Essentially a religion without God (some say a philosophy), Buddhism is practiced by an estimated half billion people worldwide (mostly in the far east).
Buddhism had its beginnings with a man named Siddhartha Gautama (560 – 480 B.C.) as an offshoot of Hindu beliefs. While meditating one day, Gautama is said to have gained enlightenment and reached nirvana (the goal of Buddhism).
The basic beliefs of Buddhism are summarized in the “Four Noble Truths:” 1) Life is suffering; 2) Suffering is caused by desires for pleasure and prosperity; 3) Suffering can be overcome by eliminating desires; and 4) Desire can be eliminated by the “Eightfold Path.”
This path is both religious education and the moral precepts of Buddhism…right knowledge (the four noble truths), right intentions, right speech, right conduct, right occupation (none of which cause suffering), right effort, right mindfulness (denial of the finite self) and right meditation (Raja Yoga, as in Hinduism).
The primary goal of Buddhism is nirvana… the elimination of all suffering, desires, and the illusion that the self exists. In Buddhist belief, there is no God or heaven.
Jesus or Buddha?
Life. While Buddhism sees life primarily as suffering, and the self as something to be eradicated, Jesus taught that life is a gift from God (to be enjoyed and cherished) and that the individual is to be valued and honored. Buddhism does not believe in anything beyond this life… while Jesus promises eternal life for those who place their trust in Him (John 14:6).
Salvation. The Buddhist version of salvation is similar to Hinduism, in that reincarnation is involved. But in Buddhism, the self (or individuality of the soul) is eradicated at the end of each life. Jesus offers salvation freely to any and every individual who will place their trust in what He has done. Each individual is invited into personal relationship with God, through faith in Jesus.
Deity. Buddha made no claims to deity – he simply offered to point the way for others to follow him to nirvana. Jesus’ claim is that He was “God, with us” and that He held the power of life and death (as proven in His resurrection!). By his own admission, the Buddha claimed to be only a man. Jesus’ claim was centered in His Own deity which qualifies Him as the higher (and more enlightened) authority.
Once again, we see that Buddhism is just another belief system founded on the notion of human effort… and the elimination of something in our lives. The Eight-fold Path is centered in man’s best efforts to do all the right things all the right ways with just the right motives and attitudes. It requires relentless effort, all to achieve… nothingness (nirvana?!).
The hope of the Christian is based solely on the efforts of the perfect Son of God Who came to do everything that needed to be done on our behalf… to enable each of us, as individuals, to know God personally and intimately… for all eternity.
In every way, hope in Jesus is the better hope, with better promises… and without all the tiresome efforts to gain some status or something from a god (or a pursuit) that is always just beyond our reach.