Over the course of the past few years, I have found myself wanting to explore and choose a religion for myself. It is one thing to academically analyze a religion and to theorize from its assumptions; it is quite another to understand from a personal and spiritual level and to practice a religion. For years I have dabbled in different religions, accepted their creeds and righteous moral codes as truth, but I have never truly chosen a religion for myself.
Since my father was raised as a Christian, and my closest childhood friends all accept Christianity as their faith, a part of me has wanted to accept that belief as my own. By doing this, I feel I can welcome those people into my life spiritually as well as personally. On the other hand, I have been exposed to more Buddhism than Christianity throughout my high school years both in study and practice. This is a study of the different approaches of Christianity with respect to Buddhism, both for my own spiritual journey and for my class. I do, not, however, expect to come to any decisive conclusion in one paper.
Author’s Note: The word “God” in this paper refers to the energy that a specific God, such as Yahweh and the like, represents. It also includes Enlightenment, Nirvana, and any other ultimately Divine representation of that same concept.
I think the most distinguishing characteristic of Christianity is that the way to God is through accepting Jesus into your heart. This has some very interesting social connotations. Jesus is a part of the Holy Trinity of God; he is the Son. He incarnated on Earth as a sacrifice to liberate His people from their sins against God. Only by accepting this sacrifice will your sins be eradicated and forgotten. Only without sin can you join God. This could be interpreted as the only sacrifice ever made for this purpose. As such, people who choose other paths to God will never find Him. They will forever be separated from God. This eternal separation from God is the most severe punishment imaginable. It is Hell. Therefore, we find the common Christian conception: “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ll go to Hell.” This means that everyone who wishes to find God, even Jews and Muslims who share the same basic principles as Christianity, must convert to Christianity and accept Jesus the Christ.
Jesus’s sacrifice could also be interpreted, however, as one of many that all represent the same kind of energy needed to find God personally. There needs to be a conscious commitment to accept that kind of energy that represents compassion, morality, sacrifice, and determination to strive to be with God. You must be pure and holy to join God, so Jesus is the path to that purity and holiness. He represents a personal dedication to find God.
Then, also, other spiritual leaders (we will use Shakyamuni Buddha in this instance) present the same path to morality and dedication to finding God, do they not? Shakyamuni Buddha sacrificed his entire life, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, to find God, or “Enlightenment”. He was a prince, with a palace, a beautiful wife and son, with everything He ever desired at His fingertips. Not only did He renounce His family and wealthy lifestyle, but also His belief system. He was raised believing that everything was perfect and permanent. It was indeed a sacrifice to renounce this way of thinking. It is not easy to willingly face impermanence and suffering.
The Buddha also very nearly sacrificed His physical life in order to discover God. He practiced asceticism for seven years, and spent 49 days without food or drink while meditating under the Bodhi Tree. Like Jesus, he was confronted by, but eventually overcame, the demon king, Mara. Jesus’s own 40 days in the desert without food or water is very similar to this period in the Buddha’s own search. During this time, Jesus fought and vanquished the Devil. Both the Buddha and the Christ spoke of morality, largely through non-discriminatory compassion. They both preached that morality in body, mind, and spirit would ultimately lead to reunion with God. Does, then, the Buddha not also qualify as a path to God?
There is one subtle, yet important, difference. According to the Bible, Jesus was sent by the Father (First Aspect of God) to give the people of the world a way to return to Him. In the Bible, Jesus is an Aspect of God. The Buddha, and all other main spiritual leaders, was simply few of the people of the world who found God on His own. Yet the fact that the Buddha, or anyone else other than Jesus Christ, who personally discovered God shows us that it is possible. We do not need Jesus to find God. Jesus is simply an “easy way out”, sent directly from God for the benefit of all peoples who choose to use it. Thus, every other religion is valid in its own right, just perhaps a more difficult approach.
The path of Jesus is easy because it offers total absolution of karma solely in choosing it. By taking Jesus into your heart, you take the Son of God (Second Aspect of God) into your heart. It logically follows that accepting a direct embodiment of an Aspect of God is a faster and more direct way of finding the rest of God: the Father, the Holy Spirit (and your own Enlightenment). In other spiritual paths, such as Buddhism, you have to endure your own retributions. However, if you cultivate moral precepts and non-attachment, and realize true emptiness through the contemplation of
prajna-wisdom, then you can reach the same place as Buddha/God in that you have ended karma and emotion.
In some respects, Christians can feel as though they are immune to their actions; as if simply renewing or acknowledging their faith in Jesus will absolve them of their misdemeanors. They do this while maintaining the belief that theirs is the only way to salvation. While others work for their place with God, their work and dedication are not validated in the eyes of the Christian community.
It isn’t easy to choose a life of devotion to God, no matter what path you choose. It is perhaps harder, though, to go through life without any spiritual curiosity or connection to a representation of our Origin. I believe this Origin is the same for everyone. We all arose from the same primal energy, and we all wish to return to that energy. No matter what path we choose to get there, everyone has the same need to find God, and perhaps the only difference in our paths is the difference in our own personalities and individual approaches.