think of either Buddhism or Christianity, it is clear that they are incomparable in their core teachings. Buddhism disagrees with Christianity on the meaning and purpose of suffering and how to end it, on the existence of a Creator God, on the nature of man, on the fact of sin, on the need for redemption, on the truth of who Jesus is, on the way to end suffering, and on the life after death. In short, Buddhism and Christianity disagree on all the important spiritual issues.
*Pali is the language of the original Buddhist teachings
Selected sources (aside from those in text) used in previous writings on Buddhism from which much of the above is derived
Blofield, John. The Tantric Mysticism of Tibet. NY: Penguin Books USA/Arkana, 1970.
Bowker, John, ed. Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Bowker, John, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Callaway, Tucker N. Zen Way, Jesus Way. Rutland, VT/Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc. 1976.
The Dalai Lama. An Open Heart. n.p., 2001.
Eerdman’s Handbook to the World’s Religions. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company and Lion Publishing, 1994.
Hopfe, Lewis M. Religions of the World, 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1994.
Keown, Damien, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford University Press, 2004.
McGreal, Ian P., ed. Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1995.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Beacon Press, 1999.
Osborne, Richard and Borin Van Loon. Introducing Ancient Eastern Philosophy. NY: Totem Books, 1996.
Schuhmacher, Stephen and Gert Woerner, eds. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, trans., Michael H. Kohn. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1991.
Smith, Jean, ed. Breath Sweeps Mind. NY: Riverhead Books, 1998.
Thurman, Robert A. F. Essential Tibetan Buddhism. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1997.
Tonkinson, Carole, ed. Big Sky Mind. NY: Riverhead Books/The Buddhist Ray, 1995.
Yamamoto, J. Isamu. Buddhism, Taoism, and other Far Eastern Religions; Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements, Alan W. Gomes, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
An article by Ken Ammi on Buddha and Jesus
The Lotus and the Cross, by Ravi Zacharias
A brief explanation of the practice of Mindfulness http://buddhism.about.com/od/theeightfoldpath/a/right-mindfulness.htm