Comparing Buddhism, Hinduism, Traditional Judaism, and the Gospel

by Jews for Jesus | November 01 1995

praying woman

If we’re considering the claims of the Gospel of Messiah Jesus or perhaps trying to understand an established faith in him, it can be helpful to understand a bit about how other well-established religions of the world see things. When we do that, we can find both surprising similarities and essential differences.

Since the basic purpose of any religion is to try to make sense of human life and our sense and experience of spiritual reality, any two religions of the world chosen at random will have some elements cross over elements. For example, see how Scriptures are common among all five faiths explored below. But virtually all religions have incompatible difference as well. Those differences are especially striking across faith families. An example you’ll see of that below is how the goal of spirituality in Hinduism and both types of Buddhism does not include a relationship with a Creator God (e.g. a God who exists apart from the universe He created), which is of course central to Judaism and the Gospel. But we can also see significant differences between the two varieties of Buddhism listed below.

Below, we compare some of the key elements between Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, traditional Judaism, and the Gospel. Other world faiths were not intentionally excluded from the comparison, but these were chosen because they’ve tended to be particularly interesting to modern Jewish people.

Meaning of birth

Theravada Buddhism

We are reborn from a previous life until we reach nirvana (extinction of all desire and release from suffering). The cycle of death and rebirth is called samsara.

Mahayana Buddhism

We are reborn from a previous life until we reach nirvana (extinction of all desire and release from suffering). The cycle of death and rebirth is called samsara.

Hinduism

We are reborn from a previous life until we realize our “oneness” with Brahman. The cycle of death and rebirth is called samsara.

Traditional Judaism

We are made in the image of God and come into the world with the capacity to opt for good or evil.

The Gospel

We are made in God’s image but come into the world inclined to sin because of the sin of Adam. Redemption is needed.

Way to Truth

Theravada Buddhism

Follow the teachings of Buddha, e.g., the Four Truths and the Eightfold Path. The written Scripture, the Tripitaka (“three baskets”), includes the teachings of Buddha.

Mahayana Buddhism

Through the study of scriptural texts running to more than five thousand volumes.

Hinduism

Spiritual disciplines like yoga enable one to achieve the enlightenment and truth needed. Suffering and samsara result from ignorance of self-truth. Vedas are scriptures that hold final authority.

Traditional Judaism

Bible (Hebrew Scriptures). Oral Law provides the authoritative interpretation for knowing how to live. Truth is seen in deeds more than in creed, although a cardinal tenet of belief is the Unity of God.

The Gospel

Bible (Old and New Testaments) as divinely revealed. It is final arbiter, although various creeds give expression to its teaching. Yeshua is the ultimate embodiment of truth.

Goal of spirituality

Theravada Buddhism

Deliverance from samsara through reaching nirvana.

Mahayana Buddhism

Deliverance from samsara through reaching nirvana is not to be sought for the individual alone.

Hinduism

Deliverance from cycle of death and rebirth and realizing “oneness” with Brahman.

Traditional Judaism

To know God. To serve God and others.

The Gospel

To know God. To serve God and others.

Way to spirituality

Theravada Buddhism

Practice of some disciplines leads to nirvana. No personal God. One can achieve deliverance from samsara and become a Buddhist saint. But this deliverance is only for the few who can attain it.

Mahayana Buddhism

Seeking personal deliverance and assisting in others’ salvation. Ideal follower is a bodhisattva, one who forsakes his own salvation to aid others. Salvation is not merited, open to all.

Hinduism

Practice of spiritual disciplines such as yoga delivers one from the cycle of death and rebirth by helping one to realize his or her “oneness” with Brahman. Many incarnations and deities may be worshipped.

Traditional Judaism

Observance of mitzvot, study of Torah and other holy books leads to blessing in life. Prayer, repentance, and the need to perform the mitzvot with the proper intention or kavannah are also important.

The Gospel

Faith in Yeshua as God’s requisite for atonement and salvation. Continued spiritual growth and blessing come through living a life of service and love.

Meaning of death

Theravada Buddhism

Leads to rebirth from which we can be delivered by reaching nirvana. Rebirth is not by chance but is based on the universal law of cause and effect (karma).

Mahayana Buddhism

Differs from Theravada Buddhism in accepting the existence of the individual soul, in which case rebirth is also called transmigration.

Hinduism

Leads to rebirth of the soul, or transmigration, from which we can be delivered by realizing our “oneness” with Brahman or ultimate reality.

Traditional Judaism

Cessation of bodily life and entrance into the “world to come” or some other place.

The Gospel

Cessation of bodily life and entrance into either heaven or hell.

Afterlife

Theravada Buddhism

Until nirvana is reached, after life is rebirth. Nirvana itself is neither continued existence of the soul nor annihilation.

Mahayana Buddhism

On the way to nirvana, the individual soul may pass through a variety of heavens and hells.

Hinduism

Afterlife is rebirth until deliverance is achieved. Then one merges into Brahman, the All.

Traditional Judaism

Many beliefs, including bodily resurrection. Few teach of a heaven and hell. Generally, Torah obedience leads to life in the world to come.

The Gospel

Bodily resurrection after death and judgment. Heaven and hell are eternal destinies to which all people go based on choices made in this life.

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