Like Jesus, the Buddha was a teacher who cared about the poor and desired to liberate others from all of the suffering in the world. I learned that Buddha was born a wealthy man, but one day, when he had left his fine home, he saw men who were sick, old, and dying, and was instantly struck by the injustice of the world. He resolved to leave his comfortable life and to find Enlightenment as a result. For many years, he embarked upon a spiritual journey of extreme asceticism. Then, one day, while on a long and terrible fast, a young girl offered him a bowl of milk and rice. The Buddha was so moved by her gestures and the simplicity of her kindness he was able to achieve Enlightenment, or an understanding and acceptance of the impermanence of all things.
Although some people find Buddhism depressing, Buddhism's teaching about life's impermanence and the endless suffering of desire and disappointment that characterizes life is not supposed to be 'dark' or miserable. Rather, it merely encourages the practitioner to accept this fact, in a complete and radical fashion, and not to be sad about it. All things are supposed to be endured with equal grace. That is the purpose of meditation: to counsel a 'right mind.' I always think -- if Buddhism was so depressing, then why is Buddha always smiling? Buddhism also teaches that there is no essential difference between all living beings, regardless of who they are. That is why it is essential to bestow equal compassion to others as to one's self, and not to cling to an egocentric view of the world.
I have come to understand that Buddhism is more than incense and chanting, the aspects of the religion that had the greatest impact upon me as a child. Buddhism is a philosophy and a mindset, and its practices of non-attachment to the world can be observed even within the context of Christianity. As a small child, the image of the Buddha in a temple was terrifying to me in its strangeness, but now I find the image of the Buddha comforting and serene. I have come to judge the religion on its own terms, and its ethical values resonate with me.
The religion of Christianity similarly centers on a central figure, that of Jesus. Jesus, like the Buddha, was a compassionate teacher who wished to elevate the lives of all human beings. Jesus was born a poor man, unlike the Buddha, but taught that God would accept all human beings into his kingdom who loved and believed in him. Christianity acknowledges the injustices and sufferings inherent in the material world. Believing in Christ and being saved in Christ is the way to escape these unpleasant aspects of existence. Christianity does not teach that the world is suffering and we must escape this suffering like Buddhism; it teachers that Christ suffered for us, and that through suffering we can also find a sense of higher truth and purpose.
Thus although Buddhism and Christianity have very different worldviews (focusing on meditation and detachment vs. being saved through Christ) and observe different rituals (devotions in a temple and meditating vs. Mass and confession), I think there are many very similar concerns between the two of them. I feel very at home in both, and am willing to learn from the teachings of both religions.
I do not believe that religion is an either/or choice. A person can be a Christian and yet still be inspired by the teachings and words of the Buddha. Likewise, a Buddhist can be inspired by Jesus' compassion and ministry. I feel very privileged that in my life have been exposed to both religions, and am a part of both traditions. All religions ultimately have the same aim: to make us lead better lives, and to live better with others. Christianity and Buddhism accomplish this, and my life is richer for having been exposed to both of them. In fact, the only thing that is difficult for me to understand is people who have been raised in non-diverse environments and believe that their way is the only right way to live. Because I have had to negotiate an existence between so many worlds for so long, I cannot imagine myself seeing the world through such black-and-white lenses.