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Discriminating wisdom [that sees the uniqueness of each phenomenon]
is just as important as the realisation of
non-dualistic wisdom [that sees the emptiness of all phenomena].

– Stonepeace

Out of respect for religions with different beliefs, it is natural for some to feel that they should never be compared – lest there be disrespectful discrimination of any kind. However, if different religions are not compared or contrasted, there would be no way to more deeply understand them. Without genuine understanding, there can be no genuine interfaith harmony. In fact, there might be disharmony instead, due to misunderstanding and lack of understanding. Without comparison, there is also no way to as objectively as possible choose or appreciate any single religion in comparison to another.

It might still seem possible to learn about different religions in themselves, without comparing. Yet, it is through systematic comparison that we learn about both the differences and similarities between them. Such comparison tends to naturally arise in the mind too. It is also natural to understand other religions through one’s religious perspective, whether we are aware of this or not. What matters is to never compare inaccurately or out of ill will. There is also the obvious need to agree to disagree when it comes to different belief systems, instead of forcing those with alternative beliefs to agree.

It is idealistic but dangerous to assume that all religious systems are teachings of the enlightened – because this easily leads to blind acceptance. It is true that there are ‘religious’ zealots who have gone astray, who practise warped teachings. Thus, to compare religions with as much wisdom as we can muster, while being open to reflection on others’ opinions (which is what the Buddha suggested) is the safer path to follow, before embracing any religion for life. The Buddha himself openly compared 62 religious systems in his time to contrast the alternative teachings he had to offer.

Before realisation of the ultimate truth,
there is the need to first
realise various relative truths [from non-truths].

– Stonepeace

Related Articles:

Are All Religions the Same?
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/11/are-all-religions-the-same
Are All Religions Rivers Leading to One Ocean?
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/10/are-all-religions-rivers-leading-to-one-ocean
There are Enough Religions Already
http://moonpointer.com/new/2009/07/enough-religions-already
The Importance of Inter-Religious Harmony
http://moonpointer.com/new/2009/11/the-importance-of-inter-religious-harmony

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29 Responses to “Should We Compare Religions?”

  1. Eric Butterworth January 26, 2011

    There is no comparison of conflicting dogmas.
    On the climb up the mountain, each climber, or group of climbers, has a different perspective to all the other climbers or groups and may be prepared to go to extreme lengths to affirm that their perspective is correct.
    It is only at the top of the mountain, where dogma and belief are seen as such, that discussion, which is no longer needed, can take place.
    eric

  2. Greentea January 27, 2011

    Nice analogy – but that is assuming all are going up the same mountain and do reach the same summit. Each might be going up different mountains and to different heights, while there is always a highest mountain somewhere, which some might reach different heights of.

    From the link list above:

    Are All Religions Rivers Leading to One Ocean?
    http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/10/are-all-religions-rivers-leading-to-one-ocean

  3. eric butterworth January 27, 2011

    Greentea,
    Thanks for your reply.
    There is only one mountain, only one summit, only one truth.
    {This is dogma. There is no arguing with it. Only at the top of the mountain, from where we all see the same vista, and see that it is a vista of nothingness and so there is nothing to discuss, can discussions have any meaning or validity.
    eric

  4. Greentea January 27, 2011

    There is not only one mountain, just like there are many mountains in our world, each having views that have some similarities and some differences. The highest mountain has a vista of everythingness, from where all other mountains can be seen. This analogy is based on the real world of mountains.

    More from the link list above:

    Are All Religions the Same?
    http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/11/are-all-religions-the-same

  5. eric butterworth January 28, 2011

    Greentea,
    What I am trying to say is that there is no discussion between beliefs and dogmas. One side says there is one mountain. Another side says there are many. We can’t compromise. You must climb your mountain. I must climb mine. From the top, we will see that we have both climbed the same mountain.
    “Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”(Rumi)
    We will meet at the top of the mountain.
    eric

  6. Greentea January 28, 2011

    Not all mountain paths are on the same mountain, and even if many are on one particular mountain, not all of them lead to the same summit, just as not all tread path(s) that lead to it. When we climb mountains and get lost at times, we experience this. We realise that to reach the one true top, the choosing has to be more and more careful.

  7. Eric Butterworth January 28, 2011

    Greentea,
    I think that we are proving my original statement that there is no discussion about dogma.
    With respect, understanding and love, let me try to explain my position.
    The Course in Miracles says words to the effect that there is only the Truth. There isn’t anything else. The Truth is the mountain. Due to blurred vision, different faiths may be seen as distinct mountains, but this is a question of focus. When the lens is focussed, we see that the different faiths are all paths up the same mountain, namely the mountain of Truth.
    We will meet at the summit.

    eric

  8. Greentea February 1, 2011

    It is often over-romanticized that all religions lead to the same thing. There are some irreconcilable differences… unless we are happy to do cherry-picking. For example, how are these teachings in a so-called book of truth quoted at http://www.evilbible.com/Murder.htm ever going to lead to ultimate truth, peace and happiness?

    In this world, there are relative truths, ultimate truth, half-truths, non-truths… It isn’t all that clear cut.

  9. Eric Butterworth February 1, 2011

    Greentea,
    I am enjoying our little tussle, in which I mean there to be nothing personal. May we all be well and happy.
    However… there is Truth, whether religions lead to it or not.
    Relative truth is not the truth. Half-truths are not the truth, non-truths are not the truth.
    It is very clear cut.
    With respecxt and love,
    eric

  10. Eric Butterworth February 1, 2011

    Shen Shi’ans excellent “Are All Religions the Same” argues that all religions are not the same and that only Buddhism teaches “the purification of the mind through meditational practices, whereby the end result is realisation of the truth of non-self, the attainment of enlightenment (also defined as the emancipation, Nirvana or True Happiness), after which one is better able to help all beings attain the same liberation.”
    Committed practitioners of other religions do not accept the validity of this statement. As a result, there can be no discussion, only argument and attempts to proselytize.
    “Are All Religions Rivers Leading to One Ocean?” answers the question with a clear negative.
    “Enough religions already” concludes with, “If inter-religious harmony is the intention for learning about others, most Buddhists already know its importance – better than many others – because the Buddha led by example.” The key words are in the parentheses, “better than many others”. Many others believe that their purpose is not to learn about others, but to proselytize.
    Shian’s article, “The importance of Inter-Religious Harmony” is excellent in every way. This article is concerned with religions as conveyors of Truth, and is aware of the dangers that ensue when dogmas collide and egos consider themselves to be under attack.
    So, why do I praise this article so fully whilst upholding that inter-religious discussion does not bear fruit? Because, “During inter-religious dialogues, it is wise to discuss in a “monkly” manner…”. Yet those who can adopt, or display naturally, “a monkly manner” have nothing to gain from discussion, whilst those who cannot are still identified with their egos and are not prepared to listen.
    I hope that I have been sufficiently monkly.
    With love and respect for your attention and concern.
    eric

  11. kitkat June 9, 2011

    Hi, I came across the recent new religion that evolved from the middle east called Bahai Faith. It said that Buddha is also a messenger from GOD, that all other religions appear at different times with messages from GOD. Now the new faith whose founder had new messages for the humanity and claimed to have millions of followers around the world that. One follower said that the old texts/ sutras no longer useful in this era. :blink:

  12. Shen Shi'an June 9, 2011

    The Buddha had no teacher for His Enlightenment. “Na me acariyo atthi” — A teacher have I not — are His own words. He did receive His mundane knowledge from His lay teachers, but teachers He had none for His a supramundane knowledge which He himself realized by His own intuitive wisdom.

    If He had received His knowledge from another teacher or from another religious system such as Hinduism in which He was nurtured, He could not have said of Himself as being the incomparable teacher (aham sattha anuttaro). In His first discourse He declared that light arose in things not heard before.

    http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha065.htm

    As such, the Buddha is not a messenger of any god, but had his own unique message to deliver. His timeless teachings are still valid and relevant. On the God idea, please see http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/12/did-the-universe-have-a-creator

  13. Jan Walls November 11, 2011

    Shen Shi’an states in another article that one should embrace both relative and absolute truths in the quest for enlightenment. Therefore, I see the “one mountain with many paths” metaphor and the “many mountains with one peak” metaphor to be useful in their own way. My translation of the first line of the Dao De Jing: “Truths may be said to be true, but not The Truth.” 8^)

  14. To ‘realise the reality of relative truths’ also means
    to ‘realise the reality that they are not ultimate truths’.

    – Stonepeace

    Mountain Paths

    There are many lower mountains.
    There are many paths up to their many peaks.
    These paths lead to relative truths of various ‘heights’,
    some relatively higher and lower.

    There is one highest mountain.
    There are some paths up to its one peak.
    These paths lead to ultimate truth of the greatest ‘height’,
    beyond those relatively higher and lower.

    (The Buddha taught clearly in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta that only the Noble Eightfold Path leads to enlightenment. Currently, this path of paths is found complete only in Buddhism.)

    Here is a more accurate translation:

    道可道,非常道。(道德经)

    The [relative] truth[s] that can be spoken of,
    is [are] not the eternal [ultimate] truth. – Daodejing

  15. Jan Walls November 11, 2011

    “Mountain Paths” is a lovely poem. The only problem I have with it is its implication that there is one and only one absolute truth and only one Way to reach it. I see this as problematic because I have heard the same utterance come from the mouths of sincere believers of other religions (mostly from the Middle East). You can’t have an intelligent discussion with people who need to believe in a “one and only one absolute Truth.”

    Now, for the first line of the Dao De Jing: after completing my B.A., M.A., and PhD degrees majoring in Chinese and Japanese languages and literatures, I taught Chinese language and literature in university for 35 years before retiring 5 years ago. I have compared about 30 attempts to translate it into English. 道 means both “Way” (“truth”, singular and plural) and “say” or “speak”, therefore, “Truths may be said to be true, but not The [i.e. “unchanging”] Truth.” 8^)

  16. When it comes to absolute truth, it is always singular – or it would not be absolute.

    The mountain paths poem suggests that there can be more than one path up to the highest mountain, but that all should entail some criteria. In Buddhism, this universal criteria is seen to be the Noble Eightfold Path.

    There must be some minimum standard criteria or all roads would lead to Rome – which is not the case. Some roads lead in circles, some away, and some halfway…

    (Some of the points here are covered in the articles in the ‘Related Articles’ above already, lest we go in circles here too.)

    As a Chinese, I find my translation more true to spirit. But that’s just me

    😛

  17. Jan Walls November 11, 2011

    I have no trouble accepting the Noble Eightfold Path as a (not necessarily “the”) guideline for achieving enlightenment, or even just for leading a good and virtuous life.

    One of the things I most admire in my Buddhist friends is their magnanimity with regard to other people’s beliefs. They don’t even care what religion others “believe in,” as long as their way of life doesn’t violate the essential Buddhist commitment to eliminate suffering among sentient beings. I think they would rather be good than right.

    I’ve been a “Stonepeace” fan for some time now. Keep up the good work! 8^)

  18. Hmmm… Methinks Buddhists are Buddhists cos they look around in history and honestly don’t see anyone else to be as enlightened in thought, word and deed as the Buddha, which is why they see him as the most or perfectly enlightened one, and the path he advocates to be the one to ultimate enlightenment, with complete compassion and wisdom.

    About the idea that Buddhist live and let live, it’s true. However, there are many principles in other beliefs that are counter to Buddhist ones. E.g. the slaughter of animals en-masse to appease any deity, which the Buddha spoke against. The Buddha advised the sacrifice of defilements instead.

    Here is more Stonepeace stuff to share: http://www.twitter.com/stonepeace

    :pff:

  19. Jan Walls November 11, 2011

    If you check your “Followers” on Twitter, you’ll find my name has been there for several months.

  20. Leong Seng Chen January 2, 2012

    With this topic being brought up, I like to say that with open heart-mind, one sees things as they are where they are much more clearly along one’s jounrey. To know & understand the dualistic/relative truths on worldy affairs through our six sensual organs are fundamentally requirement/neccessity for the stepping stone for emerging THE TRUTH. Religions basically base on beliefs wherever the turth is to be experientially realised. Yet, at same time they are neither one nor two & it is being expressed as wholeness… yet to be further investigated or explored. Thank you for sharing here Dharma-friends!

  21. It’s not true that all religions base their beliefs on experiential realisation. Some are heavily based on unquestioning faith, which can be dangerous when it leads to unwise and blind adherence. Think crusades and such that led to so many deaths.

  22. What I like about Buddhism is because it is scientific. A lot of what Buddha teaches is in line with modern day scientific discovery and Psychology. There are other religions, such as Christianity, which rely solely on Faith for salvation. I have nothing against any religion as I think it’s up to individuals’ preferences. It’s cool as long as it helps you be at peace with yourself and with the world.

  23. Leong Seng Chen January 14, 2012

    Therefore Buddhism is basically beyond religion. Most humankind if not all enjoy the products of science advance today yet those extreme religionists deny its pros & cons explorative concepts & results whether favorable or not to situation of end results. Do all babies born with faiths or beliefs. Who do you think they depend most in time of needs or requirement till they being influenced or as followers i nlater of their living lives?

  24. wordless January 15, 2012

    If we were to say stop comparing religions absolutely, then for Pureland practitioners, I wonder if they should stop comparing Amitabha Buddha’s Pureland with that of other Buddhas in the ten directions. Yet I recall that Amitabha Buddha based his blueprint of his Pureland on the comparison of various ‘features’ found in many Buddha Purelands – shown to him by the Buddha of his time.

    So I totally agree with the article’s main points like compare by all means, but do so without contempt, ill will or lack of commitment to be accurate and fair in listing out all possible differences.

    Speaking of inter-religious harmony, I personally agree wholeheartedly on doing our best to reach out to various religious in various ways to bring about deeper appreciation and understanding of each other’s religious beliefs.

    However, I’m also of the view that inter-religious harmony will not really bear fruit in my lifetime.

    During Maitreya Buddha’s time perhaps?

  25. Leong Seng Chen January 15, 2012

    We on this shore yet bound to make comparison etc… for better understanding to live & let live running in parellel in harmony but we shouldn’t do so at the expense of others inclusive withing Buddhism system itself of various teachings/preachings.

    For conveniency, we do have 84,000 doors or ways by reaching to other shore yet we should really & truely realise what is the core teachings/preachings of Buddha during his time in order to uproot or end sufferings or pains right here on earth as a great mission. It’s right here & now.

    With that in mind we should also at same time to vow & try to help others as needed or required. This is also the mission of Pureland as per Amitabha Buddha Practice.

    Today I see many Buddhists within themselves even criticise deny or reject their various respective existence. They even say they are devils or evils creation. However, those within Buddhism system who have gone astray it is unavoidable nevertheless. It is sad enough.

    As for the inter-faith or inter-religious harmony I agree with Wordless’s last comments in order for other religions first not to mistaken or mistunderstand about Buddhism for a start especially in a tiny island such like Singapore with better communicvation & interaction. It is nice if they can understand what Buddhism is all about comparitively.

    Smile With Cheers Always~~~

  26. Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land is based upon 210 billion Pure Lands. Sometimes, this is how it is explained to be supreme. Yet, all Pure Lands are interconnected and inter-accesible, and in this sense equally supreme.

    Every second two people of different religions can care for each other respectfully is already an instance of inter-religious harmony – at least between them.

    The 84,000 Dharma doors taught by the Buddha are various skilful means under the umbrella of Buddhadharma in essence; not to be mistaken as ‘anything goes’.

  27. In sutra, one could discovered many religions during budha time. Buddha did not deliberately changed their religons but was earnest & sincere in explaining the innate peace of all as opposed to their understanding. By comparing, it opens a door for exploiting by other for ill intent. Namo Amitabha

  28. In the Brahmajala Sutta, the Buddha analysed the faults of the 62 major beliefs in his time, so as to present his Dharma in contrast. The Buddha did so earnestly and without ill intent. By comparing, it opens a door for greater understanding of why the Dharma is special. If not, there is no way it can stand out clearly from the 62.

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