Paths to Liberation
This world is a difficult place, from which people throughout history have sought relief and liberation. Two major paths to liberation, Buddhism and Christianity, will be compared in this five part series.
What each path holds out as model behavior toward others is virtually the same. Each challenge us to overcome hatred with love and to seek to banish negative thoughts by intentionally focusing on positive thoughts. However, each claimed to be the only true path to liberation. To Buddha, intense, prolonged meditation is the only way. In Christianity, faith in Jesus (apart from good deeds) is the only way to salvation.
Buddhism is a system of self-improvement directed and implemented by the self. The problem is that self-improvement tends to be very slow. It took the Buddha billions of lifetimes to reach perfection and become enlightened. By his own admission, the Dalai Lama has not yet attained enlightenment. If he hasn’t made it, who has?
The Buddha modeled ideal behavior, having achieved perfection. He thereby became enlightened and entered nirvana. Upon death, he left this earth, never to return. After his crucifixion and burial, Jesus rose from the dead and made at least a dozen different appearances, being seen by over 500 people. He then ascended into heaven, where he is alive today and in active communication and interaction with many of his followers.
Because of these differences, the number of Buddhists who have claimed to reach enlightenment and nirvana is very small. In contrast, the number of Christians who claim to have been liberated (i.e., saved) is in the hundreds of millions. However, we should not assume that anyone calling themselves a Christian is following Jesus. Jesus clearly stated that he never knew many of his followers.
This dramatic difference in the accessibility of liberation is due to the central role of mercy and grace in Christianity. Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve for bad deeds and thoughts. Grace is receiving blessings that we in no way deserve. Neither mercy nor grace are available in Buddhism because the universe is tightly governed by karma. Karma precludes mercy as well as grace.
Precautions should be noted for each path. Buddhism requires, at a bare minimum, many months of intense, prolonged meditation. When Westerners attempt this, the result is often depression because people in the West are conditioned to avoid self-denial.
Christians can easily fall into having judgmental attitudes toward others. It is best for religion and politics to be kept separate, and not to be intertwined.
The following chart summarizes the above narrative.
|One way?||Intense, prolonged meditation is the only way||Jesus is the only way|
|Basis of liberation||Good thoughts & deeds||Faith in Christ|
|Mercy and Grace||Non-existent||Abundantly available|
|Liberation slow/quick?||Slow. Buddha lived billions of lifetimes. Dalai Lama not yet liberated.||Often quick. Key is letting go and letting God.|
|How many claim liberation?||A few hundred||Hundreds of millions|
|Precautions||After months of meditation, depression is not unusual||Need to avoid judgmental words and attitudes, and linking politics and religion|