Worldly Prosperity: The Crux of Christianity & Buddhism

Buddhism VajrayanaThe similarities of religions is consistent with the obvious insight that behind all religions are people — not gods, Bodhisattvas, Mind or Oneness. For example, unsurprisingly, efforts to acquire worldly prosperity are a common theme among the majority of Christians and Buddhists.  This theme struck me as I read about Vajrayana Buddhism today.

Vajrayana is one form of Buddhism but not a sect of Buddhism — it can be found within several types of Buddhism.  Click on the diagram to see a larger map.  David Chapman has an excellent post which clarifies exactly what Vajrayana Buddhism is, but unless one practices Buddhism or daydreams of practicing Buddhism, this may just more unnecessary religious details to clutter your mind. So for those of you wise enough not to clutter your minds further, I wanted to share one phrase from David’s post–  “Worldly Yanas” — and discuss it in relationship to Christian religiosity.

Yanas are paths or practice/goal types within the huge variety of mind tools labeled as “Buddhism”.  VajraYANA is just one, and you are probably familiar with the MahaYANA and the HinaYANA paths.  David untangles the Yana knot here in another post.

For this post I simply want to say that most of non-Western Buddhism practices “Worldly Yana” much like most Christianity around the world practices some form of the “Prosperity Gospel”.   Even broader, I think most religion is very worldly.  First, let’s look what David has to tell us about Buddhism’s “Worldly Yana”.

 The vast majority of Tibetans, including nearly all monks, practiced the “worldly yanas,” whose aim is better material conditions in this life or future lives. (See Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies.)

In his previous post he explains

Before the Protestant Reformation of Buddhism in the 1800s, it was extremely rare for laypeople to practice Sutrayana. Instead, they practiced the “worldly yana.” That is also called the “yana of gods and men” because its goal is a better rebirth—as a god or man—within the world, rather than to exit the world into nirvana. Its path “accumulates merit” through virtuous action, and does not include meditation. Traditional texts waffle on whether this yana counts as “Buddhism” or not. They say it’s better than nothing, but not really different from being a virtuous non-Buddhist.

On my morning walk I reflected how the Christianity of most my friends, family and acquaintances consists only going to church a few times of month — no Bible study, no significant communion prayer life, no mission work, no evangelizing, no witnessing, and certainly no working of miracles.  Their religion is “doing the right thing”, going to church and sending their kids to church, praying for help from God and feeling a bit more sure about the afterlife.  All this is a sort of me-me-me prosperity mentality but sanctified to give social signals of being a good person.

Theology_KnotI’ve written elsewhere that maybe viewing these sort of believers as Casual vs Doctrinal Christians may be helpful.  But “Prosperity Gospel” thinking is a “yana” in Christianity where every Christian has it within his or her religiosity to some degree and I think it is the predominate yana of the planet.  Though a person may confess otherwise, worldliness is actually a huge part of most religious mentality even if it may be cloaked in sanctimonious language and buried under theological knots.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

22 responses to “Worldly Prosperity: The Crux of Christianity & Buddhism

  1. ” efforts to acquire worldly prosperity are a common theme among the majority of Christians and Buddhists. ”

    I think I have to disagree with you here. Your above summary might be true about the present day Buddhists/Buddhism and or Christians/Christianity but surely not true about Buddha- who twice rejected the throne his father keenly offered him; and about Jesus whose Core Teachings are:

    36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
    Matthew 22:36-40

    I don’t think that Buddha or Jesus would agree to your surmise. Would they?

    I think this needs revisiting of your post.


  2. @ paarsurrey,
    Much better commenting.
    I am only talking about Christians and Buddhists of the last 500 years or so — that is as far as my intuition can take me! But remember:
    (1) I am talking about the majority — not everyone
    (2) Islam could be included in this too.

    Yes, yes, I think we know that you feel all religions in their beginnings were pure and good and got corrupt except your religion — right? [I think you’ve been asked this four or five times without a simple reply or referral back to your own website.

  3. Thought provoking post. I don’t know enough people and their correlating religious beliefs to know for sure if this is 100% accurate but I agree it does seem to be true. Makes me take a second look at myself with serious consideration.

    I do think deep down many of us Christians who were raised in the American church somehow feel material wealth is Gods blessing on us for hard work and doing the right thing… which is such a lie! This perpetuates our judgements on the poor and explains why many rich folks assume poor folks are lazy and amoral.

    Dang. I think you hit on something. Well done. ❤️

  4. What could be safely told about Buddha and Jesus is that they loved their disciples/followers and hence they wanted their worldly welfare along-with the ethical,moral and spiritual uplift of them which was their primary goal and for which their teachings belonged.

    If the Buddhists and Christians of the present times do not follow their core characters and teachings; then they don’t belong to them; they should reform themselves and that is the crux of the matter.

  5. hi sabio. Hope you are well. Some true observations there about how some “Christians” live. However as i’m sure you know, biblical Christianity is far from that. It does;t say money is bad, or that we should all wish for poverty, but says you can’t serve money and God (Matt 6v24).
    I must disagree with your opening paragraph though – logic would suggest that the thing it really shows is that there is a God (or at least a spiritual realm) – perceived and acknowledged by all peoples, across all human time and geography. They record their perception of the “other realm” but that simply means their experience is in part common, not that they made it up.@ least IMHO!😉

  6. Hey clapham,
    Hope thou art well also. Two points:

    (1) Universal Similarity ≠ “truth”
    Most large cultures have some form of Astrology. Most cultures have some form of magic (ineffective) medicine. I don’t think “logic” would suggest this really points to some deep principle or truth <– just a share foible of the human mind.

    (2) “Biblical Christianity”
    Controversy over what Jesus’ teachings on money are huge, even in Christian circles.

    Mark 10:21 Like the rich ruler, Jesus expected his followers to live like birds fed by God — and give away his possessions. He tells us poor people are spiritually better of than those with money.

    I don’t want to go into exegesis — like I said, Christians disagree with themselves. There is not “Biblical” view of anything. There are huge varieties of Christians each claiming different views and each claiming theirs to be Biblical.

    See my post here, which I don’t think you’ve read: “The Bible Says“.

  7. @ sabio. I’m sure you’d object if we said that it was impossible to tell what “triangulation says” because you were misquoted or misinterpreted by some people. (personally I think you’re quite clear ;-)). The same is true of the bible. And in the same way you’d possibly point people straight back to the text so do Christians. The point that people disagree or place different emphasis on some (usually secondary) issues doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to tell what Jesus said or what the bible says. The same is true of different genres in the bible. The translation issue is also a bit of a red herring – it’s like saying we can’t tell what Plato said cos it’s in Greek and there are different translations. As for the books of the bible, the overwhelming majority of Christians agree on the canonical text and where there are differences these are well defined. So (unsurprisingly) I guess well have to disagree on this one.
    Best, cct

  8. Different manuscript are more prone to various interpretations variance. This is very clear to anyone working with manuscripts. The variance of opinions about what I am saying would differ very little when tackled by scholars, than those tackling 2000 year old documents — especially if that document is an anthology that people are on an agenda to make it sound homogenous.

    We may only disagree because you are not aware of the issues.

    Do you want the Christian anthology to have one homogenous message correct?

    Have you read this post of mine: “The (un)Homogenized Bible

  9. @ sabio. Yes, there are different source manuscripts which do, in a relatively small number of cases differ, usually not in any material form, usually, word order, typos and the like. Much speculation over the supposed editing of the OT major ethic text ms has been done away with by the Dead Sea manuscripts as well as discovery of ancient writings corroborating current versions.Even in the case of the New Testament the differences between the core texts (textual receptors, Alexandrian and majority) are in the order of 15% – 85% of the texts agree. Which in the case of a document 2000 years old is amazing. And most bibles, esp study bibles will indicate where the text is subject to dispute. As for the point that it’s down to the translators, well you can pick up various editions of the bible old and new and see that the are in virtually all matters in agreement.
    The issue of textual reliance as your other post (or perhaps the one you took it from) is far more apparent than real.

  10. @ Clap
    First, just to return to the them of the post, it seems we agree that most of Christianity and Buddhism is worldly. Now whether that is good or bad or how to parse it, is another matter. But it seems we agree.

    You want to say there is a good Christianity that is more correctly focused than Worldly-Magic-Christianity (interested in securing well-being & eternal life), right?

    Now, on to your comment above:

    I won’t get into the textual accuracy — others do a great job on that and don’t want to waste thread on it. AND, it was not my point.
    You missed my point, perhaps because I wrote badly.
    Understanding something written from people of a different culture, thousands of years ago, without a good understanding of literary genre of the time (including language), historical issues of the time (political, social, religious, technological …) can be extremely difficult. Not so with my blog — most of those issues all but disappear. THUS, likening the difficulty understand what I wrote and difficulty getting agreement on what is written in the Christian anthology is a bogus analogy to distract from my point — in logic, that is called a red herring.

    I hope that is clearer.

  11. @ sabio. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by wordily but if you mean (As in your first paragraph) inspired by man and focused on material prosperity in this life, then no, i think we still disagree. If you mean God revealing himself to people in this world, then yes, i agree.
    OK, lets put the texts question to one side. And yes i agree that we need to understand the text in the culture it was written in. this is very important. e.g. the parable of the prodigal son – a jew feeding pigs would be the lowest of the low. But IMHO (and i think i speak for evangelicals here – forgive my arrogance in assuming that) the message of the bible shines through the cultural context. The is why 100m Chinese christians can understand it.

  12. @Clap

    (1) This Worldly Christians
    Let’s focus on what I wrote:

    On my morning walk I reflected how the Christianity of most my friends, family and acquaintances consists only going to church a few times of month — no Bible study, no significant communion prayer life, no mission work, no evangelizing, no witnessing, and certainly no working of miracles. Their religion is “doing the right thing”, going to church and sending their kids to church, praying for help from God and feeling a bit more sure about the afterlife. All this is a sort of me-me-me prosperity mentality but sanctified to give social signals of being a good person.

    Specifically tell me if you disagree with anything I wrote here — specifically.

    (2) Evangelical View: The Bible is Enough
    Right, that is a mistaken evangelical view. Well stated. The Chinese example further illustrates the misunderstanding. But no time to go into here and now. That may be another post — but I am heavily distracted by fun things now.

  13. @ sabio
    (1) i disagree with everything from “-” to the end!😉. if you can point me to any part of the bible that puts that forward as the way we should live, I’d be happy to see it. Whoever it is that you are referring to presumably accept the bible as a rule of life?
    (2) i don;t understand? Can you clarify?

  14. So, Clap, that shows part of your reading problem. I said,

    how the Christianity of most my friends, family and acquaintances


    I was not speaking of you, of what you feel a “true” Christian should be. I was talking about what I said I was talking about. This is not a “Bible says” issue. I am referring to people who identify as “Christian” or call themselves “Christian”. Your retort should be: look, if they don’t do Christianity like me, they aren’t Christians.

    #2, I was agreeing about what you said when you said that other Evangelicals like you believe that “the message of the bible shines through the cultural context”. And I think you are mistaken in huge ways. But that is another post or three or four. But not sure I want to spend time writing just now on such things. Besides, I am pretty convinced you don’t have ears to hear. BTW, why do you visit this blog?

  15. @ Sabio Lantz comment dated 01/15/2014 at 7:40 pm

    “I am only talking about Christians and Buddhists of the last 500 years or so — that is as far as my intuition can take me!” Unquote

    This point was not mentioned in your main post. Was it?

    Please correct your post accordingly.

    In a way I think you agree that the similarities that you have pointed out summarizes or measures the magnitude of deterioration that present ( or as you say during the last 500 years or so) Buddhists and or the Christians have undergone from the original Word Revealed by the One-True-God (Allah Yahweh Ahura-Mazda Pareshawara Eshawara)on Buddha and Jesus; or from the default position that is belief in the Oneness of God to going into believing in Trinity (by the Christians) or just not-believing or tilting towards the Agnostic position (by the Buddhists).



  16. I think things were deteriorated back then to, there were no ideal times, no ideal prophets, no god to talk to. End of story. Paarsurrey — you’re going to have to do a lot of work to entice me into dialogue further with you. I’ve given up. I don’t appear to have anything of value to you, and likewise, I feel nothing from you that I am the least bit interested in.

  17. @ sabio. why the change of tone? this is new to me – i always thought our exchanges were quite cordial?
    Re various brands of christianity, sure anyone can call themselves a Christian. However as the name suggests a christian is a follower of Christ. The most widely accepted definitive source of teaching of jesus is the Bible. So anyone who calls themselves a christian (or a follower of Jesus if you prefer) would presumably have some regard for the Bible. If you have no interest in they etchings of the Bible/Jesus, why bother calling oneself a Christian? And despite various disagreements about (usually) secondary issues, the overwhelming majority of Christians agree on what the central teachings of Jesus and the Bible are.
    Sorry if i have given any offence in what i’ve written but i understood that your blog was open for debate.

  18. @Sabio Lantz: His comments dated 01/18/2014 at 10:44 am
    “I don’t appear to have anything of value to you”

    I never wrote that there is no value in what you write.

  19. @ Clap,
    Concerning tone. I am presently distracted by very fun things and thus fruitless dialogue stands out more clearly to me. I want conversations to be productive. Either one to learn from another or to clarify differences. I don’t want to spin wheels. And I certainly want careful reading and thinking. Thus my frustration. You weren’t reading carefully. Remember, I am a former fervent Evangelical who has studied theology. So is debating helping your apologetics or ….? Because you aren’t teaching me anything I did not know — I can anticipate your responses. Sorry, blogging is getting under my skin recently as now contrast to other activities. So I need careful dialogue. Look at your fellow theist parasurrey’s logic above so see some of the sources of frustration. Can you hear some of your logic in his?

    So, of the billions of people who call themselves “Christian”, how many would you say are indeed Christians? 144,000?
    But it does not matter. I am talking about what the majority of Christians do — and by “Christians”, I mean those who call themselves such. Even “followers” of Jesus vary on their opinion of what that “following” means. But I am sure you have figured out the right version.

  20. hi sabio. no problem. i of tens hare the same frustration. If i may just clarify my comments? The first paragraph of your post refers to the “majority of christians”. So i felt i could comment. As for critical thinking i am very much in favour of it. But perhaps one critical thought worth pondering is that not every one who calls themselves a freedom fighter is actual one committed to freedom. In the same way not every one who calls themselves a Christian is actually one. so what is one? As i suggested having some regard to the teachings of Christ would be a good start. To paint a picture of CHRISTianity based on people who have no visible regard for him and his teachings is to make a very serious departure from anything that may resemble critical thinking. As a (former) evangelical I suspect you know the Bible and what it says about worldliness. so to suggest that that is the case does not advance the debate.
    I don’t think my answer has anything to do with paulsurreys, or his logic – he can answer for himself.
    I also don’t think i have ever shied away from engaging with the issues on your posts – and you do raise a lot of interesting ones -that is why i come here. But true critical thinking must seek to honestly engage with and resolve issues, not simply raise them.
    Hoping we will continue or discussions,

  21. (1) Majority of Christians
    So when you comment to what I wrote, here are some disagreement options with my eval in brackets:
    (a) “I agree, that most Christians do XYZ, however, I being a Christian, …. ” [but remember, I don’t care what a few do (you included), I state clearly that I am writing about the majority]
    (B) “I disagree that most Christians do XYZ, because …. (B1) though our definition of Christian agrees, I don’t think you are right because … (B2) I have a different definition of Christian than you.
    [B2 is boring or at least another conversation. It is much like (a), it is a no-true-Scottsman sort of argument and does not address the post but is a red herring.

    But, you write B2 as your whole point.
    It is a classic response of theists. Paa (i am shortening his name) pulls the No-true-scotsman ploy constantly.

    I would have to do a whole other post on “The Many Views of Worldliness” in Christianity, to help you see around your “Bible says” habit. At Wheaton College I even wasted money on a whole course called “Christ and Culture” where all the varieties were layer out. Even evangelicals take different stances. But that is NOT the point of this post.

    Worse, above I have offered you several links to posts addressing the “The Bible Says” and “The (un)Homogenous Bible” which you did not mention or visit and read or comment. Indeed, your last comment has the “The Bible says” phrase tucked in it. You’d have not said it without caveat had you really read what I am writing. And heck if I am going to type it all out again in comments. I wrote those to address my old Evangelical brain and yours. Remember, I know your stuff, you may not know mine. I’ve got to know you are reading and paying attention.

    You see — all that frustrates me.

  22. @ sabio. cool, i won’t keep flogging this beyond this point. Final remarks. I suspect that neither you nor i are actually in position to comment on what “the majority of Christians” do – we probably know only an infinitesimally small percentage of all christians (true or nominal) in any measure.

    At the outset (my first comment) I agreed that you had made some correct observations about what some do (see my first comment) – but pointed out that the litmus test for what the “Crux of Christianity” (as per the title of this post) is should be the Bible. You argued that you can’t tell what the bible says and referred me to your homogenised post, which i did read and which i did refer to (perhaps in a vague way (“your other post”)) in the last line of my response – but i dealt with many of the point realised in that post in the body of my comments (i apologise for the auto correct typos: “major ethic” should read “masoretic” , receptors should be “receptus”).

    I’m sorry to disagree with you but any post that is put out there for debate on the topic of Christianity must have room for a response based on “the Bible says”. What other response would you expect to receive other than from the founding document?

    So if i may, here is the crux of what I’m saying: Your title and some of its content suggest that worldly prosperity is the crux (or centre) of Christianity. I disagree because even though some people who label themselves (rightly or wrongly) Christians live as though that is the case, the teaching of the Bible, and I am happy to use any of the versions of the Bible referred to in your post on homogenised bible, is to the contrary.

    I won’t take up any more space here on this but will write my own post on some musings from this.

    Thanks for the debate,
    As ever,

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