What You Need to Know About World Religions
What's the main idea?
About five centuries before Jesus' birth, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama got sick of his cushy life, left his family, and went out to seek enlightenment. After about seven years of searching, meditating and self-denial, he decided he'd found it. Gautama took the name Buddha, meaning "awakened one," and began to teach followers how to become enlightened. Today, those followers number more than 300 million.
The main belief in Buddhism is that everybody suffers. Everyone is trapped in a life of physical and emotional pain, attached to material goods, and consumed by unimportant things like entertainment or food. According to Buddhism, this sort of existence is unavoidable unless one understands the Four Noble Truths, which explain why people suffer, and the Eightfold Path, a more practical set of guidelines for living. Only a person who accepts the Four Noble Truths and follows the Eightfold Path can hope to achieve a state of non-existence called nirvana. Since Gautama was a practicing Hindu before becoming Buddha, the concepts of karma and samsara are important in Buddhism, as well. Although there are a variety of texts in Buddhism, the Tripitaka is the oldest and historically the most important. It includes the teachings of Buddha, oral traditions and the Eightfold Path.
Buddhism comes in several different forms. Some Buddhists, for instance, have never heard of the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path, nor have any concept of nirvana. And aside from these core values, Buddhists have many other different beliefs. For example, some Buddhists offer prayers and sacrifices to Buddha, hoping for his favor. Others think that with concentrated effort, anyone can become a buddha. And while many Buddhists are actually atheists, some are looking forward to a new Buddha, a kind of messiah, who will bring enlightenment to the earth.
Any common ground?
When Buddhists talk about suffering, Christians know where they're coming from. Jesus suffered one of the cruelest deaths imaginable. And as Christ's followers, the apostle Peter tells us we should expect to suffer as well (1 Peter 4:12-13).
What sets us apart?
Buddhists have little in common with Christians. While members of both faiths agree there's real suffering in life, Buddhists believe they can end it through the elimination of desire. Christians attempt to alleviate suffering where we can, but we know we can't completely prevent it as long as there's sin in the world. Suffering began when Adam and Eve sinned, and it won't end until Jesus comes back. Also, as Christians, our ultimate goal isn't nirvana. It's a relationship with a personal God and eventually a real existence with him in heaven.