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Compare & Contrast, Christianity vs Budhism

B y S i n g u l a r N e w m a n

To be or not to be, that is not the question we should be asking, since it is painfully obvious that since you’re here asking a question you are already being, even if you choose in your head to be somewhere else, in some sense you will always be, here. To believe or not to believe, that should be the question. Because belief is essential to being a human, since the world’s been turning. Every tribe and nation under the sun has posed the same nagging question. What is this and why? The answers are many, the question one. The answer to the riddle of existence, why and what are we as beings, besides being, why are we and what. The previous statement is a bit on the heavy side but once deciphered it begins to illuminate the issue a bit. I have chosen to compare and contrast the two major faith based systems, from two opposite poles of the planet. Japan versus the United States of America.

I will begin the discussion with a focus on the major faith based systems, such as Western American Christianity and Eastern Japanese Buddhism. Since these systems overlap essentially every aspect of a person’s life, it is important to understand that these comparisons will be narrowed down and focused on the main points. The main difference between Buddhism and Christianity is, that the two systems are completely different and incompatible ideologically. The sociological norms and standards between the two systems are very different indeed as we shall see.

The first system studied will be Western Christianity. The Christian Faith system has been around for about 2000 years. However, the Judaic underpinnings of Christianity would make this system a lot older, on the order of over four thousand continuously documented historically proven years. As we all know history is written by the winners. How many military defeats did Rome suffer? Only the ones they told us or more importantly wrote us about, you get the point.

The old Hebrew Book of Tanakh1) informs us of much older history as well, history predating the four thousand years we have talked about. It is interesting to note that if one was to look at human tribal legends, and folklore passed on from generation to generation, some startling similarities are to be found. Due to the length of this paper I will be as brief as possible on the subject matter.

Ancient legends all tell of a horrible deluge that happened on the planet long ago. All these separate tales elaborate closely the same thing. Basically about four thousand years ago the planet earth went through a major bath. The flood of Noah as the Christians refer to it apparently was quite a hot topic for the ancient tribes on all six continents, and all at the same time. There are some 600 such legends from various places. Some of these are very similar to the Tanakh narrative, while others differ from point to point.

This proves that knowledge of Noah's flood as it is known by Christians existed among all peoples of the world as far back as four thousand years ago. Modern science has unearthed a staggering amount of artifacts proving that ancient man was not stupid, and as a matter of fact ancient man accomplished many things that twenty first century man has yet to achieve. I am talking about Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramid at Giza.

There have always been pockets of wild men living like beasts in caves and forests, however and this might seem strange, as far back as our history can be recorded man has always known where the stars were in their orbits, known about planting crops, medicine, advance mathematics, metallurgy, complex building practices, language skills ,writing and arts. It is interesting to realize that if you look at the overwhelming evidence, civilization just arrived, it was not constructed over millions and millions of years. Civilization seems to emerge fully loaded, about four thousand years ago. And when I say civilization I mean these guys, like the Egyptians or the Babylonians knew exactly when a comet would pass by, when the next eclipse would appear and that Saturn has rings and moons. What is really overwhelming, is that modern astronomy has figured that out in 1870.

Christianity emerged around the year 30 A. D. The basic doctrine has stayed the same throughout its two thousand years of existence. The entire system can be encompassed by one word, love. The system founder was a man named Jesus Christ; however, He claimed that this system was not new, that it was based on the older system that the Hebrew tribes were administered by. This man named Jesus challenged the ancient Hebrew system, telling everyone that had an ear to hear and an eye to see, that the first system was misused and misguided, mostly by the money hungry leaders, and the practice fell far short of the stated objective. This man died an agonizing death for His beliefs and the spreading of these beliefs. So did the twelve men that were selected to help with the task of restructuring the older Hebraic system.

It is interesting to note that this man named Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whose career ended at its peak, as he was crucified at less than forty years of age, by the Roman authorities, often spoke of a life after death. According to over six hundred eye witness reports, this man arose from the grave three days later. It is not only unusual but down-right strange that these twelve men went to their graves, in horrible torment an pain, claiming that they saw Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise from the dead and walk around among men, afterwards leaving the planet, but before leaving promising to one day return. These twelve men are not a select company, as most first century Christians were martyred for this belief. The Roman Emperor Nero used Christians as street lights at night2), by pouring oil on them and sticking them on poles throughout his palace and the streets of Rome. These followers of Jesus Christ of Nazareth would rather be doused in cooking oil and lit on fire than recant their belief. Because these people were constantly talking about Christ, they began to be called Christians. In the first century A.D., (which by the way stands for Anno Domini in Latin, meaning The Year of Our Lord), the Christian population had only one creed, one faith and one identity. Christians who were persecuted in Jerusalem spread the word of God everywhere they went. The apostle Paul who died around 64 A.D. was mostly responsible for spreading the Word of God throughout the Roman Empire3).

Christians were still different from the Jews and Gentiles. Christians did not worship idols, as most of the Romans did, and they preached that Jesus was the Messiah, unlike the Jews who had a problem with Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The Jews thought that the Messiah would be a politic leader; someone who would save them from the Roman oppression, so many wouldn't accept Jesus as the promised Hebrew Messiah. Also, Christians would not serve as soldiers because Jesus taught them to love their enemies and even turn the other cheek.

In 306 A.D. Constantine became the Emperor of Rome.4) Constantine made a stop to the persecution of Christians and made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Everyone within the Empire was now known as a Christian, whether they accepted Christ as their Savior or not. Because Rome was considered the epicenter of the Church, the Pope or the bishop at Rome became the most powerful leader. The church grew and expanded, becoming bigger and more powerful.

The history of the Church can be best understood by two currents, or I should say one current and many tributaries. The belief system hinges on the fact the Jesus Christ of Nazareth was man but also God, sent down to mankind to negotiate mans sentence. According to the older Hebrew belief, man has to obey a set of holy commandments, ten in number. These commandments were written in stone, by the finger of God, (see film, The Ten Commandments) and cannot be broken.

The Ten Commandments are as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Great norms a whole empire could live by. The whole idea was that man was flawed and needed to get back to the golden standard by following these Ten Commandments. These became the moral and symbolic backbone, underpinning the entire Christian belief system. To this day, the Christian faith bases its teaching on these commandments. The faith current so to speak I mentioned previously, refers to the tendency of the Christian faith system to form different tributaries. The Christian faith was one back in 40 A.D. Today there are tens of different offshoots of the Christian faith system. As I have said, there is only one central main current, the idea that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Most Protestant Christianity cults proclaim this fact, however, in recent history, this reality has been challenged by these separate streams of pseudo Christianity.

It’s like everyone is selling a different brand of Jesus. These different brands are called religions and they vary on separate degrees, on doctrinal matters and interpretations of texts. The main idea that I understand from Christianity is that man is weak and flawed and therefore God is willing to lend a helping hand. God sends Jesus Christ as an ambassador between Him and us and there are certain instructions that come with the program, the main idea being expressed in the Ten Commandments.

Christianity started in the Middle East and spread to Europe. Naturally the pilgrims and the Christians that moved to the new world, the US, brought their faith system, being a majority, America became known as a Christian nation. According to President Barak Hussein Obama, we are no longer a Christian nation5), but we have become however, one of the world’s largest Muslim nations. Regardless of the perception, the Christian faith based system still has a strong hold in this nation.

In Japan, Buddhism was introduced by a visitor from Korea around 550 A.D. It did not take long to spread Buddhism throughout Japan even though there were existing native religions in each Japanese community. One of the reasons which aided in spreading Buddhism so quickly was Yamataikoku, 6)a strong country controlled by a strong handed woman by the name of Himiko,7) a shaman queen who unified small countries and villages a couple hundred years before Buddhism was introduced. However, soon there erupted a war between two powerful families named Mononobe and Soga, known as the Teibi incident 8). The Mononobe family believed in a native religion and tried to keep Buddhism out of Japan. On the other hand, the Soga family was really interested in Buddhism, because it was from a developed country. Prince Shotoku (Shotoku taishi) 9) also took a deep interest in Buddhism, sided with the Soga Family and participated in the war against the Mononobe family.

When the Soga family and Prince Shotoku were about to lose the war, he carved the Four Devas 10)from wood. He brought them to where the fighting was taking place and put them up on the front line. The whole climate of the situation changed, and the Mononobe family lost the war. At the end of the war between the Mononobe family and the Soga family, Buddhism flourished in Japan. Now, there are several Buddhism denominations in Japan including Nichiren, Shingon, Joudo, Joudoshinshu, Tendai, and Zenshu11). Tendai shu was introduced by Ganjin from the T'ang Dynasty of China12) in 753 A.D. Tendai shu, established by Denkyou Daishi Saicho, was sanctioned by the Japanese Imperial Court in the Heian Period. Saicho went to T'ang Dynasty China in 804 A.D. and learned esoteric Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and the commandments.

He came back to Japan the following year and established Tendai shu and taught Buddhism from Mt. Hiei. The head of the temple in Tendai shu was Enryakuji13). Also, two Buddhist priests, Ennin and Enchin, contributed to Tendai shu. The efforts of both priests can be seen in present day Tendai shu. Kukai, (774-835 A.D.) was the founder of the Shingon shu sect 14). Kukai learned Chinese ideology and Chinese philosophy in Japan when he was young. However, he thought he could not serve the people or relieve their suffering by studying Buddhism in Japan. Therefore, he decided to go to China to continue his studies. Kukai and Saicho (founder of the Tendaishu sect) went to China at the same time during the T'ang Dynasty. They may have met each other while studying in China but even if they met each other, they did not think that both of them were going to be founders of Japanese Buddhist sects. Now, both Tendai shu and Shingon shu Buddhism sects are the oldest and most popular in Japan. Kukai established a school “Shugeishuchi-in” for the common people at Kujo in Kyoto. He taught them about Buddhism and Confucianism. The head temple of Shingon shu sects are Kongoubuji and Touji. Kukai is one of the three great calligraphers in the Heian period. On the way to China, the ship he took went adrift.

The ship arrived at a place that was about a thousand kilometers away from its destination. Therefore, a government officer did not believe that they were an envoy from Japan and did not give permission to land in China. Although an ambassador wrote a letter many times to petition for landing, the ambassador did not receive any answer at all. However, the envoy received permission because of a beautiful, beautiful letter and the good style when Kukai wrote a letter for the ambassador.

The founder of the Jodo shu sect was Honen-shonin. One of the teachings of Jodo shu is “Feeling a happiness of your life.” Jodo-shu was established by Honen-shonin in 1175 A.D. The head temple of the sect is called Chionin, located in Kyoto, Japan. Honen-shounin believed that “If you want to go to the Heaven, you just need to recite Namu Amida Butsu.” Since the old Buddhism tended to be for nobles, he had difficulty teaching the idea. However, his idea spread out among people gradually and relieved commoners of their daily distresses.

Honen-shonin (1133-1212 A.D.) Honen-shonin also studied Buddhism at Seiryu temple in Mt. Hiei. Shinran-shonin was the founder of Jodoshin shu. However, he did not try to establish the religious sect. According to records, he was a modest person. The sect was a combination of lessons from Shinran's teacher and Honen, who was the founder of the Joudo sect. Although he had many pupils and followers, they were never acknowledged. He finished writing the basis of the Jodoshin-shu code in 1214 A.D.

Early Buddhist monks did not get married. Shinran-shonin did marry and had children. As a result, later priests got married. Their children took over the priest job in most cases. Shinran-shonin (1173-1262 A.D.)

The founder of Nichiren-shu is Nichiren-shonin. The religious sect was established in 1253 A.D. The head temple of the Nichiren sect is Kuonji in Yamanashi, Japan. A teaching of Nichiren shu is that everyone attains Buddhahood in the afterlife. Since this founder argued with other Buddhist religious sects, he was sent to islands 2 times. His teaching was spread out among samurai in the provinces and to people involved in commerce and industry. Now, temples of Nichiren-shu are seen in other countries. Nichiren (1222 - 1282 A.D.)

The historical Buddha was born Prince Siddhatha Gotama in Kapilavatthu, near the present-day border of India and Nepal, on the May Full Moon day in 623 B.C. His parents, King Suddhodana and Queen Maya, had waited for a child for a long time. Everyone in the kingdom rejoiced at his birth. At this time India already had a rich spiritual heritage.

It had been prophesied there would soon be an ascetic who would realize the ultimate truth and become the greatest teacher. According to the Hindu tradition, five days after his birth seven Brahmin priests came to the temple to name the baby using astrology and forecast his future by reading his body signs. Each of the Brahmins said this baby would become a universal monarch or leave his princely life to become a world spiritual leader. The youngest priest, Kondanna, was so confident that this was the future Buddha that he left the priesthood to wait in the forest for his future teacher.

When Siddhatha was six years old, King Suddhodana organized a Ploughing Festival 15) which the whole royal family had to attend. Everyone in the kingdom was celebrating and having a great time, but little Siddhartha felt that it was all meaningless. He wandered off by himself and sat under a beautiful tree. Instinctively, he began to watch his breath and to everyone’s surprise, he started to levitate. It is said that he had developed this ability by practicing meditation over previous lifetimes.

King Suddhodana 16) loved his son and desperately wanted him to become a great king. He was given the excellent education of a prince and by age 16 he knew everything a king needed to know. He married Princess Yasodhara and was given the deputy kingship by his father. Prince Siddhatha and Princess Yasodhara lived many happy years in the palace. When Siddhatha was 29 years old he became curious about what was outside of the city walls. His father forbid him to go out of the city, but curiosity overwhelmed him and one night he sneaked out in disguise with his best friend, Channa.

A smallpox plague was ravaging the countryside around the city. For the first time, Siddhatha saw a sick man. He asked Channa, “Can I become sick one day like this man.” Channa replied, “Yes, because we all have a human body.”17) The next day they went out again. For the first time, Siddhatha saw an old man. The third day, he saw a corpse for the first time. Each time he realized deep within himself that this was the inescapable fate of all human beings. On the fourth day, they saw an ascetic with his begging bowl. When Siddhatha went back to the palace, he complained to his father that he did not love his own people if he could allow them to suffer so much. At the same time, he was informed that his first son had been born. He immediately realized that the bond between him and his son would be so strong that he would never leave the palace if he did not leave that night.

He felt that if he really loved his wife and child, he should find a solution for this dukkha, the transient, unsatisfactory nature of life that all beings experience. He permitted himself one last look at his wife and son before he left.

Yasodhara 18) was not surprised when she found out that her husband had left. Over their thirteen years of marriage she had observed his spiritual yearnings. She vowed to follow him and support him in whatever he did. Siddhatha cut off his hair and took on the life of an ascetic. He became a student of a great Brahmin teacher, Alarakalama19). Within seven months his abilities were equal to his teacher. Alarakalama asked him to stay and instruct him and his students, but Siddhartha was not satisfied. He left his teacher and found another teacher, Uddhakaramaputra, who had attained a higher state of jhana. Before long, Siddhatha had surpassed the abilities of this teacher. Still, he had emotional attachments and pain. He left his teacher to practice by himself.

For six years Siddhatha practiced the most extreme form of ascetism. He consumed only one meager meal per week. His body was like skin stretched over a skeleton. He could control his breath for up to one hour. Finally, he realized that he was no closer to his goal. He began to eat again. From this point on, he advocated the Middle Way: avoiding the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification.

The day before his 35th birthday, again the Full Moon of May, Siddhatha sat down under the Bodhi tree 20). He was determined not to get up from that spot until he had become fully awakened, even if he should die in the process. By the next morning he had attained nibbana. For seven weeks he remained at Bodh Gaya, paying respect to the Bodhi Tree and reviewing what he had understood. He tried to think of someone who would have the capacity to understand what he had realized. He thought of his two teachers and realized that they had both passed away. Then he thought of Kondanna 21) and the four other ascetics that he had stayed with during his extreme asceticism. When the five ascetics saw the Buddha approaching, they were determined to ignore him. They were convinced that he had given up his practice when he started to eat regularly. However, when he approached they could not resist offering him food and water. Despite their doubt, they agreed to listen to what he had to say. The Buddha preached all night. This famous sermon is known as the Dhammacakkapavattava Sutta 22), or “Wheel of Dhamma.” Over the next few days, each of the ascetics became enlightened.

The Buddha continued to teach people for the next 45 years. During that time he ordained thousands and thousands of monks and also nuns and many of them reached enlightenment, including his wife and his son by the name of Rahula. His chief disciples were Ananda, the treasurer of the Dhamma. He was able to remember every sermon the Buddha spoke, Sariputta 23), who was put in charge of the Sangha upon the Buddha’s death, and Mogallana, who taught the Dhamma by travelling between worlds. The Buddha passed into Parinibbana on the Full Moon of May at the age of 81 in Upawattana Sall Park in Kusinara 24). He was cremated and his relics have been divided and enshrined in Buddhist temples around the globe.

The Four Noble Truths

Realization of the Four Noble Truths 25) is the first step on the path to cessation of Dukkha26).

  1. The First Noble Truth is the realization that all worldly phenomena are dukkha, or unsatisfactory. Every aspect of existence is ultimately fleeting and unfulfilling, subject to birth, decay, disease, and death.
  2. The second noble truth is the cause of dukkha: craving for the pleasure of the senses, which can never be fully satisfied, and aversion from pain.
  3. The third noble truth is the ending of dukkha. To be free of dukkha one must extinguish this very craving so that no passion and desire remain.
  4. The fourth noble truth leads to the end of dukkha by way of the Eightfold Path.

The Eight-fold Path

The Eightfold Path 27)) is cyclic, forming a Wheel of Dhamma. Each step on the path propels the seeker to the next step and perfection of each quality reinforces the others.

  1. Perfect Understanding (Sammā Ditthi) also translated as Perfect Perception or Perfect View. It means to develop an understanding of the nature of the world through the Four Noble Truths.
  2. Perfect Thought (Sammā Sankappa)28) Avoiding cultivation of jealous or angry thoughts and rather cultivating thoughts of goodwill and renunciation.
  3. Perfect Speech (Sammā Vācā) Avoiding false speech, harsh words, and mindless chatter.
  4. Perfect Action (Sammā Kammanta) Conduct that is peaceful, honest, and pure; includes observance of the Five Precepts.
  5. Perfect Livelihood (Sammā Ājiva) Avoiding any livelihood that harms other beings or involves intoxicants, such as a slaughterhouse or a bar.
  6. Perfect Effort (Sammā Vāyāma) Determined discipline and cultivation of the mind.
  7. Perfect Mindfulness (Sammā Sati) Awareness of one's own actions, words, and thoughts and the true nature of reality.
  8. Perfect Concentration (Sammā Samādhi) Developing the ability to become absorbed in one point or object, leading to higher states of consciousness. Purification and concentration of the mind that lead to establishment in higher states of consciousness.

There are five precepts commonly observed by Buddhists:

  1. .To avoid killing or harming any living being.
  2. .To avoid taking that which has not been given.
  3. .To avoid committing sexual misconduct.
  4. .To avoid using false words.
  5. .To avoid taking alcohol and other intoxicants.

Additional precepts apply to monks and nuns and may be taken by laypeople on special occasions:

  1. .To eat moderately and only at the appropriate time.
  2. .To avoid dancing, singing, music, and bodily adornments.
  3. .To abstain from sleeping in luxurious beds.

The Buddhist Scriptures

In Theravada Buddhism, there are three groups of writings containing the Buddha's teachings, known as the “Three Baskets” (Tipitaka). The Vinaya Pitaka (discipline basket) contains precepts for monks and nuns; the Sutta Pitaka (teaching basket) contains the discourses of Buddha; and the Abidhamma Pitaka (metaphysical basket) contains Buddhist theology. Mahayana and Vajrayana sects of Buddhism recognize hundreds of additional sutras recorded by masters after the time of the Buddha. Some of the most well-known are the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. The oldest scriptures are in Sanskrit, while others have been written in Tibetan and Chinese.

Culturally speaking, the Buddhist system did not have a chance to flourish in the European, Roman Empire because they had a system in place already and did not welcome any challenges. The Roman system at the time was paganism, a system of pantheism with many gods and goddesses. So the Buddhist ideology stayed in Asia confined by vast land barriers and also by different cultural customs. Buddhism came from India and spread east and not to the west. It is also interesting to see that the Roman system once converted to Christianity also spread west, reaching to the newly found land, the Americas. Upon reaching its farthest extent, as far west as it could get, Christianity reached a wall, the wall of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism faith system.

At this point in time there still is very little dialogue or understanding between the ideological west, or the Christian west, and the East, or the Buddhist East. The only common ground is found presently through the civil system of governance, such as democracy. This conflict can only end one of two ways, in peace or with war. Peace will be derived from communication and understanding, and war will emerge if there are misunderstandings, quarrels and disagreements. History teaches us only one thing, that man learns nothing from history. So unless there is a greater push for dialogue between the two poles, the disagreements will only grow more intense, leading to a tipping point. Luckily both systems of faith, Christianity and Buddhism have peace as the main objective.

In summary, the Buddhist and Christian faith based systems share some ideas but they mostly conflict. In Christianity, the underlying belief is that man is inherently corrupt and needs outside intervention, and not just by anybody but by God Himself.

In Buddhism the concept of man being born corrupt is similar, but the path to perfection needs no intervention. Man alone can pull himself up by his bootstraps. In Buddhism man can become perfect through self realization. This state of perfection can be brought about by a series of purification rituals. The goal is to empty one’s mind and to become one with nothingness, quieting the mind, clearing it of all thoughts, emotions, desires, and feelings. The question is than, are you still human, since you have no more emotions, feelings or desires.

In Christianity the goal of perfection is reached when the faith disciple has gotten closest to God, this point is usually reached after death, but a few disciples have reached this phase while still conscious, people such as Enoch and Elijah and Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

This perfect state is reached through the actualization of good deeds and the obedience to the commandments of God spelled out in the texts used by Christianity, mainly the Bible, a translation from Greek and Aramaic, and the Hebrew Tanakh from ancient Hebrew sources of the Tanakh text. So the main difference is that besides three people throughout history, perfection for the Christian can only be reached after death, as I understand it. In Buddhism perfection can be reached in the flesh, through the self changing of the carnal mind, into a spiritual unit that no longer cares about the realities of this world, and is only focused on the nothingness out there, somewhere.

A common ground I have found between the two systems is that they both believe in miracles, such as walking on water, levitating, abstaining from eating for long periods of time. The Christians believe that these are done through the intervention of the God force through the disciple’s body. The Buddhists believe these miracles to be self actualized, and realized without any outside intervention. Complete self reliance, as directly opposed to complete reliance on the Christian God.

So basically the two systems are largely incompatible, main reason being because the further one travels the two different paths of enlightenment, the more different they become. The Christian at the end of his journey tries to become one with the will of God, completely filled with God’s wisdom, the Buddhist at the end of his journey has become one with the void, one with nothingness and emptiness, perfectly empty of all.

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