Thompson Memorial Lecture

CHRISTIANITY and BUDDHISM
Mutual Understanding of Each Other's Religion


Members of the Faculty, Students, and Guests of the Seminary:
To study different religions comparatively, with an attitude of goodwill, results in mutual good understanding. This in turn, brings about a way of thinking and acting in men which causes them not to hurt each other's feelings. And not to hurt one another's feelings further gives rise to peaceful co-existence par excellence between all the societies and nations in the world.
The first point to be discussed for the sake of comparative study is that both the Buddha and Jesus Christ were born in the world to make imperfect things perfect.
Jesus Christ said, " Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets: I did not come to abolish, but to complete." -(Matthews 5/17). There are also words of Isaiah about Christ:
"And he will proclaim judgement among the nations.
He will not strive, he will not shout,
Nor will his voice be heard in the streets.
He will not snap off the broken reed,
Nor snuff out the smouldering wick,
Until he leads justice on to victory.
In him the nations shall place their hope." -(Matthew 12/18-21).
As for the Buddha, we find him saying, "The Tathagata, the Perfect One, appears in the world for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, for the gain, for the welfare of gods and men."-
(Mahasihanada Sutta Majjhima-Nikaya 12/37/46).
Principally all the founders of religions were born with the sole aim of making world perfect with the thing that man should attain.
Here you can see for yourself that the word 'life' has two meanings, i.e. one meaning in the sense of common language. Apart from this single term which is to be understood with regard to the language of Dhamma the whole context of the above passage is in the language of Dhamma. A person who has never acquainted himself with such religious language before, cannot understand it at all. In this connection it is because the word 'life' has two meanings which are exactly opposed to each other.The next point is very important and requires our wholehearted attention: It is due to the ignorance of the language of Dhamma that one abandons one's own religion and embraces another. If one really understands the meaning of one's religion in the language of Dhamma, he will love his own religion just as one loves one's own life. All this throws light on the significance of the language of Dhamma.
As for Buddhists they can accept all the passages of Christianity as in agreement with the Buddha's teaching, if they are allowed to interpret the language of Dhamma in the Bible in their own terms.
Please consider that it is the masses, ignorant of the language of Dhamma, who are the greatest enemy of a religion,no matter whether it be Christianity or Buddhism.

When  a given group of people is still in its early stages of civilization, that group will have a limited understanding of what is called "God", or their conception of God will be in a primal stage of evolution.   But we should not think that their conception of God is wrong nor should we take the extreme of not granting them any conception of God at all. Nevertheless, their conception of what is called God will evolve and mature to perfection. It is our duty to help further this evolution in the spirit of the words of Jesus quoted earlier  "I have not come to abolish the law..........but to complete it."

On this ground let us all use the working hypothesis with regard to the validity of the statement that  " There is an apostle for every nation."

The more  we study the scriptures the less we know of the essence of religion.  As a matter of fact the essence of religion can only be reached by genuine practice alone.
This is what is meant by "climbing down a tree from the top" as it is practised nowadays in every religion.  As for the men of olden days, they had no scriptures whatsoever, or we may say that they were virtually illiterate before they started treading on the way of religion . When they set out they progressed gradually only after having understood just one or two points of a verse pointing at the truth.   And thus they could reach the essence of religion in the same way as one "climbing up a tree starting from the foot of the tree".

Be assured that if Christianity would have been introduced in India in the days of the Buddha it would have been welcomed warmly as "friend-religion" or "brother-religion", because in those days people were broad-minded enough as to firmly believe in the  principle of these three paths to emancipiation:
           1.    the path of "pannadhika" with the wisdom-factor
                  predominating:
           2.    the path of "saddhadhika" with the saddha-factor
                  (confidence, trust) predominating:
           3.    the path of "viriyadhika" with the willpower-
                  factor predominating:

           Buddhism tends to be 'pannadhika", the path with the wisdom-factor predominant.
            Christianity tends to be "saddhadhika", the path where trust or faith predominates.
            Islam "viriyadhika", the path where willpower is predominant.

Let us all be careful not to allow the knowledge we get through " climbing a tree starting from the top" to cover the true facts.

In our world as a whole and within a considerable length of time, in a particular place and period man needed the way of faith, and in another place and period he needed the rational approach (demanding the cause-and-effect-principle), and yet in another place and period people required the way of controlling the mind or the use of strong will-power.

The more broadminded and tolerant the believers of different religions are towards each other, the more fruitful religious life will be, the more the world will be blessed by God.

To state this point precisely, we should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

The last topic which requires enlightened flexibility, and broad-mindedness deals with the unwillingness or reluctance to commonly use some conventional religious terms.

The Noble Eightfold Path is what is called "Dhamma" and Dhamma is nothing but GOD.

When the Dhammas reveal themselves to a brahmana (religious man, man of practice) who is striving hard in meditation, then all his doubts are dissolved.

There are different types of religions with different ways and goals rather than only one unique way.

Arbitrary interpretations are responsible for the group-feeling among men.  People do not realize that humanity as a whole is one single unit.

The Perfect One said : " Proclaim ye the Holy Life, glorious in the beginning ( for people of comparatively low wits), glorious in the middle (for the average people of common understanding), and glorious in the end ( for people of a highly developed sharp intellect) according to the letter and meaning (spirit) for the good of gods and men".

But when coming to the very essence of religion, that is something identical and contained in all religions, the essence being not to cherish self-love (egoism-selfishness) but Dhamma-love devoted to the truth, or you may say God-Love.  Not to cherish self-love (selfishness) is truth; it is the highest sense the Summum Bonum, and we cannot say that  it  is something Buddhist, Christian or Islamic; for this reason selflessness in the christian sense implies the same thing as is understood in Buddhism or Islam. And it is in this sense that the state which we call selflessness(absence of selfishness) is truth.  It is the truth of all places and all times.
 Where there is no being to think selfishly for its  own sake that is the essence of all religions.   (When there is no self to think for it-self in a selfish way there is found the essence of all religions.)

My personal opinion is that Christians in the days of Jesus could practise according to the teaching of Christ to gain the highest Fruits without caring for the lengthy Old Testament.  The same holds true in the days of the Buddha when many a man realized the Noble Path and obtained the Noble Fruition without having anything to do with what  is known as 'Tripitaka'.

That absolute and universal truth is: " Wherever and whenever there arises a feeling that self belongs to self resulting in selfishness there and then arises suffering.  But when there is no such feeling, that is, when self belongs to Dhamma or God, then there arises no suffering."
Everybody should clearly understand that at any time ( whether within a moment, an hour or even a day) when there is no feeling whatsoever of self as belonging to self, we have reached and become one with God.
Let one study only one single point as to how to get rid of craving which is the mother of I-ness and My-ness so that one's mind becomes pure.  I am fully convinced that the founders of religions without exception had enough compassion for their disciples and followers to save their time by not allowing them to study unnecessary things.  Even the short message as contained in the few pages of the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew is far more than enough and complete for practice to attain emancipation.  There is no need to take into account even the rest  of the New Testament, not to mention the Old Testament.  I wish to say directly that the Christian 'officials' who preach Christianity in the street, and on the radio do not know how to select the essentials for their messages.  It is the same with the Buddhist monks who teach simply the general covering or outward form of Buddhism.   They do not grasp the essence of Dhamma.   This essence is not to have attachment to anything whatsoever in terms of I and My(I-ness and My-ness).
What is generally taught or what people are interested in these days is not very  much concerned with the essence or core of religion.   That is why people of different religions are scattered and not in harmony with each other.  In our comparative study of religion we should compare religion straight-forwardly without being considerate of any body. I hope that all of you will pay special attention to this.
As to this once the Buddha taking a handful of leaves said:  "Things known to the Tathagata are as many as leaves in the forest, but things I teach are comparatively only equal to this handful of leaves".
We are to help ourselves, we are to act by ourselves.   And by doing so we receive the fruits of our own actions.  There is no God to distribute the  fruits of our actions apart from the Law of Karma.   If there be any God he would be nothing    but the Law of Karma.
Speaking in the language of Dhamma  or from the view-point  of absolute truth by keeping in mind the truth hidden in between the letters or behind the sound of speech, there definitely is a possibility of blending.  And how? In the language of Dhamma God and the "Law of Karma" are one and the same thing.
Such being the case both religions can well go together as far as the essential is concerned.   In this way we help ourselves by acting in accordance with the Law of Nature or Karma which is always straightforward, sure, and impartial; it weilds absolute power.  As the Law of Karma is absolute and unbiased we can name it God as well.
As a result of this, Christianity and Buddhism take different routes, the former takes the way of invoking  external help and the latter prefers the way of internal help.   After all, it is humorous, indeed, when it appears that the underlying truths which make man receive the fruits of his actions are one and the same!
For thus Jesus has said " I am the way and you are to follow the way".  This was said in the same manner that the Buddha taught us to follow the way,i.e., to practise and follow in his footstep.

As a rough outline we may suggest that the following are the main types of religion:
              1. Religion of Miraculous Power and Magic--based on fear on the part of
                      its followers.
              2. Religion of Faith--merely based on Faith and Prayer.
              3. Religion of Karma--based on the self-help principle.
              4. Religion of Wisdom--based on free thinking( reasoning).
              5. Religion of Peace--based on non-harming oneself as well as others.
              6. Religion of Loving Kindness or 'Love"--based on giving up all and
                  everything (for others) etc.
 
 

  Principally we should recognize here that all religions in the world have something in common which is the very backbone and essence in terms of Karma or action(or practice).   Karma or action is indeed the very 'religion' itself.  By action is meant the practice which brings man into relationship with God.   It does not matter whether that which is called God is conceived of as a person, or as a power, or as a condition.   The only characteristic repuired of what is called God, is that it signifies the extinction of suffering.   That much is quite enough: or just enough; for if we expect more than this it would naturally be tantamount to building castles in the air, which is an irrelevant and unnecessary undertaking.
If we have the Bible in our minds and think in the Buddhist spirit of reasoning, we feel that Christianity like Buddhism, is a religion of Wisdom and Karma, and that having realised the essence of both religions, we can be both Christians and Buddhists at the same time.  And what is more we can be Muslims or Hindus at the same time.  I will explain this later from the Buddhist point of view, which is characterized by Wisdom (Panna) or reasoning.
First of all we have Simon (Peter) answering Jesus: ".......thou hast the words of eternal life." ( St.John 6/68).    We Buddhists feel that eternal life cannot be gained simply through faith.   It (eternal life) can only be gained by practising according to the teaching of Jesus Christ who taught wisely, carefully, and with subtlety.   And it is only after one has tasted 9through practice) the taste of eternal life, that one may use the word 'faith'.
In John 6/63 Jesus himself says , "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."  These words have no meaning or serve no purpose if one just believes them without understanding.   For these are words expressed in the language of Dhamma to be understood by a man of higher wisdom.  Whether certain words will be both spirit and life, depends on correct and noble practice.
What is generally known as faith, does in fact imply a concentrated mind which results from activity with clear comprehension and earnest aspiration for something higher.  In Matthew 21/21 Jesus says: "  ... if only you have faith and have no doubts... you need only say to this mountain, 'Be lifted from your place and hurled into the sea, and what you say will be done."  The word mountain in this context ,interpreted in the Buddhist way, implies the selfishness which hinders us on our ways to reach God.  A religious system like this should not, therefore, be called a religion of faith.  It should rather be called a system of action to be practised with the highest wisdom concerning God( Divine Wisdom).
Again in Matthew 6/14-15 Jesus says: "For if you forgive other the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you...."  This shows quite clearly that Christianity requires more than a system of prayers or faith in order to attain emancipation.   We must perform actions, (e.g. forgive others) and only then can we free from our wrongs or, as it were, we can "compel" God to do his duty and forgive us. For Buddhists, such a way is a way of action and not of prayers.  This is the system according to which one should help oneself first and then God (or Karma) will necessarily assist us.

 In Matthew 7/18-20 Jesus pointed out in a parable that a person is recognized as good or bad by his actions.  This fits well in Buddhist teaching.   In Matthew 6/33 are found these words:  " Set your mind on God's Kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well,"   If we take this statement superficially it appears as something to be taken on faith or to be a matter of devotion based on faith.   But according to the Buddhist way of thinking deals with the phenomenon of personification, the fact is not regarded as such.   Interpreted in the Buddhist way, the expression, " Set your mind on God's Kingdom and his justice before everything else...", implies total sacrifice which is in Pali Patinissagga, literally 'giving up'.   To explain further when one has not yet set one's mind on the Kingdom of God one has a feeling of possession with regard to natural things belonging to nature or God, if you prefer the term, one has attachment to natural things in terms of I or My.  If that attachment is very strong, that feeling of I and My,too, becomes so strong that one becomes the personification of egoism.
The mind which is free from the feeling of self or ego is the mind which has reached God or Dhamma in the highest sense.  This state of mind, free from the feeling of egoism is called LOKUTTARADHAMMA, the supermundane.
In Matthew 7/2, we find:"...and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you", which seems to be perfectly in harmony with the Law of Karma in Buddhism.   This actually means that one must act properly according to the Law of Karma regarding it as God, the Absolute, the Almighty.
In operation it is we who are to ask, it is we who are to seek, it is we who are to knock, and it is only when we do so that God is moved to respond.  Mere faith is not enough.

 In Matthew 12/33 we find the statement: " Either make the true good and its fruit good, or make the true bad and its fruit bad." This is again the Law of Karma as found in Buddhism and also in other religions teaching the Karma-principle.  Therefore, to view Christianity with the eye of a Buddhist, Christianity is a religion of Karma in the same sense as Buddhism is, and it cannot be a religion of faith.
 In Matthew 19/17 we find the instruction: "...but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."  Here the words keep stands for practice. To keepthe commandments or practise according to the commandments, something is needed apart from mere faith in the commandments or in anything else.
Whether a person understands God or not, does not matter, for, if one practises these virtues the result will be the same in accordance with the Law of Karma which is, as Buddhists know so well, God personified.
And even the phenomenon of faith can be a kind of wholesome mental action provided that one's faith is of the right kind based on understanding.  It becomes a wholesome mental action because it springs from intention, i.e. the very intention to find out a refuge for oneself with an undeluded mind.   Blind faith however, based only on rumour and hearsay, cannot be regarded as karmic action in this case.
The next point to be considered is whether Christianity is a "religion of Wisdom" or not.  Guide is no other than the Light of Wisdom.  God is in this case, the Perfect Light.   To believe in God is to follow the Light of God or the Light personified as God.  To interpret this in a Buddhist way the wisdom-element can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ in full measure.
"Jesus wants a follower who understands the word he hears and not just believes what he hears."
In Matthew 13/20-21 where it is said: "The seed sown on rocky ground stands for the man who on hearing the word, accepts it at once with joy; but as it strikes no root in him he has no staying-power, and when there is trouble or persecution on account of the word he falls away at once."
On this ground too, from a Buddhist viewpoint one feels that Christianity as well is a religion of Wisdom.
Matthew 7/45 has: "....or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', when all the time there is that plank in your own?  You hypocrite.  First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's"  This is quite in agreement with what the Enlightened One says in the Dhammapada:
                  One should first establish oneself in what is proper,
                   Then only should one instruct another;
                   Such a wise man will not be reproached.
                  (Attavagga, 2)
                  As he instructs others so should he himself act,
                   Himself fully controlled, he should control others;
                   For difficult, indeed, is self-control.
                   (Attavagga, 3)
In this sense it is up to God to take the plank out of one's eye; in the same way as for Buddhists it is Wisdom that performs the same act.
In Matthew 19/21 Jesus says: " If you wish to go the whole way, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor......and come, follow me." To do this means to live a homeless life, without any permanent house, without family, and without money.   This was the way in which Jesus lived and he persuaded his disciples to lead the same sort of life.
The importance of this type of life is illustrated by him in a parable as found in Matthew 6/25, "No servant can be slave to two masters...."  This means that a person either can be rich in this world or win the Kingdom of God.  One cannot be rich in this world and also win the Kingdom of God at the same time.   To state this clearly, Jesus says: "I tell you this: A rich man will find it hard to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  I repeat, it is easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."   (Matthew 19/23-24).   Even if a rich person makes merit, he does so in order to be still richer rather than for the sake of Nirvana or the Kingdom of God.
Buddhists hold that it is a sober fact known to the wise that there is "no need to accept or to refer to any authority,be it's one own teacher, or one's own scriptures, or even some trustworthy person (Kalama Sutra, Anguttara-Nikaya).  Now practice to be applied here must be the same as in Buddhism, that is to say, one is to get rid of the life of flesh and thus enter the divine life which belongs to the nature or God.
To re-phrase this in Buddhist terms, the achievement would be called Nirvana which is the extinction of suffering previously existing in oneself. The Buddha says: " the world, the cause of the world, cessation of the world, and the path leading to the cessation of the world--all this has been pointed out by the Tathagata  to be found and realized in this fathom-long body with perception and consciousness" ( Rohitassa Sutta, Anguttara-Nikaya).    Even God or Jesus Christ or the Grace of God in terms of water or eternity, etc.-- all can be found in one's own body through one's own practice.  Whether one believes or not, whether one is ready to rid oneself of the life of flesh or not---this is the whole question; on this question depends whether one is going to be reborn in the Kingdom of God which is, of course, within ourselves, or whether one is going to be drawn in hell which is, as just said, in one's own body, too.   In this way the Buddhist principle that Dhamma is to be realized by oneself and within oneself--(Paccattani and Ajjhattam) can also be found in Christianity.
A most striking comparison occurs when we examine the last words spoken by the Buddha and Jesus to their disciples; Jesus says: " Go forth .... and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And be assured, I am with you always, to the end of time."(Matthew 28/20).   The Buddha says: " The Dhamma and the Discipline(DHAMMA--VINAYA that have formulated and taught you will be your teacher in time to come after my passing away".(Maha Parinibbana Sutta, Digha--Nikaya).
Another point to be remarked in connection with the last words of Jesus is that he stressed the practice of his teaching for his disciples and common people, and not faith.   This shows that faith means to follow on the ground that if one does not follow no result will be achieved.  And if it were not so, Jesus would not have used the words, "teach them to observe".   "Faith" is merely a preliminary action or the first step of practice; to have faith (and nothing more) means only part of practice.
This lecture has dealt with a comparative study of Christianity and Buddhism from different angles and with varying approaches.  We have considered Christianity from a point of view which nobody seems to consider any longer.  This has been done in the interest of correctness and impartiality.
To summerize we may say that the whole talk given today falls under five broad categories:
            (1) Thefounders of all religions in the world were born to help man to achieve perfection of which he is in need.
            (2) All religious scriptures are written in a two fold language: one is the language of Dhamma and the language of common people.
            (3) Broadmindedness is an essential factor.
            (4) While comparing Christianity with Buddha-Dhamma it must be acknowledged that each religion has both its outer form and inner essence.  In order to be fair we should compare the outer forms of one religion with the outer forms of the other, likewise the inner essence with inner essence and not otherwise.The word religion should be defined as " a system to observation and practice  which binds man to the highest thing, call it what you will--God or Nirvana.
            (5) Therefore both religions are religions of action-- to be done by oneself, and of the fruit to be reaped from within oneself and by oneself.
            In this way both religions are in agreement in all respects; this point will be further explained in the talk of tomorrow.
 
 
 
 
 

  As for the Buddha                                       On this ground                                  Be assured
  In our world                                               The more broadminded                       The Noble Eightfold
  But when coming                                         My personal opinion                           Let one study
  As to this once                                            As a result of this                              As a rough outline
  If we have the Bible                                      What is generally                               Again in Matthew
  In Matthew 7/18-20                                    The mind                                        Either make the true
  ...but if you wish                                         Jesus wants                                      Enlightened
  In Matthew 19/21                                       Buddhists hold                                  The Buddha says
  Another point                                              This lecture                                      To summarize
 

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