Dr. Sun Yat-sen once said, "Buddhism is not a religion, philosophy or science. Instead, it supplements them." This famous saying urges us to study the relationship between Buddhism and other religions. The following briefly describes their differences and similarities.
(A) What is a Religion?
The underlying principle of a religion is to regard Nature's mysterious power and phenomena as the absolute Master. As a result, fear, holiness, reliance, attachment and respect arise. Then come worship, praying, sermons and other rites. People establish precepts and commandments as the standard of their daily lives, in order to live at ease and to perfect personalities. Thus a variety of religions are created.
(B) Classification of Religion
Although there are many kinds of religions in the world, they can be classified into two main categories, namely individual psychological religion and group social religion.
Individual psychological religion refers to the religious belief and experience of an individual. Regardless of individual state of belief or affiliation to any religious body, believers actively preach by their devotion and insight. Religious organizations are formed by uniting believers of the same revelation.
Group social religion can be further classified into three sub-categories according to the history of development of religions.
Religion can also be categorized by the object of belief. There are four kinds:
(C) Comparing Buddhism with other Religions
The theme of a religion is god. Although each religion has its own meaning of god, in general god is regarded as the creator of universe, supreme beings, master of mankind in the world, and so on in all god-worship religions.
Buddhism is not a blind follower in spiritual power. Buddhism rejects superstition and sorcery. It leans on a profound philosophical theory and scientific experiment. In other words, based on the logical theories and verification by intensive practices, the Buddhists look forward to achieve the mutual responses of practice and theory, so that the mind and phenomena, the law and wisdom unite and merge as one entity. Buddhism absolutely denies that god creates all, that god masters mankind, that all belong to god, that all should obey god, etc. If god creates and masters all, it severely violates the principle of "god loves all people", and it eliminates the principle of cause and effect on the doings of human beings.
There is another main difference between Buddhism and other religions. Generally, the follower of a religion is always the disciple or just a follower, no matter how sincere s/he believes and how devoted s/he is. It is impossible for the followers to become gods. In contrast, the Buddha regards Buddhist nature is latent in all sentient beings. The Buddha teaches that all beings with Buddhist nature can be Buddhas. It is only because they are hindered by illusions that they are unable to reveal their own self-nature.
Therefore, the method of cultivation in Buddhism is to eradicate all illusions, so as to understand the self-mind, see the self-nature, and certify the fruition of Buddha.
In Buddhism, the mind is the theme. We seek for help from ourselves not the external power. It is said, once one doesn't kill, one is a Buddha. In other religions, one feels oneself inferior, and seeks for help from spiritual power. Buddhists worship the statues because they respect the Buddha's great characters of both compassion and wisdom. It is like a respect to teacher and his teachings, not praying for something. At the same time, worshipping Buddha is a method to concentrate one's mind and eliminate all trivial and false thoughts. It is a method of cultivation. This is perhaps the greatest difference in concepts between Buddhism and other religions.
Moreover, Buddhism uses scientific experiment to deny the religions of narrow scope, and to certify the religions with philosophical theories. Though Buddhism is said to be a religion, its philosophical theories are beyond the scope of religion. Other religions stress on belief and practice only, but Buddhism also stress on understanding and certification. Therefore, Buddhism meets with other religions, however other religions cannot amalgamate Buddhism. It is a fact without dispute.