Faith Forum: What do Christianity and Buddhism have in common?

Concept of afterlife key difference

Charles Gruber, Sufi minister, student of Zen Buddhism and member of the Oread Friends Meeting:

I had a discussion regarding Buddhism with my son Jesse, who lives and teaches in Japan. Jesse told me about Pure Land Buddhism, the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan, China and South Korea. I had a discussion with my neighbor of 30 years who was a student of Soto-Zen Buddhism and is now a Catholic. The similarities and differences form the paradox:

¢ Buddhism is the quest for enlightenment. Christianity is the quest for God’s revelation through Jesus Christ.

¢ Amida Buddha (the Buddha of Light) acts as the savior of mankind. Acceptance of the Christ is the act of salvation for Christians.

¢ When Pure Land Buddhists die, they go to the “Amida Lifeboat,” which is the “Pure Land” (Heaven). Their first stop is to be born into the lotus, where they stay until their sins have been absolved. Some believe that when Christians die, having accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, they rise to purgatory, heaven’s anteroom. Other Christians see only entry into heaven.

¢ The Buddha’s first noble truth is the truth of suffering. When I see a crucifix, I think of this truth. The Buddha’s enjoinment to live in compassion is also available to me when I meditate on the crucifix.

¢ The first scripture that opened my neighbor’s heart was “be still and know that I am God.” His practice at the time was sitting “zazen,” which means sitting in order to still the mind and the body. The scripture reflects the view that God’s creation is good and God desires us to enjoy it.

¢ The second scripture that opened my neighbor’s heart was “desire, when it cometh, is like the tree of life.” The Buddhist desire is to be released from desire.

¢ Some of my best friends are Christian. Some of my best friends are Buddhist.

– Send e-mail to Charles Gruber at

Both faiths honor morality

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher, Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:

All Christians believe in Jesus. But just what that belief means and what its consequences are vary widely, so widely that Christians have gone to war against other Christians who believed differently.

Buddhism traces itself back about 2,600 years to Shakyamuni Buddha. But whether Buddha was a man or a divine being, someone to emulate or someone to pray to (or all or none of the above) is something Buddhists are far from unanimous about.

So the first thing Christianity and Buddhism have in common is that Christians disagree about Christianity and Buddhists disagree about Buddhism.

The second thing that they have in common – all religions do – is their origin in our deepest questions about what it is to be human and to live in this world. At some point we figure out there’s this thing called death – what’s that about? At some point we figure out that the world existed before we did – where did we come from? What is a human being? What’s our nature? Why do we suffer? How can we alleviate suffering? What is our relation to the universe? And so on.

Within every religion there are two strands. One strand gives comforting answers to such questions, answers designed to give people something to hang onto while they go about their daily lives. The other strand encourages inquiry that goes way past comfort, into the deep ground of our existence, deeper than language, deeper than what we usually think of as thought. So that’s the third thing Christianity, Buddhism and all religions have in common: these two strands.

And finally, like all religions, Christianity and Buddhism put great emphasis on behaving with decency and respect. We call that morality. And that’s the proof of any spiritual practice.

– E-mail Judy Roitman at