When I was much younger and in college, away from home, parents and church, I was fascinated with world religions. Like a lot of other young people, I was very open to lots of ideas, enjoying my freedom away from everything that I knew to be true.
Paul Little writes of the Christian concept of the similarity of world faith: “Many Christians naively assume that other religions are basically the same, making the same claims and essentially doing what Christianity does, but in slightly different terms.”
That sentence describes me in college. I emphasize the word “naively.”
I had an English teacher that I admired and he was fascinated with Buddhism and Hinduism and he made my class read the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, a German mystical writer. The book was the telling of a young man’s spiritual journey toward a higher spiritual enlightenment. For a while, I was a big fan of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Until I followed it to the logical end and I saw that it was very different from Christianity.
I am not putting other religions down but to say that they are all the same as Christianity is incorrect.
Siddhartha [the main character of Hesse’s book] was in search of a purpose for his life. He wanted to experience all that life had to offer on his road to his purpose. I remember that he was a successful young man as he spent time pursuing his desire for pleasure. Eventually pleasure led him to perform acts that were selfish and hurtful to others. I remember that he was a successful young man as he spent time pursuing his desire for spiritual growth. He was very successful because he felt he was getting much closer to god. I remember his ultimate success as a seeker came as he combined the pleasure and spirit and found that this was the true peace that he was after all along. He had a vision of a river which flowed constantly and the river had elements of pleasure mixed with spirit.
But that was all.
I could not find any more inspiration than that.
Knowledgeable people would condemn my shallow portrayal of these profound faiths but I found them lacking.
What can a person do to pursue a higher purpose in life? Jesus says that we are to “do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” The concept of doing good unto others as you would have them do to you is in most religions, but Christianity admits the hard, cold truth: we want to do the right thing but we find we can’t all the time. In other faiths, that reality is not dealt with. Jesus Christ gives us the power to try to live better as we follow our Holy Spirit. I saw none of that in my foray into Buddhism and Hinduism.
As Siddhartha experienced his life and tried to learn, he was concerned about finding a higher spirituality but I saw no assurance that he was going to his heavenly reward for his efforts. It just seemed to be hard work, deep thought and denial of human tendencies. When was he going to be good enough? For the Christian, we know we won’t ever be “good enough” to go to heaven; however, heaven will be our destination because God “assures” us that we are saved due to the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He took our sins on His shoulders, knowing we would never be able to be totally sin free.
Siddhartha worked hard to achieve a higher consciousness and that was admirable but a lot of his activity was centered on his own self-knowledge. He did not work to help others in their time of need. That is a distinct difference in Christianity. We want to help “our neighbors” as the Holy Spirit changes our heart to help us see the needs of those around us. Sometimes some Christians think that service is a way to work our way to our eternal reward but that is a mistake. We can’t do enough work to achieve that reward. Overemphasis on salvation by works can cause a Christian to ignore the beautiful gift that Jesus gave us…salvation through His grace.
I have barely scratched the surface of these faiths. Buddhism is a faith that spans 2,500 years and has three hundred million followers. Hinduism is 5,000 years old and has one billion followers.
Apologies to these followers for my naïve explanation.
Apologies to my church for my naïve dalliance in this faith, a faith that was not really reflective of who I am…