Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha all taught how to be a good person. What’s the difference between them?

In August of 2010, Center Pointe started a 4 week sermon series in order to answer some of the most popular questions encountered during conversations with people in the Centerburg area, called Ask Anything. Since there were far more questions than time to answer them all during our Worship Gatherings, the following blog posts will give brief answers to the rest of your questions.

Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha all taught how to be a good person. What’s the difference between them?

As the “founders” of the three of the largest five world religions, what is the difference between Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha? This is an important question, especially since there seem to be some similarities between them.

For instance, the moral teachings of all three, although not identical, share at least some likeness.

The Five Pillars of Islam

  • Confession of belief that Allah is God and that Muhammad is his final prophet
  • Establishment of obligatory prayer five times a day
  • Almsgiving for those in need
  • Fasting for the purpose of self-purification and restraint
  • Pilgrimage to Mecca

The Eightfold Path of Enlightenment of Buddhism

  • Right Understanding
  • Right Thought
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

Many would consider the Ten Commandments to be the moral teachings of Jesus. However, it was Moses, not Jesus, who received these commandments from God. Nonetheless, Jesus affirmed these commandments during his lifetime, and so for the sake of comparison:

The Ten Commandments

  • You shall have no other God’s before me.
  • Do not make any graven image.
  • Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  • Honor your father and mother.
  • Do not kill.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not bear false witness.
  • Do not covet.

Jesus, however, additionally taught “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But

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I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22), and “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28), thereby making the moral requirements of the Ten Commandments even more strict.

Another moral teaching most people know from Jesus is “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), commonly known as the Golden Rule. So although their teaching are not identical, it does seem that following each one would make a person good, or at least better, according to each teacher.

So what’s the difference?

Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha

Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha

One of the differences that is very important to understand is the motivation behind the moral teachings Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad.

Buddhism. The motivation to follow the Eightfold Path of Enlightenment is to eliminate the suffering that permeates this life. Buddha taught that suffering is the result of our desires, either by indulging our desires or refusing our desires. There is no afterlife, only perpetual reincarnation, which is basically another lifetime to perfect the pursuit of the elimination of our desires. The goal is get to Nirvana, which is the end of the suffering, desires, life, and, ultimately, any existence. This is only achieved when the person becomes perfectly enlightened through the Eightfold Path.

Islam. The motivation to follow the Five Pillars of Islam is to earn favor with Allah. Muslims believe that there is a coming judgment when Allah will determine those that will live forever in paradise and those that will not. The way Allah determines this is whether a person has done enough good things earnestly enough in order to cancel out all the bad things that he has done, and also in order to earn enough favor with Allah. “Good deeds annul ill deeds” (Quran 11:114). If Allah judges this to be true than that person is saved, if not, condemned.

Christianity. The motivation to follow the moral teachings of Jesus is summarized by Jesus himself. It’s love. “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Simply put, Jesus says that it’s our love for God and our love for others that compels us to be good moral people. Moreover, Jesus knows and teaches that people left alone do not have the inherent desire to love anything other than themselves. This is why Jesus teaches that people must be “born again.” People must receive, through faith in Jesus, a new heart with new desires in order the live a new life that is centered on loving God and others.

Finally, Jesus is unique from both Muhammad and Buddha in that Jesus is the only one of the three to claim that he is God. Muhammad denied any assertion to diety, and Buddha denied a need for any diety at all. Join us this Sunday as we study John 10:22-42, which includes one of the clearest claims to be God that Jesus makes: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Summarily, although Buddha, Muhammad, and Jesus all teach the importance of good moral lives, they differ in the motivation behind their morality. Buddha and Muhammad taught that it was through self-effort that one earned salvation. Jesus taught that it was through faith in himself and his ability to graciously give people a new life with new motivations.