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Buddhism is both a philosophy and religion that encompass various practices, beliefs and traditions that are centered on the teachings and thoughts of Siddhartha Gautama, simply known as Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama lived and taught between 6th and 4th century BCE in the northeastern Indian subcontinent. On the other hand, Christianity is also a belief system and faith, culture, traditions and practices that are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ (5 BC - 30 AD). Jesus Christ lived and taught in Israel and Jordan around 27 AD to 30 AD.
The teachings of Buddhism and those of Christianity, though emphatic on ethics, are very different from each other, fundamentally, so that it is impossible to merge the two, doctrinally.
Comparing Buddhist Ethics with Christian Ethics
There are several similarities that exist between Christianity and Buddhism. Among these, the belief in life after death remains common between the two religious beliefs. To this effect, Buddhists believe that human beings are trapped in repetitive life cycles of birth, life, death and rebirth. Herein, each successive rebirth renders a person into a better, worse or similar life essence, following the person's Karma. Karma on the other hand is the merit that is based on the accumulation of the person's acts and decisions during the person's present and previous life. To the Buddhist, the goal of life is to escape the vicious cycle so that one can attain Nirvana. Immediately Nirvana is attained, the human mind experiences complete liberation, freedom and non-attachment. At this point, suffering comes to an end, given that desires and cravings are totally expunged from the mind and are no more.
Christianity too teaches consistently that life exists and continues after death so that a person's beliefs and actions are evaluated during the Final Judgement. The gravity of this standpoint is that eternal life awaits everyone. Depending on the judgment that shall have been arrived at during the Final Judgment, one may proceed to Heaven or Hell. Whereas there is only full joy in Heaven, uninterrupted eternal torture and anguish is to be experienced by the inhabitants of Hell (Carus, 76).
The Ethics of Reciprocity is also found to be extant between the two religions. The ethics of reciprocity have basic rules that govern how human beings as members of a given family are to treat one another. For instance, in Buddhists' Samyutta Nlkaya v. 353 states that "... a state that is unpleasant or undelightful to me, how can I confer it on another?" The same Buddhist scriptures in Udana-Varga 5:18 states, "Do not hurt others in a manner that you yourself would find it hurtful" (Cobb, 75).
The same exhortation exists in the Biblical Scriptures, both in the Hebrew and Greek writings. In the New Testament, in Matthew chapter 7 verse 12, Christ Jesus teaches, "Therefore, all things whatsoever that you would other men to do to you, so do ye, even to them." Thus, through this provision, it is lucid to postulate that both Christianity and Buddhism convey and emphasize, strongly, the themes of love, justice and morality throughout their scriptures and teachings.
It is also important to note that although Buddhism in its nascent stage did not moot the existence of immanent and transcendent divine beings, yet there are certain Buddhist circles, particularly those that are in Japan and are amenable to Shintoism that believe in a pantheon of supernatural entities. These supernatural beings are thought to be immanent and transcendent to human existence.
Similarly, Christianity and Buddhism believe in the importance and power of prayer. Nevertheless, it is important to note that not all Buddhist traditions believe and emphasize on the power of prayer.
Nonetheless, it may be unfair to sidestep the differences that exist between the two religious belief systems: Christianity and Buddhism. So ubiquitous and fundamental are the differences that even the elements that are seen as similar, convey inherent differences that cannot be reconciled.
For instance, even the concept of life after death is underpinned by a heavy sense of difference between the two religions. To Buddhism, Karma subjects an individual to a linear repetition of life on earth, with the quality of the subsequent life being predicated upon the choices and deeds that were exerted by the person in the previous lives, on one hand. On the other hand, Christianity is emphatic about only one life on earth. This is well divulged upon in the New Testament's Epistle to the Hebrews chapter 9 Verse xxvii; "It is appointed unto man to die once and after that, the judgment."
At the same time, the concept of Karma and afterlife still remains different from the one that is found in Christianity, as is taught in the Holy Scriptures. While Karma subjects a person to a repetitive cycle of life on earth with the quality of the subsequent life being premised on the person's acts, behaviors and choices in the previously-led lives, the judgment that is rendered on a person to take him to eternity uses a totally different yardstick (from Karma). To Christianity, one secures his eternal destiny in heaven by believing in Jesus Christ, and that in His Passion, the believer's sins and failures were made propitiation for, before God (Tsai and Miao, 84).
At the same time, Christianity and Buddhism remain different from each other, given that the latter believes in the existence of the human soul, as the very essence of the human person and remains the same after all eternity and forces of death. On the other hand, Buddhism has no such belief.
Whereas Christianity believes and teaches about the one time existence of the golden era as having been a reality in the Garden of Eden, Buddhism does not. While the Bible, the compass guide for Christianity teaches about the subsequent Fall of Man as having taken place in the Garden of Eden, Buddhism remains silent on the same. Biblical Scriptures continue to divulge that the Fall of Man as a precipitation of the Original Sin, is shared (together with Original Sin) is shared by all partakers of the human race, given that humanity in entirety emanates from the first parents, Adam and Eve.
In almost the same wavelength, that Buddhism has a penchant to gloss over certain historical developments that are in Biblical Scripture is well underscored by Buddhism's silence to the global deluge that is commonly referred to as the Noahic Flood.
Above all, what really splits Christianity and Buddhism from each other is very fundamental: the place of salvation through atonement. While Buddhism does not, Christianity teaches the need for a personal savior who is totally sinless so that His vicarious death on the Cross is totally salvific to render human salvation (Lai, 22).
The Manner in Which Their Different Theological or Doctrinal Assumptions Affect Their Ethical Teachings
Both Christianity and Buddhism register a great output on teachings concerning morality and ethics. In the first place, the Ethics of Reciprocity as found between the two religions are seen to be important in the upholding of individual and social responsibility. This is because; both Christianity and Buddhism implore their faithful to seek the ultimate good by doing to their fellows, what may be considered as beneficial. In simple terms, individuals are exhorted to exalt other's welfare as their own.
Nevertheless, it is important to state that any analytical reader will notice that both Christianity and Buddhism are intent on cultivating an ethically upright following, albeit both do so in ways that are underpinned by a heavy sense of uniqueness. Buddhism indirectly exhorts the believer to ethical uprightness by bringing about Karma into the picture. Whereas Karma rewards an individual to the next stage in life depending on the person's past life choices and decisions, the individual infers for himself that he has to make ethically sound decisions in order for him to escape Karma and attain Nirvana.
On the other hand, casual observers have a predisposition of mistaking and misconstruing the Christian Gospel of grace as allowing for the discounting of the importance of ethics and moral responsibility. On the contrary, a closer scrutiny of the Gospel message is that: human beings are not saved by their ethical or/ and moral works, but they are saved for or unto good works (morality and ethics).
At the same time, the Christian message seems to intimate that ethics and morality is very important through the Christian doctrines of Christology and Ecclesiology. The Christian faith has it that a person, as a believer in Christ is made one with Christ who is also God, through atonement. Nevertheless, as far as sanctification is concerned, it is the believer to follow Christ and adhere to His teachings, through the enablement of the Holy Spirit. This brings about a transformation on the person's character so that the person's ethical standards are the highest, compared to standards and ethical rudiments present in the world. This is because the Christian person aims at what he believes to be the Creator of ethics and not ethics as an end in itself.