World Literature 1
26 January 2010
Butterflies have wings, and so do birds; yet, neither of these two creatures are alike. The wings are just an analogous feature, meaning they are similar features evolved from different ancestors. Buddhism and Islam are like butterflies and birds, as they both have “wings”, but the “wings” comes from separate foundations. Buddhism and Islam are similar in that they both promote individual and social wellbeing, but their core beliefs and objectives make them distinct religions.
Between Buddhism and Islam, there are similarities in a number of rulings dealing with personal and social responsibilities. In Buddhism, The Eightfold Path is a way to reach the religion’s ultimate goal of becoming “enlightened”, and according to B.A Robinson, The Eightfold Path include right speech, right livelihood, and right conduct. Right speech forbids lying, condemning, using harsh language, gossiping, etc. Right livelihood means to support oneself without harming others. Right livelihood can be achieved by following the Five Precepts, which, as Robinson outlines, are abstaining from violence, stealing, lying, misuse of sex, and consumption of alcohol and other drugs that hinder clear thinking (Robinson). The website Teachings of Islam provides a basic list of things prohibited (or “sinful”) in Islam; many of the prohibited things accord with those of Buddhism. For example, acts of lying, gossiping, and false accusation are all sinful in Islam. Cheating, acts of violence, usury, harming of others, sexual misconduct, and consumption of matter—including alcohol—that hinder proper thinking are also strictly prohibited in Islam (“Some of the forbidden (Haraam) Conducts in Islam”). The behavior and actions prohibited in Islam are remarkably similar to the requirements of the Eightfold Path and the five precepts. Both of these religions’ attempts to promote individual and social wellbeing make them similar, but the same cannot be said about their core beliefs.
The foundation of all Buddhist and Islamic beliefs completely set these two religions apart: while Buddhism is built upon the Four Noble Truths, Islam begins with the concept of the unity and divinity of the one and only one Creator and Sustainer. The Four Noble Truths is the supreme guideline that provides reason for all Buddhist beliefs and religious practices. The truths, as Barbara O’Brien states, “are the foundation of Buddhism”. The Noble Truths are the truth of dukkha, the truth of the cause of dukkha, or suffering, the truth of the end of dukkha, and the truth of the path that frees one from dukkha (“The Four Noble Truths”). O’Brien attempts to describe the first truth by defining dukkha as suffering, pain, impermanent, and conditional. She explains that anything in this life is temporary, including pain and happiness, and that everything in nature is conditional, as it both affects and is affected by things around it (“Life Is Suffering? What Does That Mean?”). She describes the cause of dukkha, as defined by the second truth, to be the ignorance of the impermanence of nature: suffering occurs because one tries to cling on to desires, forgetting that anything is subject to change. “We continually search for something outside ourselves to make us happy. But no matter how successful we are, we never remain satisfied” O’Brien states (“The Four Noble Truths”). The third truth promises the existence of the end of dukka. And finally, the fourth one confirms the path for the end of dukka, which can be reached by understanding dukka and letting go of one’s desire of the temporary (“The Four Noble Truths”). While the Noble Truths outline the way of life for Buddhists, Muslims turn towards the one Creator, or God, for all purposes. Seyyed Hossein Nasr states:
At the heart of Islam stands the reality of God, the One, the Absolute and the Infinite, the Infinitely Good and All-Merciful, the One Who Is at once transcendent and immanent, greater than all we can conceive or imagine…known by His Arabic name, Allah, is the central reality of Islam in all of its faces, and attestation to this oneness…is the axis around which all that is Islamic revolves. (3-5)
Islam sees Allah as the ultimate creator of all existence and its laws, and He is outside of all His creations and everything revolves around his authority. Allah is the most Merciful and Just and is All Knowing and All Wise; He has commended mankind to believe in this ultimate reality by sending prophets, including Moses (PBUH), Jesus (PBUH), and Muhammad (PBUH), with the central message “The Lord is one”. Therefore, to be a Muslim, one has to accept Him as one and Muhammad as his (last) messenger (3-5). Islam is founded upon the belief of one God while Buddhists do not believe in a God at all, letting the Nobel Truths be their utmost guide. With the different fundamental beliefs, Buddhism and Islam naturally have different objectives.
Buddhism’s supreme goal is to reach enlightenment while Islam focuses on living in this life in manners that would please the Creator of all things. Buddhists practice their religious teachings to reach the state of enlightenment and to understand the truth. Thebigview.com explains how following the eightfold path leads to the state of enlightenment.
The Nobel Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering…it is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Nobel Truths, it constitutes the gist of Buddhism. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana [enlightenment]. (“The Noble Eightfold Path”)
The Eightfold Path, therefore, is a guideline that Buddhists must follow to reach “Nirvana”. This guideline consists of practical and ethical rulings and is an important factor in understanding what Buddhists consider the Truth of all things (“The Noble Eightfold Path”). Muslims, on the other hand, work to follow the commands and guidelines of Allah, knowing that Allah knows what is best for all that He created. Muslims have responsibilities towards the Allah, toward oneself, and toward one’s society, as Nasr States in his book:
To accept to be God’s servant and to represent Him in this world means, above all, worshiping and serving Him…Now, we have responsibilities not only toward God, but also toward His creation…Then there is the responsibility one has toward oneself. Since human life is sacred and is not created by us, we are responsible for trying to keep…healthy…next…we have responsibility toward society, starting with our family. (278-279)
Muslims must take care of all the things that God has created; this includes earth’s resources, like plants, and any living thing, including themselves and fellow human beings (Nasr, 277-279) Indeed, many religious practices in Buddhism and Islam are similar, especially those dealing with human responsibilities and wellbeing; however, the reason behind these practices are clearly a differentiating factor between the religions.
Buddhism and Islam share similar human responsibilities toward oneself and the society, but their core beliefs are different, and, thus, their purposes for the religious practices are also different. The core beliefs of the religions are like the anatomy of a bird and a butterfly: they are not at all similar. The similar human responsibilities are like the wings of a bird and a butterfly. It is also interesting to note that the two creatures have different goals, but they both use their wings to reach the goals.
Nasr, Seyyed. The Heart of Islam. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002. 3-4. Print.
O’Brien, Barbara. “Life Is Suffering? What Does That Mean?.” About.com: Buddhism n. pag. Web. 25 Jan 2010.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The Four Noble Truths.” About.com: Buddhism n. pag. Web. 25 Jan 2010.
Robinson, B.A. “Core beliefs of Buddhism.” Religious Tolerance. 2009. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Web. 8 Feb 2010.
“Some of the forbidden (Haraam) Conducts in Islam.” Teachings of Islam. 2008. Web. 8 Feb 2010.
“The Noble Eightfold Path.” thebigview.com. 15 Aug 2009. thebigview.com, Web. 8 Feb 2010.