Buddhism, Nondualism, and Christianity: Preliminary Thoughts on Love and Ontology

There are many worldviews on offer, but all cannot be true, given logic and experience. One test for any worldview is whether or not it makes room for and supports the reality of persons and of love. Theravada Buddhism and nondualistic Hinduism seem to fail this test, while Christianity passes it.

Theravada Buddhist ontology (that of original Buddhism) teaches that there are no substances, only attributes that arise and pass away ceaselessly. This makes personhood (with its enduring self: a continuant) impossible. If personhood is impossible on this ontology, so then is love, since love requires a lover a loving and a loved (a triadic arrangement by necessity).

On the other hand, nondualistic ontology (that of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism and Zen Buddhism) affirms that there is a substance (Brahman), but that this substance has no qualities or attributes: Nirguna Brahman. So, there is purportedly a Universal Self, but lacking any determinable nature, since there are no qualities. (Keith Yandell rightly argues that the idea is incoherent; if something exists it must have at least some qualities or features of its existence.) But a substance with no qualities cannot allow for persons either, since there is but one substance (no pluralisty; all is one) and that substance cannot be considered personal. If it were personal, it would have the qualities of personality. If nondualism disallows persons, it excludes love as well.

Thus, both Buddhism and nondualism evacuate reality of persons and love, each in its own way: attributes without substance (Buddhism: all is many) or substance without attributes (nondualism: all is one).

Christianity asserts that God is one substance in three persons (one and many). God possesses both essence and attributes. God is personal, even tri-personal (without being tri-theistic). Love, therefore, has an ontological rootage and explanation. “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16).

Therefore:

  1. If love is real and valuable, a worldview should be able to explain or account for it and not eliminate it. This is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the truth of a worldview.
  1. Neither original Buddhism nor nondualism can fulfill (1)
  1. Therefore, both original Buddhism and nondualism are false.
  1. Christianity, however, can account for the reality of love, based on the very character of God as love.
  1. Therefore, Christianity fulfills (1) and passes a necessary test for the truth of a worldview.

Author: Douglas Groothuis

Author of Christian Apologetics, Truth Decay, On Jesus, On Pascal, and others. Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary since 1993. Head of The Apologetics and Ethics Masters Degree Program and Co-Director of The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture. Senior Fellow for Apologetics.com.

3 thoughts

  1. I’ve been waiting for someone to write about this for awhile. Thought about doing it myself. People think Buddhists are loving, but it’s not acutally true. Buddhists are taught to not care about current events or people, but to just “appreciate the presesnt mmoment.” Thank you for writing on this important subject.

    -Levi
    https://levipierpont.wordpress.com

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