How do Buddhism and Christianity interact

Comparison between Christianity and Buddhism

- Similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism

Armin Bachor
Due to the complexity of this topic, I would like to limit myself to two apparent similarities and two striking differences. First the similarities:

1. Common ground: love, compassion

“Love your enemies and pray for all who hate and persecute you” (Mt. 5, 44). Based on this statement of Jesus, the Dalai Lama explains the Buddhist concept of compassion as it is understood and practiced in his tradition. Practiced Buddhism has always been about love and compassion, but in the practice of Mahayana Buddhism, which is represented by the Dalai Lama, this compassion plays a particularly important role. True and sincere compassion is “compassion free from attachment and the limitation of personal preference”. Related terms are: love, patience, tolerance, equanimity, affection, empathy, impartiality.

The most important prerequisite for this compassion is "that we show equanimity to all sentient beings". Equanimity has nothing to do with indifference, but is a mature impartiality that meets all beings with an unprejudiced trust. There the boundaries between the friend, to whom I naturally have a “feeling of closeness, of attachment”, and the enemy, who is always a good spiritual teacher for me, because his existence gives me “the opportunity, tolerance, patience and understanding disappear to develop and enlarge. "

If the effects of the Christian commandment to love and love one's enemy as well as Buddhist compassion can hardly be distinguished in practice, the motivation is completely different in both cases. While the Buddhist works through the eightfold path exercises for his own salvation by practicing love for other people, the Christian acts on the basis of his personal relationship with his Creator. In the Christian faith, love for God is always the prerequisite for love for one's neighbor (cf. Lk. 10, 27): “God's love became visible to all when he sent his only Son into the world that we might have new and eternal life through Christ. He gave us his son, who took all the guilt, to absolve us of our guilt ” (1 John 4, 9-10).

Our love for God in response to his love is expressed in the certainty of deliverance from our guilt. Then we are free to love our neighbor "Because God loved us first" (1 John 4:19).

2. Common ground: belief and thought

Sometimes you hear critics of the Christian faith say: "Either someone is intelligent or he is a Christian!" Faith is here degraded to a purely mystical-spiritual experience that can only take place when thinking is switched off. It is wrongly assumed that thinking and belief do not belong together and falls into an “either-or”.

Anyone who thinks that the Buddhist practice of faith is only a purely mystical-esoteric religion of experience or that the Christian faith is only comprehensible for people who do not think is instructed by the following statements by the Dalai Lama: "Is our faith, our conviction based on an understanding, that we have worked our way through thought, this belief, this conviction, is very solid. Such a belief is established because you have convinced yourself of the effectiveness or validity of the idea on which you are placing your belief. And accordingly, this conviction is a very powerful motivation for you to act. That is why, from the point of view of Buddhism, intelligence is very important on the spiritual path. "

In summary, one could say: In Buddhism, thinking, believing and acting form a unit. The terms “belief” and “thinking” can be described as the sum of the Buddhist striving for knowledge, for knowledge, for complete enlightenment through spiritual exercises. The belief or belief that has been established in thought is unshakable. The Dalai Lama ends his train of thought with a Tibetan proverb: "A person whose belief is not based on reason is like a watercourse that can be led anywhere."

The Christian faith, as described in the Bible, is characterized by the unity of faith and thought. In an appeal to Christians, Paul writes in one of his letters: “Don't be inexperienced
and underage children who are thrown back and forth like ocean waves and whirled around by every wind of the doctrine " (Eph. 4:14).

The New Testament repeatedly warns of false doctrines that can mislead Christians: “Don't get caught up in any ideology or empty talk. All of this has been made up by people; but behind her thoughts there are dark, demonic forces and not Christ ” (Col. 2, 8). For this reason, an evaluation of other schools of thought and beliefs based on the Bible is important and advisable. For a Christian, thinking and believing belong together.

The decisive difference between the Buddhist faith and the Christian faith is, with all the apparent similarity, that "faith" in the biblical sense does not arise only through rational thought and can be lived through eager will. Great intelligence is not a requirement for strong faith. The Christian faith is not simply conceivable, feasible, that is, logically and rationally comprehensible from the point of view of man himself in every respect (1. Cor. 1, 18-21. 25-27; 1. Cor. 2, 12. 14; Eph. 4 , 17-19). There must first be a fundamental renewal of our thinking through the Spirit, a renewal “In the deepest part of our spiritual life” (Eph. 4:23). Ultimately, faith in the Bible also means that I trust a person. With everything I am and have, my current situation and my future, I rely on Jesus Christ, the living and coming Lord of my life. And striving for more knowledge is also about this middle of life. Belief and thinking means “That in your life you will experience more and more the undeserved love and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and get to know him better and better. Because all honor belongs to him alone - now and forever! " (2 Peter 3:18). This brings me to the differences:

1. Difference: Creator and Creation

The Bible teaches that heaven and earth, i.e. the entire cosmos, were created out of nothing through the word of God (Hebrews 11: 3). He spoke and it was there (Genesis 1). God is an intelligent being, that is, a person. A person is always characterized by the mental ability to think, want and feel. As an intelligent architect, God has everything and everyone through his word, i. H. created by Jesus Christ: "Through him everything was created that is in heaven and on earth, everything visible and invisible ..." (Col. 1.16).

This doctrine of the creation of all things and beings by a personal God is fundamental to the Christian faith. For it follows that I am accountable to and accountable to this Creator for everything I do. Even the Dalai Lama as a popular representative of Tibetan Buddhism reminds us Christians of the biblical doctrine of the Creator and creation, which for some has long since been shelved. For him, as a Buddhist who viewed the Bible from the outside, there is no question that the Bible naturally assumes that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore all creatures are "without exception creatures of the same God", because for a Christian the whole is based metaphysical world view based on belief in creation and a divine creator who possesses omnipotence and omniscience and is therefore also the absolute and ultimate truth.

Unfortunately, many people have sacrificed what they believe to be a belief in a creator god, which is only acceptable for children, to the naturalistic philosophy of evolution. In place of the personal and intelligent architect of the universe, the God of the Bible, nature has stepped in, to which creative powers are assigned in a pseudo-scientific argument. The Dalai Lama goes on to say that for Christians there is a direct, personal connection between the Creator and the human being, which gives us a feeling of closeness and familiarity with our Creator. The Dalai Lama, who as a Buddhist in no way takes this view, comes to the conclusion that at this point there must be a contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity.

In Buddhism itself there is no such personal creator with whom I can have a direct, personal and trusting relationship. Instead, the Buddhist adheres to an ethical system that is supposed to control his behavior. There are also gods in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. So there Buddha himself is worshiped as a god. There are also saints, the so-called Bodhisattwas, who have become Buddhas themselves, i.e., completely enlightened ones. But they forego the entrance into nirvana (extinction of earthly existence) in order to reincarnate again and again in a certain person in order to help all other people as mediators to salvation. The Dalai Lama also sees himself as such a Bodhisattva, a reincarnation of the god Chenrezi, and is also venerated as a divine being by his followers.

Even if Buddhism is very far removed from a biblically understood Christian belief in the question of God, on the other hand it is very close to natural science, which is usually understood as materialistic-atheistic, which hides the Creator God in the same way as Buddhism does. Is Buddhism so attractive in the occidental, increasingly neo-pagan West because the atheistic-evolutionary worldview of our natural sciences has created a vacuum for a desire for religion, for mysticism? Certainly. Because Buddhism fulfills both: for rational thinking a world without a personal creator god and for mystical feeling a sphere of meditative immersion.

2nd difference: redemption

In Buddhism, the teachings of the Buddha (Four Noble Truths; Eightfold Path) point the way. The knowledge of the four noble truths, which say where suffering comes from and how liberation from suffering can come about, ultimately leads to salvation, to nirvana (extinction). The eightfold path to overcoming suffering is linked to the fourth noble truth, that there is a way out of suffering, and shows a concrete way out of suffering. This eightfold path places high ethical demands on every practicing Buddhist, which can only be successfully achieved with the greatest concentration. Concentrated and regular meditation and constant doing good is only something for people with intelligence and great willpower. And only these will completely achieve enlightenment, deep knowledge, salvation, your own liberation, even your own redemption. Goethe expressed exactly the same when he wrote: "Whoever strives, we can redeem".

In the Christian faith, salvation is brought about by the personal creator God. He loved people so much that he sent his own son into this world (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5, 19-21; Col. 1, 19-20) to act as a representative for our sins Cross died. Through his resurrection from the dead, he can give us new, eternal life. God's love for people who are naturally opposed to him (Col. 1, 21) caused him to redeem them.

Man cannot meet God's ethical standard by himself. He always remains guilty and imperfect before him and his fellow men and thus also excluded from salvation, because God demands perfect flawlessness from man: "Because in this people are equal: All are sinners and have nothing to show that could please God" (Rom. 3, 23).

The liberation and redemption of man can only happen through the Savior Jesus Christ. Through faith we can claim this salvation for ourselves personally: “Through his death Christ reconciled you to God so that you can stand before God once without sin and without any blemish” (Col. 1, 22).

“For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. So whoever believes in Christ with all his heart and also confesses his faith, experiences what it means to be redeemed by Christ ” (Rom. 10, 9-10).
Of course, the Christian is also responsible for his life and his fellow human beings, because "With him only faith is valid, which shows itself in selfless love" (Gal. 5,6). The fact that this unfortunately does not always show up in the life of Christians does not invalidate the demands of Christian ethics. Love, i.e. trust and obedience to God and love to fellow human beings, that is the essence of Christian faith (Lk. 10:27).


Biblical quotations from: Hope for All - The Bible (Basel, Gießen: Brunnen-Verlag, 1996).