Christianity and Buddhism: Similarities
‘Buddhism’ means to be an awakened one, with the implication that humanity is asleep. With this agrees the New Testament: “Awake, you who sleep, and Christ shall give you light” (Eph. 5:14 ). But is Jesus who gives light, not a stirring up of ones self power.
According to the Third Noble Truth, that of the extinction of suffering, the cure of life's disharmony lies in overcoming selfish craving. The Fourth Noble Truth, that of the Path that leads to the Extinction of Suffering, explains how this cure can be effected. Our release from this bondage can be accomplished by means of the " Eightfold Path," by which a man is totally remade and left a different being, cured of life's crippling disabilities. The first step of the eightfold path is right understanding.
Right understanding is required in Christianity too. Jesus said that He Himself was “the truth” (Jn. 14:6). True Christianity places tremendous emphasis upon faith. But faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Faith is, of course, faith in something. Therefore correct understanding of the Bible’s message is essential to true faith. Faith isn’t just a fuzzy feeling of hopefulness. The Bible also concerns itself with the extinction of suffering- but the solution is the radical transformation of this world and of human nature itself, by God’s direct intervention through His Son, Jesus. Paul wrote that he earnestly wished to be different; he could see the life he fain would live, the life he and you and me had always wanted…but whenever he wanted to do good, evil was present with him. He found a law within himself that whenever he wanted to do good, evil was present with him. His answer to this dilemma was in Jesus. “Who shall deliver me?” he asks, having rejected the Buddhist idea of self-improvement as impossible. The answer, he said, was in Jesus Christ, who although He had our nature, overcame its desires. He Himself was therefore raised from death, and became the author of eternal life (Heb. 5:9). Jesus, because He was human [and not God Himself] was thereby our representative [not our substitute, be it noted]. By identifying with His death and resurrection through baptism, we can be counted by God right now as if we are perfect, and then when Jesus returns, we will be made perfect in very nature like He is. I challenge every Buddhist: Has your use of the eightfold path lead you to moral perfection, to the conquest of the sinful tendencies that are within you? To a woman, to a man, you must answer ‘No, not yet’. That is, if you are honest. And I would challenge you further, that there is no Buddhist who has ever attained to moral perfection. Human nature cannot be self-improved; it needs God’s action to change. His offer of perfection is through our faith in His love- a love that will count us as perfect, just as even human love does not take cognisance of the faults it recognises in the one loved. The whole groaning of the natural creation will be resolved by the revelation of the Son of God, Jesus, to forcibly change the whole of creation, to release it from the curse that came upon it in the garden of Eden (Rom. 8:19-23).
The “fourth step” of Buddhism is right action, or behaviour. We must understand our behaviour, reflect upon what we have done, and improve ourselves in accordance with the five precepts: do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not be unchaste, and do not drink intoxicants.
The need for discipline, law and regime is also found in the Bible. But the motive for this human effort is our receipt of grace. We are under the law of grace (Eph. 2:8). The grace of God teaches us that we should, e.g., deny ungodly lusts (Tit. 2:11-12). The grace of God, the fact that for nothing but faith He will accept us and count us as righteous, as perfect as His Son is perfect…this is what motivates us. Not the thought that if we do enough we will be good enough or will become perfect. It is my observation that most religions [including apostate Christianity] stress so much doing acts of obedience to laws. There is no legal code that can save, Paul argues in Romans. There was a legal code in the Old Testament to teach humanity that salvation just isn’t possible through a law. And therefore, on our knees, we must accept the pure grace of the salvation that is in this perfect man, Jesus. And associate and identify ourselves with it through baptism into Him. This wondrous concept of grace which there is in Christianity contrasts sharply with the Buddhist understanding of punna, merit, which results from the practice of certain deeds (dana).
Buddhists commonly liken their idea of karma to a seed, which is planted and develops into a plant. The works of a man in his life are seen to control who he becomes in the next life. But the Bible takes a different angle. What we sow is not actually the plant that comes out of the ground (1 Cor. 15:35-49). It is sown a seed. But Paul goes on to say that for those in Christ, they will rise out of the earth to be given a new body. Yes, what we sow we will reap, our actions now have eternal consequences at judgement day, but the gift of the new body through resurrection is a gift through God’s grace.
The final step of Buddhism's " Eightfold Path" is right concentration, or right absorption, which is substantially the same as the series of techniques involved in Hinduism's fourth path, raja yoga, or the way to God through psychological exercises.
Concentration upon Divine principles is of course taught by the Bible too. But because our mind wanders, because our humanity stops and interferes with that concentration, every Buddhist and Christian would have to admit some sort of defeat here. This is why the way to God is not merely through psychological exercises, but through Jesus Christ. He is the only way to the Father (Jn. 14:6). This is why we pray to God through Jesus- because He is our representative, He was a man like us, and yet He never sinned.