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Compare Buddhism and Islam

Essay by review  •  September 1, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,673 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,147 Views

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Religion is defined as "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God" . There are many recognised religions of the world, which all teach its followers to live life "the right way", whose definition varies according to the religion itself. They have some beliefs and practices that distinguish themselves from each other. Some examples are differences and similarities of Buddhism and Islam.

Buddhism originated from India, and was founded by Prince Siddharta Gautama, who later came to be known as Buddha, or the enlightened one. Born of a princely caste, he later renounced his comfortable life in search for nirvana. In order to do that, he joined a band of ascetic, who was a group of Hindu priests. In his teaching, the Buddha taught his followers to follow "the middle way", that is, not the way of extreme asceticism. He attained full understanding of the nature of being by meditation and after his success, decided to impart his knowledge to those who follow him .

Islam, on the other hand, started in Mecca, where Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) was born. He was believed to be that last nabi (messenger) that Allah will give to the world. The religion was not well accepted in its city of origin though, due to the opposition the Prophet faced as a nascent community . Later, he was invited to Medina and Islam expanded from there.

Both these religions have basic beliefs that are relatively different from each other. Buddhists on one hand believe in karma, rebirth, dharma and moksa. Karma is "cause, effect and the law which equilibrates the two" . It is the consequences of every action, whether good or bad. This action-reaction may take effect anytime, may be in the current life or not. Rebirth is inter-connected with karma. If one did more good things than bad in his life, his karma will lead him to a life of better condition than the previous one. Dharma is the basic concept of the religion; that is the Buddhist teaching, also meaning the nature of existence. Lastly, moksa refers to the renunciation of the world, which is parallel to the Hindu belief in the importance of asceticism and meditation .

In addition, Buddhism places emphasis on the Four Noble Truths, which is the teaching of Buddha, a guide to enlightenment. These are a set of guidance that basically teaches the followers of Buddha the essence of life; that life is basically suffering if it is lived typically, and that the cause of suffering is desire. It discloses the way to cure desires. The Fourth Noble Truth specifically talks about how it can be accomplished through the Eightfold path.

The Eightfold path is the treatment to cure all desires of the heart. Briefly, they are having the right attitudes towards life, in a Buddhist way. It consists of having the Right Knowledge, Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Behaviour, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Absorption. It is taught that Buddhism "is a way of living, not merely the theory of life, the treading of this Path is essential to self-deliverance" .

On the other hand, Islam's basic rules of conduct consist of five commandments. These are shahada, which is the most fundamental of the commandments - the declaration of belief that there is only one God, and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is His messenger. Shalat, which is praying five times a day to reaffirm submission to God, Saum -- fasting in the month of Ramadan which requires abstinence from everything worldly. All Muslims are required give 2.5% of his savings to charity, and this is termed Zakat. It is considered a social welfare responsibility and Hajj, which is going for pilgrimage after the end of Ramadan .

From these, it can be noted that the beliefs and practices of the two religions is considerably different. Firstly, Allah in the Islamic belief exists as a supernatural being, a God in a monotheistic religion, whereas Buddha initially existed as a man and attained nirvana through meditation. In addition, Buddhism is a pantheistic religion, but later schools with theistic beliefs developed. In relation to this belief is the practice of prayer that Muslims place importance on, but the Buddhists disregard, and rather believe in meditation or the cleansing of mind.

The second major difference is the incentive for not doing evil in life. For a Buddhist, the reason why one does not harm other beings, for example, is that it will affect your karma. For a Muslim, it is more of because Allah will punish bad deeds and reward good ones. The ultimate goal in both religions also differ, Muslims' are to go to heaven, whereas Buddhists' are to attain nirvana. The Buddha also said that the human self has no atta (soul) in contrary to Muslims.

The roles of scriptures in the two religions also differ. Muslims treat the Koran as the literal word of Allah. It is believed to have been passed down to Muhammad over twenty-three years in the form of Gabriel's (Allah's angel) voice . It is from this Koran that a Muslim understands his Allah's commandments. In contrast, Buddha does not have a holy book that plays such a big role in the religion. The most important scripture for a Buddhist is the Tripitaka. It originally consists of three volumes of teaching, but its role is not as significant as in the case of Islam. Initially, the Buddha passed down his knowledge to his followers verbally, and his followers memorised them. Eventually, the Tripitaka was put together, and overtime, other additional scriptures and poems were added to it .

It is also partly due to the differences in interpreting the Tripitaka that Buddhism spread into two major schools, Theravada and Mahayana (some consider Zen Buddhism or Vajrayana to also be major schools). The school of Theravada, which is translated as "the Way of the Elders", believes that the importance of Buddhism in oneself, that is focusing on attaining nirvana. Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand is more of "a layperson Buddhism" . It focuses on compassion and kindness, noting that the Buddha himself forgoes nirvana in order to help others attain it. There are many other reasons why Buddhism split, but most is the different perceptions and thinking of the Buddha's followers. As the religion grow older and its followers increase, different schools start to appear and some practices altered . Buddhism in China, for example, diverge into the country's thick cultural roots and emerged as a belief that is essentially different from the original one; that is beliefs in spirits (animism) and ancestor worship (Confucianism).

Similar to Buddhism, Islam also had a split in its believers. However, contrary to it, the split

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