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In the early sixth century Christianity was evolving at a rapid pace. The spread of Christianity was not only moving westward through Europe, but it was also moving eastward down the Silk Road. The eastward spread of Christianity was primarily a form of Christianity known as Nestorianism, after the teachings of Nestorius, a fifth century patriarch. By 635 Nestorian Christianity had reached the heart of China spreading through all of Persia and India. During the middle of the seventh century Nestorian churches were found in cities all along the Silk Road, though there were unquestionably many fewer Christians than Buddhists in Asia Up until the turn of the sixteenth century Christianity endured great persecution in China and Japan.
Christianity became extinct in China and Japan until sixteenth century when European Christian missionaries first came to Asia. Upon meeting Buddhist monks the Christian missionaries realized there seem to be many similarities between Christianity and Buddhism. They noticed many other similarities in doctrine and books as well. The early missionaries to China and Japan were both shocked and disturbed by their findings that another religion had similar beliefs. The missionaries determined that this was the devil at work, inventing a counterfeit faith.
In recent years scholars discovered the evidence of Nestorian Churches in Asia. Many people now believe that the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity are due to the influence of the Nestorianism in Asia. It is evident when reading many Buddhist teachings that there are many similarities between Christianity and Buddhism. Similarities between Christianity and Buddhism are evident in every sect of Buddhism, but are strongest seen in the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. In this essay I will compare the similarities and differences between Pure Land Buddhism and Christianity. In the largest Pure Land scripture or sutra, composed in India, a story of Amitabha is told.
It is said that many eons ago, Amitabha a monk, learned from the eighty-first Buddha about the wonders of immeasurable Buddha Lands. According to the sutra in the second century AD Amitabah vowed to create his own Buddha Lands. He said that he would make them eighty-one times more outstanding than all the other lands. Amitabah who's name means endless life and light vowed that all people would be granted rebirth in these Buddha Lands or "Western Paradise". He also vowed that all people who inhabited these pure lands would have easy entry in to Nirvana.
The sutra explains that salvation could be gained by calling on the name of Amitabha with absolute faith in his vow of a pure land. It is said that with absolute faith in Amitabha he would appear at the time of death to lead the faithful to paradise or the pure land. In China the beginnings of the Pure Land Buddhism can be traced back as far as the fourth century. During the fourth century a well-known scholar named Hui-yuan formed a society of monks who meditated on the name of Amitabha. Hui-yuan a former Taoist promoted this school of Buddhism and in 402 AD he founded the Fellowship pf the White Lotus from which Pure Land School was developed.
During the sixth and seventh centuries T'an-luan, Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao spread the sect of Pure Land Buddhism and are recognized as the first patriarchs of the school. Monks of the Tendai School later brought the Pure Land teaching to Japan. In 1133 AD Honen was born and at the early age of thirteen he was ordained as a Buddhist monk. Honen spent thirty year in training at the Tendai School on Mt. Hiei where he gained a large knowledge of all forms of Buddhism.
At the age of forty Honen broke away from his Tendai teaching and began to write the foundations of Pure Land Buddhism. Honen completed his work in 1175 AD and began to preach the faith of Pure Land. As a result of Honen simple religion of hope he became exceptionally popular. His popularity was achieved because his genuine heart and personal appeal. His tremendous popularity created controversy and political unrest and he was deported from his home from 1207 AD till he was allowed to return in 1211 AD.
After his return he died a year later with a following that increased due to his persecution. After Honen's death his disciples continued to preach the new school of Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism also known as Jodo grew in numbers at a large rate. Previously Buddhism was more of a spectator religion, but now people committed to this new faith that had relevance to their everyday lives. One of Honen's main disciples Shinran was the founder of one of the largest sects of Pure Land Buddhism. This sect was known as Jodo Shinshu or True Pure Land Buddhism. Shin Pure Land Buddhism continues to exist today as one of the largest sects of True Pure Land Buddhism.
Currently there are a number of different schools and sects of Pure Land Buddhism around the world. Each school and sect differ in minor ways but all based upon the same sutra or scriptures. Pure Land Buddhism is active in missionary efforts therefore making them a missionary religion. Pure Land has reached such countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Europe, Mexico, Philippians, Russian, and the United States. About one third of Japan and China's Buddhist consider themselves followers of the Pure Land Faith.
Christianity and Pure Land Buddhism share some very similar beliefs. Both beliefs believe that humans are deprived in nature. Christians believe that humans are deprived due to their disobedience towards God's commands thus mans souls are given to the devil. Christians believe that this occurred when Adam committed the original sin in the Garden of Eden and from then on all of humankind's soul is owned by the devil. Pure Land beliefs state that humans are also deprived but for different reasons. Human's depravity was achieved through ignorance in nature of reality. Buddhism including Pure Land Buddhism believes that this depravity will continue in a circle of rebirth until the human attains salvation.
Both Pure Land Buddhism and Christianity agree that salvation human's depravity can be attained through faith. Pure Land Buddhism beliefs state that this faith is put in the great Buddha of Amitabha who will lead those who have faith to the pure land where as Christian Faith is put in Jesus Christ who died for the sins of humankind so that humans may have a relationship with God. Another similarity between Christianity and Pure Land Buddhism is the person of worship. Christianity worships a God who is almighty, merciful, and creator of the heavens and the earth. Pure Land Buddhism worships a Buddha who is merciful and omniscient.
Although Amitabah Buddha is not the creator of the heavens and the earth we can see that many Ideas may have been derived from the early Nestorian church in China and Japan. A major difference found between the two beliefs has to do with conversion. Pure Land believes that not everyone will or must be a Pure Land follower. An early follower of Pure Land said that there are over 84, 000 possible different ways to salvation. Pure Land followers are glad that a Christians hold his beliefs.
They rejoice that Muslim is a Muslim. They are glad for the agnostic. Pure Land missionaries goal is not to convert those who are happy with their own religion, their goal is to convert those who are unhappy with their beliefs. A Pure Land Buddhist is happy for those who are content with their beliefs. Although we can see that the two beliefs of Christianity and Pure Land Buddhism have similar beliefs, we also can see that they do differ in some major areas.
I think that it is obvious to see that the Nestorians who brought Christianity to China and Japan had an influence on the Buddhist people during the sixth and seventh century. The religions have their major differences but we can see that throughout the scriptures that the main Idea of unseen faith is the central idea to the religion. Some may say that they are two very different religions but I would differ saying they have very much in common.Works CitedSnelling, John. The Buddhist Handbook. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991Reat, Nobel Ross.
Buddhism A History. Fremont, California: Jain Publishing Company, 1994.
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