The old Vedic religions of India gave the world Gotoma Buddha (c563 to 483BC) while Judaism gave the world Jesus Christ (c4BC to 30AD). Although their mothers, the Vedic religions and Judaism, were different, they had more in common with each other than with their respective religions.
My brother of another mother.
Both Buddha and Christ, while honouring their respective religious heritages, broke away from the tyranny of the ritualistic dogmas and traditions of their religions; Buddha broke from the polytheistic Vedic rituals and caste system while Christ broke from the rigid, petty and hypocritical ‘Traditions’ of Pharisaical Judaism.
A brief study of the Buddha’s life and teaching will demonstrate that Jesus Christ had a much greater affinity with the life and teaching of Gotoma Buddha than he had with Judaism. But it should be noted that the Buddha’s life and teaching are as far removed from Buddhist traditions and dogmas as Christ’s life and teaching are removed from the traditions and dogmas of Christianity.
We need to go back to basics to find their familial affinity.
A new, old teaching!
Although Jesus Christ was called ‘Rabbi’ by his followers, he did not teach as the Jewish rabbis of his day;
And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1.22)
And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! (Mark 1.27)
To the Jews of his day, Christ’s teaching may well have appeared as ‘a new teaching with authority’ but much of his teaching had its roots deeply embedded in the teaching of the Buddha; below are two examples.
Compassion, Peace and Harmony.
The bhikkhu (i.e. monk) dwells in a state of mind filled with loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, pervading all cardinal points and then everywhere, above, below and around. Thus does he dwell diffusing the entire world of sentient beings, identified with himself with the mind filled with loving-kindness, compassion. sympathetic joy and equanimity, extensive, lofty, measureless, free from hatred, free from ill-will. (Tevijja Sutta, Silakkhandha Vagga from Digha Nikaya)
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:7-9)
Parables and encounters.
Here are two examples of similarities between Christ and Buddha; one parable and one encounter.
Compare Christ’s parable “The Widow’s Offering” and the Buddha’s parable “The Widow’s Mite and the Three Merchants”. In both parables, a poor widow makes an offering of two copper coins and her offering is commended as being of greater value than the offerings of the wealthy.
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The superior priest proclaimed “The poor coppers of this widow to all purpose are more worth than all the treasures of the oceans and the wealth of the broad earth. As an act of pure devotion she has done a pious deed; she has attained salvation, being free from selfish greed."
Now compare Christ’s encounter with the “Samaritan Woman at the Well” and Buddha’s disciple Ananda’s encounter with a low-caste “Woman at the Well”. In both instances the woman is asked to draw water from the well and, surprised, responds that she is unworthy.
The Samaritan woman:
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
The low-caste woman:
"Brahman, I am too humble and mean to give you water to drink, do not ask any service of me lest your holiness be contaminated, for I am of low caste."
There are many others such as;
- Christ’s parable of “The prodigal Son” and Buddha’s parable of “The Lost Son”.
- Christ and Buddha’s teaching “do not repay evil with evil”
- Christ and the question of the “The Seven Brothers and One Wife” and Buddha’s teaching on the “spirit after death”.
- Christ’s transfiguration and Buddha’s shining body before his death.
Although there are many profound differences between Jesus Christ and Gotoma Buddha, studying their lives and teachings to seek greater insight and understanding, delivers great benefit.
Buddha gave the system, Christ gave the freedom and the power.
Finally, as I see it, Gotoma Buddha gave the world a near-perfect system to attain freedom from suffering and to live in peace and harmony with others. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path are simple prescriptions for healing the human psyche; both for the individual and for all humanity. The truths are simple and logical but the path is hard and very few people dedicate themselves to it.
Jesus Christ, through his sacrificial death and resurrection demolished the tyranny of sin and karma and, following his ascension, sent the Holy Spirit to continue to teach, guide and empower all seekers of truth. Jesus Christ broke the chains of the past while the indwelling Holy Spirit continues to give every believer the guidance and power to live “worthy of the calling we have received” (Ephesians 4.1)
The true Church of Jesus Christ is spiritual community, not a human organisation! The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path offer the disciple of Christ a valuable roadmap for Christ’s Great Commission.
Go and make disciples of all nations!
As for me ...
- I follow Buddha, not Buddhism.
- I follow Christ, not Christianity.