Are all religions the same? Buddhist monk Shravasti Dhammika writes: “I notice that the pronouncements about the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity have become quite the fashion of late” but “What would have Jesus thought of the Buddha had he met him? I am pretty certain the would have been utterly horrified by the Buddha’s rejection of God and the soul.”

I tend to agree, but with this comment too:

“But just because the Buddha and Jesus would have found little to agree about this does not mean that we, their latter-day disciples, cannot have mutual respect and agreement on some matters. It does not mean that we cannot work together and help each other. True tolerance is not watering everything down until it all looks the same. It is respect and acceptance despite differences.”

What are your thoughts? Do you think too much is made of the differences? Or do you think its only in appreciating the differences where any hope for genuine reconciliation can be found?

12 thoughts on “Buddha and Jesus

  1. There are quite a lot of superficial resemblances between Christianity and Buddhism, and the deeper you go, the closer together they seem to come, and then suddenly you reach a point where they swing apart like two magnets where the same poles are bought together.
    The sticking point is not so much belief in God, but belief in the person.
    C.S. Lewis wrote a book called “Till we have faces” but the Buddhist ideal is facelessness, Nirvana, rather well expressed in Arthur C. Clark’s novel “Childhood’s end”.
    That makes it something of a mystery why Buddhism spread so rapidly in societies in which “face” is an important social value.

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  2. I think part of the Western attraction is in the late modern experience of the fractured self. I am pursuaded in this, not only from my own experience, but also from reading other Western Buddhists expressing the same opinion. In a society where the self is up for grabs, the notion that the self has no ultimate basis has a certain resonance.
    I gather the Asian experience is in some ways the opposite extreme. Where the self is so heavily conditioned by society that loss of honour becomes a loss of identity, again I suppose the self starts looking rather shakey.
    I find the self seems most plausible when groupism and individualism is held in tension, where humans are recognized as “social individuals” who’s identity both shapes and is shaped by society.

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  3. True respect leads to dialogue, respect is more powerful than tolerance. I believe that people were challenged by Jesus precicely because he did value them as God’s creations- their worth was intrinsic to their being.
    We need to learn true respect without apologising for our faith, and to speak and act with grace.
    Good post!

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  4. Sally, yes, yes, we are not called to apologize for being a Christians; what we are called to is to help others understand why we have the convictions that we do with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
    Now, respect requires we seek mutual understanding which suggests that Christians should be open to learning about other paths as well as teaching about our own path; but respect does not require us to water down our teachings to make them more palatable. We should respect our own tradition even as we respect the traditions of others. Respect for others does not require we disrespect what is most distinctive about our own teachings: the significance of Christ.
    So to my understanding, we are called to help people get past misunderstandings, but when people choose to go another way, in full understanding of our way, well, we need to respect that decision and still respect them as fellow humans.
    What I find most problematic is when those amongst us demonize and dehumanize those that reject our way. No, that was not the way of Jesus. We must respect that, no, our message is not always palatable even when understood, and there is nothing inhuman about that.

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  5. I believe the Buddha, Sakyamuni, to be a great foot soldier for God, bringing Law of Moses standards of behavior to a large percentage of the earth’s population over the centuries. I think he was primarily concerned with right and moral behavior, right actions, speech, thoughts etc. and didn’t want to touch the issue of God and afterlife with a ten-foot pole as it was speculation and caused contention in his understanding. I think a focus on Nirvana as an end reward is a Western lens of interpretation influenced by the Christian ideal of heaven. The teachings of Sakyamuni were primarily about processes for living in this life. Seeing how much goodness and righteousness he was able to identify and promote on his own, I would like to believe he would have embraced the greater understanding that Christ brought had he had the chance to hear it.

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  6. We can’t foget that buddhism was an offshoot of Hinduism, which used the Ataman as a way of enslaving the lower castes, so we can look at the Buddha’s declaration of Anataman as much sociopolitically pragmatic apart from the philosophy.
    What can’t forget that Buddhism was more tha just a religion, it was a philosophical doctrine and subversive to hinduism.
    But what would Christ think about the elimination of all desire?

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  7. Buddha taught a way to escape pain through the elimination of desire. Christ taught a way to transform pain through love. Very different approaches. Christ taught we should desire God and the day of his coming, unashamedly. There is inappropriate desire, sure, but there is also appropriate desire, appropriate devotion, and yes that conflicts with Buddhist teaching.
    I once sought the elimination of desire; it left me cold, disengaged. The way of love and hope to me seems much preferable. Engagement hurts, but its worth it.

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  8. Dave, I wouldn’t draw such a strong distinction between a “present orientation” for Buddhism and a “future orientation” for Christianity myself. True, Jewish apocalyptic expectations were a foundational context for Christianity but amongst other things apocalyptic is about how the future is breaking into the present and how our expectations and hopes for the future should impact our life and how we live it right here, right now. Prophecy and wisdom should not be viewed as mutually exclusive. And on the Buddhist side, lets not forget Maitreya.
    And I have great respect for Buddha but I allow for the possibility that he might just as likely have returned the favour and asked Jesus to abandon his way for the eightfold path. Beyond that I refuse to speculate. I find Buddhism challenges me to look at Christianity from different angles, and for that I am grateful, but I remain agnostic as to what might have happened had he heard the gospel from Jesus himself.

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  9. A good book by Ravi Zaccharius called “The lotus and the cross” is a fictional conversation between Buddha and Jesus. It’s pretty good.
    Matt, just a question, did you desire the elimination of all desire?

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  10. Buddhism has only recently reached the consciousness of the modern West. What the teachings of the Buddha “really” mean, has yet to be digested by the average Joe.
    Take the Buddhist position on “desire”, for instance. (I’ll leave the Buddhist position on “self” for some other time.) Buddhism is not about the mere elimination of desire. Mere elimination, as anyone can experience, leads to coldness and lack of accomplishment. Instead, the Buddhist texts (of the Pali tradition, for instance) state that there are at least two kinds of desire: “trishna” and “dhamma-chanda”. Trishna is a desperate, thirstful, self-centered craving or lust, a craving that both reflects an inner emptiness and the lack of outer satisfaction. Dhamma-chanda, though, is energetic zeal for doing good and renouncing evil. Both trishna and dhamma-chanda can be translated as the English word “desire”, but in the former, such desire leads away from nirvana, and in the latter, such desire leads towards nirvana. Buddhism is about cultivating and practicing dhamma-chanda desire.

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