When one thinks of Buddhism, it is often considered as another of the many religions that permeate the world. While it is in the top 5 (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism) in terms of number of “members,” it is often considered distinct from the others. However, on closer inspection, the principles of Buddhism can be found in all religions.
To understand how Buddhism permeates all religions, it’s important to understand what the basic tenets of Buddhism are. First, there are the Four Noble Truths: Suffering (the difference between the way the world is and the way a person wants it to be), Causation (desire or wanting things to be different, which is the root of Suffering), Cessation (if Suffering is caused by Causation, and Causation is caused by people, then people have within themselves the ability to end Suffering by doing away with the desire to have things different from what they are), and the Eight-Fold Path.
The Eight-Fold Path is made up of, obviously, eight different steps or goals for how to live one’s life. They are: Right Understanding (understanding that there is a difference between what is and what one wants), Right Thought (learning to choose and hold only those thoughts that alleviate suffering), Right Speech (speaking only of what is necessary to teach others or meet basic needs), Right Action (acting only to meet your own basic needs or helping another to meet theirs without causing harm), Right Livelihood (choosing a way to make a living that meets your basic needs without harming others, even if the livelihood is otherwise legal – for example, a lawyer who sues people frivolously just to make money is not practicing Right Livelihood), Right Effort (understanding that mistakes will be made, but continuing to make the effort to go the right way), Right Concentration (the ability to quickly do away with thoughts and views that crop up that take us from the path), and Right Mindfulness (essentially living in the moment and focusing on the task at hand – without using the vernacular, the Buddhists have a phrase that basically says, when you’re using the bathroom, use the bathroom).
Just looking at the list of items, it becomes obvious that Buddhism, or at least most of its principles, is found in all religions.
The following 10 reasons illustrate this more clearly.
1. What Buddhists refer to as Suffering is present in all religions. That is, the way things are is not optimal. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all preach about man’s fall from grace when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. However, every religion teaches that what we are experiencing is not optimal and therefore we must strive in some fashion or other to make it better. In other words, Suffering.
2. Understanding that Cessation means we are the cause of our own suffering, this belief is also held by other religions. We can choose not to suffer. In most cases that come from “surrendering to God,” but there are other religions, including Hinduism and Wicca, that believe the power is within ourselves. All we have to do is discover it and choose to use it.
3. Right Thought. One famous quote in the Bible says, more or less, whatever you think, so you are. This line of thinking is universal. While we might not be legally guilty of murder, if we think about it, most world religions see us as a murderer. By thinking the right thoughts, we are better individuals.
4. Right Speech. Beyond just stating what is good or instructive, Right Speech incorporates not saying mean or spiteful things. Most religions have a “do not provoke” clause somewhere in them, meaning don’t cause someone else to do something wrong. There are even laws in many places about hate speech or inciting riots. Right Speech is, therefore, one of those moral and religious laws that transcend religion and make it into everyday life.
5. Right Action. Whereas Buddhism charges us to do what is right, many religions go on to enumerate some of the things we shouldn’t be doing, just in case common sense doesn’t make it clear to us. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. The list goes on and on. While the poetry of “Thou shalt not” is powerful, it’s just not as simple as Right Action.
6. Right Effort. What religion does not preach forgiveness for mistakes and forever striving to be more like God/Allah/Jesus/etc.? Therefore, it is necessary for us all to accept that we’re not perfect, but to nevertheless continue to strive. In the end, we will be rewarded (so they tell us).
7. Right Concentration. Buddhism states this as a means of keeping our minds free of distracting thoughts, but Buddhism often practices this as meditation. That is, learning to focus our thoughts in such a way that they become aligned with higher thoughts. Numerous other religions also practice meditation. Others practice it in the form of prayer. For Muslims, praying five times each day is not just an act of obedience, but a means of communicating with Allah and seeking his guidance.
And now we get into the more general ways in which Buddhism is present in all other religions.
8. A basic acceptance of certain facts that establish our position in life as not being as high as it could/should be. For Buddhism, these are the Four Noble Truths. For several New Age religions, it is accepting that we (at least the “we” in our spiritual sense) have come to this planet in this incarnation to learn something that we could not have otherwise learned (patience, compassion, etc.). For Judaism/Christianity/Islam, it is that Original Sin separated us from the divine and now we must strive to get back there.
9. There are a series of steps we must follow in order to reach our spiritual goal. For Buddhism, it is the Eight-Fold Path. Yet every religion has a similar “path.” Islam teaches there are certain obligations for every devout Muslim, including the Hajj, giving to the poor, and praying daily. Christianity believes you must admit certain things (you are a sinner), take certain actions (including baptism), and then attend church. The list goes on and on. Similar rites or rituals are present in every religion.
10. The purpose of all of these things is to be at one with the higher spiritual power. Where some religions see this higher spiritual power as its own entity and others see us as part of it, the ultimate goal in all religions is to achieve a point in this life (or the afterlife) where we and the higher spiritual power are together.
It is an accepted fact that there is an overlap in most religions. While some is due to common origins (Islam, Judaism, Christianity), some is simply due to what many people refer to as “spiritual truths.” There are some things that are just bad, regardless of what you choose to believe, as well as some things that are always good. And there are also certain attitudes and behaviors that span religions. Buddhism, which encompasses numerous religions in its broad teachings, is considered by many to hold the most spiritual truths of all religions. As a result, all religions are present in Buddhism, and Buddhism is present in all religions.