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).


  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.

6 thoughts on “Buddhism, Nondualism, and Christianity: Preliminary Thoughts on Love and Ontology

  1. Pingback: To Love or Not to Love | ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

  2. 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.


  3. My dear Doctor, with all due respect, the Buddha often spoke of a love that is equanimous, in all and for all things. This is known as Metta (Pali) or in simple English “loving kindness” and there are many ways one can practice it in all the major schools of Buddhism. It is one of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of which of Buddhism. In Mahayana and Vajrayana Metta is expressed one of the four immeasurables and specifically, in Vajrayana Buddhism, the meditative practice of Chenrezig (loving eyes) is a very powerful way to express love to all beings. Compassion and love is the theme of all the 84000 teachings that the Buddha gave in his 40 plus years here on earth. The Buddha did not just ask us to only love our brother he asked us to love ALL BEINGS equally and without discrimination. Do you love all beings equally and without discrimination in Christianity?

    There are no teachings in the Buddhadharma to deal with personhood. There are however teachings that the ego does not exist in the way we think it does. You see without the ego we learn to act selflessly and in the interest of and for others, not just for ourselves. Did Jesus teach us to act selflessly and for others?

    The terms of Braman and universal self are Hindu, not Buddhist, there is a big difference. Don’t believe me, ask yourself if Christianity and Catholicism are the same things? What you are talking about in Buddhist terms is emptiness. This is not a light subject matter it is one where a student might need years in philosophical study and meditative practice to understand it well. Please allow me to give you the Coles notes version if I may and how it relates to love. Emptiness means that all conditioned things are empty of any real and true existence in and of themselves. “Conditioned things” in this sense means, things that are made of parts, put together, subject to change. It does not apply to things like mind, soul, love, god and truth. Love is not Empty, but please let me continue.

    1. Emptiness shows us simply that things are not as we see them. We do not see things as they really are, we apply all sorts of labels from bad and good to red or blue to everything that we perceive. These dualistic terms we apply to things are not true characteristics or essence of the initial thing. However things simply are, they are not good or bad, they just are. For example, you and I see a rose. You have an allergy to roses and you see or apply the adjectives of pain and suffering to the rose. I have no allergy and I say oh what a sweet smell and such a rich red colour etc. Who is right? Neither of us actually has a correct perception, as the rose is just a rose and the adjectives we use are not true parts of the rose. You want to avoid and run away and I desire to have and take the rose. Do you see where this leads to? So emptiness shows us that things are free of the labels we attach to things we see.

    2. Emptiness also shows us that things are interconnected and this is where it really gets interesting. “No true existence in and of themselves” tells us that all things composite are forever changing and dependent on a plethora of factors. Let’s examine the rose again. Is it just a rose or is it the combination of sunshine, rain, the hard work of the bees pollinating the flowers, the richness of microbes and nutrients in the soil, and all the other factors in the universe that make this rose exactly what it is in this very instant? I say in this instance because in the next instance the rise has changed, it has grown, or is dying and so forth. If all things are interconnected and this does include you and me, then I must love and treat you with the compassion I wish to be treated with myself as we are connected. Now you see the connection with emptiness, impermanence and things that are composite.

    Furthermore, if we understand things to be interconnected, without the labels of good and bad, and impermanent we had better practice loving kindness now, in this very moment while we still have the chance. Metta or loving-kindness is a life long practice that we learn to apply to all beings even ants and other icky bugs. Love is the only thing that can balance all the hate and intolerance in the world today and we Buddhists practice it every moment.

    I fail to see and understand the logic in your chart here:

    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.

    The Buddhist view is riddled with teachings on love

    2. Neither original Buddhism nor nondualism can fulfil (1)

    Not true

    3. Therefore, both original Buddhism and nondualism are false.

    Therefore Buddhism does account beautifully for existence and practice of love.
    4. Christianity, however, can account for the reality of love, based on the very character of God as love. Yes, it does and normally it does this very very well.

    5. Therefore, Christianity and Buddhism fulfil (1) and passes a necessary test for the truth of a worldview.

    Why must apologetics try to prove that Buddhism is wrong and your Christianity is right in order to strengthen your version of the truth? If your Christianity is the truth you should not have to do prove ANYTHING. The TRUTH stands up all by itself for all to see without any help from us. Does it not?
    The whole point of apologetics is to defend your faith but the problem here is that nobody is attacking you, certainly not Buddhists. We love Christians.

    This misrepresentation of the Buddhadharma in your blog entry is understandable when one completely mixes teachings from many of the eastern wisdom traditions.

    Here is a logical flow chart:

    1. You are a Doctor and Professor at a well-respected seminary and an upstanding member of your community. You have a responsibility to your students, your church community, and the world to uphold the word of god. Your words hold power and influence due to your position in life.
    2. You are a Christian who has devoted his life to god, accepted Jesus into your heart, and followed his calling to teaching his word in the world. This commitment is the dominating factor in all your actions.
    3. You should know very well what is written in Exodus 20:16 the ninth commandment of the quintessential rules handed down from god to the prophet Moses. If you have forgotten please allow me to remind you. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
    4. The Buddha taught about love and compassion with every breath he had in 40 years he had after his enlightenment. The practices of Metta and Chenrezig are just two small examples of this.
    5. Conclusion, you failed to do your homework, have borne a false witness against millions of Buddhists, and you are a poor example to follow if one wants to be a Christian.


    • Thank you, quantumpreceptor, for this excellent defense of Buddhism. What a lazy treatment of Buddhism, Dr. Groothuis. Conflating Advaita Vedanta Hinduism and Zen Buddhism?

      , I’ve been looking at your work that addresses Buddhism and none of it treats the Buddhist. Just seems ironic given that you have exactly ZERO evidence to support the idea that Jesus was what the Bible and Christians say he was=

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