Summary: A look at Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Recently one of the major denominations met in Columbus to debate, of all things, whether or not Jesus Christ is the one true Savior of the world. Is he the universal Savior or might there be several? What about the other world religions and their claims? Some people wonder if perhaps there are not many paths to God? If you asked the average American today what the difference was between the major world religions, they would probably mumble something about all religions being pretty much the same. People assume that all religions have nearly the same moral teachings and ideals. They might have different names for God, but it is the same God. These religions, many people believe, may travel different roads, but they all lead to God. As long as you believe in something, as long as you believe in God, it really doesn’t matter what form your belief takes.
The truth is that these religions are all very different and even contradict each other at crucial points. What this means is that we are left with two options: either none of them are true, or one of them is true and the others are not. Having said that, I want to be gracious and treat these religions with respect. However, it is important to understand that there are substantial differences. This morning we will look at the belief systems of the five major world religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. All religions are not the same, and hopefully you will see that this morning. I hope that you will be a student today and learn as much as possible, because there is the trend in our culture to be pluralistic and politically correct, dismissing the differences, and put all religions into one big melting pot.
Let’s begin by taking a look at Buddhism. When I was in England recently, I stayed in the home of a chaplain at one of the public schools there. We were talking about Buddhism, and he said, “I teach the students in my classes that Buddhism is basically an atheistic religion.” That may sound shocking and even contradictory to some, but he is essentially correct. Most Buddhists oppose the concept of an ultimate God. Buddhism is not about finding God or even finding his will. Buddha himself did not claim to be divine, nor did he claim that his teachings were derived from a divine source. There are about 355 million Buddhists worldwide, and one of them is Dr. Marian Caudron, professor of Eastern religion at Northwestern University. She said in a recent interview, “God is not the focus or ultimate concern of the Buddhist tradition. Instead, the Buddhist tradition focuses on the teachings of the historic Buddha.” Buddha simply means “Enlightened One.” His original name was Siddhartha Gautama. He lived about 483 B.C. and was born on the border between Nepal and India. He was born a prince and had a lavish palace and everything he could want, but he was troubled about the meaning of life. ‘If I have it all, why am I not happy?’ he asked himself. And so as a young man he left his family, and he went seeking the truth. He tried everything from indulgence and strict asceticism, but as he sat under a Bo Tree he discovered that the problem of life was craving. Craving leads to dissatisfaction. You want something, and even when you get it you are dissatisfied with it or you want more. Buddhism teaches that enlightenment is the path to bring an end to craving.
Buddhism’s central teaching is how to arrive at the ideal state where there is no longer any craving, in fact, any kind of desire or feeling. That state is called Nirvana. It is the state of disinterest toward all that is around you. In short, the way to avoid unhappiness and suffering is not to care or feel anything at all. You form no earthly attachments. Contrast this with Jesus’ words that he came to give us life and give it to the full (John 10:10). He said he came that his joy might be in us and that our joy might be complete (John 15:11). Instead of withdrawing from life and any emotional attachment to it, Jesus taught that we are to enter into life in the fullest sense. We are not to escape from life, but to take it on with enthusiasm because, difficult thought it may be, he is with us. “In this world you will have trouble,” he said. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). If I lose all attachments I form no attachment of love for others. But Jesus said that we are to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31).
There are many people who are practical Buddhists. They withdraw and shield themselves from emotion and protect themselves from emotional attachments to others so they will not be hurt. But Jesus taught us to even love our enemies, and do good to those who despitefully use us — the very people who have the power to hurt us most. Buddhism teaches that life and the created world are illusory, and to enter Nirvana is to escape the illusion. Salvation for the Buddhist is not salvation from sin, but salvation from suffering.