Interfaith Perspectives

I am interested in how you as a Buddhist view other faiths and their truth claims. And also what if anything the Buddha and EBT’s taught.

Do you see them as some claim as different paths to the same destination? Maybe you believe we can’t know if they lead to the same destination.

Or do you see Buddhism as the most skilful path, and the others confused at best or dangerous at worst.

I’m not courting controversy, simply trying to understand how people of other faiths view the question of interfaith perspectives. Your thoughts would be valued.

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Since this is a forum about the early Buddhist texts, it might be better to ask what the texts say rather than solicit opinions.

You might find this discussion with the Buddha helpful:
https://suttacentral.net/dn16/en/sujato#dn16:5.23.0

Before the Buddha passes away, someone comes to ask if other teachers are enlightened.

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Hi Ian,

Just to give a very high-level answer (which I’m sure others will happily complicate below!):

Buddhism teaches two goals: 1) to improve your lot within Saṃsāra (the round of rebirth) and 2) to escape Saṃsāra (and cut off future rebirths)

The highest version of the first (proximate) goal is to attain a rebirth in a heavenly realm. We (Buddhists) equate this outcome with the attainment of heaven (after death) which is also espoused by other religions. We see this as a worthwhile and rarified/difficult attainment. Nothing at all to sneeze at! And we (generally) agree that other religions (so long as they espouse love, nonviolence, compassion, etc) can also lead to that same goal.

The latter goal (nirvana / nibbāna) we see as being a uniquely Buddhist possibility, which is superior to (and more difficult than) the former goal in that it is permanent, unlike rebirth in heaven, which we believe is temporary (though extremely long-lasting).

Hopefully this gives a useful, basic outline.

Thanks for dropping by our little corner of the internet :slightly_smiling_face:

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The Buddha’s supramundane teachings leading to Nibbana are the highest possible path & human attainment according to Buddhism. Nibbana is the end of greed, hatred & self-delusion. The Dhammapada says:

Dhp 273. Of all the paths the Eightfold Path is the best; of all the truths the Four Noble Truths are the best; of all things passionlessness is the best: of men the Seeing One (the Buddha) is the best.

Dhp 274. This is the only path; there is none other for the purification of insight. Tread this path, and you will bewilder Mara.

I did mention to you previously there are two types of teachings in Buddhism: (i) supramundane, which align with emptiness & anatta (not-self); & (ii) mundane, which are tainted by self-views . Generally, for laypeople, the Suttas say to teach the mundane Path To Heaven. Specifically, DN 31 says:

Ascetics and brahmins served by a gentleman (lay devotee) in these five ways show compassion to him in six ways. They keep him from doing bad. They support him in doing good. They think of him with kindly thoughts. They teach him what he does not know. They clarify what he’s already learned. They explain the path to heaven.

DN 31

Among the major &/or well-known religions, Christianity comes closest to Buddhism. There are many teachings of Jesus about abandoning greed, lust (celibacy), anger & hatred; and abiding in the unconditional love which Buddhism says in the Path To Heaven (e.g. DN 13). However, to be entirely ‘supramundane’ also requires abandoning the defilement of delusion or ‘self-view’. Christianity is not entirely clear about this. For example, when the Gospels say to give up your life for Jesus sake (Mark 8:35) or to lose your life ( John 12:25), it is unclear whether this is the giving up of self-view or, instead, merely the giving up on your personal self for the sake of a greater Jesus-self. While I have not studied the history of the Gospels, it can be discerned how Mark is the most primitive, then Luke adds to Mark, then Matthew adds even more, including adding Beatitudes & even amending the Jesus teaching of divorce to including adultery as a justification. John’s Gospel is more mystical, referring to the Holy Spirit and how the Father is the Gardener. However, it seems not clear who Jesus was and what he taught. For example, the Letters of Paul rarely mention any Gospel stories & narratives. Language is also problematic. For example, a Buddhist will label the notion of 'Eternal Life" as the wrong view of Eternalism. However, in John as well as in the Gospel of Thomas, the notion of “not experiencing death” occurs. In Buddhism, the literal notion of “Eternal Life” is a wrong view; where as the notion of “The Deathless” is a synonym for Nibbana. In summary, Jesus supposedly only taught for 3 years; where as the Buddha supposedly taught for 45 years. The New Testament is heavily imbued or mixed with what can be called “spiritual language”, that is, linguistic metaphor, such as at John 3:6. For example, obviously Jesus was not preaching cannibalism when he exhorted to eat his body & drink is blood. Thus words such as “death” can mean “spiritual death” rather than “physical death”; a notion also found in Buddhism, such as in Dhp 21. Therefore, when Jesus says charity stores up heavenly reward, often it is unclear exactly what this heaven is, whether after death or in the here & now. Of course Luke comes along with stories such as Lazareth & The Rich Man and Matthew comes along with The Sheep & The Goats.

In summary, the supramundane teachings of Buddhism are about developing the insight that eliminates greed, hatred & delusion from the mind. Delusion is mostly about self-delusion, namely, regarding life as “I”, “me”, “mine” & “self”. While Christianity has abundant teachings about eliminating greed & hatred, it is seems unclear what the Christian position is about the defilement of delusion or self. While Christianity obviously encourages the abandonment of selfishness; it appears there is no literal unambiguous teaching in Christianity about purifying the mind of every trace of self-view. For example, in the EBTs, when a monk was strongly attached to the Buddha as being a ‘self’, the Buddha generally gave a teaching so the deluded monk no longer regarded the Buddha as a ‘self’ or ‘being’. Instead, the Buddha, while fully enlightened in mind, was merely five aggregates, which are impermanent & unsatisfactory (SN 22.85). :dizzy:

Venerable Ānanda said to him, “Even if the Teacher were to decay and perish? Wouldn’t that give rise to sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress in you?”

“Even if the Teacher were to decay and perish, that wouldn’t give rise to sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress in me. Still, I would think: ‘Alas, the illustrious Teacher, so mighty and powerful, has vanished! If the Buddha was to remain for a long time, that would be for the welfare and happiness of the people, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.’”

“That must be because Venerable Sāriputta has long ago totally eradicated ego (I-making), possessiveness (mine-making) and the underlying tendency to conceit. So even if the Teacher were to decay and perish, it wouldn’t give rise to sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress in him.”

SN 21.2

When the Buddha became fully extinguished, some of the mendicants there, with arms raised, falling down like their feet were chopped off, rolling back and forth, lamented: “Too soon the Blessed One has become fully extinguished! Too soon the Holy One has become fully extinguished! Too soon the seer has vanished from the world!” But the mendicants who were free of desire endured, mindful and aware, thinking, “Conditions are impermanent. How could it possibly be otherwise?”

DN 16

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One often-overlooked detail is that a large proportion of the Buddha’s own discourses are discussions with non-Buddhists. This is a distinctive feature of early Buddhist texts, as opposed to later texts, which almost entirely consist of Buddhists speaking with other Buddhists.

These discussions are with brahmins, Jains, and people of indeterminate or no religion. They are sceptical, inquiring, polite, blunt, sarcastic, and most things in-between. It’s probably true to say that the EBTs contain far more interreligious dialogue than any other canonical scripture.

It’s also worth noting the life of Ashoka, the Buddhist emperor who ruled a vast realm of diverse beliefs and practices, finding within “dharma” a set of values that would appeal to all.

Obviously I think Buddhism is best, but I’m not sure such generalizations are useful. The reality is that people follow certain paths for reasons that have little to do with the whether it’s the best path or not; usually because it’s what their parents did. If people are happy on their path, I support them. If they want to learn about a Buddhist perspective on certain issues, I’m happy to help.

In interreligious dialogue, I always try to listen and learn from the strengths of other religions, and to offer the strengths of Buddhism. Sometimes that means just being quiet.

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Thank you @sujato.

That’s really interesting. Of course in the Buddha’s lifetime there were those initial ‘conversions’ taking place, so it makes total sense that he would be in discussion with non Buddhists.

Regarding relationships between faiths, my views have changed as I’ve progressed in my spiritual journey. I now believe that it is not for me to pass judgment on other people’s faith, but to faithfully follow my own path and wish them well on theirs. As you said, many times people have a faith by virtue of their birth and culture.

I tend to take an agnostic view these days - I can only attain a deep understanding through lived experience of my own faith, and can never achieve that depth of another - therefore it isn’t helpful for me to comment as I really can’t understand what it is like to follow a different path.

However, unlike some other people of my own faith I do struggle with the idea of ‘double belonging’ or syncretism. But maybe that says more about my own limitations than others’ practices!

As you say, better to just listen!

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Thanks @CurlyCarl . Thanks for your thoughts - a lot to chew on there!

On first consideration I think the doctrine of no self is a significant difference between our respective faiths, as the Christian faith teaches the existence of the embodied soul which it views as immortal. However, some recent theologians have adopted a different position on this, particularly Alfred North Whitehead’s Process Theology. I was interested tooto read though about the five aggregates which I hadn’t been aware of.

On a lighter note, I suppose we all think our own path is the best one - why would you follow a second best path lol! I wish you well on yours.

Ian

Thanks @Khemarato.bhikkhu . That was a very useful outline which has helped me to understand a little better.

Ian

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I only know Christianity and Buddhism. But my understanding of these two is that they are not:

But rather, they are the same path to the same destination. Just before I start, please be aware that this is just a very personal opinion and approach. So …

How I square this (admittedly improbable) view is because I equate Maha Brahma (a character in the Early Buddhist Texts) with the Christian God.

When a certain mendicant goes to the gods (devas) to look for answers, we find Maha Brahma declaring such things as:

‘I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Undefeated, the Champion, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord God, the Maker, the Author, the First, the Begetter, the Controller, the Father of those who have been born and those yet to be born.’ (DN 11)

In section 3.1.2 of DN 1 we find how Maha Brahma may have got this impression.

Later in that DN 11 Maha Brahma suggests his limits in answering the mendicants questions:

‘Mendicant, these gods think that there is nothing at all that I don’t know and see and understand and realize. That’s why I didn’t answer in front of them. But I too do not know where these four primary elements cease with nothing left over. Therefore, mendicant, the misdeed is yours alone, the mistake is yours alone, in that you passed over the Buddha and searched elsewhere for an answer to this question. Mendicant, go to the Buddha and ask him this question. You should remember it in line with his answer.’

So I think that there is a timeline where we see God/Maha Brahma not understanding his limits. Then the Buddha is born into the world and he teaches both gods (including Maha Brahma) and men. Then Jesus is born as a human and carries out his ministry.

The things that Jesus teaches by word and example are just the sort of things that if they are adhered to, will mean that those people will be reborn in the realm with Maha Brahma. So the question is: Is there something that God is going to teach a Christian once they get to Heaven? Might that something be the four noble truths and the eightfold path? If it is, then it might well be the same path with the same destination.

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For our Franciscan friend:

St Francis statue at Stupa of Universal Compassion, Bendigo @7.35

Just some more stupa video.

Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought “Let me glorify my own religion,” only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. ~~Ashokan edict

As to what to think about the teachings of other religions…you would have to ask what they are teaching first & listen to know! :blush:

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Perhaps you were referring to Theravada works? Because I can’t agree that this holds for much of Indian Buddhist literature. if one looks at later Buddhist works, they contain much debate and discussion of non-Buddhist ideas and philosophies. There is an entire genre of Indian Buddhist philosophy called Siddhanta which is made of up of debates between Buddhist and non-Buddhist purvapaksa. Most Buddhist philosophers like Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti and later figures remained highly engaged with non-Buddhist positions throughout the history of Buddhist philosophy in India.

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Ajahn Punnadhammo once said, that he got a speculation, that he thinks Jesus was a Bodhisatta (future Buddha) that was perfecting khantī-pāramī - perfection of patient endurance in that birth. :slight_smile: It would makes sense, considering that according to this tradition, to delevop a pāramī on the level of actual true bodhisatta, the act must be profoundly heroic. Just sharing this little thing. :wink: Enjoy the thread friends! :slight_smile:

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Thank you Ian. My impression from the Gospels is the soul is merely the human heart (in the EBTs called ‘the citta’) that can be corrupted/damned by defilement & sin; or otherwise kept or made pure. A Christian text on the matter of body vs soul vs spirit I was always impressed by is the The Apocryphon of James.

Hence, become full of the Spirit, but be in want of reason, for reason the soul; in turn, it is (of the nature of) soul."

For without the soul, the body does not sin, just as the soul is not saved without the spirit. But if the soul is saved (when it is) without evil, and the spirit is also saved, then the body becomes free from sin. For it is the spirit that raises the soul, but the body that kills it; that is, it is it (the soul) which kills itself. Verily, I say unto you, he will not forgive the soul the sin by any means, nor the flesh the guilt; for none of those who have worn the flesh will be saved. For do you think that many have found the kingdom of heaven? Blessed is he who has seen himself as a fourth one in heaven.

The Apocryphon of James (Williams Translation) -- The Nag Hammadi Library

As mentioned, I sense Jesus is somewhat a mystery and any supramundane elements in the teachings of Jesus were put aside or deemphasized by the Gospel writers. Once a religion (including Buddhism) turns its focus upon preaching to, moralizing to & saving the masses (called ‘puthujjana’ in Buddhism) then the original core higher doctrines can change. :dizzy:

:pray:

And that is the wisdom. To attain deep lived experiential insight into one’s own path is elusive, a lifelong struggle and journey. Who is there to sit above all these paths, surveying them with an omniscient eye, capable of assessing them all and passing judgement upon them? Only a Buddha, perhaps, or a fool; but Buddhas are rare and fools plentiful.

Well, it certainly applies to Theravadin works; consider say the Milinda, which would be the perfect place to discuss non-Buddhist ideas; or for that matter the Kathavatthu. But both of these are 100% Buddhist, other paths hardly come up. Perhaps this is historically a consequence of Sri Lankan isolation, and in the north there was more interaction.

But I’m curious, as I’m not familiar with these works. Are they discussions with folks of other religions, or discussions about them in their absence? Because that is the defining point: “Buddhists speaking with other Buddhists”.

It’s one thing for us here to discuss “Christianity” or “Hinduism”, and quite another to sit down with a Christian or a Hindu and meaningfully discuss our beliefs. Whenever I hear Christians, Muslims, or Hindus discuss “Buddhism” and its flaws, dear god is it so very cringe. But when I speak with them, we learn from each other.

Can you refer me to any works on this? It’d be interesting to compare the manner of such discussion with what we find in the EBTs.

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I’m thinking of works like Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyāvartanī (in which Nyaya views feature), Bhavaviveka’s Madhyamakahrdayakārikā (a philosophical doxography which discusses the views of numerous non-Buddhist schools) and Shantaraksita’s Tattvasamgraha.

The later two are proper “siddhantas”. Siddhanta works are not told in a narrative fashion like the EBTs, but they generally present the position of a non-Buddhist school (in a dialogue back and form format). While they may not necessarily be a record of any specific debate, we know these debates did happen, so they probably report on how these debates would have gone (and act as a manual for those engaging in debates).

Regarding bias, yes, they are biased. But, I mean, I don’t think the EBTs include a non-biased record of ancient debates either, they are certainly biased towards the Buddhist camp.

And I know that modern scholars consider siddhanta works like Madhyamakahrdayakārikā as good sources for the Hindu views they are critiquing (indeed it is one of the earliest sources for some of these schools like Vedanta), so they are are not misrepresenting them.

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Do we? I’m not being facetious, I just wonder as to the historical basis of this. I mean, it seems plausible, but I wonder. These days, Buddhists, Hindus and others live in proximity, and I don’t really see much in the way of serious debate. I wonder if this has changed, and why?

Right.

Sure. But there are so many that include personal details and specific events. What clothes people were wearing, where they had come from, their personal interests, their motivations. The brahmin students playing noisily, the proud ascetic leaning on a stick, the wanderers arguing among themselves. Debaters’ emotional reactions, or the dissent of the crowd. The EBTs are full of vivid, lived-in moments. Compare the Kathavatthu, which is entirely stripped of these elements and consists purely of quoting suttas and proving points.

Well, there are accounts from both sides on this and discussions about how they happened, what the rewards might be and so on. There are also texts specifically written for debating.

Sure its not perfect evidence, but no ancient source is.

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Some of which are referenced in:

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I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end off suffering

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IMO, same path, same goal. the words are different: different folks, different times - and the inherent challenges of describing that which is indescribable - especially during the Spanish inquisition.

Meister Eckhart, Ibn Arabi, the Thai Forest Ajahns -and many orhers. When I listen to them speak of their experience - there is a common flavor there of freedom and wisdom.

I think mystics are a pretty open minded group. I suspect the Christians, the Sufis, the Buddhists, Taoists and so on have shared many a cave with each other over the last couple millennia - long after the Buddha walked this rock.

The more deeply we are our true selves, the less self is in us.

Meister Eckhart

When you know yourself, your 'I’ness vanishes and you know that you and Allah are one and the same.

Ibn Arabi

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