What is Buddhism?

What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is not a biblical religion. It was founded by Siddhartha Guatama, a.k.a. Buddha. He was born into royalty. As the story goes, Suddhodana, his father, had ordered that Siddhartha live a life of seclusion to protect him from the pain and suffering of the world. However, one day Siddhartha wondered out into the world and was confronted with the suffering of life. The next day he left his kingdom and new born son to lead an ascetic life-style. After six years of the ascetic life, one day he was offered a bowl of rice from a young girl. The moment he accepted it, "he realised that physical austerities were not the means to achieve liberation." [1] Thereafter, he taught a path of moderation, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. He called this "The Middle Way." That night Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree. He meditated until dawn. He allegedly purified his mind of all defilements and attained "enlightenment," therefore earning the title Buddha ("Enlightened One"). [2]

For the most part Buddhism is an Eastern religion, but is also rather popular in the West as well. It is somewhat associated with Hinduism in that both teach: (1) Karma (the actions of an individual [cause] influence a person's future [effect]), (2) Samsara (karmic cycle or reincarnation, essentially a cycle of aimless drifting; also popular in Jainism), and (3) Maya (the illusory nature of the world; the basis of the emphasis of yoga and meditation in Indian thought). Buddhists believe that the ultimate goal in life is to achieve enlightenment or Nirvana. See "What is Hinduism?" below.

In his journey to "enlightenment," Buddha spoke of the "Four Noble Truths:" (1) the truth of suffering, (2) the truth of the cause of suffering, (3) the truth of the end of suffering, and (4) the truth of the path leading to the end of suffering. The eight divisions of the path to achieve spiritual enlightenment and cease suffering can be summarized as: (1) right understanding, (2) right though, (3) right speech, (4) right conduct, (5) right means of making a living, (6) right mental attitude, (7) right mindfulness, and (8) right concentration. [3]

Buddhism has evolved over time. Today it is rather diverse. There are three schools of Buddhism: (1) Theravada, (2) Mahayana, and (3) Vajrayana. Theravada is the monastic form of Buddhism, while Mahayana Buddhism is for the laity. Vajrayana Buddhism, often referred to as Tibetan Buddhism, sees itself as a quicker, more effective path to enlightenment. Within these three main branches of Buddhism are numerous branches: Zen, Tendai, Nichiren, Shingon, and Ryobu, etc.

The teachings within Buddhism are rather vast and varied in scope depending which version of Buddhism one follows. The table below compares and contrasts a few of the teachings of Buddhism with Christianity.

Christianity Scripture Buddhism
God created the universe. Gen. 1:1; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:3 Reject idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator. Refutes that the universe was created by a self-conscious, personal God.
God-centered: Goal to worship God and enjoy him forever. 1 Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36; Psa 73:24-26 Self-centered: Goal to eliminate self-suffering.
Rebirth is through Christ alone, not works. In this world Christians have tribulation, but in the next, no more tears or sorrow. John 3:1-8; 16:33; Eph 2:8-10; Rev 21:4 Rebirth (reincarnation) is a central belief. The endless cycle of reincarnation can only be broken by attaining Nirvana.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God. 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21 The Tripitaka is Buddhism's book; (1) Sutta Pitaka, the discourses of the Buddha, (2) Vinaya Pitaka, rules for bikkhus (men) and bhikkunis (women), and (3) Abhidhamma Pitaka, theoretical explanations of the nature of reality and the workings of the human mind in general.
Everyone, except Jesus, has a sin nature. Psa 51:5; Rom 3:23; Eph 2:1-3 Sin is not a Buddhist concept. People are merely unskillful or unwholesome and need no Savior.
Salvation is thru Christ by grace alone. John 3:16; Eph 2:8-10; Rom 5:8 Means of salvation are reaching Enlightenment / Nirvana, following the Noble Eightfold Path.

Those in Buddhism need Christ. See "Is Jesus the ONLY WAY to Heaven?" below.


[1] Monique Chelin, Switch on Life!: Activate Your Personal Potential, (Switch it On!, 2006).
[2] Gill Farrer-Halls, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Buddhist Wisdom, (Quest Books, 2000).
[3] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, (Broadway Books, 1999).
[4] Paul De Neui and David Lim, Communicating Christ in the Buddhist World, (William Carey Library Publishers, 2006).

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).