Buddhism and Christianity is a remarkable attempt to discuss the complex doctrines and philosophies of the two great faiths in such a way as to enable comparisons to be made by the reader. J. Estlin Carpenter defines the basic tenets of each religion and casts an inquisitive eye over the different aspects of each.
The intellectual atmosphere in which Buddhism arose was unique. It was born from the ancient Vedic scriptures, from a culture far in advance of its historical time. This was several centuries before Christ was born.
We are confronted with a spectrum of contradictions in both faiths, and none more so than in Christianity. If God is so all knowing, why do his subjects suffer so much, for what reason, and where does this suffering leave the individual?
But Buddhism also has its difficulties. It leaves no concrete reason for apparent optimism in its followers; it draws the to Nirvana, which appears from almost all points of approach to be complete annihilation. We seem to be given a choice, heaven or hell, or everlasting peace in total death.
Speaking of the Buddhist notion that a person has all the knowledge within himself and it is only ignorance tha hides it: "To such a power he might look at once with awe and confidence. But it gave him no guidance; it healed no hurt, pardoned no transgression. He walked with no divine helper who first wrought in him than which he could then work out.
But then how satisfactory is the failure in Christianity of its weaker, less moral subjects? "The Buddhist scheme proclaims the ultimate salvation of all beings. Christianity in its most widespread historic form still condemns an uncounted number to endless torment and unceasing sin."
But there are some common themes and much to cherish in the words. One must seek yet greater depths of inspiration and perception in both creeds to find a course in life that offers meaning, direction and purpose. In the final analysis, each must determine his own path, his own God, saviour or teacher; and each will seek his own understanding of life's great truths or unknowns, whether he is a Buddhist or a Christian.
Back of the Book
Buddhism and Christianity are two of the world' great religions. One is a philosophical path for the individual without a higher divinity, and one is a teaching that defines good and evil under the presence of a mightier being. Are there any common threads between the two?
"The Buddha saw clearly that the moral product of one life would be carried on into another. From a very different point of view. Jesus teaches the same lesson."
"Everyone must die and be reborn for his own inequity or his own virtue."
The author has woven a remarkable cloak around the two diverse beliefs. Each has its historical aspects; each has its own set of defined goals, perceptions and higher ideals. Buddhism and Christianity is a riveting analysis, a thought-provoking study of the dilemma of life.
"All beings long for happiness; therefore extend thy compassion to all."
"Oh, Father forgive them, for they know not what they doeth."
THE origin of this book is soon told. In
1922 the Committee of the Jowett Lecture,
founded by Mrs. Humphry Ward in connexion
with the Settlement which now bears her name,
did me the honour to invite me to deliver four
lectures on "Buddhism and Christianity." No
suggestions were made to me as to the treatment
of this great theme. With a generous confidence
I was left free to shape it as I could. The
lectures were given in the latter part of the last
winter. As their possible publication had been
contemplated from the outset, they are now
printed in the expanded form in which they were
first written, and from which they' were con-
densed for oral delivery.
Within the limits of four discourses much had
to be left unsaid. Only the most salient points
of likeness or contrast could be presented. Apart
from its purely historic interest as a potent
influence over immense populations in Eastern
Asia since the days of Asoka, more than 2,000
years ago, the religious significance of Buddhism
lies in the fact that a scheme of thought which
began by rejecting all ontological ideas found it
necessary to admit them. Both Gotama and
Jesus employed much of the religious language
of their time, though they started with widely
different attitudes to contemporary institutions.
In the course of time each faith adopted a
current philosophical conception to interpret the
person of its founder. The steps of the process
are more obscure in Buddhism than in Chris-
tianity, but the results are strangely parallel.
Both aim at bringing man into conscious fellow-
ship with God. The means may be different, but
the purpose is the same. There are varieties of
method in Buddhism just as there are in Chris-
tianity, and the student who seeks to compare
them is constantly struck by the appearance of
similar phases of thought and experience under
dissimilar dogmatic forms. Each manifested a
remarkable power of adaptation to varieties of
social environment, of racial character, of philo-
sophical reflection. Each produced within itself
methods of treating its central facts or its
essential ideas. Yet each retained its funda-
mental connexion with the source of its develop-
ment, and whatever other elements enriched its
life upon the way its ethical ideals and the
goal of its activities remained the same. In
spite of all the resemblances which result from
common moral aims, each remains a unity
within itself, transcending the elements of inner
diversity, and blends their oppositions in a vaster
whole. In the sphere of immediate observation
they have only just begun to confront each other.
What grounds for mutual appreciation or respect
will they discover?
A general knowledge of the phases of Chris-
tianity may be assumed; those of Buddhism are
described at greater length. To illustrate their
affinities is the object of these discourses. For
the intricate enquiry into their possible historic
relations the- limits of four lectures provided no
space. The problems presented by the peculiar
institutions of Tibet, for example, are left un-
touched. Here and there they have been carried
farther back, but for their adequate discussion
there was no room. Within India itself the
reciprocal indebtedness of Buddhism and Hindu-
ism, in ethics, philosophy, and religion, has been
too little studied, and until further literature
from the Maha-Yana schools is made available
theories of foreign influence must be held in sus-
pense. Doubtless the last word on the reciprocal
influences of East and West has not been said.
Recent research has opened up new paths in
many directions. But before attempting to
account for the facts, the facts themselves so
far as at present known must be understood.
To give some help to those who enter on their
study is the aim of these lectures. Their bearing
on theories of the Absolute the student himself
Language & Literature (443)
Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (87)
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