From this answer ...

I would suggest dropping this line of inquiry or at least treading very carefully as you seem quite confused about what is being taught by the differing traditions and their soteriological aims.

... which I read as saying that differing traditions have differing soterioloical aims.

All I've seen of that before was:

  • The list in item 2 of this answer (which seemed to me a good answer, though what do I know?).
  • Also Wikipedia's Soteriology (Buddhism) which is fair enough but not detailed.
  • And occasionally a post about a specific tradition (for example Shin).

What are the aims (plural)? And can you summarise what the the doctrine or practice or discipline is, towards achieving those aims?

If it helps you answer, please assume I'm more familiar with the Pali suttas than other traditions -- so I might be principally asking about other traditions, perhaps you needn't quote the suttas.

  • I did not mean to imply that different traditions have different soteriological aims in that comment, but in fact I do believe they do so I’ll let others answer first as I am curious if others agree. No, what I was after in that post was it did not seem to me that the poster was at all interested in the soteriological aims of any tradition, but was treating it more like an academic study.
    – user13375
    Jan 20, 2020 at 17:25
  • I suspect it is so, and I quoted out of context to make the question. And I don't want to say that they are different i.e. that they don't have something in common, but even so it might help as a way to better understand each (or all). I find it difficult to even ask introductory questions about other traditions -- here was one earlier attempt.
    – ChrisW
    Jan 20, 2020 at 17:35
  • I feel the question is very deep since only an enlightened mind could know what 'salvation' really means. I'm not surprised there's no rush of answers. As for me, I expect a supply of virgins and a luthier-built harp.
    – user14119
    Jan 22, 2020 at 16:10
  • @PeterJ It might be too broad (asking about several traditions) and shallow (asking for a summary or overview).
    – ChrisW
    Jan 22, 2020 at 16:41
  • @ChrisW - To me the questions seem to go straight to the heart of the disagreement between schools, in particular that between Mahayana and Theravada. It's a fascinating one. I don't think it's too broad or shallow but is perhaps too deep and dangerous.
    – user14119
    Jan 24, 2020 at 11:30

4 Answers 4


If you are interested in comparative religion, it is worthwhile to ask American or other Westernized Buddhists, precisely because they are probably converts who were raised with another religion. It is easier for us to compare Buddhism (rationally) to other faiths.

In Protestant Christianity (of the evangelical variety) there is deep emphasis on "salvation by grace, not works". You go to heaven because Jesus allows you to go to heaven, in spite of you not deserving it. "Lest any man should boast." There are, of course, other takes on soteriology within Christendom, and there are faith-based doctrines as well as works-based doctrines enshrined in Christian scriptures.

What I find appealing about Buddhism is that it is entirely works-based; there is nothing un-earned about progress, transformation, and enlightenment in the Buddha Way. In Buddhism, there is no shortcut around the law of Karma. Everybody who deserves to go to hell, will go to hell, and will stay there until they learn the appropriate lessons.

But the doctrine of hell (in Buddhism) is different than the doctrine of hell in Christianity (or Islam for that matter). In Christian teachings, hell is a place where souls are tortured and tormented after having received a well-deserved prison sentence from a judgmental Higher Power. In Buddhism, you are not going to be sent to burn in hell; you are "in hell" already. "Hell" is temporary happiness. "Hell" is a mental state of anguish, ignorance, hatred, confusion, regret, loneliness. "Hell" is your future lives, your past lives, and your present life where you believe that happiness comes from sensory pleasure, flattery and praise, the absence of difficulty, accumulation of more for oneself at others' expense -- when that is absolutely not the case. Happiness cannot come from any of those things. This is the meaning of hell. This is the cause of suffering.

And, whether you believe it or not, you are going to continue to relive the same pointless struggles over and over again until you learn what happiness actually is.

While enlightenment is entirely based upon our own merit, the Way to enlightenment was offered as a free gift, from the Buddha... lest any man should boast. For the Buddha to teach us the dharma, it was necessary that he be born into this world, full of suffering and death and decay, with a human body that would necessarily get old and die like ours. He had sufficient merit to be born in a much better world, but he endured the suffering of this life for our benefit. In that way, the Christian can readily see how the Buddha's birth and death was like a crucifixion, but at the same time he did not "pay the price" for us to actually attain enlightenment. We must pay that price ourselves.

  • Pardon me, I think I mistakenly believed that the original question came from the "I have to interview a Buddhist for my college class" guy. I don't know if he's still around. Not sure that my answer is actually appropriate for this question....
    – hell demon
    Apr 18, 2020 at 22:03
  • I meant "... of different Buddhist traditions" -- I wasn't asking for a comparison with Christianity, but thank you.
    – ChrisW
    Apr 19, 2020 at 8:36

I can't give a very informed answer but fwiw as it seems

  • It appears the doctrine of Mahayana and Vajrayana is such that Buddha in a disagreeable to Theravada (i guess also to Suttavadins, Sarvastivadins and Sautrantika schools, although i don't know for sure) way can be said to live in Nibbana, thus their goal i assume is a sort of becoming in some sort of eternal heavenly realm. They undertake what they think is the practice of a Bodhisatta to get there.

I think a lot of other traditions have similar doctrines of essentially a soul or a self. Even among the modern Theravadins one can easily find whole sects who believe that maybe Buddha lives in Nibbana.

I am not sure what the goal of the latter group is but i have to assume a lot of yogis are just practicing meditation and vinaya to get some good results.

Either way it is not surprising that eternal existence of a self remains the most popular delusion and that it would affect the various schools, that apologetic texts would be produced and some would have it in their canon.

  • That reminds me of this answer (which says among other things that even within one school there are different views of it).
    – ChrisW
    Apr 20, 2020 at 9:00
  • I guess many people analyze their school's texts and make up their own mind, like vibhajavadins. Afaik tibetan school preserved more of the abhidhamma than the sri lankans.
    – user8527
    Apr 20, 2020 at 13:11

They have differing aims in that one is unaware the other even has aims! LOL

Here’s how i “became a buddhist” My guru saw me suffering greatly. Threw me a bone, woke me up. Only because it was easy and convenient and we were neighbors. In the process of him doing his charitable dharma we had consensual sex. I am not saying it was not consensual but it is funny how so many powerful, faithful male teachers use generosity as the claim for them to “spread the dharma” and the accidental surprise side effect is that they get laid in the process....I digress.We slept together. Then he ghosted me which is how he taught me the 8 worldly winds which MIND YOU ISNT REALLY NICE/CHIVALROUS but i learned. Eventually i became very angry with him. This anger burned until the flames consumed me and taught me extinction. When i learned extinction i heard his voice in my ear. “Now u see i gave you what you wanted. Now u know how to put out ur own flames. Go now you can be a theravedan” The idea is that they are the same. But one group uses the collective tools for specific purposes that may or not be secretive or may need to be kept hidden for protection, safety, fear of harm or persecution etc.


As nobody else has chipped in I'll have a go.

I'd say the soteriological goal is Union with Reality. More properly, it would be the realisation of this unchanging Union. Thus the goal would not be Union but realisation.

This would be a philsophical way of thinking about it. In more immediately accessible terms it would be the end of suffering and the extinction of this annoying and troublesome 'self'. For some Buddhists the goal is simply a better life next time around, and HHDL tells us this was enough for many lay Tibetans back in the day.

The issue is tricky because it would not be possible to imagine the goal. Thus nobody knows the goal until they achieve it. The rest of us are exploring and hoping we're heading in the right direction.

It may be said that there is no goal but this is a sophisticated view that can only really make sense to practitioners. It seems best to speak conventionally and acknowledge that in a sense there is definitely a goal. This would be an example of Nagarjuna's 'two truths'.

This may be a Mahayana answer, but it seems comprehensive to me.

  • Sorry I don't know what "real" or "reality" mean except they're a dual of "ideal". The term "union with reality" could mean anything from the "soul joining with god" to the scientist's "theoretical predictions matching experimental observation". Also I guess I was asking what the differences or peculiarities are of different traditions, perhaps this answer is trying to summarise what they have in common.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 16, 2020 at 0:31
  • @ChrisW - Yoga is often described as the 'art of union with reality' and I don't think the language is obscure. Your first interpretation would be close, but the idea of souls would be a no-no. I have no idea of the differences between traditions but would be surprised if they did not have this much in common.
    – user14119
    Feb 16, 2020 at 13:05
  • Yoga is often described as the 'art of union with reality' and I don't think the language is obscure. I can kind of understand it, as a Hindu theme. I have no idea of the differences between traditions Yes and the first paragraph of the answer didn't leave me any wiser on that subject i.e. about the different traditions. Still the rest of it gave me some insight, thank you -- i.e. perhaps it's differing interpretations of "non-self" and of "non-craving".
    – ChrisW
    Feb 16, 2020 at 13:17
  • @ChrisW - Perhaps the issue is whether non-self and non-craving depend on the realisation of union. I would say they do. I can see no other soteriological goal than this. Hence the Buddha's enlightenment is described as a Cosmic event. I cannot get my head around the idea that Buddhism has a different goal from all the other Wisdom traditions. It would make a mockery of mysticism. .
    – user14119
    Feb 16, 2020 at 13:24
  • I guess my prejudice is that specific traditions are unlikely to have a monopoly on what's true and good, and that different traditions express and/or may approach it differently -- iow the different traditions may describe different routes or views or relationships or emphases, even if the several "buddhist" traditions also have something[s] in common.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 16, 2020 at 13:35

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