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.
10 thoughts on “Buddha, Jesus and Oneness”
Wonderful post in the context of Christianity and Buddhism .
Thank you for the kind words!
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“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.”
Good post but I have to respectfully disagree with this statement. The common goal of all Buddhist sects is to realize the true nature of the “self”. This is not exactly the same as ” losing one’s individual identity” in fact it is the complete opposite. Buddhism does not teach to lose the “self” but to realize what exactly is the true nature of the “Self”. Our view of what the constitutes the “self” is an illusion. Buddhism does not deny that a”Self” exists.
My understanding is that the Self (capitalized) is only defined in relation to the whole, that our individual self is found only relation to the whole, one’s identify is found in the whole. I am certainly open to being wrong and look to have a better understanding if am.
It may seem like a slight difference but it is an important one. We do not have an individual identity to lose our “identity into a cosmic identity”. The “self” un-capitalized is usually used to represent what we identify as our “selves” which is a illusion. The reason it is thought to be an illusion is due to the core Buddhist teachings of Not-self, Impermanence, Dependent Origination, and Emptiness.
Not-Self teaches that there is no abiding, permanent, and separate “self”. If you believe this teaching there is no “you” (self, soul) as we think of it. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a being that exists in this moment that is referred to as Kevin. It just means that the being called Kevin’s idea of what this being called Kevin is, is incorrect.
Impermanence says that all phenomena, including us, are transient and only exist in one form (Kevin) for a period of time. In other words nothing in the universe lasts for more than a period of time. This again means no lasting individual “self”.
Emptiness means that all thing in the universe are empty of a individual essence. All phenomena are conditioned (Dependent origination). This means that things come into being based on conditions caused by the interactions on a multitude of actions (Karma) and other phenomena (Interdependence, Dependent Origination). They do not exist independently. All things are empty of a independent essence (self) so once again a “self” or soul cannot exist.
The Buddha taught something called rebirth, not reincarnation as many westerners believe. Rebirth means that everything that we are made up of , both physical and mental (consciousness) has always existed long before “we” came to be (birth) as this being called Kevin. When conditions (Dependent Origination) were right that which constitutes “us” comes together and we come into being (exists). When we die all that we are go back to it’s source (death). So all that “we” are still exists, and always will, after “we” die but not in the form that we identify as “us”.
When the “Self” capitalized is used it represents our true “Self” or universal “Self”. While we are Empty of an individual “self” we are full of, or made up of, or part of everything else in the universe. We are an aggregate of many elements and consciousness. If you take any one part away “we” no longer exist (Dependent Origination). So there never was a “individual self” to lose or to relate to the whole, simply put we are the whole. There is no need to try to “become” one with the universe as that is our natural state. We are just unaware of it.
I am not asking you to believe these things to be true. That is up to you to decide. I was just replying to the statement “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.” It may seem like a slight difference but just like taking a cruise on a ship. If you start your course 1 degree off you can end up a thousand miles away from your intended destination. I hope this helps.
this all sounds very familiar I studied Buddhism years ago as I said. it was all very attracted to me at the time, and I even see in myself now and attraction to these ideas, but they don’t lineup with what I see as reality. I realize that Western culture and Eastern culture are very different approaches to the world. Individualism is a Hallmark of Western culture that grows out of Greek philosophy and other things. I had a Jewish professor in college make the point one day that Judaism is more of an Eastern religion than a western religion, and he went on to explain what he meant. That has always stuck with me, as Christianity, obviously, grew out of Judaism and has the same roots. From that day forward, I have attempted to view the Bible through a lens that is not so influenced bye Western culture. It’s kind of ironic that Western culture is so driven by individualism because Jesus urged us to deny ourselves, and his earnest prayer was that we would be one with him as he is one with the father. It isn’t the kind of Oneness, though, that is described in Buddhism. It is more of the different parts making up the whole, working together in harmony. The illustration is of a vine and branches or a body. I spend a lot of time listening to Ravi Zacharias. He was born a Hindu in India and lived among the Hindu and Buddhist environment of his culture. He brings a very unique perspective to Christianity and the world that I really find refreshing. He speaks of coherence and speaks in detail and depth, with a great deal of knowledge, about eastern and western ways of thinking and comparing them in regard to how coherent the various ways of thinking are. Coherence in his way of thinking is how things hold together philosophically, experientially, relationally and in other ways. On the topic of Buddhism, he relates a conversation he had with a female monk who can fighted in him that she missed her children terribly and really had a difficult time letting go of that. He use that as an illustration to show that there is a lack of coherence in Buddhism at the point of the very fundamental deeply felt human need for connection. She needed to be there for her children, and her children needed her to be there for them, but in order to strive for enlightenment, she had to try to disconnect herself. This isn’t natural, not that natural is the standard of Truth. If we all live like that, how different would our society look. Could our society even sustain itself? These are all interesting and important questions to me. I don’t dismiss Buddhism out of hand. I don’t find It ultimately compelling or as coherent in terms of making sense of all the facets of reality as I do the Bible.
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I truly feel that each of us has to find our own way. The only right path for you is YOUR path. There is a problem with the example of the female monk/nun. One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that 90% of what the Buddha taught he was speaking directly to his monastic followers. The reason this is important is that they have given up the regular life to spend all of their time in religious practice. That is because that is the most expedient means to reach enlightenment. So most of the Buddha’s teachings do not necessarily apply to Lay practitioners. We are generally referred to as “house holders”. It is understood that because you have the responsibilities of holding a job, and taking care of children or other family member’s you can not live the life of a monk. The thing is that this is perfectly fine as far as Buddhism is concerned. Firstly a lay practitioner has the means to support the monastics in their religious life. Secondly and more importantly the Buddha never said that you can not reach enlightenment if you are not a monk. Being a monk is just the sets up your path to be easier. There is a whole sutra devoted to this called the Vimalakirti Sutra. He was a house holder that became enlightened. So my point is that the female monk/nun did not have to leave her children to pursue the path. She decided to on her own.
Western Buddhist are often confused about what they are supposed to do because they are trying to apply monastic rules to themselves.
I think the point of Ravi Zacharias was to push each path to its extreme, to its ultimate expression, and compare the coherence of the two, asking the question: does it still make sense? Does it hold together? But, he doesn’t just do this with Buddhism; he does it with all religions and philosophies.