The task at hand is quite impossible, especially in a ten-page paper. I am about to compare two entire religions, that is two entire belief systems that certain individuals have devoted their entire lives towards; that generations have sought to follow, further, and protect with their lives. I will attempt to do this, but please bear in mind that my personal views will inevitably surface to a great degree and I will be prone to taking sides. I believe in fact that these two systems are poles apart and have very few similarities indeed. In this sense I am forced to conclude that they are hugely incompatible and that very few people will be able to accept both. In other words, a person who is attracted to and is happy with Buddhism is likely to be a very different kind of person then the one who is attracted to and is happy with Christianity.
Let us begin with the obvious and proceed from there. While both of these religious systems reject the “materialistic inhibition” of biological science and adopt a basically spiritual dimension to the composition of a human being, they differ in many fundamentally important respects. Christians believe in one God, which rules the universe and the entire human fate. “Can any praise the worthy of the Lord’s majesty? How magnificent his strength! How inscrutable his wisdom!” The famous quote of a famous book has put it rather bluntly. Buddhists do not believe in one God, nor do they believe in any Gods for that matter. For their purposes, nature serves as their Maker, and being that they are part of nature, they are their own Gods. They also do not necessarily accept human destiny, although karma plays some obscure part in certain Buddhist sects. Being part of nature, their destiny is therefore always being a part of nature.
Christians believe that the efforts of another person or being such as Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Saints can progress the spiritual condition of a single individual, and thus be the cause of their salvation. Indeed, though his personal suffering Christ has erased the sins of an entire civilization. Buddhists believe this is not possible and that only through personal effort can good be produced and bad reduced in the life of an individual. ‘We save ourselves’ is the very much the message of Buddhism. In any case, Christians venture to say no one can be saved except through love for and faith in Christ. This appears egotistic and self-centered. Buddhists do assert that certain saintly and highly gifted people exist and can help us, such as the Buddha himself, yet they still maintain that personal salvation will only occur though one’s own individual effort. I would also contend that the profoundly judgmental Christian concepts of sin, guilt and shame have been psychologically damaging to the people who have come in contact with them.
Christians also believe in such polarities as good and evil, God and Devil, Heaven and Hell -- none of which form an important part of any Buddhist teachings. Christianity is likewise authoritarian and dictatorial -- "you must believe this or you will be condemned" -- whereas Buddhism tends to be more liberal and allows people to believe more or less whatever they like. Christians ban certain teachings as heretical, evil and harmful, but in general terms, Buddhists assert that anyone can believe anything they wish and that there is some merit in any belief system which has some spiritual views and respects the rights of an individual, as long as it does not harm others.
The two systems seem poles apart. Even the area where there is some overlap -- such as in the encouragement of compassion and good works -- even then there are some profound differences in the motivation for and supposed results of such good deeds. Buddhists believe that good works and compassion are ends in themselves which generate benefit for the world, creation and all living beings and which should therefore be strongly encouraged; whereas Christians tend to be very confused as to the exact purpose or function of compassionate activity in the world -- and correspondingly rather variable in their encouragement of it. Christianity promotes such good deeds with and ere of selfishness, in that the reason for doing good deeds is to be in the good grace before God, and therefore arrange a place for oneself in heaven. Christianity thus seems to be ethically very hypocritical, and socially divisive, whereas most Buddhists are very clear about such matters and cannot become involved in killing, anger, crime, social divisiveness or indulgences like wealth. They realize the unhappiness for self and others, which is created by involvement in such activities.
Despite the above distinctions, there are conspicuous and rather striking parallels underlying the root of both of these beliefs. In order to capture this one particular diversity, we must look at the essence of these two beliefs.
In some sense religion is a means to some end. Spirituality is the way of understanding simple, yet profound “childish” questions striving for meaning. Questions such as “Why are we here?” For Buddhism that end is Enlightenment. The idea of Enlightenment, as I understand it, can be described as a complete separation from all “worldly” and secular ties or attachments. Yet, it is still so much more then that. It is the elimination of suffering itself, and is also referred to as Nirvana. It is a state of perfection, where the mind transcends the body and the self. It is the point in which one is no longer susceptible to suffering. Buddha had created a set of guidelines in order to help lead us toward Enlightenment, toward Nirvana. He called these the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is perhaps the simplest to understand. It is the truth of misery, also known as dukkha. It is merely the realization and acknowledgement that suffering exists and that we are all experiencing it nearly every moment of our lives. This first truth helps us identify the problem that affects almost every human being, it also allows us to understand the significance of what we face. After we have realized the extent of this misery we can begin to look at its causes, which bring us to the Second Noble Truth. This Truth identifies the origin of dukkha as the craving for pleasure and for being. One must realize that we suffer because we become tangled in a web of our own attachments. When we take pleasure from something it is in our nature to grow attached to it. The more we indulge in a particular pleasure, the more the attachment grows and even the possibility of separation form the pleasure results in suffering and misery. In essence, suffering is the longing for something e do not poses. The key to Nirvana, in a manner of speaking, is finding pleasure in detachment from pleasure and from personal attachment. The last two truths are not important to this discussion, in fact in discussing the previous two I have drawn plenty of references to the for the reader to grasp their meaning. However, what is of particular importance is the understanding of the “Noble Eightfold Path.” Leading this path is understanding the Four Noble Truths and adjusting one’s life in accordance. To follow the Noble Eightfold Path is to lead a full, peaceful and productive life.
Many theologians consider St. Augustine’s “Confessions” to be the fundamental nature of Christianity. In “The Confessions,” St. Augustine addressed himself eloquently and passionately to the enduring spiritual questions that have stirred the minds and hearts of thoughtful men since time began. It is a history of a youth’s fierce struggle to overcome his sinful ways and achieve a life of spiritual grace. The essence to Augustine’s message is that to be a Christian means to move your spirit from the old will towards the new will, to channel your life from the desolate towards the divine. Augustine believed that we enter this world fallen, with a sinful nature, embodying the old will. The old will representing temptation; temptation of flesh, of secular pleasure. “I became to myself a wasteland “ as he describes his wicked nature. Augustine maintained that an individual accepting the “old will,” will eventually become entangled in the “iron chain.” Attachment to flesh will lead to lust; the lust to habit; and habit to necessity. To lead a good life is to strive for the “new will.” The new will, or the will of spirit and continence offers faith in God as the true revelation. In a sense, finding the new will is finding Enlightenment.
The simple parallel between the two explanations of these religions would discover that they both condemn concern with notions such as pleasure, “flesh,” and materialistic wants. While this is true, there exists a much more complex and intricate relationship. Both of these religions offer a similar meaning of life, a similar end to a means. They do not plainly list a number of fables that supposed to embody certain morals. But both of these religions describe a journey, a personal transcendence as the ultimate goal. Each goal might differ, yet the idea of the journey is of vital importance. Fundamentally, the journey is the meaning of life.
Buddhism encourages personal poverty, moderation, frugality, restraint, gentleness, non-harming, simplicity and charity for all its believers rather than wealth, indulgence, complexity or cruelty. Buddhism also asserts very strongly that people should work through their own past and on their own psychology, seeking to improve one's own behavior and speech, constantly retraining oneself to become a better person than one has been before, analyzing one's thoughts, words and deeds and working constantly to improve one's ethical conduct and general attitudes to self and others. Indeed, 'self-purification' in its various forms, occupies the time of Buddhists probably more than any other single spiritual activity. And while Christianity holds the activities above in grace, the meaning, the rationale behind it is unclear.
Buddhism encourages us to seek out the causes of suffering within ourselves and to never cease from striving to reduce or eliminate them. It encourages us to diminish our ingrained selfishness and to expand limitlessly our charity and compassion for others. But the biggest difference between these two traditions seems to be in their basic philosophical positions in relation to the nature of existence. Buddhists believe in a universe of continuous creation and destruction, cravings and thirst, which are the root causes of pain, loss and separation, and within which there is no possible sanctuary. This 'nightmare without' is matched inwardly by a psychology mainly driven by our deeply-ingrained 'impurities' of desire, hatred and ignorance. Our innate reflex response to life is to 'hate this' and 'desire that.’ These are very strong forces, which most people find difficult to resist or control. Release from this situation is viewed as the only means of true happiness and inner peace, and thus as the only true refuge from the sufferings and misery which are an inherent part of it. That is Enlightenment -- a selfless, desireless and hateless state of joy and bliss.
Christians have no explanation for the apparently random suffering, which appears in the world, and no clear plan of how to avoid it. Nor do they have any clear concept of human psychology, whereas Buddhists have very clear views on all these matters. Christians also dismiss as 'work of the Devil' any teachings concerning spirits, divine revelation, magic, healing, dreams, meditation and paranormal phenomena. Christian teaching seems to be centered mainly upon following what someone else tells you to do, often for no clear reason other then faith. Following a moral code set entirely by others. Christian ideas are 'received dogmas' based upon the revelations of one person, who claims to be the 'Son of God' -- a concept that in itself is quite meaningless to a Buddhist. Likewise such concepts as God, the Devil, the Virgin, grace, the Holy Trinity, angels -- all are utterly meaningless to Buddhists and like them I personally gave up years ago of trying to find any meaning in such terms at all. Which led me to conclude that they contain none.
For all the above reasons it will probably be very obvious that I regard Buddhism as very mature and sophisticated -- ethically, metaphysically, psychologically and philosophically -- based upon a rational and profound analysis of human life; whereas I tend to regard Christianity as incomplete, unsophisticated and at times hypocritical. At the beginning of the course, I set out to find and perhaps enhance my own spirituality. I believe that Buddhism, similarly, embodies a similar goal. Not to find a God, someone to pray to, but to endeavor in a journey of one’s own beliefs. To organize in one’s mind the morals, reasons and how they relate to my absolute world. While I may not agree completely with Buddha’s teachings, I find beauty and harmony in the way this religion classifies myself in relation to my environment. Buddhism as a religion, philosophy and a way of life is unique and utterly captivating. There is certain comfort in knowing that things are the way they are because that is the way of nature, and the only way I can be truly happy is to accept it and find reassurance in it.