Modernity is characterized by many small poisons which work to destroy man. Some are weak, a few are strong, and all lead to the same end, which is death. One of the strong poisons is moral relativism, and a weak poison is the notion that to be nice is somehow good. When these two poisons are allowed to flow over a world in which common people often encounter new cultures, many disguised threats may arise thereafter.
Sometimes, people who believe themselves to be Christians will encounter Buddhists. When they do so, they recognize that most Buddhists are mild-mannered and polite people. The common person observes the Buddhist behavior and mistakenly assumes that the religion is good because its keepers are nice. When a Christian observer does this, they may begin to wonder if a Christian can be a Buddhist. Moreover, most Christians and most Buddhists understand so little about the religions they profess that neither can give a competent answer.
Here’s the answer:
A Christian cannot be a Buddhist. Christians must believe that life is good. Buddhists believe that life is suffering. The aim of the Christian is to return to God. The aim of Buddhist living is to reach oblivion. Christians strive for eternal life, while Buddhists strive for the cessation of existence.
Christians cannot be Buddhists because Christians must believe that existence is good. Buddhists must believe that existence is bad. Now I will explain why this is the case.
Catholic Answers on Christianity & Buddhism
Catholic Answers is a show which addresses certain topics relevant to modern Christians. Their assessment of the topic is reliable, and Catholic and Orthodox readers can trust what is stated in this video.
God Looked at Creation and Saw that It Was Good
The early verses of Genesis tell us that God created the universe and its contents. After doing so, He looked at His creation and saw that it was good. This goodness arose from the fact that God is good, and some part of His goodness is imbued in all that is. The verse which states this is Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and it was good.”
Now, Christians are expected to accept this verse and, therefore, to believe that Creation is good. Christians are also meant to believe that God is good. Therefore, Christians must value creation, and they must value God, because both are good. Christians must then desire to create, to prolong creation, and to draw nearer to God on account of the goodness of these things.
So Christianity is a religion with its goals affixed on admitting the goodness of Creation and of the next world. Buddhism is not like that. In fact, Buddhism teaches the opposite.
The Buddha Looked at Life and Saw that It Was Bad
First, in order to understand Buddhism, it really is needed that we address the life of its founder, Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was a real person whose historicity can reasonably be affirmed, and the legend of his founding of Buddhism seems like an accurate description of something we would expect a human live out, we we can trust the legend.
The Legend of the Buddha
The Buddha was the son of an Indian ruler, and this ruler believed in divination and foresight. So the Buddha’s father hired a fortune-teller to foretell the life that his son would lead. The fortune-teller then divined that the Buddha would become one of two things: He would either become a religious leader or a great ruler.
Now, the Buddha’s father disliked that his son might become a holy man. He would have preferred for his son to become an esteemed ruler such as himself. So he resolved to raise his son in the seclusion of his palace, where he would only experience the finest things which life might offer him. The king also mad ea point of hiding all examples of misery from his son so that the boy would not need to confront the suffering which was common in the outside world The king believed that his son might avoid religion and the world of spirits if he could be bombarded with comfort and leisure.
So the Buddha grew up as a spoiled rich kid who never wanted for anything. However, palace life was boring, and he would often ask his father to let him leave and explore the nearby towns. The king eventually resisted these requests at first, but he eventually did so. The Buddha was a young man at this time.
So the Buddha left the palace for the first time, and he visited the nearby markets and villages. There, he saw people suffering for the first time in his life. He could not cope with what he was seeing, so he quickly returned to the palace to recover.
So the prince spent some time in his home, and then he left once more. He encountered suffering again and, again, the Buddha retreated to his palace. Later, he repeated this process for a third time. After he encountered human suffering for the third time, the young Buddha realized that his life had been a lie and concluded that suffering, and not comfort, was the norm for mankind.
The prince proceeded to develop a system that would allow humans to avoid the suffering that all people must encounter. This system is Buddhism, and it holds that suffering is real and that humans are meant to live their lives in a way that minimizes suffering. It is for this reason that the Buddhist paradise, Nirvana, is not a place, but rather, a state of non-existence.
The Conflicting Goals of Christianity & Buddhism
So, to simply restate what I have said, Christianity and Buddhism begin from mutually exclusive places, and they move toward mutually exclusive ends. Christians believe that existence is good and that continued existence is desirable. Buddhists believe that suffering exists and that the goal of mankind is to escape from it. Ironically, both traditions have produced similar ethics to help them pursue their goals. The similarity between them often deceives people with the belief that the two religions are somehow compatible. The people who are deceived do not understand the two faiths well enough to be a proper follower of either.
How the Buddha Went Wrong
Now, before I end my review of the key difference between Christianity and Buddhism, I think I should address how the Buddha went wrong. The young prince was certainly right when he saw that suffering is inseparable from life, but his mistake was to believe that the aim of life was to avoid it. This could not possibly be true.
In order for suffering to exist, then something must be alive and able to suffer. Therefore, suffering depends on life. Yet life, being the source of suffering, does not require suffering in order to exist. So suffering is not worth as much as living, because it lacks anything that life does not yield unto it. Therefore, any moral system which places suffering and its avoidance as the greatest values must be subordinate to one which esteems life.
Christianity is a religion that esteems life. As Christ tells his followers in Matthew 22:32, the God of Abraham is the God of the living, and He is not the god of the dead. So Christians are meant to confront life and the suffering which cannot be avoided within it. The purpose of this suffering is then to overcome it so that the Christian may become a greater being as a consequence of this struggle. The Catholics call this process divinization, but it is more rightly called theosis.