Is Buddhism Better than other Religions?




Yesterday, Jeremy McCarthy wrote an article on elephant journal (click here to readdrawing comparison between Buddhism and the other great religions of the world. To be fair, he didn't say that Buddhism was better. Here is the just of what he had to say:

1) Buddhism is more about life and less about the afterlife: It is less about how we got here, and where we go when we die, and more about how we live while we are here. Buddhism was born from the roots of Vedic Brahamanism where they believed in cycles of reincarnation that explain what happens to our souls before we are born and after we die. Questions of soul and afterlife are important, but the Buddha was focused on understanding how we can release ourselves from human suffering in the course of our lives.
2) Buddhism is more about rituals and less about deities: In Buddhism, the rituals and practice of life is more important than the gods you worship, or how you worship them.
3) Buddhism is more about truths and less about commandments: The Buddha discovered the four noble truths and the eight-fold path to enlightenment. Unlike commandments and other religious doctrines, these are not rules that must be obeyed to avoid some kind of punishment in the afterlife. They are observations about the way life works and the steps towards living a better one.
4) Buddhism is more about getting closer to humanity and less about getting closer to God: While many religions teach about God and how to establish a relationship with our Creator, Buddhism is about feeling our own humanity. In other religions, grace comes from divinity, in Buddhism grace comes from within. Grace comes from the compassion that one feels by recognizing that we are all connected. 
5) Buddhism and science accommodate each other rather than contradict each other: Psychology research on mindfulness, meditation, compassion, psychological flexibility, curiosity, and acceptance and commitment theory all seem to support the teachings of Buddhism. And the Dalai Lama has said that if science uncovers new findings that challenge the teachings of Buddhism, then Buddhists will need to adapt their beliefs to accommodate what science discovers.

I think that, in a general way, Jeremy approaches Buddhism from an idealistic point of view. I do not mean idealistic in the negative or "he is too lofty" sense; Rather, I mean to say that he looks at it from a very respectful and practical point of view.

In my mind this begs two very important questions:

  • Is his assessment true when Buddhism is held to the same standards that other religions are held to? It seems to me that he is comparing idealistic Buddhism to perverted monotheism. 
  • Can we evaluate the other world religions with the respectful, common sense approach that we often afford to Buddhism or our preferred tradition?
When the ideal standard is removed, does his argument hold up?
  1. Buddhism is more about life and less about the afterlife— In Asia, where most Buddhists are, Karma and reincarnation is an indispensable part of the Buddhist world view. You reject karma and/or reincarnation, and you reject Buddhism.
  2. Buddhism is more about rituals and less about deities Please take into consideration Tibet, perhaps the most popular example of Buddhism in the west. There is nothing on the religious smorgasbord that is more ritually lavish, but it is also overflowing with deities, which are essential forms (not secondary) to their system of practice.
  3. Buddhism is more about truths and less about commandments Once the first point is made (karma/ reincarnation), suggestions are transformed into commandments. Instead of taking the 5 precepts or the 10 non-virtuous actions as a framework with which to struggle in our own personal practice, the fear of a lower rebirth transforms these principles into cultural commandments that are used to govern the morality of a society. Plus, there are also 10!
  4. Buddhism is more about getting closer to humanity and less about getting closer to God While there may be little to no emphasis on God, one could hardly deny the similarities between a Christian fundamentalist striving for validation from a cosmic father figure and the sense of neediness and dependency that is often characteristic of the teacher student relationship. 
  5. Buddhism and science accommodate each other rather than contradict each other I also enjoy the similarities that Buddhism and science, particularly physics, share, but I think we are also guilty of cherry picking. In the Buddhist sutras, there are plenty of examples of cultural superstition and/or scientific claims from ancient India that contradict the science of today.


Can we look at the other faiths with the same pragmatism and respect that we afford our own tradition?

I do not intend to suggest that Buddhism is just as bad as all the other religions, but I do hope to encourage a more inquisitive and respectful assessment of the other wisdom traditions. I will use a popular example, Christianity.    

  1. Buddhism is more about life and less about the afterlife  "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" is one of the most quoted sayings of Jesus. It is a reminder that the kingdom is right here, right now. There are sects within Christianity that have tried to transform the tradition into a "mass evacuation plan," but it is clear that the message is one of completely embracing our true liferight here, right now.
  2. Buddhism is more about rituals and less about deities The Christian is called to fully embody his/her potential, their "Kingship" (being sons of God, they are heirs of the kingdom) just as the Buddha actualized the fullness of the human condition. Just as the Tibetans use archetypal images to expedite this process, so do the Christians: John 14:12-- "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me--the works that I do--he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father." "The Father" is the primordial archetype (much like Samantabhadra) that personifies the fullness of the human condition. This symbol is just that, a symbol. It is a finger pointing at the mystery from which "our" life emerges. 
  3. Buddhism is more about truths and less about commandments  Contemplative Christianity and Judaism place emphasis not on the morality of commandment but the fact that our nature is in accord with these commandments. To Love God is fully to embrace the whole of creation, including your Self, upholding and expressing the intrinsic dignity and integrity of our natural perfection. The basic commandment, "To love God above everything" is to say that we should practice acknowledging the groundlessness of our existence in every moment so that we may realize that "it is not I who live but Christ (Buddha-nature) within me. God does not have will for us  we are the will of God! 
  4. Buddhism is more about getting closer to humanity and less about getting closer to God    Just as I said in 2, The Christian is called to fully embody his/her potential, their "Kingship" (being sons of God, they are heirs of the kingdom) just as the Buddha actualized the fullness of the human condition. When you realize that in the beginning was God and everything poured forth from God, there is no-thing to separate humanity from the image of God. This is the imago dei. This was Jesus' message: " The Father and I are one." It is also underlying the Hindu mythology.
  5. Buddhism and science accommodate each other rather than contradict each other     There is plenty of common ground for science and Christianity to share, as Carl Jung was well aware. It is the science of 2,000 B.C. that disagrees with modern science, not religion, as Joseph Campbell was quick to remind us.

Have This Blog Sent to Your Email.