Tuesday 21 May 2019

Two decisive differences between Christianity and Eastern Religions (such as Buddhism)

Despite significant similarities between the lifestyles, morality, and some ritual and mystical aspects of Christianity and Buddhism, there are at least two decisive differences.

For Christians:

1. The person of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary.

Exactly the way in which Jesus is necessary, and exactly how this 'works' has various explanations among Christians; but for all Christians Jesus Christ is not merely an optional-extra (not merely a teacher or prophet or helper) - but an unique neccessity.

2. God the creator is a personage, and stands to us as a loving Father to his children.


These differences have many and various implications, which differ among Christians; but these differences - shared among Christians of many denominations - constitute a core difference and distinction between Christianity and the Eastern religions.

Subtract them from a consideration of Christianity, and one does indeed have many shared aspects - but, once one has extracted them, the residue is no longer Christianity.


ted said...

I would add with Jesus Christ being necessary, God comes looking for man. While the Buddhist goes looking for God (that is not a God).

Jack said...

It's much more than this. Christianity says that man is fallen and sinful, and therefore has need of humility. Buddhism lacks the notion of man as fallen and sinful, and says only that he is deluded or ignorant, but that his true nature is enlightened. This easily leads to a false spiritual pride. This is confirmed by recent studies showing that practitioners of eastern meditation are actually MORE egotistical than non-meditators. I can confirm this from personal experience as well.

Buddhism is a "non-theistic" religion, which is why liberal atheists tend to get into it. However, in practice, it is polytheistic, with a retinue of various gods, goddesses and other non-corporeal beings that would make your head spin. Buddhists will say that it's not the same as the Christian belief in God, angels, and the like, because Buddhists don't believe that their gods and angels (dakinis) "inherently exist." An abstract philosophical distinction entirely lost on the vast majority of Buddhists and therefore of little consequence.

Because Buddhism doesn't acknowledge God or Jesus Christ, but yearns for purity and holiness, this yearning is displaced onto the figure of the guru or lama. The guru or lama (it's the same word in Sanskrit and Tibetan, respectively) is seen as a perfect being, a kind of living god. Absolute obedience to the guru is required, and students are to see all of his actions as perfect. As can be expected, this ALWAYS leads to abuse of power. The gurus who don't abuse their power, by sleeping with students, taking their money, or just controlling them, are the exception to the rule. Christianity avoids this problem by acknowledging that only God is perfect, man cannot be. Furthermore, Christianity has plenty of sinners and abusers, but Christian teaching has never tried to excuse or justify their behavior as being somehow not wrong. Nobody is saying that the Catholic Catechism should be re-written to allow for molestation of alter boys. Buddhism, on the contrary, holds that what seems to be the guru's abusive behavior is actually just a manifestation of "crazy wisdom" which actually is only for the benefit of the student and all sentient beings, but mere mortals are just too ignorant to see it that way.

I was just reading yesterday about the recent scandals involving the Shambhala and Rigpa communities of Buddhists, led by Sakyong Mipham and Sogyal Rinpoche. The students can't see what's right in front of their faces because they've been brainwashed. So much for cultivating discernment and awareness.

dearieme said...

"God the creator ... stands to us as a loving Father to his children."

In the NT, maybe. In the OT he's a murderous, indeed genocidal, thug.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - 'Luckily' for Christians, it is the NT that supercedes the Old - and for me it is the Fourth Gospel above all. So I feel no need to explain-away even the most egregiously anti-Christian reports about God from the authors of the OT!

Jack said...


One of the things people need to understand about the OT is the degree to which human beings turned into monsters after the Fall. God had to tell the Hebrews not to sacrifice children because EVERYONE ELSE was doing it. People forgot the moral law entirely and became savages. Sometimes being "nice" to such people is not actually the loving and compassionate response. A loving father sometimes has to reprimand.

Robert Brockman said...

What would seem to be most interesting about Jesus from the Buddhist perspective is the idea that Jesus was fully enlightened / sinless immediately (with possible staged increases in capability at baptism, resurrection). No "thousands of lifetimes to achieve perfect understanding" but rather one incarnation done correctly. This indeed represents a qualitative change, different from "normal" Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.

Jack: "Buddhism, on the contrary, holds that what seems to be the guru's abusive behavior is actually just a manifestation of "crazy wisdom" which actually is only for the benefit of the student and all sentient beings, but mere mortals are just too ignorant to see it that way."

I'm pretty sure that the precepts given by Shakyamuni Buddha specifically forbid this behavior. In particular, in the Shurangama Sutra Buddha clearly talks about the necessity for eliminating lust and that anyone who speaks otherwise works for Mara (a demon king). Obviously all religious leaders and organizations that engage in this sort of abuse are to be avoided.

-- Robert Brockman

Benjamin Wilson said...

This is very well put, thank you Bruce.