A critical analysis of the differences between Buddhism and Christianity formulates a litany of ways by which the two religions may be compared. Worship styles, concepts of the afterlife, or understandings of sin represent examples of different elements that may be compared. One point of tension, or perhaps a recurring expression, deals with the different views of time from a Buddhist or Christian perspective. This paper seeks to objectively examine and document this particular tension of time-concept differences, between Buddhism and the Biblical perspective. During the course of the discussion, the words of Jesus shall be used to address and compare ideas about the issue situated around an understanding of time. Recently, in the U.S news media, the nature of Buddhism became a focus for attention, regarding Tiger Woods’ extra-marital sexual infidelity. Mitchell (2012) explains that “the religion Woods turned to was not Christianity but Buddhism” (p. 61). However, morality is one thing while the notion of ‘time’ is quite another.
In terms of the Buddhist saying that, ‘All is suffering,’ the attention is most usually turns to a conversation of sin and redemption when compared to Christian concepts. Hsing Yun (2014) in an article entitled ‘The Buddhist Perspective on Time and Space’ characterizes the Buddhist concept of time. Yun (2014) explains that time “travels from past” to present, and is an act of being which “cannot be measured” (“The Buddhist Perspective in Time and Space”). This concept of time as portrayed by Yun espouses that one can become freed from the confines of ‘space’ by embracing the notion of time as an ‘endless’ realm of cycle-less –ness. We will deal with the major concepts here. However, it is interesting to note that according to so-called ‘Master’ Yun time introduces a small unit of time as ksana. Under the auspices of this notion 32,820,000 million ksanas comprise one day. Yun’s explanation, and its somewhat sketchy process or comprehension of time analysis, seems rather inconsistently vague and illogical. On this basis the different views of time, from the viewpoints of Buddhism and Christianity, shall be examined herein.
It is no secret, and in fact general knowledge, that the Bible is the biggest selling book in human history. In light of this information Victoria Lysenko (2012) asks the pertinent question concerning why Buddhism is considered a global religion. Lysenko (2012) states the reason is because it “was the first religion in the history of mankind that had turned to man as” an independent being from “his or her origin and position in society” (p. 1215). First of all, Buddhism and Christianity are fundamentally different. In terms of connecting humankind to an inseparable source of origin, in the person of an all-powerful and living God-Creator, Christian beliefs so reckon this idea. In contrast, basic Buddhist beliefs according to Lysenko (2012) “In Buddhism, there is no divine creator of the universe, nor any messenger of Him carrying His word to the mankind, nor any God-become-man” (p. 1215). While the Buddhism experience embraces the idea of the ‘bodhi’ or awakening, Christianity demands a requirement to become cleansed from sin or perish in Hell. For example, the Christian admonition states in Scripture “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast down to hell, and delivered into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment”(II Peter 2:4, King James Version). Whether or not you would agree with this philosophy is irrelevant. Next, we establish the differences of the concept of time between Christian and Buddhist outlooks.
As mentioned before, Buddhism holds a vague and realistically immeasurable definition of time. According to the instability of Buddhist symbolism of time, everything else pertaining to the religion becomes subjective. The Bible clear defines ‘time’ as having a beginning, middle, and definite ending. For example, the Bible declares “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, King James Version). The fact that God made something, such as the heaven and the planet, suggests an objective reality for the basis of time. See the logic? To place a bookend on the other end of that, Christianity’s view of time gives it closure. In other words, just as there exists a beginning of time an ending locates its conclusion. Documented in Matthew Chapter 24, in the classic Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, his disciples asked him what would be the signs characterizing the end times. In reply, Christ Jesus responded that wars would ensue and “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:11, King James Version). The fact that Jesus proceeded to answer the inquiry informs observers that the concept of ‘time’ has a definite framework of a beginning and an ending. The Christian perspective of time implements its nature as a real concept, which is neither vague nor subjective. Let us continue.
In contrast to the logical, and real nature of a specified framework of ‘time’ as viewed from the Christian perspective the Buddhist perspective is watery, and unreliable. To prove this opinion, we turn to the literature. An article entitled, ‘What Buddhists and Christians Are Teaching Each Other about God,’ by Stafford Betty supports how Buddhism philosophy is somewhat vague – to begin with. In it Betty (2008) states that Buddhism recognizes that people have “power to transform human character in ways that were demonstrably good, even without any overt reference to God” (p. 109). Perhaps human beings can reform themselves to display certain acts of goodness ‘without God’ but the Buddhist religion never specifically stipulates when a person can know if they have achieved, or can attain the state of enlightenment. The point being made here is that the Buddhist view of time is uncertain and formless. The Christian perspective of time renders a perspective of time having definite boundaries. Also it appears as though the Buddhist view of ‘time’ vaguely merges itself into a vague, and boundless, eternity. While the Christian perspective of time posits a crisp interpretation placing it as distinct from eternity. Furthermore, how is the Buddhist notion of time able to more specifically define it when the religion excludes a definitive assumption of God?
In other words, while Buddhism has been perceived as highly respected in some circles undoubtedly due to the love for its Dalai Lama, their views of God are indistinct. Betty (2008) notes that one Buddhist named Thubten Chodron believes ‘God’ fails to reference a Creator, and “From a Buddhist viewpoint, there was no beginning” (p. 110). This idea of God and time, from the Buddhist perspective, fits closely in sync with what Buddhism religion values. There is the idea that (a) Time is vague, and (b) God is vaguer, if existing at all. Furthermore, it is with great difficulty that one might produce evidence to support the accuracy of ‘time,’ as defined (or conceived) in terms of the Buddhist tradition. Biblical Christianity formulates a consistency about who God is, and for the sake of this paper – what constitutes the nature of time. Another observer of the Buddhist philosophy of understanding time is given by David Kalupahana. Kalupahana has written an extensive document about the nature and concept of time from the Buddhist point of view. He maintains that ‘time’ can be associated with natural seasonal events, such as the flowering of trees in nature, in the sense of early Buddhist thought.
Kalupahana believes that a later evolution of Buddhist thought brought about a change in the perception, and nature, of time. To explain the concept of Buddhist time, he states that such an understanding must begin with a comprehension of the universe. From there he insists that time must be perceived as a “passage,” in terms of observable events as useful processes that “take place in accordance with the causal principle” of one thing existing – then another (“The Buddhist Conception of Time and Temporality”). He continues to most incoherently try to explain the idea of time by using a series of inconsistencies, most confusing, to convince readers that time is an undetermined entity of sorts. In an effort to strengthen his argument Kalupahana forms a twisted labyrinth of mutterings connecting the notion of time to Buddhist aspects of ‘dying,’ ‘teaching,’ and theory. The Christian ideology of time, in contrast, reveals a more concrete approach and understanding.
While it is true that the idea of time has been somewhat of a mystery to discuss, for philosophers throughout the ages, the Scriptures make a distinction between ‘time’ and eternity. One way to think about this concept is by embracing the idea of ‘temporary’ and permanent states of being or existence. In the article entitled ‘The Biblical Concept of “Time”’ Wayne Jackson states “One thing is certain, the Scriptures make a distinction between” the things which are temporal and eternal (“The Biblical Concept of Time”). The Apostle Paul states “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen temporal; but the things which are not seen eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18, King James Version). Clearly then, the Christian view of time specifies a kind of temporal view of time that can be measured (having a beginning and an end). This compares time to eternity, which simply encapsulates a portion of a temporal reality inside a spiritual (or universal) realm that lasts forever. The words of Jesus corroborates this notion further.
The Jesus Christ of the Bible specifies on numerous occasions from his parables, sermons, and lectures about the nature of time and eternity. Jesus said “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment” (Luke 12:22, 23, King James Version). What did Jesus mean by these statements? The significance of Jesus’s statements tell you that the most importance things in life concern how you lived your life. Did you cheat, lie, steal, murder, or rape people? The context seems to suggest that there is present time, and a span of opportunity to live righteously by God’s standards, and then pass forward to a ‘timeless’ state of spiritual reality called eternity. His words clearly document the situation. One may then deduce, that Christianity’s time limitations in this present temporal world demands attention to physical needs. But simultaneously, Christian biblical-based values call for the limited earthly time to be spent being a good servant of God. In contrast, Buddhism fails to adhere to any such higher authority. Jesus understood that humans have needs of nourishment for the body, and wearing tangible clothing. Logically, Jesus conveys a more concrete objective. His protocol of understanding seeks to improve the human condition by way of obedience to God, and dependence upon His higher authority for soul redemption. Biblical principles do not ignore the realities of daily living, but rather monitors the importance of the temporal limitations of time.
There is also a passage in which Jesus reminds his disciples that he will not always be with them – in the physical sense of a time frame. He meant that time would move towards its inevitable end, as he would transcend time and ascend back to his throne of eternity both physically and spiritually. Evidence of this idea follows. After the disciples criticized the woman who collected Jesus’s burial herbs and essential oils, Christ said “For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12:8, King James Version). This statement clearly shows that Jesus was aware of a temporal time slot which is enumerated, situated in the physical reality of living on earth, displaying a reasonable measurement. This concept is key. The Christian notion of time, therefore, sharply contrasts to the Buddhist notion of ‘32,820,000 million ksanas’ (whatever that means) as comprising a 24-hour period. Do you see the problem here? Who measures time like that? Apparently classic Buddhism does, and it is utterly ridiculous. The reason why is because it has no real-world value. The Biblical concept of time models a consistency with time and eternity. A balance exists.
So far evidence has shown that Jesus understood time as marked by definite events, and its quality modifies a limited passage of hours and moments in terms of a beginning, middle, and ending. Christianity’s view of time encompasses a rational perspective of humans living out their ‘counting-of-days’ to ultimately ‘arrive’ into the realm of the eternal. While Mitchell (2012) notes “A 2003 study suggests that 55% of Americans have had some contact with Buddhists or Buddhism and that more than half of respondents associate” the religion with peace-loving aspects of tolerance, their concept of time is too vague to be relevantly precise (p. 62). The Christian perspective has a simple and straightforward meaning. Jackson beautifully says: Eternity is endless, but time is measured by a “beginning” and an “end” (“The Biblical Concept of Time”). Uniquely diverse from the Buddhism concept of time, Christianity organizes its ideas of time and eternity with clearly drawn parables and explanations by Jesus. In the sense of this earthly existence of time connecting to a passage into eternity, Jesus gives The Parable of The Tares. Symbolizing a ‘harvest’ of souls Jesus said the field represents the world. Jesus said, of the wicked children in the earth, “The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world” (Matthew 13:39, 40, King James Version). The message is clear. In the realm of Christianity time is set forth as a series of events, moments, and eras that will end one day.
While many people believe that Christianity embodies a fantasy of an afterlife, or realm of the eternal, Jesus makes a clear distinction of time against the backdrop of the reality of eternity. Buddhism makes such a vague assumption of time so as to render it meaningless. We know time is not insignificant, for we have so little of it to spare while living in this earthly realm. The Apostle Paul writes “For we know that if your earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (II Corinthians 5:1, King James Version). The Biblical reality declares that the invisible spiritual real of the eternal is just as real as the ‘time’ zone of the physical earthly realm. Furthermore, people all over the world have experienced out-of-body episodes in which they felt time cease to exist – or at least, become warped in an odd way.
In conclusion, the main point of tension in terms of contrasts between a Christian view and Buddhist view of time, rests upon two competing notions. The first represents a vague notion of time in incalculable ways, with no adherence to an ultimate authority. The second represents a confirmation of a definite limited time span, in conjunction with a real realm of eternity in which we meet a holy God who sits in ultimate judgment of all. In the Buddhist view time does not hold much importance. If this is true, then death has not much significance either. But everybody realizes the seriousness of death when it grips a loved one in its hellish claws, forever gone. Christianity portrays a reasonable, logical concept of time while valuing it by explaining how you spend it determines how you will spend eternity. In an article published by ‘God and Science’ the God of the Bible is spoken of having existed before time, and Paul speaks of a destiny “before time began” as referenced in I Corinthians 2:7. The article describes the situation as follows, “God created time, along with the physical universe,” and it “is not just some wacky modern Christian interpretation of the Bible” (“If God Created Everything, Who Created God?”). The issue comes down to two ideas. The Christian idea of time admonishes we use it to secure right living according to God’s rules, to enter eternity and live forever in peace. The Buddhist view of time disregards the value of moments, and shuns the existence of a single authoritative God of creation.
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