Buddhism and Christianity: Main Differences

Fr. J. López-Gáy, in “Dialogue and Proclamation with Buddhism” suggested some positive points for an encounter and dialogue between Christians and Buddhists.

There are difficulties in this encounter which he points out:

  • For us Christ is not only a “teacher”, but a “Redeemer and Saviour”. Two difficult concepts to accept in the Buddhist tradition.
  • For Buddhism, knowledge is intuitive rather than logical, since it is not the conclusion of premises, it departs from the discursive aspect. But it is true that as well as logical knowledge St. Thomas accepted a “iuxta connaturalitatem” knowledge.
  • The concept of analogy does not exist in Buddhist philosophy and this is why they do not and cannot speak of God or of his existence. (This is due to their attitude to the concept of “creation” which is excluded, because “every act is imperfection”).
  • Philosophically, detachment from the phenomenal world or its negation within Buddhism, become a temptation for us to fall into nihilism or false, wrong interpretations.
  • For us, from the biblical, theological and philosophical point of view, the “word” has a fundamental value. For Buddhists, however, the “word” is not so much a means for communicating a message or a teaching, but it often becomes an obstacle. “Noble silence” becomes a form of communication. Contradictory words, like kôan in Zen, bring light. In Chinese Buddhism, they used to repeat that the truth which one can speak of is not true. From Buddhism we must learn the value of “noble silence”.
  • Buddhism has never wanted to have a dogmatic theology and Buddha did not want to found a religion. He discovered that there was suffering in the world, he discovered the origin of suffering and he also discovered the way to destroy this suffering. Suffering is a very rich concept and it leads us to the “poor” of the Bible. But the deposit of faith in Christianity is different because it has a positive content, with concrete truths — certainly truths which can be deepened — which come from revelation, and in this deepening Buddhism can become a help under the guidance of the Spirit. But we must proceed with caution in order not to contradict the faith we have received.

For Christians the centre of everything is not the “suffering” human person, though he has no existence in himself according to Buddhists, but a Personal God, and this gives rise to prayer and worship. Christ is the absolute form of the real, historical being, and we must accept the revelation (which is unique and definitive) and Redemption accomplished by a God Person. In Buddhism there was also a Docetic orientation, which was one of the first heresies the Fathers of the Church found.

In spite of these difficulties, we must consider the possibility of a real dialogue, encounter and mutual enrichment between Buddhism and Christianity. And it seems that the time has arrived.

Buddhism is not atheistic, but it excludes these theological themes. It is a somewhat negative, apophatic philosophy and religion. But behind the expression of such a negative religious philosophy there is an obvious experience of God. We, Western Christians, with all our research have often hidden the real face of God. Do not forget that where there is a void, there is God. Silence is God.

Source: López-Gáy, SJ * Dialogue and Proclamation with Buddhism – SEDOS Documentation and Research Centre – Rome

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