Comparing Christianity and Buddhism


I’d like to explain my view of Christianity (and Jesus Christ) by comparing it with other religions.

In this post I will compare Christianity with Buddhism.

I’ll make the comparison by using a famous Buddhist painting called “The wheel of life” or Bhavacakra

Buddhism – The wheel of life – Bhavacakra

Buddha himself encouraged people to draw this image – and as a result it is drawn on almost all Buddhist temples around the world. So for the sake of this discussion, this wheel of life – according to Buddhists – is a very solid starting point.

So here is a quick high level overview

So here is a simplified image of the wheel of life according to Buddhism… please note I have put a red circle around the three words in the center…

In the center of the wheel – highlighted by me with a red circle – Buddhism says are three root causes of trouble – stupidity, lust and anger. Buddhism teaches that if you can master those three things (which the Mongolian Buddhism teacher that I listened to called “sin”) then you will be liberated and live in Nirvana (which we Christians call Heaven).

The Mongolian teacher which I listened to is the highest level teacher in his country and he personally studied under the Dalai Lama. He teaches that these sins cannot be mastered in one lifetime, or even in several lifetimes – and therefore there is no escape from the demon which holds this world in it’s jaws.

So in essence Buddhism agrees with Christianity in three important aspects:

  1. that sin is the cause of our problems, and
  2. we human beings cannot master sin in one life span, and
  3. if you could stop sinning in this lifetime (which you cannot) then you can escape the demon holding the world and you can go to Nirvana (which we Christians call Heaven)

That is pretty much what we Christians believe don’t you agree?

Now for the deeper analysis

You might be surprised to find that Christianity has a lot in common with Buddhism. But we disagree on some VERY important points.

As you read below, please take note that Buddhists express things differently to Christian and our scriptures. They use different words and see things completely differently. The point Im making is just that there are some very broad outlines that we agree on.

Cause and effect theory

Basically we agree that there is “cause and effect”. They call it karma and we say that if you sin then there is trouble. If you love and bless you may be blessed: Some Christian scriptures that come to mind are…

  • the consequence of sin is death
  • If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” – Gen 4:7
  • do unto others and you would have them do unto you
  • as you judge you will be judged
  • as you measure you will be measured

Christianity explains the root cause of negative things happening is sin and Jesus Christ is the solution to sin… through Jesus Christ you can break out of the negative cycle and to enter into a positive and blessed relationship with God.

Buddha didn’t mention “sin” but in effect Buddhists DO speak of sin when referring to transgressions. The ethnologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf explains

In Buddhist thinking the whole universe, men as well as gods, are subject to a reign of law.

Here we agree again… the bible explains that this whole world is under His law and it judges everything as either good or bad… Christoph continues…

Every action, good or bad, has an inevitable and automatic effect in a long chain of causes, an effect which is independent of the will of any deity. Even though this may leave no room for the concept of ‘sin’ in the sense of an act of defiance against the authority of a personal god, Buddhists speak of ‘sin’ when referring to transgressions against the universal moral code. (1974: 550)

So both religions agree that there is a cause and effect and both agree that there is sin when we break the law which rules over all of this world.

Hell, demons and the spirit realm

Buddhism (broadly and very basically) also agrees that there is a hell and demons.

  • Deva realm: God realm
  • Asura realm: Demi-god realm
  • Manuṣya realm: Human realm
  • Tiryagyoni realm: Animal realm
  • Preta realm: Hungry Ghost realm
  • Naraka realm: Hell realm

Christianity agrees that there is a ghost/demonic realm and a hell. I find it very interesting that to get to hell you first go through a “great judgement”.

That also is very similar to Christianity isn’t it?

You will see below that for us Christians, God dwells in Heaven which they call “Nirvana” which is outside of the wheel of life.

We Christians would not agree about the “gods” and “demi-gods” realms, we perceive those realms as the spirit realm which has angels and demons in it.

In Buddhism the experience of hell and demons and territorial spirits is very real, just as it is for many or most Christians. In fact Tibetan Buddhism was born in conflict with that realm. What I mean is Guru Rinpoche entered Tibet from India in AD774 and gradually conquered all the “Bon” demons (the previous animalistic religion there) in Tibet and made them protectors of the new Tibetan Buddhism religion.

But here is another big difference between the two religions. Tibetan Buddism seeks to subdue the spirit realm with it’s own spiritual forces. BUT Christians teach that Jesus Christ is the way to resolve spiritual difficulties with these realms, because only Jesus Christ has resolved the problem of sin, He has broken the power of death and He has taken captivity captive and He has destroyed the one who had the power of death  (Heb 2:14).

The evil looking figure holding the wheel of life

If you take another look at that image again, you will see the figure holding the wheel of life in his jaws and in his 4 limbs. You can see his teeth…

When a Christian sees that evil looking figure which has the whole of human existence – including demons and hell – in his control…

  • all of this world is in his jaws,
  • he has a crown with 5 skulls in it (skulls = death),
  • his two hands have a well known “salute” (the two outer fingers raised up)

… we Christians immediately know who this character is: satan. the devil.

I learned about this painting by listening to the top Tibetan Buddhist teacher in Mongolia teach about it. I saw his teaching on tv three separate times. Each time I listened as closely as I could, so that I could really grasp his view on life. Each time he said the same thing, that the character holding the world in it’s jaws was a “demon”. (Wikipedia uses a much more neutral non emotive word for that figure).

So Buddhism and Christianity both agree that this whole world and everything in it is trapped in the jaws of an evil overlord. They say a “demon” and we say “satan/devil”. Again we differ on words, but there is a remarkable similarity. Buddhism has no solution (that I know of) to defeat this evil overlord, but Christians believe that Jesus Christ destroyed the one who has the power of death – that is the devil (Heb 2:14).

Heaven / nirvana

Outside of the wheel of life and beyond the control of the “demon”, in the upper left hand corner, is “nirvana” but we Christians call it Heaven. Of course, Christians and Buddhist would disagree on Who runs it!  🙂

In the upper right hand corner is a figure pointing to Nirvana (Heaven). He is encouraging people to escape the jaws of the demon and to escape to Heaven.

So what do we (more or less, very broadly and very loosely) agree on?

Buddhism and Christianity agree that Heaven is beyond the control of satan. We agree that people should aspire to reach Heaven and escape the control of satan who controls this world.

What we do not agree on?

According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha told his followers:

I have shown you the path that leads to liberation
But you should know that liberation depends upon yourself.

Buddha taught that you can escape the cause and effect of sin and escape the control of satan and get to Heaven THROUGH YOUR OWN EFFORTS.

To me it is absolutely important to note that Buddhism teaches that you CANNOT overcome sin IN THIS lifetime. That is another major point of agreement that Christianity and Buddhists have… that we cannot overcome sin.

Buddhists teach that it can be overcome during several lifetimes, but since we Christians believe there is only one life and then judgement, the only thing that matters to us is that Buddhism teaches that we CANNOT overcome sin IN THIS ONE lifetime.

We also disagree on how to overcome sin. We believe that everyone has fallen short of the glory of God – the One in Heaven – and we cannot stop sinning, so we need to be washed of our sin.

Because of the “cause and effect” (karma) for every sin there must be a consequence… and we see this as a “payment”. If we cannot make the payment, then we remain in the jaws of the demon (satan). But if we accept Jesus Christ’s payment in our place, we are freed from the “cause and effect” (karma) and we can escape the jaws of the demon and we can go to Heaven.

Summary

I find it amazing that there is so much overlap between the two religions… sin, Heaven, hell, demons, satan having the whole world in his control and a law which judges everything as good or bad (sin).

The two religions agree that sin is the core of the problem and if we can be free of sin we can go to Heaven. But the big disconnect is the solution to sin. In my own travels and my own experiences I have come to the firm conclusion that we cannot free ourselves. We cannot wash our sin away, we cannot pay for our sins.

It is only through accepting the full and complete sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for our sin, that we can escape the cause and effect of sin and we can escape to Heaven.

But wait… there’s more!

As I look at the “wheel of life” image, I can see that He dealt with every aspect of that “wheel of life” at each level.

You see… although you may not have been taught this in church (I know I never have been) scripture says clearly and repeatedly that Jesus Christ has done far more than “just” deal with sin.

Jesus Christ also anulled death, He destroyed the one who has the power of death (that is the devil), He took captivity captive, He reconciled everything in Heaven and on Earth back to our Father God (in Heaven), He made all things new and He alone now has the keys to death and to hell (hades).

He did so much more than we tend to think about and believe. In fact the bible says He has done exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we can ask or think of. Amen.

I look forward to reading your comments. Please leave them below. Please share this with your friends online. Email it to people who are questioning and you want to give them some answers.

Please remember that the most recent version of this article is available online, so visit the site!

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23 responses to “Comparing Christianity and Buddhism

  1. good post. By the way Nirawana means that their is no rebirth in this life cycle or Sanasara. We keep on dying and broning again and again. Buddha had preached that the highest thing we could archive is Nirawana, which is very hard. Buddha took 550 lives in this life cycle to attain that wisdom.

    • Hi Mark, Please put yourself in the position of the Gaza people today or the Jewish people in the NAZI era or every victims of wars, rapes, killed, riots, etc. You may not ever understand the feelings of them. Jesus may only saves people who can understand him, how about crazy (mental illness) people. Re-think again. Your blogs this just make the GOD, YHWH become so little.

      • Hello Anonymous. Ive been thinking about your comment for a long time… since you posted it. My answer to you is waaay too complicated to put into a single comment here. Suffice it to say… NO I dont think salvation is a cut and dried thing and NO I dont think I make YHWH to be “so little”.

        But thank you for sharing your view.

        God bless you!
        Mark.

      • And on the topic of people living in Gaza… Im very very concerned for them. For sure. It would be far better for them to be relocated elsewhere so that they can get on with their lives in peace. While they stay there Im sure they will continue to war against Israel and for sure Israel will defend itself. But what is the likelihood that the Gazans will move? Would I want to move from the place I grew up in, had kids in, where my parents lived?

        So thats unlikely. We need to find another way for both sides to live in peace.

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  3. Thank you so much for this post!

    In a world with so many religions, each one saying the other is wrong, gets a little overwhelming. Your post helped me clear up some of the difficulties I have faced in trying to differentiate between Buddhism and Christianity.

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  6. Iam christian and buddhist, Buddha is a wise man who teaches the dhamma ( darma), and Jesus came to save us from God’s judgement.

    • Hi Patricia

      Wikipedia describes darma as: The teaching of the Buddha as an exposition of the Natural Law applied to the problem of human suffering.

      I am so interested to hear your view that Jesus Christ is the way to escape. That is the heart of the message… that Jesus Christ is the Way! Amen.

      God bless you, Mark.

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  8. You say:

    ‘So Buddhism and Christianity both agree that this whole world and everything in it is trapped in the jaws of an evil overlord. They say a “demon” and we say “satan/devil”. Again we differ on words, but there is a remarkable similarity. Buddhism has no solution (that I know of) to defeat this evil overlord, but Christians believe that Jesus Christ destroyed the one who has the power of death – that is the devil (Heb 2:14).’

    In that one paragraph you stated that the world is trapped as well as that he who is/was doing the trapping has been destroyed by Jesus.

    So is the world still trapped by the evil overlord/devil/demon, or is the world free, because Jesus freed it?

    • SUPERB question! Ive been trying and trying and trying to explain this for years.

      What Jesus Christ did on the cross has to be received by faith. So as you believe what He did, you receive it. Take a look at Heb 4:2 which states the inverse “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” You see, the whole world can hear that the enemy and ALL of his works has been destroyed on the cross… but until we combine it with our faith it is of no use to us.

      I hope that helps you understand how to pray and how to receive all that He did for you, for your city, for your country and for your world.

      God bless you,
      Mark.

    • God gave me an experience of Reincarnation in a dream that was absolutely Horrific, as time after time I did not escape. THAT was HELL. He showed me that it was not true and would in fact “be HELL.” The world is trapped WITH THE OPTION to be freed by the acceptance of JESUS CHRIST. To accept HIM, you must BELIEVE HIM. <3+WENDY

  9. Extremely educational for those who have not found Christ Yet,,
    It is Americans who would greatly benefit from this writings and then the rest of the World,,No country ,,even too underdeveloped would dictate and provide provisions for sinful life as that of USA,,All should get out to vote ..All missionaries who work overseas should return and pray for USA and cast the vote ,,And I am not American,,

  10. I did read your other post, and I think you should do more. Jesus is radically different from Buddha and Mohammed and the like. He asks so much more of us and promises so much more to us than the founders of other faiths did.

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  12. I have been thinking a lot about the differences between Jesus and founders of other major religions. The other founders say they’ve found the way, Jesus says He is the way.

    • The interesting thing is that actually both RELIGIONS say the same thing, that righteousness will get you “to heaven”–actually, wherever God is. The thing is, BOTH say we CANNOT DO IT. CHRISTIANITY, however, SHOWS US THE WAY. <3+Wendy

      • You GOT IT Wendy!!!

        Both say the same thing. Both say righteousness is required to go to Heaven. Both say that we cannot do it in this one single lifetime.

        But only Christianity explains that Jesus Christ can do it for us and enable us to go to Heaven.

        YOU GOT IT! I hope everyone else gets it.

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