Jesus Christ and the Buddha exhibit extraordinary commonalities concerning mythology, teachings, and practices. Is it possible that Christ and the Buddha could have been responding to the same metaphysical message of God? Or, rather, were they merely responding to universal problems within the human condition? These questions can never be answered with certainty, but they can be explored within their respective contexts. If the spirit and understanding of the Buddha can become intertwined with that of Christ, then the world may grow closer to recognizing the symmetry among various peoples. They may come to see the brotherhood that lies at the heart of both traditions.
The stories of Christ and the Buddha bare resemblances like that of brothers with common parents. Both were conceived through supernatural forces from a virgin mother and prophesied to be great kings. In Christian mythology, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to reveal to her that she would miraculously conceive the Son of God. It is written in the Bible, Then the angel said to her, ?Do not be afraid, Mary, for you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord will give him the throne of His father David (Luke 1:30-32).
In Buddhist mythology, the Buddha’s mother, Queen Maya, had a dream that a white elephant appeared and entered her side. Prince Siddhartha is born from her side and prophesied by the hermit rishi, Asita, to become either a great king or renowned spiritual guide (Sabau 7). The mythology encompassing their births fascinatingly similar, but there are key differences. Jesus Christ was to become the essence of God’s divinity made man, whereas Siddhartha Gautama was to become either a king in the literal sense or a great sage. Christians believe Christ to be ethereally connected to Heaven as a part of the Holy Trinity, whereas only certain Buddhists believe the Buddha to be a deity of supernatural forces. The theology can be interpreted as vastly differing while the basic story elements mirror each other. However, the theology does not have to be identical in order to reach legitimate common ground. Parents do not expect their children to share identical birth dates, physical traits, personalities, and behaviors. They simply claim them as their own. The brotherhood between Buddhism and Christianity can coexist amongst their variances just as differing siblings retain their family status. Although Christ and the Buddha followed a unique path, there are places in which they folded as if the landscapes were all part of the same scroll, folded along the same seam.
The paths of Christian and Buddhist mythology meet at a line of symmetry depicting their trials in the face of evil. Both Christ and the Buddha are tempted by demons. In the Buddha’s story, he is approached by the demon, Mara, while meditating under the bodhi tree. Mara attacks him with violence, seductive temptations, and derision. Mara challenges the Buddha by asking who would speak for him. The Buddha touches the earth with his right hand, and the earth proclaims, I bare you witness!, thus vanquishing Mara and concluding his enlightenment. (0’Brien 1). It is written in the Bible, Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry (Luke 4:1-3). Christ and the Buddha exhibit great faith, asceticism, and patience when forced to sail in a churning sea of adversity. Both stay calm and hold fast to the truth at all costs. To a Buddhist, the truth is likened to enlightenment, or freedom from the cycle of samsara. To a Christian, the truth is likened to God, or the acceptance into His eternal Kingdom. During their times of trial, both clung to their respective truths. It did not matter how tired, hungry, or alone they were. It is said by some that the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for forty-five days. Jesus traveled alone in the wilderness for forty days. The patience and piety displayed under such circumstances could only be attained through holy intervention. Could it be that Christ and Gautama were guided by the same divine force? If so, then they would have been endowed with common knowledge. This is apparent when comparing their teachings.
The teachings of Christ and the Buddha emphasize celestial concepts of love, nonviolence, mercy, truthfulness, and sexual conduct. It is written in the Bible, Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). The Buddha teaches, Consider others as yourself (Hanson 9). This could be a moral response to the inequality imposed on society during their lifetimes. In the case of the Buddha, the Brahmin priesthood was oppressing individuals via the caste system. In Jesus’s time, there was mounting tension between Rome and the Jewish. Christ, himself, endured growing criticism from the Pharisees. Intolerance among different religious groups, including those within the same traditions, mounted to unsustainable levels. Corruption plagued the religious elite. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, If the Buddha had been born into the society in which Jesus was born, I think he, too, would have been crucified (55).
It was necessary to boldly renounce the wickedness of the elite and live a humble life regardless of the consequences. In response to these atrocities, both rose above to preach the message of tolerance and honesty for all. Therefore, the similarity in teachings may not be the result of holy intervention, but a logical response to a human problem. No one wants to be robbed, lied to, oppressed, or murdered. Everyone wants to be happy and free from suffering, or dukkha, in Buddhism. The message of nonviolence seems like an obvious one. Another reason for the resemblance could be that Jesus had knowledge of Buddhism from Indian trade routes with the Roman Empire in Judea. James M. Hanson, in his journal Was Jesus a Buddhist? discusses the possibility of Jesus having knowledge of Buddhism and whether he lived in India during his lost years between the ages thirteen and twenty-nine. Christ could have directly borrowed knowledge from Buddhism according to some theories. Either way, the principles can be impressively comparable.
For example, Jesus says, If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. The Buddha says, If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon all desires and utter no evil words (Hanson 9). Mercy and grace are valuable pillars of morality in both traditions. The ability to forgive enemies or even loved ones who have acted sinfully is a powerful skill that requires the utmost self-discipline. Both Christ and the Buddha teach that one should bite their tongue and be compassionate. Understand that the wrongdoer is the one who suffers and needs to find peace, for they do not understand the implications of their actions. It is easy to love those that are pleasant, but it is difficult to find room in one’s heart for those who are at fault, making this lesson even more sacred. Sexual misconduct is unacceptable in Buddhist and Christian traditions. The Buddha says, Four misfortunes befall the reckless man who consorts with another’s wife: acquisition of demerit, disturbed sleep, ill repute, and (rebirth in) states of woe (The Dhammapada 70).
Christ’s view on adultery is more radical, as it is written, You have heard that it was said to those of old, ?You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). It is wrong to have, or entertain the thought of, sexual relations outside of wedlock. This form of dishonesty is considered so severe that it earns itself a unique lesson. True love can only be attained through transparency, benevolence, and exclusive loyalty. These teachings can all be taken to heart regardless of theological context. Grasping the basic lessons found in the sutras or scripture is more important than reiterating the historical context in which they were written. Even though the Buddha and Christ came into two different worlds, their teachings will continue to live on through what truly matters-the practice of their followers.
The teachings of the Buddha and Christ have manifested themselves in similar practices. Devoted followers of Zen Buddhism strive to become bodhisattvas, or future Buddhas, sworn to the path of enlightenment and the good of all living creatures (Laughlin 4). Followers of Christianity strive to be like Christ, which infers performing acts of charity and denial of selfish desires. The followers must come together in communities, such as a church or Sangha. Jesus teaches, For when there are two or three gathered in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20). Thich Nhat Hanh mentions that a Sangha must have at least four members practicing together to uphold its name. The Sangha resembles the church in that it has holy people, such as monks and nuns, but also has ordinary laity. The church has holy people, such as bishops, priests, monks, and nuns, but also has laity. These communities can be large or small but cannot be compromised of a single person. Spiritual energy strengthens in numbers. The goal of both practices is to come closer to the truth, which is enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition and acceptance into the Kingdom of God through Christ in Christianity. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, that Buddhist and Christian practices are one in the same family, attempting to seek the truth about the world that encompasses all beings (82). When followers come together with shared goals, their energy is manifested in prayer or meditation. This energy is like a mustard seed of faith that grows, or a baby that is conceived in the womb. It becomes like the breath of the divine that existed in the beginning before all things were created. Once the breath of life has been manifested, great things become possible. The mustard seed grows into a large bush. The fetus is nourished and grows into a beautiful child. The followers of Christ and the Buddha seek to bring this new breath to life within their respective bodies of religious practice and carry out its message to the world. It is like a sprouting up, continuation, or rebirth, of an ancient legacy in modern times. Thanks to the brotherhood of devotees, these sacred paths of old can still be paved and folded along the seams to meet each other in unity.
Jesus Christ and Siddhartha Gautama still walk these paths in the hearts of those who follow in their footsteps through their mythology, teachings, and practices. When the Buddha lay on his death bed with his disciple, Ananda, at his side, the trees suddenly flowered and soft petals gently rained down on him. Fragrances and beautiful music filled the air, and his monks raced to be near him. Before his death, the Buddha says to them, “Behold, O monks, this is my advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation” (Martin). Similarly, it is written in The Bible, And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is My body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me (Luke 22:19). Both are survived by their disciples whom they entrust with carrying on their legacies. Salvation is the final goal to be achieved in both traditions, be it nirvana or the acceptance into Christ’s heavenly kingdom. In Buddhism, heaven can exist on earth if an individual perfectly pursues the eightfold path. In Christianity, many believe that heaven exists in some otherworldly dimension. In the Gospel of Luke, heaven is here and now. Luke writes, Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom would come, He answered them and said, ?The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ?See here!’ or ?See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20-21). Both Christ and the Buddha give their followers the ability to follow the path of salvation within themselves. The spirit that accompanies them along the way could be a manifestation of something even greater. Could it be the all-encompassing omnipotent voice of God?
The metaphysical message of God can simultaneously reside in all things, living and non-living. Christ and the Buddha are interlaced in religious kinship. They resemble each other in legend, lesson, and practice. If these commonalities can learn to coexist in harmony, then the world may come closer to heavenly peace. Everlasting life could either be interpreted as the immortality of the soul, or the preservation of the scripture, customs, and rituals from generation to generation. Whatever the truth may be, the Buddha and the Christ are alive and well. They are two majestic landscapes located in one vast universe.
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