Skip to comments.Are Jesus and Buddha Brothers?
Posted on 10/30/2005 11:05:55 PM PST by Coleus
Are Jesus and Buddha Brothers?
"When you are a truly happy Christian, you are also a Buddhist. And vice versa." So concludes best-selling author and Buddhist monk Thich Hhat Hanh near the end of his popular book Living Buddha, Living Christ.
Some Catholics agree. For example, Jesuit Father Robert E. Kennedy, a Roshi (Zen master), holds Zen retreats at Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City. He states on his web site: "I ask students to trust themselves and to develop their own self-reliance through the practice of Zen." The St. Francis Chapel at Santa Clara University hosts the weekly practice of "mindfulness and Zen meditation." Indeed, the number of Buddhist retreats and workshops being held at Catholic monasteries and parishes is growing.
Similarly, controversial New Testament scholar Marcus J. Borg writes in Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, "Jesus and the Buddha were teachers of wisdom," contending that "wisdom is not just about moral behavior, but about the 'center,' the place from which moral perception and moral behavior flow." Jesus and Buddha proclaimed a "world-subverting wisdom," Borg writes, "that undermined and challenged conventional ways of seeing and being in their time and in every time." He notes that both men spoke about "the way" and concludes, "Thus both were teachers of the way less traveled. 'Way' or 'path' imagery is central to both bodies of teaching."
But are these two "ways" really as compatible as Hanh, Kennedy, Borg, and others believe? What similarities and differences are there between the historical persons and teachings of Jesus and Buddha? Can we agree with Hanh that people should be able to have "both the Buddha and Jesus within their life"?
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world, with about 370 million adherents. Although less than 1 percent of Americans identify themselves as Buddhist, interest in this ancient belief system is growing. There are more Buddhist texts in major bookstores than works dedicated to Islam or Hinduism, and there has been a steady stream of articles and books by and about the Dalai Lama in recent years.
Since the 1960s, the influence of Buddhist thought in some Catholic circles has become increasingly evident. After the Second Vatican Council's call for respectful inter-religious dialogue, many Catholics including some priests and religious fully embraced the study of Buddhism. Much was made of the "common characteristics" of Catholicism and Buddhism, particularly in the realm of ethics. External similarities (including monks, meditation, and prayer beads) seemed to indicate newly discovered commonalties between the followers of Christ and Buddha. While some edifying dialogue took place, some Catholics mistakenly concluded that Buddhism was just as true as Christianity and that any criticism of Buddhism was merely "triumphalistic."
Today it is not uncommon for Catholic retreat centers to offer classes and lectures on Zen Buddhism, Christ and Buddha, and even "Zen Catholicism." Their bookstores feature titles such as Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit: The Place of Zen in Christian Life; Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings; and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha As Brothers, wherein comparisons are made between Christian and Buddhist mysticism, at times suggesting that the two are essentially identical in character and intent.
As one self-proclaimed "Christian Buddhist," John Malcomson, explains, "People often ask me how I could think of myself as a Christian Buddhist. The simple answer is that I don't see God as separate from me." Rather, he states, "God is within me as God is within all things."
Malcomson is just one of a growing number of Christians drawn to Buddhism. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II notes, "Today we are seeing a certain diffusion of Buddhism in the West." What makes this diffusion possible, and why is Buddhism attractive to so many?
Buddhism offers spiritual vitality in the midst of the emptiness of secular life, gives the promise of inner peace, and meets the desire for an explicit moral code. In his classic study Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, Edward Conze writes, "To a person who is thoroughly disillusioned with the contemporary world, and with himself, Buddhism may offer many points of attraction, in the transcending sublimity of the fairy land of its subtle thoughts, in the splendor of its works of art, in the magnificence of its hold over vast populations, and in the determined heroism and quiet refinement of those who are steeped in it."
Another appeal is the non-dogmatic and ostensibly open-minded character of Buddhism. For those who reject the dogmatic, objective claims of Christianity or hold that Christianity should avoid an "exclusive" approach to truth, Buddhism offers an easier alternative. Buddhists teach that they do not practice a religion, a philosophy, or a type of science but rather a way of life that cannot be explained by or contained within any categories used in traditional Western thought. What makes Buddhism so "open-minded," though, is that its teachings are deliberately ambiguous.
Put another way, Buddhism transcends notions of "religion" or "belief" and so can appear compatible with Christianity. In an interview with Beliefnet.com, the Dalai Lama stated, "According to different religious traditions, there are different methods . . . For example, a Christian practitioner may meditate on God's grace, God's infinite love. This is a very powerful concept in order to achieve peace of mind. A Buddhist practitioner may be thinking about relative nature and also Buddha-nature. This is also very useful."
In other words, Christianity and Buddhism are two ways to the same end; Jesus and Buddha are two enlightened teachers who help man to that end. Or, as a reader on a Christian discussion forum stated, "Buddha was just a philosopher who urged men to be selfless. Jesus was just a philosopher who urged men to be selfless. Love is just another word for selfless." Such easy parallels between Christ and Buddha, unfortunately, are misleading and distort the teachings of Christ.
Buddha (c. 563-c. 483 B.C.), born Siddhartha Gautama, was the son of an Indian king. Around the age of thirty, he left his privileged life in court to become an ascetic and spent several years traveling and meditating on the human condition, considering especially the reality of suffering. One day, meditating beneath a bodhi tree, he became enlightened (buddha means "enlightened one") and afterward began to teach his dharma, or doctrine, of the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths are these:
1. Life is suffering.
2. The cause of suffering is desire.
3. To be free from suffering, we must detach from desire.
4. The "eight-fold path" is the way to alleviate desire.
The eight-fold path consists of right views, right intentions, right speech, and right actions along with livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
The final goal of Buddhism is not merely to eradicate desire but to be free of suffering.
Buddha also taught the "three characteristics of being":
1. All things are transitory.
2. There is no self or personality.
3. This world brings only pain and suffering.
Based on these characteristics, Buddhism asserts that to accept the existence of anything is to give birth to its opposite (e.g., love and hate, joy and fear, etc.), which results in the duality of "good" and "bad." Nirvana literally, "extinguishing a flame" is the extinction of self and the escape from the cycle of reincarnation.
While Buddhism allows belief in an afterlife, such an allowance is called upaya, an expedient means to a real end. Upaya allows belief to exist as a means to an end; all belief, including that of Buddhism, is merely a construction. According to the logic of upaya, Christianity is allowable as a stage toward spiritual progression, leading eventually to the extinction of self, or nirvana.
The term dharma is difficult to define. One meaning implies the teachings of Buddha or doctrine / law. Ultimately, though, all dharma is provisional; it is simply a means that is without real meaning. Peter Harvey, in his Introduction to Buddhism, says that "one dharma cannot ultimately be distinguished from another: the notion of the 'sameness' of dharmas. Their shared 'nature' is 'emptiness' (sangata). As the Heart Sutra says, 'Whatever is material shape, that is emptiness, and whatever is emptiness, that is material shape.'" In other words, dharma is itself illusory.
Sometimes it is said that Buddhism is atheistic, yet Buddhism is not interested in the question of God, so it is more accurate to describe it as practically atheistic or simply agnostic. Buddhism "works" whether or not there is a God. A Buddhist allows others to believe in God or gods, but such beliefs are merely convenient means to the final end, which has nothing to do with God or gods.
"God is neither affirmed nor denied by Buddhism," wrote the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in Mystics and Zen Masters, "insofar as Buddhists consider such affirmations and denials to be dualistic, therefore irrelevant to the main purpose of Buddhism, which is emancipation from all forms of dualistic thought." This is captured well in the sutras (scriptures), which state that to escape desire one must "not become attached to existence nor to non-existence, to anything inside or outside, neither to good things nor to bad things, neither to right nor wrong." In Buddhism, all distinctions must be extinguished; even enlightenment has no definite nature.
What's the Purpose?
Despite many external similarities, Buddhist meditation and contemplation is quite different from orthodox Christianity. Buddhist meditation strives to "wake" a person from his existential delusions. "Therefore, despite similar aspects, there is a fundamental difference" between Christian and Buddhist mysticism, writes Pope John Paul II. "Christian mysticism . . . is not born of a purely negative 'enlightenment.' It is not born of an awareness of the evil that exists in man's attachment to the world through the senses, the intellect, and the spirit. Instead, Christian mysticism is born of the revelation of the living God" (Crossing the Threshold of Hope).
The Buddhist mystic seeks absorption into an impersonal whole, looking to rid himself of desire and suffering. The Christian mystic, on the other hand, desires neither the loss of personality nor an impersonal oneness with all but a deep and abiding communion with the Triune and personal God.
Jean Cardinal Danielou, known for his study of Eastern religions, explains in God and the Ways of Knowing that "mystical knowledge partakes in the life of the Trinity. It is the realization by man of his deepest being, of what God meant to achieve in creating him."
For the Christian mystic, there is an object (the loving and merciful God) and a growth in the salvific life of grace, leading to everlasting life. On the other hand, the Buddhist sutras state that the "categories of everlasting life and death, and existence and non-existence, do not apply to the essential nature of things but only to their appearances as they are observed by defiled human eyes." Buddhism resists existential possibility; Christianity affirms it.
Catholics believe that the Church is the Bride of Christ, the seed of the kingdom of God, and the conduit of God's grace and mercy in the world. Buddhists believe that church, or sangha, is in the end upaya nothing more than the expedient means to final extinction.
Rather than the Beatific Vision, Buddhist teaching holds that non-existence is the only hope for escaping the pains of life.
The Catholic Church teaches that although suffering is not part of God's perfect plan, it can bring us closer to Christ and unite us more intimately with our suffering Lord. Buddhism teaches that suffering must be escaped from; indeed, this is a central concern of Buddhism. Christianity is focused on worshiping God, holiness, and the restoration of right relationships between God and man through the work of Jesus. The Buddhist, on the other hand, is not concerned with whether or not God exists, nor does he offer worship. Instead, he seeks his own nirvana.
Catholicism believes that truth, and the Author of truth, can be known rationally (to a significant yet limited extent) and through divine revelation. In contrast, Buddhism denies existential reality; nothing, including the self, can be proven to exist. As the dharma states: "Things are like illusion; they can be said neither to be existent nor non-existent."
Attracting Hungry Souls
Fr. Romano Guardini, in his classic work The Lord, stated his belief that Buddha would be the greatest challenge to Christ in the modern age. Such an assertion may appear somewhat exaggerated in our age, but Buddhist teachings seriously threaten Christianity's central doctrines. Because it appears to be peaceful, non judgmental, and inclusive, its appeal undoubtedly will continue to grow. Buddhism's refusal to articulate dharma in logical ways and its comfortable insistence on a relativistic approach to knowledge and truth makes dialogue quite difficult. Because it offers a spirituality that is ostensibly free of doctrine and authority, it will attract hungry souls looking for fulfillment and meaning. "For this reason," the Holy Father states, "it is not inappropriate to caution those Christians who enthusiastically welcome certain ideas originating in the religious traditions of the Far East."
Vatican II's Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) says, "Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination." It continues, noting that "the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions" and believes that other religions, in certain ways, "often reflect a ray of that Truth that enlightens all men."
But the document also insists that the Church "proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ 'the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to himself" (NA 2). While the Council noted that Buddhism may contain a "ray of Truth," it did not endorse appropriation of Buddhist beliefs into Christian practice. Rather, the Council insisted that non-Catholic religions can be fulfilled only through the truths held exclusively by the Catholic faith.
The perennial teachings of the Catholic Church and the Buddhist sangha are inherently incompatible. Whereas God remains completely other, distinct from his creation, higher Buddhist discourse rejects the possibility of any such duality. There can be no Creator / creature distinction in Buddhism.
From an apologetic perspective, dialogue with a Buddhist is hindered almost from the start, as the two great philosophical tools of Christianity ontology and epistemology are discarded in Buddhist discourse. That is, if existence itself is untenable, how can creation be proven? If creation is untenable, how can God be proven to exist? So it is vital when entering into dialogue with a Buddhist to understand Buddhist objections to Christian beliefs. In the end, we should remember that the Council of Nicaea taught that men must have one thing before truly becoming a member of the body of Christ: faith.
Shortly before the Holy Father's visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1979, the Dalai Lama was greeted there. A monsignor in the receiving line recalls his encounter with the Buddhist patriarch: The Dalai Lama approached him, gazed into his eyes, and queried, "Father, do you know the difference between you and me?"
"No, Your Holiness," replied the monsignor.
"You believe in a personal God," the Dalai Lama observed, "and I do not."
This, above all, marks the difference between Christians and Buddhists. Beyond the rhetoric of "peace," "compatibility," and "the way," there remains one profound difference between Buddha and Jesus: Jesus is God; Buddha is not.
Christ versus Buddha
In his Fundamentals of the Faith, Peter Kreeft writes that "there have been only two people in history who so astonished people that they asked not 'Who are you?' but 'What are you? A man or a god?' They were Jesus and Buddha." He then contrasts the striking differences between the two: "Buddha's clear answer to this question was: 'I am a man, not a god'; Christ's clear answer was: 'I am both Son of Man and Son of God.' Buddha said, 'Look not to me, look to my dharma'; Christ said, 'Come unto me.' Buddha said, 'Be ye lamps unto yourselves"; Christ said, 'I am the light of the world.'"
Yet as we've seen, it is quite common to find Christ reduced to the level of "philosopher" or "great teacher," just as Buddha sometimes is elevated to a state of divinity. Certainly, there are some laudable ethical teachings of Buddha: Resist greed and anger, be compassionate, and so forth. But there remain profound differences between the two men:
Christ claimed to be the one and only true God who came to suffer, die, and rise again, establishing a unique and everlasting covenant with man.
Buddha is believed to be one of many thatagata (thus-come-one). The historical Buddha is just one of several thatagata who come in various ages to teach that life is an illusion and to remove human desires and attachments.
Christ taught that he is "the way, and the truth, and the life." The way to what? "No one comes to the Father," Jesus continues, "but by me" (John 14:6). Jesus comes to reveal the Father, the Creator of all things, so man could have fullness of life.
Buddha taught how man could escape suffering through loss of desire and personality. He held that every person must find his own path to nirvana, or the extinction of self.
Christ preached the reality of sin, the nature of God the Father, and the need for repentance and salvation.
Buddha preached the untenable nature of existence and the means to escape suffering. Buddhism denies the ultimate existence of sin and the necessity of grace.
Christ taught that God is completely other, but he also taught that God wishes to share his divine life, given through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Buddha taught individuality must perish and that everything is one.
Christ established a Church, with a structure of authority, based on his words and example. He said, "Follow me!"
Buddha left a teaching in which each person must find his own path. He stated, "After my death, the dharma shall be your teacher. Follow the dharma and you will be true to me."
Christ rose from the dead only once and will return as the King of Kings. He revealed his own divinity, saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58).
Buddha is a "model," regardless of whether he was a historical person or not. Buddha suggests that "there is no 'I'; there is no 'self.'" At his death, when he experienced pari-nirvana ("final extinction"), he stated that the question of the afterlife was "not conducive to edification."
Anthony E. Clark is a professor of Asian history at the University of Alabama. His more recent research has centered on East / West religious dialogue.
Only in the very loosest sense could one say that if you are a happy Christian, then you are also a Buddhist, and vice versa. It is possible to be both, since Christianity is a revealed religion, and Buddhism is, at its source, a philosophy, not a religion. (When someone asked Gautama Buddha to discuss his view of gods, cosmology, etc., he declined to do so, saying that it did not have anything to do with what he was trying to teach: his philosophy.) Many people now identify as both Christians and Buddhists. They worship Christ and follow the Middle Way as well. But to say that Christianity and Buddhism are the same thing is, in my humble layperson's opinion, rather misleading and not correct.
Here's an excellent little book: "The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha" by Ravi Zacharias
No person or thing can be compared to God, and to do so is pure sacrilege. (In Catholic tradition it was St. Michael the Archangel who challenged Lucifer when he compared himself to God, by saying: "Who is like unto God"?)
But these are pagan times we live in, and God and truth are merely what people happen to believe in today, not something that is eternal and unchangeable.
You're right of course. However, think of the books it'll sell!
Next thing you know they will be pushing St Germaine and all the so called Ascended Masters nonsense upon an unsuspecting public!
That is what my old SGT. ROCK comic books say. Pull the trigger on a Thompson and it goes BUDDA-BUDDA-BUDDA!
Not a lot of family resemblance. I say ixnay on the brother thing.
On coming back and reading this article more closely, and realizing that many people who are not familiar with Buddhism will take it literally word for word, I wanted to correct at least one of the misinterpretations in this article.
One of the principal foundations of Buddhism is indeed the tenet that "Life is suffering" ... except that "suffering" in English and the original word that is being interpreted as "suffering" do not have the same meaning, and it really skews the meaning of the whole concept. I have forgotten the original word (not being a Sanskrit speaker myself) but the word being interpreted in English as "suffering" is a word that means, literally, a wagon wheel that is not working properly, that is a little bumpy and not giving a smooth ride. It should probably be interpreted more closely as "unsatisfactory." And I think that there are few people in this world who would disagree that our life in this world is often unsatisfactory. Whereas to say that life is *suffering* implies a very self-defeating and nihilistic point of view, to say the least.
Also, to say that Buddhists seek "extinction" is really an extreme interpretation. As a matter of fact, in the prayer of the Three Refuges, Buddhists ask to become a Buddha themselves, solely "in order to benefit all sentient beings." This implies continued existence in some form, as well as a selfless wish to be of use to all self-knowing beings.
I just wanted to comment on that a little. Buddhism has a bad rap as a nihilistic religion, and it is neither nihilistic nor, really, a religion.
Sorry, typo. Make that a purpose-driven Buddha.
Ruy - LOL...I remember that well.
Also, I think German schmisers went taka-taka-taka and I think another MG went rata-rata-rata. Maybe that was a Jap subgun...lol
Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world by His death on the cross (John 3:16). Buddha isn't.
Well, yes, in the most expansive sense. All human beings are one family by descent, including Jesus Christ as a human person, and the human philosopher called "the Buddha".
What I was thinking before I got to this paragraph. Buddhism is a fine religion as religions go, but it doesn't conatin all the Truth.
Well, that's why he is named Michael.
Or rather: mikha'el (abbreviation of mi khamokha eloheinu). Meaning "who is as G-d?"
Though for the record, I am fairly sure Michael is a seraph, not an archangel.
"1. Life is suffering."
Wrong. The Lord created life and saw that it was good.
2. The cause of suffering is desire.
Wrong. The cause of suffering is rejection of the Lord.
3. To be free from suffering, we must detach from desire.
Wrong. Only through Christ's one oblation on the Cross may we be saved.
4. The "eight-fold path" is the way to alleviate desire.
Wrong. We must take up our cross and follow Christ.