The questions about life, its sense, and purpose of human existence on the Earth have been relevant at all times. Various religions give answers to all these questions, denying or proving the existence of meaning of life. Buddhism and Christianity, along with Islam are the three world religions. Of these three religions, only Buddhism does not recognize and even eschews the divine principle. For Christianity, God is the source of life, as well as the force that keeps the world turning every day. Due to the wide spreading of Buddhism in Orthodox countries, Buddhists’ ideas gained considerable popularity in modern mass culture. It contributes to the fact that even those, who do not consider themselves Buddhists, experience some influence of these ideas and more or less pronounce sympathy to this religion. In addition, the purpose of Buddhism and Christianity is similar. Both religions “seek to empower the deepest personhood of people by liberating them from conditions of suffering that hide their deeper identity and impede their fuller potential”. However, these two religions have many disparities. Particularly, although Buddhism recognizes certain divine layer in the design of the existential flux, it refrains from it. According to the beliefs of Buddhists, gods are not eternal. Becoming a god for a Buddhist means to delay the state of nirvana. Thus, despite some similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, there are too many differences between religions, which makes it impossible to combine their practices.
Similarities of Buddhism and Christianity
The importance of knowledge and respect for moral and ethical standards is postulated in all world religions. These standards are a necessary basis for moral growth and personal development; they regulate aesthetic norms in society and keep people from falling into a purely materialistic pragmatism. In this respect, it is significant to compare the moral and ethical standards of the two world religions: Buddhism and Christianity. Moral and ethical tenets of Buddhism are set forth in ten virtues, the essence of which is goodness and compassion. Ten Commandments of Buddhism are presented by ten rules, which fall under three categories: physical, verbal and mental. Despite the same number of moral guidelines, the commandments of Buddhism and Christianity have particular differences in internal content. Nevertheless, some of them correlate. The first four Christian commandments postulate the relationship between God and man. They suggest that the main goal of Christianity is to bring humanity closer to God. The absence of this kind of precepts in Buddhism is quite natural, as it denies the existence of the Creator.
Seventh, eighth and ninth Christian precepts, in general, are very similar to the same Buddhist virtues. Tenth Christian commandment clearly parallels with the Buddhist suppression of greedy thoughts. The last Buddhist precept on the suppression of false views similar to the first Christian commandment. The only difference between the two principles is that instead of believing in one God, a man has to believe in the immutability of the basic postulates of the Buddha's teachings. Thus, despite the differences in the dogmatic theologies of Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity, there are universal moral and ethical standards, which are reflected in the form of commandments in the two greatest world religions.
Moreover, Buddhism and Christianity have common goals, which pursue the liberation from suffering and oppression. Buddhists and Christians “have apprehended common experiences and resources for working together to liberate human beings and nature from global forces of systematic oppression”. Both religions recognize oppression and poverty as common challenges, from which the humankind needs deliverance. This similarity contributes to Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
Differences between Religions
Themes of love, justice, and morality can be found both in Buddhism and Christianity. Although there are some similarities in doctrines, there are a great number of distinctions between Buddhist and Christian worldviews.
Origin of Buddha and Jesus. Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born as an ordinary person. Jesus' mother was a poor woman. In contrast, Buddha was born in the royal family. His father ordered to decorate the temple and invited the neighboring kings for this event. The king tried to make Buddha “enjoy the comfort and only see the pleasures of life”. Moreover, Buddha was married and had a son. The only similarity between the two stories is that both future leaders found their way to the temple. The purpose of Buddhist legend is to elevate the Buddha over all the pagan gods of the time. Nothing of this kind could be said about Jesus Christ. There is no reason to assert that these legends are similar or even borrowed from each other.
Role of Buddha and Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth and Buddha belong to the great figures in history and religion. However, their lives and roles in religion are significantly different. The primary distinction between two religions is that Christians believe that Jesus to be God, who was born as a human in flesh and not simply a religious leader. In contrast, Buddhists believe that “Buddha was a human being, albeit a very special human being”. Jesus was acting as a teacher. He managed to change the moral ideology of all mankind. The birth of Jesus was such an extraordinary event to the world, that chronological timeline of human history was divided accordingly.
In contrast, the teachings of Buddha do not release human nature from suffering. The Buddhist religion is a set of practices, but not a set of answers. It does not reveal the mystery of the origin of the Universe, demons, humankind, and concept of ‘karma’. Despite the lack of answers, Buddha devoted his entire life to find a way out of suffering. It can be said that Buddha did not find the answer to his questions and, therefore, could not provide them to his followers.
Nevertheless, Buddha became a positive symbol of human’s devotion to finding salvation from evil and suffering. Cioccolanti emphasizes that Buddha was not the Truth, but a wise man. Consideration of Buddha’s figure causes obvious sympathy for this man, who spent his life looking for the truth. A closer examination of the story of Jesus reveals the gratitude and worship of the people before their Savior. Jesus brought the truth to mankind.
Life after the Death. Christianity and Buddhism imagine a life after death in different ways. Buddhism teaches that people are trapped in repetitive cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Each subsequent rebirth could be better, worse or the same, depending on the karma of a man, which hinges on his sins and merits. The purpose of the ordinary Buddhist is escaping from this circle and reaching nirvana. Once this is achieved, the mind experiences complete liberation and detachment. In contrast, Christianity teaches that every man has only one life on Earth. After the death, the beliefs and actions of a person are judged for a final decision on his future whereabouts. Eternal life awaits everyone. Depending on the decision of God, it will be spent either in heaven or in hell.
Fasting. First Buddha’s fasting lasted for 6 years at the time of his wandering in the woods. The purpose of this fasting was a renunciation of all human needs in order to find the truth. Jesus Christ’s fasting lasted for 40 days in a bleak desert. The main purpose of fasting in Christianity is to shift the attention from food to spiritual growth. Any human being needs to listen to the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the commandments of the divine law, since food does not save lives. Therefore, the term fasting is different depending on the setting. Buddha was looking for a picturesque setting, while Jesus withdrew to the wild and bleak desert for a retreat. Moreover, Buddha’s fasting consisted of self-torture and neglect of the body, while the fasting of Jesus lied in abstinence from food. The similarity is only in the very existence of fasting in both religions.
View on Suffering. The Buddhist opinion about the world differs in gloomy character. According to Buddhism, life is full of suffering and disappointment. There is no joy in the world. Happiness can be reached only through suffering. Joy is a mirage, as even death does not relieve humans from anguish, frustration, and sorrow. Christianity does not deny that there is suffering in life. However, it considers suffering as an act of love of God to all beings on the Earth. Life is not evil, but the highest good. Moreover, Christianity cares about human suffering. Christianity proclaims that a man is not alone and God loves him. Infinite improvement in becoming a perfect image of God gives life a meaning. Love is one of the fundamental goals of man’s life. Thus, Christianity has nothing common with gloomy Buddhist outlook on life. These religions are fundamentally different in the most important aspects such as the understanding of the meaning of life.
The doctrine of Love. Buddhism denies strong emotions, because they bind a person, and give a desire to live. Love is the cause of many human sufferings. Buddhism prohibits insulting other beings and revenging. Buddhist has to take care of all living beings. The reason for such regulations is found in the nature of all living beings on earth. Buddhist refers to the offenders with patience, and cannot hurt him/her since he has no attachment and feelings.
According to Christianity, a goal of life is a complete union with God. Christians seek holiness and perfection. Following the example of the infinite love of God to man, the person must truly love God and His laws. A man has to be good to others. Love has a soulful and energetic beginning, and it is a gift from the Creator. In Christianity, a man struggles with his resentment, anger, and bitterness, replacing them with patience, compassion and infinite love for all offenders.
Thus, Christianity and Buddhism have similar conclusions about love. However, the reasons for these conclusions are different. In Christianity, it is love for all living things. In Buddhism, it rather regrets and a drop of charity to others. Like Buddhism, Christianity forbids negative actions, but it also impels to perform positive ones.
Buddhist worldview is fundamentally different from Christian. It is not possible to practice Buddhism, relying on its spiritual help, and stay Christian. Generally, legends and history of religions, as well as commandments and worldviews have particular similarities. However, the whole essence and meaning of any religion consist in the meaning of life and attitude to love. Meaning, the purpose of life, and the understanding of love in Christianity and Buddhism are very different. Although some of the commandments are the same, they are different in their causes. There is a great difference in the origin, life, and role of Jesus and Buddha. While Jesus was a Teacher, Buddha's teaching does not give many answers. Buddha sought for salvation, while Jesus brought it. Awareness of differences is essential for meaningful dialogue and constructive debate between Christianity and Buddhism, and the promotion of common goals.