Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths vs The 10 Commandments

I was raised Christian – children’s church, youth groups, the works – but came to see other paths offering wiser guidance. In this article I’ll be giving a brief comparison of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths and the Christian 10 Commandments. Both of these systems offer distinct compasses through the intricate landscape of human existence. By the end of the article, I certainly give my opinion, but I like to first peer into the origins, implications, and contemporary significance of these moral and ethical frameworks. As we navigate the intricate territory of belief and reason, we may unearth insights that challenge, resonate with, or even reshape our views on life’s fundamental questions.

A Side-by-Side Comparison of the Ten Commandments and Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.

Before getting into the intricacies of these systems, let’s begin with a side-by-side comparison of the Christian 10 Commandments and the Buddhist Four Noble Truths, which include the Eightfold Path:

Christian 10 CommandmentsBuddhist Four Noble Truths
1. You shall have no other gods before me.1. The truth of suffering (Dukkha).
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.2. The truth of the cause of suffering (Samudaya).
3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.3. The truth of the end of suffering (Nirodha).
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.4. The truth of the path to the end of suffering (Magga).
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not murder.Eightfold Path (Part of the Fourth Noble Truth):
7. You shall not commit adultery.– Right Understanding: involving a clear understanding of the essence of things, specifically the Four Noble Truths.
8. You shall not steal.– Right Intention: entails steering clear of thoughts rooted in attachment, hatred, or harmful intent.
9. You shall not give false testimony.– Right Speech: refraining from verbal transgressions like falsehoods, divisive speech, harsh language, and senseless chatter.
10. You shall not covet.– Right Action: refraining from physical misconduct such as taking life, stealing, or engaging in sexual impropriety.
– Right Livelihood: involves avoiding professions that directly or indirectly harm others, such as the sale of slaves, weapons, animals for slaughter, intoxicants, or poisons.
– Right Effort: includes abandoning negative mental states that have already arisen, preventing the emergence of negative states, and sustaining positive mental states.
– Right Mindfulness: includes abandoning negative mental states that have already arisen, preventing the emergence of negative states, and sustaining positive mental states.
– Right Concentration: signifying the development of single-minded focus.

This side-by-side comparison offers an initial glimpse into the similarities and differences between these two systems of ethical guidance.

Section 1: Origin and Authority

Origin and Authority: Revealing the Sources of Ethical Wisdom

I’d like to begin by shedding light on the foundational aspects of these moral guides. In doing so, I aim to unveil the essence of their teachings by examining their origins and sources of authority.

The Origin of the 10 Commandments

Within the realm of Christian faith, the 10 Commandments hold a sacred place. These ethical imperatives are attributed to a divine revelation—a direct communication from God to Moses on Mount Sinai, as described in the book of Exodus in the Bible. In Exodus 20:2-17 (NIV), it is written:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me…”

This passage marks the divine origin and authority of the Commandments, as they were handed down directly from the Almighty to guide the conduct of God’s people.

The Four Noble Truths: Insights of a Sage

In stark contrast, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism trace their lineage to the profound insights of a sage, Siddhartha Gautama, who would later be known as the Buddha, or the “Awakened One.” Siddhartha’s journey of enlightenment led him to articulate these truths, not as divine commands, but as revelations born of his own contemplation and awakening beneath the Bodhi tree. His insights are encapsulated in the words he uttered upon his enlightenment:

“I teach suffering, its origin, cessation, and path. That’s all I teach.”

These words, originating from Siddhartha’s own enlightenment, constitute the core of the Four Noble Truths and are revered as a source of ethical wisdom within the Buddhist tradition.

With these distinctions in the sources of authority in mind, let’s proceed to explore how these differences influence the interpretation and adherence to these moral codes in the sections to come.

Exploring the Sources of Ethical Wisdom

I have already unveiled the essence of these two very different ways of living by examining their origins and sources of authority. Now, I turn toward how these sources of authority impact the adherence and interpretation of these moral codes.

The Influence of Divine Authority: 10 Commandments

The divine origin attributed to the 10 Commandments imbues them with a unique sense of moral absolutism within the Christian tradition. Believers view these commandments as not merely guidelines, but as sacred decrees handed down by God Himself. This divine authority leaves little room for interpretation or deviation. As a result, adherence to the commandments is often perceived as an unwavering duty and a testament to one’s faith.

However, the nature of divine authority can also present challenges. Being human, interpretations may vary, and in some cases, different denominations within Christianity may emphasize certain commandments over others. This can lead to diverse understandings of what it means to follow these divine directives. Nevertheless, the overarching authority of God remains a central pillar in adhering to the 10 Commandments.

The Authority of Enlightened Wisdom: Four Noble Truths

In the realm of Buddhism, where there is no divine figure to dictate ethical rules, the authority of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path lies in the enlightened wisdom of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. This human origin allows for a more flexible and introspective approach to adherence and interpretation.

Buddhists are encouraged to engage in self-reflection and personal experience to grasp the truths articulated by the Buddha. The absence of divine commands means that interpretation is not confined to rigid dogma but can evolve through individual understanding, insight, and perhaps most importantly through time. This flexibility allows for a dynamic engagement with the teachings, where adherence is not solely about obeying external commands but about seeking personal transformation.

Influence and interpretation in Buddhism are often guided by a pragmatic and compassionate perspective, where the aim is to alleviate suffering and attain enlightenment. The authority of the Buddha’s wisdom encourages a continuous journey of self-discovery and ethical refinement.

Section 2: Rules and Consequences

But what happens if one doesn’t follow the rules set forth by each of these moral and ethical systems?

The 10 Commandments: Prescriptive Ethical Imperatives

Each commandment provides clear guidance on what actions are prohibited, such as “You shall not murder” or “You shall not commit adultery.” The consequences of failing to follow these commandments are often underscored by the belief in divine judgment—a notion that disobedience may result in spiritual or eternal consequences.

The consequences for individuals who do not follow the 10 Commandments can vary depending on their beliefs and the specific denomination or interpretation of their faith. Here are some general perspectives:

  1. Sin and Repentance: Many Christian denominations teach that violating the 10 Commandments is considered a sin. In such cases, believers are encouraged to acknowledge their wrongdoing, repent, and seek forgiveness from God through prayer and confession. The act of repentance is seen as a means to restore one’s relationship with God.
  2. Consequences in Life: Some Christians believe that disobedience to the commandments can have earthly consequences, such as damaged relationships, legal troubles, or personal suffering. These consequences are not always seen as direct divine punishment but rather as the natural outcome of unethical behavior.
  3. Eternal Consequences: In some Christian traditions, persistent disobedience to the commandments can be viewed as jeopardizing one’s salvation. The idea is that unrepentant sin can lead to separation from God in the afterlife, resulting in damnation or exclusion from the presence of God.
  4. Pastoral Guidance: Christian pastors and leaders often provide guidance and counseling to individuals who struggle to follow the commandments. They may offer support, encouragement, and spiritual guidance to help believers align their lives with the teachings of the Bible.

It’s essential to note that different Christian denominations and interpretations vary in their perspectives on the severity of consequences for not following the 10 Commandments. Additionally, some may emphasize the importance of God’s grace and forgiveness, emphasizing that redemption is available to those who genuinely repent and seek a closer relationship with God.

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path: Ethical Framework Through Insight

In contrast, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in Buddhism provide an ethical framework through insight and personal understanding. Rather than prescribing specific behaviors, these teachings delve into the nature of suffering, its causes, and the path to its cessation.

The Four Noble Truths invite practitioners to recognize the inherent suffering (Dukkha) in life, understand its origins (Samudaya), realize that there is an end to suffering (Nirodha), and follow a path (Magga) to reach that end. Within this framework, there is no direct commandment akin to “Thou shalt not kill.” Instead, the focus is on comprehending the root causes of suffering and addressing them.

Adherence to the ethical principles of the Eightfold Path requires a deep examination of one’s actions, intentions, and state of mind. It encompasses factors such as Right Understanding, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. These are not mandates but guidelines for individuals to cultivate ethical behavior and mindfulness.

Consequences within Buddhism are seen in terms of karma—the moral law of cause and effect. Negative actions are believed to generate negative karma, leading to suffering in future lives. Positive actions, on the other hand, are seen as conducive to happiness and enlightenment. This understanding shapes the moral compass of Buddhists, emphasizing the importance of ethical conduct without the imposition of rigid commandments.

Nuances Within Biblical Narratives

It’s worth noting that within the Bible, there are narratives that conflict with the principles of the 10 Commandments.

Here are specific passages from the Bible where there are instances of God condoning or commanding actions that involve killing, pillaging, and slavery:


  1. Deuteronomy 20:16-17 (NIV): “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.”
  2. 1 Samuel 15:3 (NIV): “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”


  1. Numbers 31:14-18 (NIV): “Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them… ‘Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.’”


  1. Exodus 21:2-6 (NIV): “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything… But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges… Then his master must take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. He will be his servant for life.”

These passages reflect instances in the Bible where God or divine figures commanded or permitted actions that may be seen as morally problematic today, including taking the lives of entire communities, pillaging, and the institution of servitude or slavery. It’s important to recognize that biblical interpretations and perspectives on these passages can vary among different religious traditions and denominations. Some may emphasize the historical and cultural context of these passages, while others may interpret them differently in contemporary ethical frameworks. Either way, there’s a lot to try to wiggle out of as to why God gives commandments that say one thing then gives commandments for his followers to do otherwise.

IIn the next section, we will delve into the philosophical differences in how these ethical codes address the balance between faith and rationality in ethical decision-making.

Section 3: Faith and Rationality in Ethical Decision-Making

The 10 Commandments: Faith-Based Morality

When faced with ethical dilemmas, Christians may turn to their faith and the commandments for guidance. The principles are clear and absolute, leaving little room for moral ambiguity. This faith-based approach can provide believers with a sense of moral clarity and the assurance that their actions align with God’s will.

However, the faith-centric nature of the 10 Commandments can also pose challenges. It may lead to a black-and-white view of morality, where complex ethical situations are reduced to simple rule-following. In some cases, blind obedience to the commandments might overshadow critical moral reasoning, potentially hindering a deeper understanding of the nuances of ethical decisions.

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path: Rational Inquiry and Self-Reflection

In Buddhism, the absence of a divine authority guiding ethical principles encourages a more rational and introspective approach to ethical decision-making. Instead of relying solely on faith, Buddhists are encouraged to engage in self-reflection and contemplation.

The Four Noble Truths invite individuals to examine the nature of suffering and its causes, a process that requires rational inquiry and introspection. Similarly, the Eightfold Path outlines ethical guidelines that necessitate self-awareness and mindfulness. This approach places the responsibility for ethical decision-making squarely on the individual.

Buddhists often engage in practices such as meditation to cultivate mindfulness and insight. This allows them to navigate ethical challenges with a clear and calm mind, free from the constraints of rigid commandments. The emphasis on self-awareness encourages a nuanced understanding of the consequences of one’s actions and their impact on oneself and others. In Buddhism, one can’t simply behave terribly and repent to a god be absolved, one must actually behave well to enjoy good karma.

While this rational and self-reflective approach offers depth and flexibility in ethical decision-making, it also places a significant responsibility on individuals to continually refine their moral compass through self-examination.

Balancing Faith and Rationality: A Modern Perspective

In the context of modern life, the balance between faith and rationality in ethical decision-making remains a topic of debate. Christians often find strength and guidance in their faith when confronted with moral choices, while Buddhists may turn to their inner wisdom and mindfulness practices.

The dynamic interplay between faith and rationality in ethical decision-making underscores the complexity of human morality. While faith can provide moral clarity and a sense of purpose, rational inquiry allows for a deeper exploration of the consequences and motivations behind our actions.

In the following section, we will explore how these ethical systems address fundamental questions about the nature of suffering, the self, and the pursuit of ethical living, shedding light on their similarities and differences.

Section 4: Specific Commandments and Buddhist Principles

The 10 Commandments: A Closer Look

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.

This commandment reflects a God who values loyalty and exclusive devotion. It underscores the idea of divine sovereignty and the expectation of unwavering faith.

  • You shall not make for yourself an idol.

God’s prohibition of idols suggests a God who values spiritual connection over material representation. It emphasizes the transcendence of God beyond human constructs.

  • You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.

This commandment reveals a God who values reverence and respect. It encourages sincere communication with the divine and warns against using God’s name in vain.

  • Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

The Sabbath commandment reveals a God who values rest, reflection, and worship. It demonstrates the importance of balance in life and the acknowledgment of God’s creative power.

  • Honor your father and mother.

This commandment highlights a God who values family and social harmony. It promotes respect for authority and the importance of strong familial bonds.

  • You shall not murder.

This commandment reflects a God who values the sanctity of life. It underscores the inherent worth of every individual and the prohibition of taking life unjustly.

  • You shall not commit adultery.

God’s prohibition of adultery reveals a God who values the sanctity of marriage and the importance of commitment and fidelity.

  • You shall not steal.

This commandment reflects a God who values honesty and respect for others’ property. It promotes fairness and the avoidance of harm to others.

  • You shall not give false testimony.

This commandment reveals a God who values truthfulness and integrity. It encourages honesty and discourages deceit.

  • You shall not covet.

The final commandment highlights a God who values contentment and discourages jealousy and greed. It promotes a sense of inner peace and gratitude.

Buddhist Principles and the Eightfold Path: A Comparative Analysis

  • The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha).

Buddhism acknowledges the existence of suffering, demonstrating a commitment to facing the harsh realities of life with honesty and empathy.

  • The Truth of the Cause of Suffering (Samudaya).

The recognition of craving and attachment as the causes of suffering reflects a Buddha who values self-awareness and the identification of root causes.

  • The Truth of the End of Suffering (Nirodha).

Buddhism’s focus on the possibility of ending suffering reveals a compassionate Buddha who seeks to alleviate human pain and dissatisfaction.

  • The Truth of the Path to the End of Suffering (Magga).

The Eightfold Path outlines a practical, contemplative approach to ethical living, illustrating a Buddha who values self-improvement, mindfulness, and compassion.

Comparative Analysis

The character of the God associated with the 10 Commandments is one of authority, sovereignty, and moral absolutism. This God values loyalty, reverence, and adherence to divine commands. The commandments reflect a structured and faith-based approach to ethics, emphasizing divine guidance and obedience.

In contrast, the character of the Buddha is one of wisdom, compassion, and self-awareness. The Buddhist principles and the Eightfold Path emphasize rational inquiry, personal growth, and the alleviation of suffering through inner transformation. The Buddha’s teachings reflect a contemplative and flexible approach to ethics, encouraging individuals to explore the nature of suffering and the path to liberation.

These differences in character and approach provide individuals with distinct ethical frameworks to choose from, each resonating with varying values, beliefs, and perspectives. Ultimately, the choice between these systems depends on one’s inclination toward faith versus reason.

Section 5: Fundamental Questions and Ethical Living

The 10 Commandments: Addressing Key Questions

  • The Nature of God: The 10 Commandments, rooted in monotheism, address fundamental questions about the nature of God. They emphasize God’s uniqueness and demand exclusive devotion. This framework invites believers to contemplate the character of a God who values loyalty and the sanctity of life.
    In the experience of many, the first three commandments can be seen as portraying a God who exhibits qualities of jealousy and insecurity. These commandments, rather than fostering a sense of spiritual exploration, may suggest a God who demands unwavering obedience and faith.
  • Human Relationships: Several commandments focus on interpersonal relationships, particularly within the family. They underscore the importance of honoring parents, fidelity in marriage, and respecting others’ property. These principles encourage believers to reflect on the significance of family bonds and ethical conduct within society.
  • Moral Absolutism: The commandments offer moral clarity through absolutes, leaving little room for moral relativism. They provide a clear code of conduct, addressing key questions about right and wrong behavior.

Buddhist Principles and the Eightfold Path: Insights into Ethical Living

  • The Nature of Suffering: Buddhism delves into the nature of suffering, addressing fundamental questions about human existence. It acknowledges suffering as an inherent part of life and offers a path to understanding and transcending it.
    In my experience, working from personal insight rather than an authoritarian god is a deeper and more profound way to live. Buddhism, in its essence, never carries the quality of “my way is the only way.” Instead, it offers guidance for practitioners to embark on a journey of self-discovery, seeking peace, compassion, and enlightenment within themselves.
  • The Role of Attachment: Buddhist principles highlight the detrimental role of attachment in human suffering. They encourage practitioners to examine their desires and attachments, fostering self-awareness and self-mastery.
  • Personal Responsibility: The Eightfold Path places significant responsibility on individuals to cultivate ethical behavior and mindfulness. It addresses fundamental questions about personal agency and the power of self-transformation.

These ethical frameworks offer distinct approaches to addressing life’s profound questions and the pursuit of ethical living. The choice between them often depends on one’s inclination toward faith. While the 10 Commandments provide a structured code of conduct rooted in faith, Buddhism offers a contemplative path that encourages individuals to discover profound insights and ethical wisdom within themselves. From my perspective, the latter, based on personal insight and self-discovery, can offer a deeper and more profound way to navigate the complexities of life.

A primary reason I feel the principles espoused by Buddhism are a better reference for leading a life that increases well-being is because I can create a list of 10 “commandments” that is superior to the Christian version. Superior because they promote well-being for individuals, society, and Nature at large. Whereas the Christian 10 Commandments leave a lot to be desired.

10 Ethical Principles for Enlightened Living

  1. Cultivate Compassion: Prioritize compassion and empathy for all living beings. Strive to alleviate suffering and promote the well-being of others.
  2. Practice Mindfulness: Develop self-awareness and mindfulness to understand your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Seek balance and inner harmony.
  3. Embrace Impermanence: Recognize the impermanent nature of all things. Let go of attachment to material possessions and transient desires.
  4. Harmony with Nature: Respect and protect the natural world. Recognize your interconnectedness with the environment and strive for sustainable living.
  5. Seek Wisdom: Pursue knowledge, wisdom, and personal growth. Continually seek to expand your understanding of the world and the human experience.
  6. Cultivate Humility: Embrace humility and avoid arrogance. Acknowledge the limitations of your knowledge and the diversity of perspectives.
  7. Practice Non-Violence: Uphold non-violence in thought, speech, and action. Resolve conflicts through dialogue and peaceful means.
  8. Cherish Diversity: Embrace diversity in all its forms. Celebrate the uniqueness of individuals and cultures, fostering inclusivity and understanding.
  9. Promote Justice: Advocate for justice, fairness, and equal opportunities for all. Work to eliminate discrimination and inequality.
  10. Live with Purpose: Discover your life’s purpose and contribute to the greater good. Strive for a life filled with meaning, fulfillment, and positive impact on the world.