While each religion is unique, some faiths share many similarities. For example, many religions are polytheistic, and adherents of these religions believe in many gods. At the same time, there are monotheistic religions, which are based on the belief in one God-creator. Religious scholars distinguish, among other things, world religions and national religions. World religions are widespread everywhere, among various ethnic groups and nationalities. At the same time, folk religions have not received much distribution outside of individual states or ethnic communities. Recently people have talked about ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ religions, which are very different in character. It is not necessary to divide the confessions into the west-east, as each faith is individual.
Buddhism, which arose in the middle of the 1st millennium BC., is considered the most ancient world religion. The Buddhist faith’s foundation is the religious and philosophical doctrine, dharma, about spiritual awakening and bodhi. The founder of Buddhist teachings is a prince from the Shakya clan, who became the path of asceticism, trial, error, wandering, and, ultimately, meditation, Buddha – the Awakened One. The central concept, dharma, embodies the teachings of the Buddha, truth, and the path that every Buddhist must follow. The main goal of students is to achieve the state of Buddha, complete awakening, and enlightenment. It will allow you to get out of the series of constant rebirths, break the circle of samsara and thereby end suffering. A person should lead a life concentrating on the control of the mind, which will lead to nirvana – the highest spiritual state.
The founder of Buddhism, Buddha, did not consider himself a god, a supernatural being, or an intermediary between people and higher powers, unlike the preachers of other religions. He only said that he had experienced some experience of mystical insight into reality as it is. However, as in Islam or Christianity, a person is the ancestor of a religion. The basic principles of Islam, as in the case of Buddhism, were formulated by a real person, the prophet Muhammad. According to legend, at the age of 40, during a 40-day fast, he received the Revelation on Mount Hira (Küng 27). The image of Muhammad and his deeds are strikingly different from the image of Jesus and his deeds; Muhammad is the prophet through whom Allah speaks. But at the same time, he is an ordinary person who lived an everyday life, like Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.
Christianity and Islam are both Abrahamic religions. They have a common ancestor, Abraham, a character in the Bible. He became the first person whom God chose to make a covenant (union) with people. Christians and Muslims recognize the sacred nature of the Old Testament texts – the Pentateuch of Moses.
Islam and Christianity are two religions of revelation – the core of their teachings are based on Divine Revelation. Revelation is understood as the self-disclosure of the Divine and His proclamation of His will to man and is reflected in the Holy Scriptures. The main provisions of the teachings of Jesus Christ in Christianity are outlined in the Sermon on the Mount in the form of the nine Beatitudes. Christianity has formed its complex of sacred books, dogmas, and rituals for two millennia, different from Muslims.
The presence of a specific founder and scriptures is also found in Taoism. The Taoist system is based on the concept of Tao (path) – the first principle, an impersonal world law, the way of comprehending nature and its rules (Despeux 199). Therefore, only Tao (non-being) is eternal, and everything else is transient. Since Buddhism and Taoism are viewed not as a religion but as philosophy, teaching, way of thinking, and daily routine, they have more in common. For example, the idea of the imperfection of the material world and seeking to leave it through nirvana or union with Tao. Choosing the path of self-improvement with the help of inner work, meditative practices, and doing good deeds are also typical of Buddhism. Moreover, the last point can also be compared with Islam.
Often, the main differences between any religion and its offshoots are authority and traditions. In particular, a single God-creator for Christian and Islam, and the absence of it in Taoism and Buddhism. However, differences can also be found between only eastern or only western religious movements. For example, Buddhism is inherently an atheistic trend: it says nothing about God, the Absolute, the Supreme Being, and the Reason, which would create all life in the Universe. According to Buddhism, only emptiness existed, and Taoism regards Tao as the cause of the Universe (Despeux 1). In Buddhist philosophy, there is no eternity, and everything returns to nothingness. Buddhists believe that one should strive for nirvana, dispassion, and peace, which are achieved by renouncing earthly attachments. The adherents of Tao, in turn, believe that it is necessary to harmonize the work of the mental and physical components of a person to merge with the path.
The presence of internal differences also applies to ‘western’ religions. For example, there is no such institution as the church in Islam, and the dogmatics are similar to that of Christianity. Moreover, Islamic anthropology, unlike Christian anthropology, does not attach much importance to original sin. Islam claims that God forgave Adam and Eve for their sin, which removes the need for the redemptive self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The most crucial difference between Taoism and the rest of the previously described religions is that the Taoist tradition is one. It does not have many directions that are strikingly different from each other. It is one of the common features of Buddhism and Christianity with Islam, which have various branches. At the same time, a certain closeness of the worldview positions of Taoism and Christianity finds its expression in the understanding of the place that is assigned to a person. He performs the function of a connecting element, Earth and Heaven in Taoism, the Creator and his creation in Christianity. In both versions, we meet with an anthropocentric model, the difference in the prevailing vector, introversion for the East, and extraversion for the West.
Moreover, Sufism, one of the currents of Islam, and Buddhism influenced each other. Some Sufi practices are similar to chanting mantras. Just as the Sufis chant the names of God, Buddhists praise the names of Manjushri. In addition, some rules are understood by both Muslims and Buddhists, including walking around sacred sites and pilgrimage. Both religions have an emphasis on generosity and universal equality.
Based on all the above, even ‘western’ religions or only ‘eastern’ religions can be strikingly different from each other if they are not based on some unifying feature. However, they have many similarities, for example, authority, ritual, speculation, tradition, grace, or mystery. So, it makes no sense to talk about the difference between ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ religions. In addition, all religions have both differences and similarities, something more, something less.
Despeux, Catherine. Taoism and Self Knowledge. Brill, 2018.
Küng, Hans. Islam. Herder, 2019.
Nyanatiloka, Thera. Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines. BPS Pariyatti Editions, 2019.