Comparison of Buddhism and Christianity

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There is no better description of biblical spirituality than ceaseless vigilance or perpetual mindfulness. ~ Aloysius Pieris

Since the arrival of Christian missionaries in the East in the 13th century, followed by the arrival of Buddhism in Western Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, similarities were perceived between the practices of Buddhism and Christianity.


  • As in Mediterranean Christianity, these saints became so popular that they almost crowded out the head of the pantheon in worship and art. The veneration of relics, the use of holy water, candles, incense, the rosary, clerical vestments, a liturgical dead language, monks and nuns, monastic tonsure and celibacy, confession, fast days, the canonization of saints, purgatory and masses for the dead flourished in Buddhism as in medieval Christianity, and seem to have appeared in Buddhism first.II Mahayana became to Hinayana or primitive Buddhism what Catholicism was to Stoicism and primitive Christianity. Buddha, like Luther, had made the mistake of supposing that the drama of religious ritual could be replaced with sermons and morality; and the victory of a Buddhism rich in myths, miracles, ceremonies and intermediating saints corresponds to the ancient and current triumph of a colorful and dramatic Catholicism over the austere simplicity of early Christianity and modern Protestantism.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors.
  • “The Buddhists,” says Fergusson, “kept five centuries in advance of the Roman Church in the invention and use of all the ceremonies and forms common to both religions.” Edmunds has shown in detail the astonishing parallelism between the Buddhist and the Christian gospels. However, our knowledge of the beginnings of these customs and beliefs is too vague to warrant positive conclusions as to priority.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors.
  • The Gospels contain a number of almost literal repetitions of phrases, parables and scenes from the Buddhist canon, particularly from the Mahaparinirvana-Sutra: the master walking on water (and saying to the baffled disciples: "It's me"), the simile of the blind leading the blind, the multiplication of the loaves of bread, the master asking and accepting water from a woman belonging to a despised community, the call not to pass judgment on others, the call to respond to hostility with love, and other overly well-known motifs. (...) This is becoming too much for coincidence, and the similarity is moreover strengthened by very specific details... These similarities are certainly the fruit of historical contacts, though apart from the presence of a Buddhist community outside Alexandria (the Therapeutai), the details of the whereabouts of Buddhists in West Asia are as yet eluding us.
  • In the teachings of primitive, southern Buddhism, Catholicism would have found the most salutary correctives for its strangely arbitrary theology, for its strain of primitive savagery inherited from the less desirable parts of Old Testament, for its incessant and dangerous preoccupations with torture and death, for its elaborately justified beliefs in the magic efficacy of rites and sacraments. But, alas, so far as the West was concerned, the Enlightened One was destined, until very recent times, to remain no more than the hero of an edifying fairy tale.
  • The religions whose theology is least preoccupied with events in time and most concerned with eternity, have been consistently less violent and more humane in political practice. Unlike early Judaism, Christianity and Mohammedanism (all obsessed with time) Hinduism and Buddhism have never been persecuting faiths, have preached almost no holy wars and have refrained from that proselytizing religious imperialism which has gone hand in hand with political and economic oppression of colored people.
    • The Perennial philosophy - By Aldous Huxley
  • It is a significant fact and worth pondering upon that the Bible commences with the words: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.", while the Dhammapada … opens with the words "Mind precedes things, dominates them, creates them". These momentous words are the quiet and uncontending, but unshakeable reply of the Buddha to that biblical belief. Here the roads of these two religions part: the one leads far away into an imaginary Beyond, the other leads straight home, into man's very heart.
    • Nyanaponika, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (1965), p. 21
  • It may be relevant here to recall gratefully a fraternal correction I was kindly offered by the Archimandrite Ambrosius of the Greek Orthodox Church. After listening to a lecture I delivered at Oxford University some years ago, he gently chided me (in private, not in public) for not perceiving the difference between the brand of Hellenism affecting Western theology that had absorbed the philosophical thought of ancient Greece, and the Hellenism of Eastern Orthodox theology which had assimilated the spiritual praxis of their non-Christian ancestors. Mulling over this critical observation of his, I came to understand why our scholastic tradition has not given importance to what Greek Orthodox spirituality has named nepsis (vigilance), which is its own technical term for mindfulness.
    • Aloysius Pieris,"Spirituality as Mindfulness: Biblical and Buddhist Approaches," Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 10, no. 1, Spring 2010, p. 39
  • A “discerning person” (anthropos diakritikos), according to the Orthodox Greeks, is someone perpetually mindful or watchful of God working in all things and at all times. Ever conscious of God’s Love, which is God’s Will, a vigilant Christian is never taken unawares by circumstances. In the eschatological discourses of the Gospels, Jesus advises us to read the cosmic signs that announce God’s recurrent visitations and thus remain watchful and awake every hour of the day and night, that is to say, remain perpetually mindful. Hence there is no better description of biblical spirituality than ceaseless vigilance or perpetual mindfulness.
    • Aloysius Pieris,"Spirituality as Mindfulness: Biblical and Buddhist Approaches," Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 10, no. 1, Spring 2010, p. 39
  • "History seems to teach that the whole human race required a gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity. All the fallacies of human reason had to be exhausted, before the light of a high truth could meet with ready acceptance. The ancient religions of the world were but the milk of nature, which was in due time to be succeeded by the bread of life.... 'The religion of Buddha has spread far beyond the limits of the Aryan world, and to our limited vision, it may seem to have retarded the advent of Christianity among a large portion of the human race. But in the sight of Him with whom a thousand years are but as one day, that religion, like the ancient religions of the world, may have but served to prepare the way of Christ, by helping through its very errors to strengthen and to deepen the ineradicable yearning of the human heart after the truth of God."
    • Max Muller quoted in Shourie, Arun (1994). Missionaries in India: Continuities, changes, dilemmas. New Delhi : Rupa & Co, 1994
  • "Buddhism and Brahmanism are a hundred times deeper and more objective than Christianity."
    • F. Nietzsche, quoted in Londhe, S. (2008). A tribute to Hinduism: Thoughts and wisdom spanning continents and time about India and her culture. New Delhi: Pragun Publication.
  • Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam. … Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of the world.
    • Bertrand Russell, "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism", (London, 1920), pp. 5, 114-115

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