December 18, 2010
Although I was born and raised Jewish, I lately find myself identifying more and more so with the Buddhist tradition. As a non-western religion, I find it very interesting to compare the views presented in Judaism with the views the Buddhist tradition holds. The creation story, for instance, makes it very clear that the world is to be ruled by humans, who are in turn ruled by God. Buddhists believe all creatures should be treated with compassion and respect; every living being has a Buddha potential and, after all, every living being is interrelated. Buddhism in a way is a speciesist religion in that they believe a human rebirth is very special because only in human form can one achieve enlightenment; however, in order to gain enlightenment one must recognize, among other things, that all beings should be treated with compassion so that they too might someday reach enlightenment. Judaism is also clearly a speciesist religion, but unlike the Buddhist tradition it does not teach that all other (possible inferior) creatures deserve nurturing and caring treatment.
From an environmental standpoint, the two beliefs seem to be sending different messages. Based on the creation story, Judaism suggests that humankind has a right to use the Earth, plants, and animals as they see fit. There is no sense of responsibility implied that would cause people to prevent the deterioration they cause to the environment. Buddhism, on the other hand, implies that it is our duty as compassionate beings to respect and care for our world and the other inhabitants of it. While Judaism has laws mentioned later on to help the land or on what animals we should consume, those are all in long run a way to benefit humans only, whereas in Buddhism respecting the planet is a way to help yourself and others, human or non-human, become enlightened individuals.