Not too long ago, I received a text message from one of our students in our Student ministry at church. His text was asking for my thoughts regarding a friend at school, who was tinkering with the idea of leaving Christianity for Buddhism. One of the things I learned from that early morning text, was that doing apologetics was sometimes like that of a “first responder” or doing apologetics “on the go.” Also I was thankful that this student was alert to know that there was a difference but needed to know how to communicate that difference between Buddhism and the Judeo Christian view of God.
Think of it for a moment. If there was no difference between the “deities” of these two religious world views, why leave one for the other? After all, Oprah would be right, “all gods” are essentially the same. But there is a difference and that difference is huge.
What’s the difference between the understanding of the God worshiped by Christians and the understanding of the “divine” in Buddhism. While we’re at it, since Buddhism is a response to Hinduism, allow me to add in a quick understanding of the Hindu view as well.
What Difference Does it Make?
What is the difference between Christianity and Hinduism? What do these eastern religious views of their deities have in common if anything? Do the eastern religious views line up with the Christian view of God? In order to know the real from the counterfeit, it is important to get familiar with the real before detecting the fake.
So let’s start with the Judeo Christian understanding. The God of Christianity is the personal, timeless, immaterial, and the First Cause of the existence and design of the universe, revealed simultaneously in God the Father (Genesis 1:1), God the Son (Jesus Christ) (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, 14; John 8:58) and the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:1,2; Acts 5:4). Biblical Christianity is monotheistic, meaning one God (Deut. 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 45:21, 22) ; and God is the transcendent Creator of heavens and the earth (Psalm 19:1), but He is separate from His creation.
Looking at the eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, allow me just to give you a quick snippet on how different they really are in relation to each other. Unlike the Judeo Christian worldview, which is monotheistic, most Hindus are pantheistic and for the most part polytheistic.
Pantheism is the belief that all is god, and god is all. In Hinduism there is a pantheon of over 300 million deities (polytheism – many gods). At the same time there is a diversity within Hinduism which allows for other concepts, including monotheism, henotheism (one god among many), and monism (only one eternal reality exists and everything comes from it). Hinduism’s most popular gods are Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu, who have come to earth in various incarnations or avatars) to come to the aide of human beings.
Buddhism is quite different. While Hinduism believes in many gods, making up “the One,” Buddhism is a response to Hinduism in that it is a belief system of those who follow “the Buddha” whose teachings encourage its followers to eliminate suffering by understanding the Four Noble Truths. “The Buddha” is considered and revered by Buddhists as “the Enlightened One.” But the Buddha is nothing more than a human being whose title first began with its founder Siddhartha Gautama.
When it comes to a belief in “God”, there is no personal transcendent Being, known as “God” with Buddhism. This makes Buddhism essentially atheistic and a quest to pursue right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration; also known at the Eightfold Path. There is no personal relationship with the Buddha, or any past saviors who have forgone nirvana to help others achieve it.
The next time you hear someone pontificate that all gods are the same, start with showing the differences between the Judeo Christian view of God versus the world religions of the East. Chances are pretty high, that it won’t take long for them to understand that they need to change their view. Remember there are many people all around us that have not been taught a proper understanding of world religions. Also there is a push to get people to believe that all religions are the “same.” The only similarities the religions have are the pursuits for right thinking, interpreting one’s feelings correctly, and pursuing right actions. The major differences are rooted on the answers of four questions pertaining to a worldview (origin, meaning, morality and destiny).
 Buddhism is a response to Hinduism in that Siddhartha Gautama found that it did not answer the fundamental questions of life. The fundamental question was, why do humans suffer? Had he not found Hinduism insufficient to answer this question, he would not have sought enlightenment on his own. He accepted the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation and karma based on ones previous life; but rejected the caste system. See: http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/buddhism/buddhist_philosophy.html