What does Buddhism teach, and how does it differ from Christianity?
Legend tells us that Buddha was a powerful young prince who gave up his earthly position and possessions in order to seek enlightenment and salvation. Buddha lived in India approximately 600 years before Christ. He was concerned with the terrible things that were being done within the Hindu tradition, so he developed his own religious system.
Buddha taught that the question of God’s existence is meaningless. His conception of salvation is radically different than that taught by Christianity.
Buddha believed in reincarnation. He taught that every evil thing we do ties us more tightly to the cycle of rebirth. Buddha taught that a person can escape the cycle of reincarnation and enter nirvana only by following the “Noble Eight-fold Path,” a strict ethical system.
Buddhist teachings include dedication to meditation. Meditation involves emptying one’s mind of all content and learning to drift away from a consciousness of this world. Thus, it is part of the process by which a Buddhist frees himself from his attachments to this world and the cycle of reincarnation.
We should not confuse nirvana with heaven, however. For the Buddhist, nirvana is simply an escape from the world of suffering. It is like a candle that had been burning with a hot flame (representing our suffering in the cycle of reincarnation) being suddenly extinguished. Once a flame is out, there is no point in questioning where it went. To the classical Buddhist, to attain nirvana is simply to be out of existence.
Buddhism is clearly a very different religion from Christianity. It offers no personal salvation. It stands against sin and immorality, but it ignores the issue of God’s existence and our need for redemption. At its root, Buddhism is a form of agnosticism or at least practical atheism. It provides no answers about the ultimate meaning of existence. By denying the ultimate meaningfulness of life, Buddhism provides its followers with little motivation to conquer evil or to work for justice. Jesus Christ, in contrast, confronts us with the need to become right with God and to introduce a new order into the world, an order He called “the kingdom of God.”