Christianity versus Buddhism for dummies
Discussing religion is a thorny task, and discussing the differences among different religions is even thornier. But there is a way to help you grasp – very intuitively, no theological details needed – what makes Buddhism different from other religions. With it, you can tell the fundamental difference between Christianity and Buddhism.
Before getting into the point, we need to remind us why we need religions to begin with. Religions serve as our moral authority and absolute savoir in this world, which is full of uncontrollable and painful events, including the worst one – dreadfully unpredictable and unavoidable death.
By design, religions represent everything that the real world is NOT: absolute, supreme, eternal and 100% right and true. And each religion has its religious core that holds its existence by making it absolutely true. For many monotheistic religions including Christianity, the truth is called God. God is the supreme existence that created everything, therefore nothing or no one can go above him. With God, our world full of uncertainties and uncontrollables suddenly becomes a place with an order with a concrete path for salvation.
Of course religion is about God, you would think. What else could it be? But actually, Buddhism doesn’t work that way as it doesn’t have God-like existence. (You may be surprised, but Buddha is not a God equivalent.) Instead Buddha taught that the only absolute truth in this world was NOTHINGNESS. Complete emptiness. Zero. Nada. The religious truth, and the core teaching of Buddhism is nothingness.
The difference between Christianity with Buddhism is God versus nothingness.
But it is confusing. How a religion can work without God, and how nothingness – if it was literally about no substances in it – compares to God?
The answer is in the making of religions. Earlier I wrote that religions represent everything that the real world is NOT. Humans needed to create something perfectly reliable to counter the reality that was full of difficulties beyond their control. They needed emotional/mental/spiritual support in order to keep going even faced with desperate situations.
But what can be absolute in this world where everything is uncertain and humans are so helpless? It’s almost mission: impossible. However, our ancestors were indomitable and courageous. Some extraordinary religious leaders made impossible possible, and today we have several well-established religions that have survived the test of time for thousands of years. And there were at least two approaches to make impossible possible – to found absoluteness in the world made of uncertainties.
The first approach was to establish a supreme existence that was above and beyond every kind of uncertainties (which means everything and everyone) in this universe. That is God.
But there was another approach, which was to completely embrace the fact that our world was made of uncertainties. Since everything and everyone in this universe keeps changing and will eventually go away, it’s absolutely true to state that nothing is absolute. That’s how Buddhism approached absoluteness. Naturally, its version of absoluteness became nothingness – it was the only framework that could embrace everything that was destined to come and go.
God and nothingness were not as far as they may sound: they were actually the two sides of the same coin – humans’ sincere endeavors to find absoluteness in the world full of uncertainties.
But this differences cause one problem for Buddhism: whereas God is conceptually accessible for everyone, nothingness (which is also called 空 (kuu) in Japanese) is not easy to understand, especially since you cannot expect visual aids. (How does it look like, and how does it help you arrive at eternal peace??) So it it takes a little bit of learning – if we got you curious what it is, read the article: