How many people have claimed to be God and have people wondering for centuries whether the claim is true? The list is short! While many people have claimed to be God or a god, most of them have only left people wondering what they were smoking or what the diagnosis is!
I often recall the World Religion class I took in college and the fact that Buddhism was particularly attractive to me at that time. I entered that class thinking that truth could be found in many places, all around the world, in all the religions, philosophies and cultures. I still think there is truth to that. After all, truth is truth wherever it is found.
At the same time, I hear people say that all religions are essentially the same or that they are all the same in the essence. I didn’t find that to be true when I studied the word religions in college (though my professor suggested the same sentiment), and I don’t find it to be true now. While there are some similarities and themes that run through many if not most of the world religions, the differences are significant and fundamental.
A comparison between Buddhism and Christianity is one example.
Buddhism is one of the oldest religions. Buddha may or may not have been a real person. It isn’t critical to Buddhism whether Buddha was a real person or a myth. People have followed him or his story for centuries without historical claims.
While both religions have a central figure, the Christian claim that Jesus lived, died, and then rose from the dead, is a historical claim. Whether the Buddha actually lived is not a central statement of the faith in Buddhism. In Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus is the central statement. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, the Christian claims all crumble. (See 1 Corinthians 15)
One aspect of Buddhism that lines up with Christianity is the general idea that losing oneself is a goal to be sought and achieved. In Buddhism, losing oneself means losing one’s individual identity into a cosmic identity, becoming one with the universe or the forces of the universe.
The concept is facially similar to the idea that Jesus spoke of: denying one’s self and becoming one with Jesus and one with the Father.
The two concepts are ultimately very different at a fundamental level, however. Losing oneself into the universe or cosmic force is like a creature becoming one with the creation, becoming one with all things without individual distinction. This kind of oneness amounts to reaching a state of sameness, without personality, without individuality, in harmony with the cosmos.
Ravi Zacharias, who was raised Hindu and grew up among Buddhists, recounts a discussion he had with a devout female monk. He asked her about her family and her children, and she confided to him that she missed them terribly and struggled to lose that part of herself. Though she tried, she was unable to reconcile that part of losing herself into the oneness that she sought in her spiritual quest.
Buddhist principles teach us to consider our individuality, with unique sensibilities, features, abilities, desires, skills and prospective, as illusions. Buddhism instructs us to deny those things that make us unique personalities and to lose them into the fabric of everything else.
Jesus actually taught a very different approach. He did teach us to deny ourselves (to take up our crosses and to follow Him), but he didn’t teach us to deny our personalities, our uniqueness or our otherness. He taught us to deny that part of ourselves that asserts self before others and to submit ourselves to God and the betterment of others.
This kind of losing one’s self (dying to one’s self) respects and affirms the uniqueness and the difference in the individuality of others and of ourselves. Rather than striving to become one with the creation; Jesus taught us to become one (in harmony) with the Creator!
In that oneness, we do not lose the distinctness of ourselves; we allow our selves to come into alignment with God who is so multifaceted that we can all shine in our unique facets of the likeness of God so that, together, in all of our individuality, we collectively reflect our Creator.
In becoming one with God, we become part of the body of Christ, a distinct feature of it, connected to all other members who have chosen to submit to God’s plan and be connected, ultimately, to the Source of life that supplies the body.
Jesus showed us the character of the Creator, of his Father, by emptying Himself of His glory and becoming human, entering His creation in the form of a creature. (Phil. 2:7) And doing so, He sacrificed Himself, gave Himself up for His creation – for us. He showed us how to deny ourselves so that we can connect with God and with our fellow man.
In doing this, He showed us not only the character of the Creator (love that sacrifices self); He also showed us how we are to lose ourselves. We are not to lose our distinct selves, our individuality, our distinct differences, but we are to lose the desire to favor ourselves over the benefit of others who are also unique and individual and distinct.
I believe there is truth to be found throughout the world, in every religion, philosophy and culture, but I only see one source that pulls all of those truths together into a cohesive whole. I see only one source of truth today that makes sense on a cosmic level, on a microcosmic level, on a human level and everywhere in between.
As with the female Buddhist monk, we all struggle with a need for each other, a need to be connected with each other because we were made to be connected. We are made to live in relationship with each other and with God. The female monk’s children needed her, and she needed them.
We are made that way. Losing ourselves into the creation is not our highest calling; losing the superiority of ourselves to align with God and live in harmony with people who are also distinctly made in God’s image, and in harmony with His creation, is our highest calling.
No other figure in the history of the world made the claims that Jesus made and left people wondering for centuries whether those claims are true. Jesus didn’t claim to be a god; He claimed to be the one God in the flesh (John 1:14). No other person in history has made such claims and had millions of people believe they were true. Paul says, in Jesus we see the fullness of God. (Col. 2:9)
While the tenets of Buddhism have some facial similarities to the tenets and claims of Christianity, they are very, very different at a fundamental level. The differences begin with mythical, mystical claims in comparison to historical, reality claims; and they end with the goal of melding into oneness with creation as opposed to the yielding of one’s unique, individual self to the purposes and design of a the Creator in whose likeness we were created and whose image we are designed to reflect like innumerable facts of an infinitely faceted God.