Early Buddhism and Christianity

A Comparative Study of the Founders' Authority, the Community and the Discipline

Early Buddhism and Christianity

This is a scholarly book on the first hundred years of the institutional aspect of the Buddhist religion. In the book, the author has concentrated on the development of Buddhism as it applied to the monastic community as well as the lay people, dispelling the notion that Buddhism was only a philosophical system concerned with an independent quest by a few towards Nirvana.

This book deals with the basic factors making it a popular religion, namely the authority of the founder, the nature of the communities and discipline within both monastic community and the lay. These aspects are further highlighted in the conclusion where they are compared with parallel developments, during the same early period, of Christianity.

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Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Pub.
Reviews:David W. Chappell on JSTOR - review published by: University of Hawai'i Press (1982) wrote:

Among the many comparative studies between Buddhism and Christianity, there are few that have a sound methodological base involving a careful and consistent use of original sauce from both traditions, or a conceptual framework which does justice to the different cultural settings and world-views. Rather, the vast majority of comparative studies are suggestive and stimulating by tracing surface similarities or difference, but prove unreliable and unsatisfying in the face of critical textual studies of their sources.

Given this disappointing record of Buddhist-Christian comparisons, the book Early Buddhism and Christianity by Chai-Shin Yu is a refreshing change. He has wisely decided to limit himself conceptually to early source and to focus on the experience of the early Buddhist and Christian communities (by early he means roughly the first three generations of first century after the deaths of Jesus and Buddha). By restricting himself to particular sources, his work can be clearly documented, critiqued and built upon. By comparison, the works by two important international scholars, Nakamura Hajime (Buddhism in Comparative Light [New Delhi: Islam and the Modern Age Society. 1975]) and Joseph Spae (Buddhist-Christian Empathy [Tokyo: Oriens Institute. 1980]) are eclectic, treating a number of themes with a wide variation of source materials. In spite of their insights, neither provides a solid basis for an area of ongoing scholarship in the way that Yu’s study does.
From this base Professor Yu makes important new contributions in two areas. One is his findings on the development and structure of the early Buddhist community. This is new material in Western studies of Buddhism, and makes good use of both the early sources and detailed Japanese secondary studies. The other area is the pithy and suggestive concluding comparisons.