Take a moment to read an essay I wrote a couple of years back that compares Buddhism to Christianity: Since the dawn of man, spirituality has set us apart from the rest of the hostile world. We sensed then, as now, that there is more to existence than what we see, hear, and touch. Everyone has perceived a mysterious feeling that there is more beneath the surface, as if reality was a murky pond that we simply watched from a distance. Early religions were polytheistic; meaning various levels of deities controlled all things such as storms, crops, and even people. As religions matured and the concepts of metaphysics and monotheism came into play, people began to realize that they themselves were part of the mystery. Monotheistic religions, such as Christianity, teach that there is only one God who created all things. Metaphysics, such as Buddhism, teach that God is consciousness, and all existence emanates from that. In the movie Meet the Parents, Robert De Niro illustrates the elemental contrast between dog and cat owners by saying Cats make you work for their affection; they dont sellout the way dogs do (De Niro, 2000). The same can be said of Christianity and Buddhism. In most Christian denominations, a priest will grant forgiveness for any sin, whereas Buddhists believe themselves to be completely responsible for the effects of any thought, word, or action. A priest or pastor may make a parishioner say a prayer for redemption, while a Buddhist can spend lifetimes atoning for a single act. Christianity has become a staple of mainstream Americana. There are several denominations and sects with their own ideas about practice and belief. Aside from Quakers and some extreme fundamental groups, most churches seemingly require no more than attendance, prayer, and the acceptance of Jesus into ones heart. Contemporary Christian dogma implies that these things alone one can gain admittance into heaven. However, within Buddhist principles, enlightenment cannot be attained without adherence to the Eightfold Path; Right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (About Buddhism). The concepts of Heaven, and ultimately Hell as the anti-thesis, vary amongst religions and the multitude of denominations yet they have some basic parallels. Christians view Heaven as the abode of God where Angels and the spirits of the dead mingle. Buddhists view Heaven as the release from the endless cycle of reincarnation into a state of being called Nirvana, where the disciple becomes one with all things. Both concepts have three comparable themes. Christians seek to meet God and bask in his glory, while Buddhists endeavor to unite with God. Christians believe that Angels live in Heaven and can help people, whereas Buddhists believe in Boddhisattvas: beings that compassionately refrain from entering Nirvana in order to guide others. Lastly, Christians believe that a person must live by the word of God as expressed in the teachings of Christ to be received in Heaven. On the other hand, Buddhists believe that Nirvana cannot be attained without strict adherence to the Eightfold Path (About Buddhism). There is also semblance behind the mythologies of Christianity and Buddhism. The births of both Jesus Christ and the Buddha were prophesized. The exceptional traits of both teachers were noticed from an early age. Jesus and Buddha embraced everyone and were reviled by the local clergy. The teachings of Christ and Buddha included compassion for the poor and the love of all people. Each teacher had apostles who expanded the ministries, which are now classified as two of the five dominant religions in the world. One of the goals for the meditating Buddhist is to reach a state of awareness and understanding that allows a more abstract grasp of reality. Through the chanting of mantras, fasting, and music, Buddhists quiet their minds and expand their consciousness. Likewise, throughout history, Christians have also gained profound insight into the mysteries of the universe and the nature of God. By chanting various prayers or invocations of Jesus Christ in addition to fasting and purification, these devotees have become enlightened within the concepts of Biblical tenets. Some notable Christians who have reached this elevated state of being have performed miracles, written extensively, and have even been recognized by the Vatican as Saints. Tibetan Buddhists have also displayed extraordinary powers as their level of consciousness elevates. The exalted status given to monks who exhibit abilities, such as levitation, is contrasted by the humbleness he or she demonstrates. A major distinction between the two belief systems is the concept of suffering. Buddhists believe that suffering is caused by desire, the cessation of which will end misery. Christians believe that suffering is caused by not having Jesus in ones life and that a person must confess his or her sins and open his or her heart. Although a Christian must truly be sorry in order to be absolved of a sin, the concept of asking forgiveness from the clergy naively takes responsibility away from the sinner. The Buddhist concept of sin is more conceptual. Buddhism has 10 Precepts of ethical conduct that are taken as recommendations and are open for interpretation. In Buddhism, every individual is responsible for his or her own actions and, ultimately, his or her destiny. Albeit, we are all responsible for our own actions under Christian doctrine, Buddhists do not believe that absolution is something that any other sentient being can bestow. The Christian mind is taught to see God as anthropomorphic, interacting with people and passing judgment on each soul. Through meditation, Buddhists learn that God cannot be perceived in the linear sense and Karma is what equates our lives, rather than divine intervention. Karma is a law of nature that yields consequences for each persons actions. Wholesome thoughts and deeds produce auspicious states of being, individually and collectively. Alternately, offensive acts will cause unfavorable states of being. Thus, the Buddhist believes that he or she is not only responsible for his or her own thoughts and deeds, but ultimately for the effects those acts have on the world. Christians are not taught to consider such notions because the acts of sin only affect the soul of that sinner and the recipient of the aforementioned act. There is no global cause and effect axiom in monotheistic ideology, as God will punish the offender. Most people who are actively practicing a religious faith will say that being devout is not always easy. Large percentages of religious people think, speak, and act in ways contrary to their faith-based doctrines. Americas capitalist avarice and consumerist materialism has negated some sins that lead people astray. Gluttony, covetous, and greed have all been sold to us as ideals that must be upheld. Sinners are absolved of moral accountability because the Americanization of Christianity has sanctified many unwholesome acts while forgiving still more. Metaphysical religions, such as Buddhism, do not allow reward without complete devotion. The mindfulness needed to ensure that every action, every word, and every thought one has must benefit the world requires an exceptional level of commitment. The path to spiritual enlightenment, even within the context of monotheism, is harder than conventional roads of gentile salvation. References De Niro, R. (Producer/Actor). (2000). Meet the Parents [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures. The Big View, (n.d.). About Buddhism. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2005, from the bigview.com Web site: thebigview.com/buddhism/index.html.