QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
on

Buddhism and Other Religions

1 How does Buddhism differ from other world religions such as Christianity?
2 Is the Buddha a divine being or avatar (incarnation) sent to earth to educate the people?
3 Is Buddhism a branch of Hinduism?

 

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How does Buddhism differ from other world religions such as Christianity?

There are many common features between Buddhism and other world religions on ethical and moral issues, such as not killing other human beings, stealing, etc. and on the positive side the practice of generosity, compassion etc. Morality is only the preliminary stage and is a means to an end. Though essential, it alone does not lead to one’s deliverance.

Buddhism differs from other religions in three ways:

(a) It does not demand faith in a ‘creator god’.

(b) It teaches a doctrine of anatta (no soul, no self), which means that there is no ever-lasting or abiding essence in living beings.

(c) It also teaches a doctrine of paticcasamuppada (conditioned genesis or dependent origination), which means that nothing exists independently, but only in dependence upon other causally-related events. Hence it could be said that Buddhism is not a religion.

Some have held the view that Buddhism is a philosophy, but the Buddha did not preach mere philosophical or intellectual theories. The Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) deals with reality and truths that can be verified by personal experience. Unlike a philosophy, this leads to the elimination of all forms of suffering and release from conditioned existence. One can discuss endlessly whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy; it does not matter what you call it - It is a way of life. In fact, some of the ancient teachings are very much in keeping with modern scientific thought, therefore you might even call it a 'Science of Life'.

The essence of Buddhism is summarised in the following beautiful ancient verse:

Sabba papassa akaranam
- kusalassa upasampada
To cease from all evil
To cultivate good
Sacittapariyodapanam
- etam Buddhana sasanam
To purify one's mind
This is the advice of all Buddhas

 

 

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Is the Buddha a divine being or avatar (incarnation) sent to earth to educate the people?

Nowhere in the sacred texts is this view supported. The term Buddha means ‘the awakened one’ - awake to the reality of life. The Buddha categorically said that in order to attain the extremely difficult goal of Buddhahood he had to undergo rigorous spiritual development by his own efforts over many thousands of lifetimes. He was born as a man, lived as a man and died as a man.

The texts do mention that there were many Buddhas in the world before Gotama the Buddha, whose teachings we follow, and there will be many Buddhas after. They all discover the same Truth, which always exists whether or not there is a Buddha to reveal it.

 

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Is Buddhism a branch of Hinduism?

Many ideas in Buddhism, such as belief in re-incarnation and karma were prevalent in India before the time of Buddha. In fact Prince Siddhartha Gotama, as the Buddha was known before he became enlightened, engaged in many Hindu practices under various teachers, but he abandoned them as unsatisfactory.

The ‘Four Noble Truths’, which are essentially the core of Buddha’s teachings, are unique to Buddhism. The three characteristics of existence, namely Anicca (impermanence or transience of existence), Dukkha (suffering), and Anatta (no self or soul) are not found in Hinduism.

Some Hindus regard the Buddha as an avatar, but this is not generally accepted by Buddhists, who regard his teachings as different from the Hindu doctrines. The Buddha placed great emphasis on the importance of one’s deeds, not one’s birth, as determining one’s status and progression through life

See also Pre-Buddhist Indian History

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