Buddhism and Christianity were each founded by one person, and then eventually grew into two of the largest religions in the world. Each religion had different reasons
for the success in the spreading of each respected belief. Although both faced many hardships, the two religions overcame and prevailed through their problems and continued to find ways to attract new believers every day.
Buddhism was founded by one man, Siddhartha Guatama. He was born into royalty around 563 B.C.E. in a Kingdom near the border of India and Nepal. He was raised in wealth and luxury, and at the age of 16, he married a wealth woman and they had a child together. Around the age of 29, he began to realize that all humans were in a cycle of suffering, dying, and then being reincarnated only to suffer and die over and over again. It was then that he decided to leave his wife and child to find a way out of this repeating cycle of life and death. First he studied with teachers, but found he was coming to no conclusions, so he turned to more extreme things such as self-mortification, but he was still left unsatisfied.
As a last resort, Guatama began intense yogic meditation under a papal tree. One night, he went into a deep trance, and moved through different levels of being. First, he saw all of his previous lives, living through each one over and over again. He then realized that reincarnation is based on how you treat all living things and whether you do right or wrong. He then achieved the knowledge of everything there is to be known in the world, and he attained perfection. He became the “Buddha”, which means “Enlightened One”, and he found the release from reincarnation. Buddhacarita, the best known biography of the Buddha, describes what it was like when dawn broke and the Buddha came out of his trance; “…and the leader of all reached the state of all-knowledge. When, through his Buddhahood, he had cognized this fact, the earth swayed like a woman drunken with wine, the sky shone bright with the Siddhas who appeared in crowds in all the directions, and the mighty drums of thunder resounded through the air. Pleasant breezes blew softly, rain fell from a cloudless sky, flowers and fruits dropped from the trees out of season-in an effort, as it were, to show reverance for him,” (The Global Experience, Ashvaghosha, pg. 79).
Having achieved enlightenment, the Buddha began spreading his knowledge to help others achieve “Nirvana”, which means to be released from the reincarnation cycle. He preached that there were 4 Noble Truths: (1) all life is suffering; (2) the source of suffering is desire; (3) to end desiring is to end suffering; (4) there is an eight-fold path to end suffering; to have the right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. This idea of being released from suffering attracted many people, and Buddhism soon spread rapidly through Northern India, and then through Southern India.
However, the popularity of this form of Buddhism (Theravada, as it came to be known, meaning “way of the elders”) began to dwindle as only a few people were being able to enlightenment as it was so difficult. It was mainly monks who were practicing the eight-fold path, and they would meditate for months and years and would maybe experience an inner spiritual awakening, but few were achieving Nirvana. It got even more difficult as years wore on because after someone had achieved Nirvana and died, it left other people without someone to help guide them to Nirvana. Many people began to feel that achieving enlightenment was nearly impossible, and they began to drift away from the religion, causing a major downfall in the spread of Buddhism.
It was then that a new form of Buddhism arose in India called “Mahayana” Buddhism, meaning “great vehicle of salvation”. This form of Buddhism started around the 1st century B.C.E., and it’s ideas differed pretty drastically from the older Theravada version. This newer version of Buddhism spread quickly out of India into Afghanistan and Central Asia, and then into China, Tibet, Mongolia, Vietnam, and finally into Korea and Japan. One of the main reasons for it’s rapid spread and great attraction to people was the “bodhisattva”, meaning “Buddha to be”. The bodhisattva was someone who had achieved Nirvana , however, instead of being taken out of the reincarnation cycle, they chose to remain in the cycle to help all others achieve Nirvana.
What this meant to people was that now they could have someone help them and guide them down the path to becoming a Buddha. They no longer had to do it themselves and lead a perfect life, the bodhisattvas could show them exactly what they needed to do. Another attraction about Mahayana Buddhism was that the people could pray to the bodhisattvas for help, forgiveness, or anything. Theravada Buddhism lacked any god-like figures that the people could pray to, and people need something like that in times of need when they have no one else to turn to. These god-like bodhisattvas helped attract new people to the religion who might have been turned off by Theravada Buddhism because there were no god-like figures to pray and look to.
One of these bodhisattvas that people prayed to was “Kuan-yin”, which meant “the one who hears the cry”. Kuan-yin was a Goddess, and this helped spread the religion because now women could achieve Nirvana and become Buddhas, something that didn’t happen in Theravada Buddhism. Allowing women to become Bodhisattvas attracted many more people to the religion, and helped make it spread that much faster.
Christianity originated from Jesus of Nazareth, who was believed to be born from the Virgin Mary and was the son of God. It is believed that he was put here to redeem humanity for all their sins and to bring eternal life for all those who followed him. Jesus preached that at the end of the world, there would be a judgement day, and all those who followed God would be rewarded with eternal life and all those who didn’t would be condemned. Until judgement day, he taught his people to stay away from sin, show love, charity, humility, and to believe in him and his divine mission.
Jesus soon gained a following, mostly of poor people. Many upperclass citizens of Jerusalem became suspicious of this group of people, and they began to warn the Roman governor that Jesus and his followers could be revolutionaries. Because of this, Jesus was crucified and put to death around 30 C.E.
After the death of Jesus, Christianity began spreading a little throughout Jewish communities, however it wasn’t spreading like wildfire as Mahayana Buddhism had done before it. It wasn’t until Saint Paul of Tarsus that the religion began to pick up. Saint Paul of Tarsus was born Saul, in the city of Tarsus is Asia Minor. Earlier in his life, he had a major role in the persecution of the Christians until he converted to Christianity around 35 C.E. and changed his name to Paul. Many people wanted Christianity to be a version of Judaism and have only Jewish people convert, however, Paul wanted Christianity to be a universal religion, and he soon gained many converts who were non-Jews.
Christianity soon spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Many of the followers were the poor and uneducated who were looking for some fulfillment in their lives. It didn’t take long before the Roman government began to distrust the new religion. The Christians refused to worship their Emporer because it would be against their religion, and the Romans considered this treason. Soon the persecution of Christians was heavy and was being done by the citizens, not the government. Although this was a major setback, it had it’s benefits by unifying the Christians even more, and by getting rid of
so-so believers and weak Christians.
Despite numerous persecutions, Christianity remained strong and continued to spread into Italy and all throughout Western Europe. A major turning point of Christianity in Rome occurred in 311 C.E. when the ruler Galerius, perhaps influenced by his Christian wife, permitted Christian worship to occur in his empire. By 394 C.E., Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, and from there it only continued to spread throughout the world.
Both Christianity and Buddhism were started from nothing but grew into two of the largest religions in the world. The reasons why Buddhism succeeded in spreading to other countries and people are different from the reasons Christianity spread. Buddhism spread because it adapted to what the people wanted and needed. When the numbers began to dwindle, a new form of Buddhism was there, adapted into what would attract new people, and succeeding at it.
Christianity, on the other hand, never changed or adapted. The ideas and beliefs have stayed the same since the beginning. The reasons it succeeded in spreading was because it was attractive to everybody. Anyone could be a part of it, not just monks or very strict people. It united all types of people for one cause, to serve God and achieve eternal life. Both these religions spread and attracted many people, and continue to do so even to this day.