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Existentialism and Religion: Buddhism and Judaism

Humans can ask questions about the meaning of life, their accountability, the validity of their decisions, and their understanding of nature and reality. The answers to these questions influence how individuals perceive various realities—existential questions aid in determining one’s decisions based on free will and active participation. Being genuine requires making sincere and accountable decisions. People can live authentic lives, pursue meaningful relationships, and have knowledge of the past, present, and future. Individuals experience sorrow, love, loss, happiness, and hope. The majority of existential questions are concerned with determining the significance of life in light of its inevitable conclusion. This project investigates the Buddhist and Jewish perspectives on existential issues. The analysis will focus on topics such as the definition of a good life, concerns regarding the afterlife, and social justice issues between the two religions.

Key Beliefs

Buddhism is a major religion that originated in South Asia around the 5th century (National Geographic, 2023). The religion began with Siddhartha Gautama and spread across Asia and the globe. Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are: life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire, the way to end suffering is to eliminate desire, and the way to eliminate desire is to follow the Eightfold Path (Bodhi, 2013). The Eightfold Path is a set of moral and ethical guidelines for living a life free from suffering. Buddhists also believe in rebirth and the cycle of death and rebirth.

Judaism is a monotheistic religion that dates back 4,000 years (Richardson, 2020). Judaism followers believe in one God and his prophets. Judaism’s history is significant in understanding the Jewish faith and its culture, law, and tradition. According to Judaism, good deeds will be rewarded in the afterlife, and evil deeds will be punished (Jewish Virtual Library, 2019). They also view life as a precious gift from God, and it is each person’s responsibility to make this life as meaningful as possible.


Existential Issues and Questions Surrounding Afterlife – Buddhism

Existential questions and concerns surround the Buddhist view of the afterlife. When individuals ponder the meaning of life and death, these questions arise. Questions about what will occur after death, where the spirit will go, and what will occur in the afterlife are among those that arise (Watts & Tomatsu, 2012). The belief that the spirit continues after death and can be reborn raises questions about what happens to the soul, whether it will be reincarnated, and if so, how. As Buddhists believe in the law of karma, which states that one’s actions determine their fate in this life and the next, questions of morality and karma also arise. There are also questions regarding duty and responsibility, as well as how to be mindful of one’s actions.

Buddhists believe that attaining nirvana in the afterlife breaks the cycle of rebirth and death. Buddhists consider life and death to be inextricably intertwined. According to the religion, the spirit can be reborn after death (Watts & Tomatsu, 2012). The opportunity to be reborn allows people to break free from the cycle of life by attaining nirvana. Funeral ceremonies vary by culture.

Regarding death, Tibetan Buddhism has more clearly defined customs and practices, whereas Mahayana and Western Buddhism have less clearly defined customs and practices (Watts & Tomatsu, 2012). While a person is dying, traditional prayers are said, but the length of the stages of prayer varies. Regardless of their religious beliefs, every Buddhist can make their final wishes. The individual’s level of practice determines the practices. While understanding what happens after death is still unclear, the discussion surrounding the afterlife encourages individuals to live a mindful and ethical life. Individuals are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and make ethical decisions that will help them to attain nirvana in the afterlife.

Existential Issues and Questions Surrounding Afterlife – Judaism

Jews’ primary existential concern regarding the afterlife is that it is not a central concern. Judaism does not rely on an afterlife belief to motivate good deeds and moral behavior. Instead, Judaism promotes living life to the fullest in the present, performing good deeds, and leading a moral life because it is the right thing to do. By doing so, Jews can embrace life and live it in a way that honors God and benefits the world.

Another existential issue surrounding the question of the afterlife for Jews is the uncertainty of what comes after death. Jews believe in a physical resurrection of the dead, and the righteous’s souls will be taken to heaven. However, there is no clear explanation of what occurs after that, and it is up to the reader to determine what occurs. This uncertainty can induce feelings of anxiety and fear, as well as a sense of alienation from the afterlife.

There is little emphasis on the afterlife in Judaism. Judaism focuses on what individuals should do while alive and holds that life is meant only for the living (Schwartz, n.d.). Judaism adherents believe in reincarnation, animal spirits, zombies, and other extraordinary afterlife phenomena. Judaism, unlike Buddhism, rejects the concept of rebirth. According to their belief, the souls of the dead will ascend to heaven upon their resurrection from the grave (Sacks, 2014).

Moreover, there is the issue of whether the afterlife is essential to Jews. While some Jews may view the concept of the afterlife as important, it is not a significant part of the religion and is not a primary motivator for living a moral life. This can create a feeling of being disconnected from the afterlife or not belonging to a spiritual belief system.

Defining Good Life and Happiness – Buddhism

A good life, according to Buddhism, is lived without attachment or aversion to achieve personal growth and enlightenment (Ricard, 2014). Buddhists consider life a journey; each moment is a chance to explore and learn new things. They believe that suffering is caused by attachment and aversion, so they strive to be mindful and live in the present moment. Buddhists view happiness as an internal experience that can be achieved through meditation and mindfulness. Buddhists learn to accept their circumstances through meditation and mindfulness and remain aware of their thoughts and feelings. Buddhism teaches that the key to a good life is to live in the present moment and to be mindful of one’s thoughts and feelings. This means one should strive to be free from attachment and aversion and open to new experiences. Happiness is not found in material possessions or the future but in how one lives each moment. By being mindful and living in the present moment, one can experience joy, peace, and understanding.

Defining Good Life and Happiness – Judaism

Comparatively, in Judaism, good life and happiness can be defined by living per the principles and values of the faith. According to Judaism, a good life is filled with meaningful connections to God and others. According to Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, happiness is not found in the world of things (Sacks, 2014). A Jewish person’s life should focus on developing a relationship with the divine and strengthening their connection with other people. Judaism teaches that living following the commandments of the Torah is the Path one must take to achieve a meaningful and purposeful life.

Judaism also teaches that being a part of a community and engaging in acts of service and charity is essential for a good life. Jewish people are encouraged to reach out to others, help those in need, and use their talents to make the world better. This service will bring a person joy and contentment, which are the hallmarks of happiness. Furthermore, Jews are taught to strive for personal growth and development and to continually strive for knowledge and understanding of God and the world.

In conclusion, Judaism defines a good life and happiness as living per the values and principles of the faith. Achieving a meaningful connection with God and other people is critical, as is engaging in acts of service and charity. A Jewish person can find true and lasting happiness by striving for personal growth and development.

Personal Evaluation

In my evaluation of Buddhism and Judaism, I have discovered that each religion has a distinct perspective on existential questions. I find Buddhism’s emphasis on the cycle of life and death and the attainment of nirvana intriguing. Following the Eightfold Path to live a life of clarity, peace, and comprehension also appeals to me as a way of life. In contrast, I value Judaism’s emphasis on the physical resurrection of the dead and the significance of devoting one’s life to serving God. It is essential to acknowledge that both religions offer distinctive perspectives on life and death and have valuable lessons to impart about living a meaningful life.

Areas of Future Research

Future research in this field could examine the intersections between Existentialism and Religion, focusing on how religion can assist individuals in finding meaning and purpose in their lives. In addition, the research could investigate the effects of Existentialism and Religion on such topics as death, suffering, and morality.


This paper has examined Buddhism and Judaism’s existential questions. By analyzing the central tenets of each religion and comparing the similarities and differences in how they approach the issue, I have come to comprehend the distinctive approach of each religion to existential questions. I have also developed a personal assessment of the two religions and their respective approaches to the issue. Again I now understand how this has influenced my future engagement with practitioners and non-practitioners. I have included at least four scholarly sources to demonstrate an adequate depth and breadth of research.


Bodhi, B. (2013). The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering.

Burnham, D., & Papandreopoulos, G. (2018). Existentialism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Jewish Virtual Library. (2019). Reward and Punishment.

National Geographic Society. (2023, July 10). Buddhism. National Geographic Society; National Geographic.

Richardson, E. (2020, May 3). What Is Judaism?

Ricard, M. (2014). A BUDDHIST VIEW OF HAPPINESS. Journal of Law and Religion, 29(1), 14-29. doi:10.1017/jlr.2013.9

Sacks, J. (2014). HAPPINESS: A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE. Journal of Law and Religion, 29(1), 30-47. doi:10.1017/jlr.2013.2

Schwartz, E. A., (n.d.). Is There Life After Death? Jewish Thinking on the Afterlife. Moment Magazine.

Watts, J. S., & Tomatsu, Y. (Eds.). (2012). Buddhist care for the dying and bereaved. Simon and Schuster.


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