COMPARISONS BETWEEN BUDDHISM AND CHRISTIANITY
I. The Buddha was a Hindu who founded a new world religion; Jesus was a Jew whose religious movement also led to a new world religion. The Buddha made a deliberate break with Hinduism, but it is not certain whether Jesus wished this for his own movement.
II. Both Buddhism and Christianity were missionary religions and they spread far beyond the regions of their origins. Except for some expansion (mainly by traders in the medieval period) of Hinduism northeast as far as Cambodia and Vietnam and southeast as far as Bali (in Indonesia), Hinduism and Jainism remained in the Indian subcontinent and Hindus and Jainas became such because of family and not conversion. Buddhist monks ranged as far as Palestine and Egypt, but had the most success in Tibet, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan.
III. Both Jesus and the Buddha preached a Gospel of Weak Belief. See separate article below. The followers of both religious geniuses were consistently misunderstood on this point as well as others.
IV. Buddhism and Christianity were egalitarian (all people, including women were spiritually equal) and nonesoteric. (Jesus was in fact much more of a feminist than the Buddha. Only Ananda supported women unequivocally.) The message of both was simple and direct and required no special prerequisites. Neither were esoteric in the sense of the message being secret or intelligible to a few priests or other religious leaders. The exception here would be Tantric Buddhism, which is found mainly in some schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In Tantric Hinduism and Buddhism secret initiation is a common practice.
V. Both the Buddha and Jesus were later deified by their disciples. The doctrines of Incarnation (God becoming a human in Jesus) and Trinity appear to be unknown to the Jesus of the New Testament. Similarly, the Buddha would have been mystified by the doctrine of the Dharmakaya (the cosmic body of the Buddha) and the Buddhist Doctrine of the Trinity. He would have been especially annoyed at the claim that he was a deva-ti-deva--a God beyond the gods.
CONTRASTS WITH BUDDHISM AND CHRISTIANITY
I. Buddhism is humanistic and nontheistic. It is not atheistic, because Buddhists generally do not reject the existence of the gods. Buddhism is humanistic because--outside of Pure Land Buddhism and the savior function of Bodhisattvas--Buddhists believe that humans can reach salvation under their own power. No divine grace is necessary.
II. The Buddha was a philosopher and master dialectician of historic proportions. Even though Jesus was a dialectical thinker (see the end of "Gospel of Weak Belief"), he did not use dialectic (logic) to win arguments or prove points, but simply to proclaim a religious message.
III. The focus of spirituality is internal rather than external, while Christianity, even though certainly having some internal spiritual focus, assumes that God is transcendent (separate from the world) and works on the world and history from that transcendent perspective. There is very little of this transcendent spirituality in Buddhism.
IV. Major Contrast: "Do no be led by reports, or traditions, or hearsay. Be not lead by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or speculative standpoints, not by considering appearances, nor by the delight in the speculative views, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: this is our teacher. But, . . . when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala) and wrong and bad, then give them up . . . And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them" (Anguttara NikayaI.189ff.) Buddhist faith is like the trust that a scientist has in a verified hypothesis. No faith in unseen or untested things.
V. Jesus more feminist than the Buddha. The Buddha resisted the idea of nuns in the Sangha, but Jesus appeared to favor his women disciples more than his male disciples.
VI. Jesus did not believe in reincarnation.
VII. Jesus believed in a creator God who brings one single world history to an end in the Last Judgment, while the Buddha believes that the world is eternal and that the gods play no role in human salvation.