Buddhism and Islam: Different Methods, Common Goal

In a number of regions in Asia, the Buddhist and Islamic worlds intersect. Although they need to live together, sometimes their interaction is not very peaceful. Nevertheless, both groups share common problems, such as environmental degradation, pollution and global warming. Buddhism and Islam offer different strategies for motivating people to deal with these problems in an intelligent, compassionate way. With more knowledge of each others’ methods comes more understanding and mutual respect. As a result, the two groups will be better able to cooperate harmoniously with each other to face these challenges of modern life.

The methods Buddhism and Islam employ for dealing with global problems arise from their belief systems. To understand these methods, we need to understand the basic assumptions of each.

The Origin of Cause and Effect

Islam

Islam is a theistic religion. God created the universe, including order in the universe and the laws of cause and effect.

Buddhism

Buddhism is non-theistic, which doesn’t mean atheistic, that God doesn’t exist; it just doesn’t accept creation. Everything occurs due to cause and effect – both in the material sphere as well as in terms of individual and group experience – with no beginning and no end. No one created cause and effect; it’s just the way that things are.

Conclusion

Both systems accept cause and effect, and therefore agree that the approach for dealing with global problems is to discover and eliminate, or at least reduce, their causes.

The Connection between Cause and Effect

Islam

The fact that a complex of causes leads to a complex of effects is called “destiny.” This connection between causes and effects was created by God and it is by “God’s will” that causes lead to effects.

Buddhism

The connection between a complex of causes and a complex of effects occurs simply due to dependent arising; no one created it. In other words, neither causes nor effects have independent, self-established existence as causes or effects. Something can only be a cause dependently on there being an effect of it.

Conclusion

Both systems agree that cause and effect follow definite laws and that nothing happens randomly with no cause. There is order in the universe. Therefore, both agree that if proper steps are taken to deal with global issues, the problems will be solved.

Free Will and Choice

Islam

God created mankind with an intellect. The intellect is the faculty for thought, especially rational thought and logic. One of the characteristics of the intellect is free will, which means the ability and power of making choices, like whether to take a reusable cloth bag for carrying our shopping or to accept disposable plastic bags. On a national level, we have the free will to choose whether or not to reduce emission of greenhouse gases and, if we reduce them, then by how much.

When faced with such choices, whatever we choose to do will lead to its inevitable result in accord with God’s will. In this sense, the result is predetermined in keeping with the laws of causality that God created, but the choice itself is not predetermined. In this sense, we have free will.

Buddhism

Among the mental factors that enable us to have certainty about a course of action is discriminating awareness. It focuses on the possible choices and differentiates the strong points of each from their weaknesses, as well as the good qualities and advantages of each from their disadvantages and faults. Based on our discrimination, we come to a decision about our choice.

From another point of view, this mental factor is called intelligent awareness. It decisively discriminates that something is correct or incorrect, constructive or destructive, helpful or harmful, and so on. It may be either accurate or inaccurate. Based on discriminating whether it is better for the environment to carry our shopping in reusable cloth bags or in disposable plastic bags, we decide which to use. The same is the case with deciding about reduction of greenhouse gas emission. The result of our decision will follow from the laws of cause and effect.

In Buddhism, karma refers to the compulsiveness of our behavior – the compulsiveness with which we repeat patterns of our previous behavior and our previous choices. But there is a space between when we feel like doing something and when we choose to do it. There, we can use discriminating awareness to decide whether or not to act out the impulse to repeat the pattern of the choices we make. In this sense, we have free will. But once we implement an action, then the laws of cause and effect take over and the result will follow.

Conclusion

Both systems agree that we have the free will to make choices of how we behave. Everyone has the ability to make the right choices that will lead to solutions to problems that will be the most beneficial in the long term. This is because everyone has basic human intelligence to discriminate rationally between what is helpful and what is harmful. This doesn’t mean that everyone will make the best decisions, it just means that everyone has the mental facilities that enable intelligent decision-making. Once the choice has been made and implemented, however, the logical outcome will follow.

Responsibility for the Choices Made

Islam

Whenever a child is conceived, God sends an angel to breath His Spirit into the child’s body in its mother’s womb. Most Muslims assert that when embodied, God’s Spirit is referred to as a “soul.” The soul is the faculty that makes use of the intellect to make the choices and is therefore accountable for the choices made.

Buddhism

Buddhism does not assert an independently existent soul, but it also doesn’t say that we, as individual persons, do not exist and are not accountable for the choices we make. It is merely by convention that we say “I made a choice,” and this is correct. It wasn’t that someone else made the choice or that no one made the choice. However, the event of our having made a choice did not happen like with an independently existing “me” sitting inside our heads, looking at a fixed menu of choices and choosing one by using discriminating awareness like a tool. In any situation, a decision-maker, choices and a decision are interdependent, not independently existing entities. Not only are they interdependent on each other – there can be no decision taken if there are no choices and no decision made – but all three are also dependent on innumerable causes and circumstances.

Conclusion

Both systems agree that we, as individuals, make our own choices and so we are responsible and accountable for the choices we make. Therefore, it is up to us to take steps to deal with global problems like environmental degradation.

Factors Besides Intellect That Affect Making Choices

Islam

God created mankind with excellence in them and God’s love for mankind is a feeling of closeness toward all the excellence he has created. Man’s love toward God, in turn, is a yearning for the attainment of the perfection that he lacks and needs. This yearning manifests in one of the main forms of worship of God, which is nurturing and manifesting the excellence that God created in us through our character and in acts of service to God’s creations. Doing so is an expression of our faith and our submission to God’s will. We submit to God’s will by acting in accord with the laws that God made and which, according to God’s will, bring about appropriate consequences when obeyed or transgressed.

God also created mankind with a heart, which is the faculty for feeling emotion, both positive and negative. It can be filled with doubt about God and thus be blind, or it can be strengthened and filled with faith. If, based on the free will of the intellect, our heart becomes moved by negative emotions deriving from disobedience of God’s will, our soul becomes subject to these emotions as well. Then, with self-centeredness, we follow our own self-will dominated by self-importance, selfishness and these negative emotions, as opposed to following God’s will. The decisions we make with our intellect, then, can be based either on selfish, short-sighted self-will or on submission to God’s will by serving God’s creations with our excellence of character.

Buddhism

With no beginning, our mental continuum contains both positive and negative emotions, such as concern for others, love, compassion, generosity and patience on the one hand, and self-centeredness, selfishness, greed, attachment and naivety on the other. The choices we make with discriminating awareness arise dependently on the relative strengths of these various emotions. Further, at any moment, their relative strengths depend on many external and internal circumstances – what others do and say, the values of society, and economic pressures, as well as our health, education, level of stress, level of busyness, and so on. Thus, the decisions we make arise dependently on many factors.

Conclusion

Both systems agree that if our intellect is under the influence of negative emotions, selfishness and greed, we make naive, irrational decisions concerning how to deal with global problems. Whereas, under the influence of compassionate concern for the entire world, the decisions we make will be rational, intelligent and of long-term benefit.

Gaining the Motivation to Deal with Global Problems

Islam

When we develop love for the world and humanity in the purest way, our love is not for the world or humanity in and of themselves, but is love for God who created the excellence in us. Our concern for the global environment, then, is a form of our worship of God through service to God’s creations.

Buddhism

Concern for the welfare of all beings is based on seeing that everyone is equal in wanting to be happy and not to have problems and suffer. Further, we are all interdependent on each other and on the global environment in which we live. What we do affects in some way the well-being of everyone and what others do affects our well-being. Love, then, is the wish for everyone to be happy and to have the causes for happiness; and with love, we take steps to ensure that happiness for everyone.

Conclusion

Both Buddhism and Islam teach people to be concerned about the welfare of all others. Both of them emphasize the need of universal love and the implementation of that love in altruistic actions.

Summary

Regardless of how people become motivated to deal with global problems, the important point is for everyone to work together toward the benefit of the world. In the importance of this endeavor, Buddhism and Islam are in full agreement.