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A Comparative Analysis of Buddhism and Islam

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This essay will demonstrate one similarity and two differences between Buddhism and Islam’s belief of the concept of the afterlife/next life. For example, both belief in reaching the end of one’s life (i.e., for Muslims, one will reach either heaven or hell and for Buddhists, one will reach nirvana, or sometimes called enlightenment or liberation.) Specifically, each religion offers similar guidance on what a person ought to do to merit admission to heaven or attain enlightenment. However, there is a differentiation for the Muslim soul’s transition between death and the afterlife and for Buddhists, their being in the samsara cycle and reincarnation after death. Further, Buddhist and Islamic doctrines contain different descriptions of what one may expect to see and experience in the afterlife or liberation.

As a general principle, similarly to Buddhists, Muslims generally believe that a person must practice good deeds to merit admission into heaven. Practicing and non-practicing Muslims generally share the opinion that doing good deeds is a prerequisite to Heaven. The reasoning offered as an explanation for this prerequisite is that upon death, both righteous followers and those who commit certain sins move through the same course to get to the ultimate goal of behest (heaven). For example, in Islam, if a Muslim did good deeds and is therefore righteous, then that person will end up in behest, which is also called Paradise. On the other hand, if a Muslim sinned or strayed against the Islamic path, then that person will end up in jehenna (hell). Further, a Muslim who neglected to pray may nonetheless secure a spot in behesht by doing enough good deeds to balance the scales of judgment.

Similarly, Buddhist believe that their actions, or as it is formally called darma, will ahold real consequences in their next life or to obtaining nirvana. The reason for this is – just like Islam – Buddhist believe that completing their lively potential such as: being a good spouse or being a parent and believing the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path will be a prerequisite to ending their samsara and moving on nirvana (heaven.) Also, to reach the highest level of heaven, Islam prescribes acceptance and faith in Allah whereas Buddhism prescribes acceptance and faith in Buddha as a moral to go by to reach nirvana. Darma is traditionally defined as “uniform norm, universal and moral order, or natural law; it also includes one’s specific duty and proper conduct”. A Buddhist is needed to have wisdom and correspond to morality with natural law to reach nirvana.

Another similarity seen in both religions’ instructions on how to achieve admission to the afterlife is the Islamic belief in adherence to the Five Pillars and the Buddhist belief in adherence to the Four Noble Truths (and ultimately the Eight-Fold Path.) For example, the first Pillar is one must devote one’s life and faith to Allah and Muhammad as one’s prophet. The second Pillar is that one must pray five times a day facing the direction of Mecca. The third Pillar is one must give charity to the Muslim community and the poor. The fourth Pillar one must fast during the month of Ramadan. Lastly, the fifth Pillar is one must complete the Hajj which is the journey to Mecca. In the month of Ramadan, the gates of behesht open to enhance one’s spiritual progress, thus earning oneself a spot in behesht. The reason for adherence to the Five Pillars is that one who believes in and devotes oneself to them will gain or secure one’s spot in behesht.

Akin to the Islamic belief of adherence to the Five Pillars, Buddhism prescribes adherence to the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are one:

  1. life is full of suffering (Duhkha);
  2. there is a cause of this suffering (Duhkha-samudaya);
  3. there is a way to extinguish suffering (Duhkha-nirodha);
  4. there is a path to end suffering (Duhkha-nirodha-marga).

Staying strong and true to the Four Noble Truths will help aid one towards enlightenment. The last Noble Truth alludes one toward the Eight-Fold Path to liberation (enlightenment) The Eight-Fold Path was spoken by Buddha as a way to extinguish all the suffering. The Eight-Fold Path is the morals Buddhists are to live by. All eight of the morals are all not said to be practiced chronologically, but rather simultaneously; they are all linked together. Overall, Buddha is trying to teach compassion and wisdom for all beings.

Another way Buddhists are similar to Muslims in the way of getting to the afterlife is to be in the clearest state of being with oneself and the religion and to die with peace. The reason for this is, that believing in the Four Noble Truths and the Five Pillars (for Muslims), the being is always in route towards spiritual perfection by reincarnation (samsara.) For example, Buddhist believe in the Samsaric Wheel. Which are repeated cycles of life and death (rebirth) based on one’s actions from their previous life called karma. “The doctrine of karma states that one’s state in this life is a result of actions (both physical and mental) in past incarnations, and action in this life can determine one’s destiny in future incarnations” (Hui and Coleman.) Only those who have attained liberation (moksha) from samsara, then they can transcend towards nirvana.

Unlike Buddhists, Muslims believe in a selection process to get to heaven or hell. For example, in the afterlife of a Muslim, the Angel of Death carries the jun (soul) away. It is believed that two angles, Munkir and Nakir test the dead on their knowledge of Islam. This is expected to happen right after the person has been buried. In their grave, they are asked by the two angles questions about their faith, such as: Who is your God? Who is your prophet? What is your religion? Where do you face in prayer? If the person answers these questions in the belief of Islam they are said to cross over a bridge to paradise and nonbelievers cross the bridge into hell. The people who go to hell are said to be questioned with, what led you into hell-fire? Those people then will respond back to whatever sins they think they did wrong. The reason for this is, that after that happens, the soul waits in the grave until the day of judgment, where one is tested and weighed based on their good and bad deeds that they have done. While waiting in their graves, it is said that they feel and taste their final destiny of whether they are going to hell or heaven. Means, that the ones going to hell already feel the punishment and even the ‘heat’ of hell in their graves, and the ones going to heaven wait in their graves peacefully. The questions asked, determines whether the person gets to go to paradise (behesht) or to hell (jehenna). If it is decided that the person will go on to paradise, then a personal protective angel guides the person to behesht (paradise).

Buddhists, however, believe in not directly attaining nirvana, but rather going through the six realms of existence; which are a part of the samsara cycle. These six realms are: heaven, asura, human, animal, hungry ghosts, and hell. One is put into a select realm based on their karma. For example, if one was greedy in their previous life, it is likely for them to be a pig in the animal realm in their next life. The reason for this is, that a person’s action will improve or diminish their future and either get closer or further towards enlightenment. With rebirth, one can move to any of the realms or even stay in the same realm as their previous life. “Hence, reincarnation is usually referred to as transmigration in Buddhism”.

Muslims, unlike Buddhists, believe their afterlife to be this fruitful place with multiple beautiful women. The reason for this is, for the men to have a reward for being faithful and true to their religion of Islam. For example, it is said that for men, they will delight in the company of beautiful virgins. Also, another meaning for this is, for the mean there will be attentions of houris, which many translate as virgins, who have very white skin and very dark eyes. It is said in the other world (paradise or hell), life will go on much like on this world, but possibly without haste, worries, anger, corruption, war, and other earthly irritations. Whatever it is though, it is God’s will. In the Qur’an, it is said that heaven will have two kinds of every fruit, upholstered couches, palm trees and pomegranates, and green pastures. In heaven, the faithful people will see the image of God, peace, and physical rewards and pleasure and the faithless will go to fiery hell.

Buddhists, contrary to Muslim belief, believe in nirvana, rather than an actual place like heaven for the departed to go. The reason for this is, that nirvana is a state that signifies the end of the samara cycle, ending all suffering. For example, unless a being reaches enlightenment (nirvana), that being (i.e. animal, god, hungry ghost, etc.) will not be able to escape the pain or misery of reincarnation. In Sanskrit (a language Buddhists meditate in), it is referred to a flame being consumed, equivalently to the end of suffering and the termination of desires. “Buddhist scriptures say that the state of the enlightened man beyond death cannot be described”.

Overall, one can clearly see the similarities between how Buddhists and Muslims believe to get to or achieve the next life. Earning merit and doing good deeds, similarly, to completing one’s darma will help one achieve the next life/afterlife. Following and internalizing the Four Noble Truths for Buddhists and the Five Pillars for Muslims will also gain an advantage of the next life. However, there are differences in the Buddhist’s and Muslims’ belief of the next life after one passes on. For the Buddhist, one is in the samsara wheel until attaining enlightenment. In the Muslim afterlife, just after death, a person is asked a series of questions in the grave and experiences the touch of hell or heaven. Buddhists and Muslims also, have different beliefs in what the actual next life/afterlife is said to be like. For Muslims, heaven is just full of beautiful women for the men, and for Buddhists, the state of the enlightened cannot be described, it is just like a flame going out. Buddhism and Islam are one Varanasi religion and one Jerusalem religion with similar and dissimilar beliefs upon the afterlife/next life.

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