Posted By Thomas Perez. September 5, 2011 at 3:33pm. Copyright 2011.
The Buddha Sakia/Gautama of India.
1. Background Information
Buddha founded Buddhism at the first half of the sixth century B.C. Born Sidhartha Gautama, a prince in India close to the Nepal border, he had everything in life, growing up in a castle. As an adult venturing out of the castle, he saw suffering, which caused him to seek the meaning to life. After studying under various spiritual teachers, he went his own way, a moderate path consisting of prayer and fasting. After a night of striving under a tree he achieved a spiritual “enlightenment,” according to Buddhist teachings. Faced with the choice of remaining in this enlightened, blissful state, or teaching others the way to enlightenment, he chose the latter.
‘Buddha’ means ‘one who has woken up,’ or ‘one who knows’ (the basic truth of things). Anyone who reaches the ‘truth’ is a Buddha. Since Buddha originally studied under Hindu teachers as Hinduism was developing, most of the basic tenets of faith and central teachings of Buddhism are the same as Hinduism, such as reincarnation (the concept that it may take many lifetimes for a human being to reach Nirvana, or, salvation), and the teaching that all human beings are actually divine. “Now Gautama realized what Hinduism had always taught: ‘The true self is God, and God is the true self.’ “God is not any ‘what. He is not any ‘who.’ He is beyond desire, craving, wanting, wishing, and beyond such unrealities as age, suffering, and death. And when a man has entered that condition [i.e., becoming God] – when he, too, is above both existence and nonexistence – he is lost in God. He is in Nirvana.” Buddha, however, came as a reformer, confronting the fatalism of the Hinduism of his day, teaching that individual effort does make a difference, and while founding Buddhism, he did in fact have an impact on Hinduism. Buddhism’s sacred canon of holy books, called the Tipitakas, contain Buddha’s sayings gathered by his followers, including the saying, “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.”
Obviously, the ‘God’ of Buddhism is very much different than the God of the Bible. The God of Buddhism is an impersonal God, not having a personality or feelings, which is in contrast to the God of the Bible and Christianity, who does have these (Jn. 3:16, above, and I Pet. 5:7, “casting all your anxieties upon Him, because he cares for you.”). The God of Buddhism is instead an abstract ‘truth,’ or ‘way of the universe,’ supposedly found inside each one of us. Also, as indicated, Buddhists believe that we ourselves actually become ‘God.’ Eternal enlightenment, or Nirvana, then, is becoming one with the truth that, as Buddha claimed, we all are divine or we all are God. This is in stark contrast to the Christian view of God: There is one God who is eternal and who created all things; he created human beings and the universe; he is God, we are not. At the end, those who reach eternal life, according to the Bible, will in heaven still be created beings while God will still be the Creator. This concept of a personal, Creator God who loves us (Jn. 3:16) and the Buddhist concept of God are teachings about God which are in direct conflict with each other. The Buddhist concept of God would directly conflict with the commandment of the God of the Bible in Ex. 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
At the core of Buddha’s philosophy of human morality is his Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering; Suffering is caused by desire; Cessation of desire results in cessation of suffering; There is a path that leads to the cessation of desire. This path that leads to cessation of desire is known as the Eight-Fold Path: Right views, Right purpose, Right speech, Right conduct, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right awareness, Right meditation. Buddha developed this path to assist others in becoming a Buddha, which is the final life one spends as a human being; after this life one enters Nirvana, becoming one with God.
Hinduism explains this concept of the ‘truth’ of the divinity of human beings, and the path to arrive at oneness with God in this way: “Underlying man’s personality and animating it is a reservoir of being that never dies, is never exhausted, and is without limit in awareness and bliss. This infinite center of every life, this hidden self, or Atman, is no less than Brahman, the Godhead…The reason we don’t act or appear ‘Godlike,’ is due to the fact that the Eternal is buried under an almost impenetrable mass of false ideas and self-regarding impulses that comprise our surface being; in much the same way a lamp that is covered with layers of dust and dirt can be invisible.” Hindus teach that we strive to be free from our ego and its false ideas and self-regarding impulses (these being the causes of evil) to reach our divinity by performing four yogas, or four types of exercises: Knowledge, Love, Work, and Meditation. These exercises, or disciplines, are comparable to Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path.
In both Buddhism and Hinduism, salvation, or reaching Nirvana, is purely an achievement of the individual: “Every individual must tread this path himself through his own energy and initiative. (Buddha said,) ‘Those who, relying upon themselves only, shall not look for assistance to anyone besides themselves, it is they who shall reach the topmost height.’ No god or gods can be counted on, not even Buddha himself.
Gautama is believed to have lived between 563 – 483 B.C. Gautama was born into the warrior class under the caste system of India and later achieved enlightenment to become the Buddha (or enlightened one) and founder of Buddhism. Like Zoroaster, very little was written about him during his lifetime, with the accounts becoming more incredible over time.
2. Notable Similarities
Buddha: They agreed among themselves, friends, here comes the recluse, Gotama, who lives luxuriously, who gives up his striving and reverted to luxury.
Jesus: The son of humanity came eating and drinking and they said look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Buddha: With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.
Jesus: Those who want to save their life will loose it. Those who loose their live for my sake will save it.
Buddha: One is the way to gain, the other is the way to Nirvana, knowing this fact, students of the Buddha should not take pleasure in being honored, but, should practice detachment.
Jesus: No slave can serve two masters For a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Buddha: Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world.
Jesus: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Buddha: If you do not tend to one another then who is there to tend to you? Whoever who would tend me, he should tend the sick.
Jesus: Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, so you have done it unto me.
Buddha: Consider others as yourself.
Jesus: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Buddha: One who acts on truth is happy, in this world and beyond.
Jesus: You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.
Buddha: Hatred do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth… Overcome anger by love, Overcome evil by good. overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.
Jesus: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Upon such similarities we must also take into consideration our Judeo roots. Roots that have been sown in the Old Covenant as cited in Part 4 of this study series.
3. Other Similarities?
Buddhacharita (“Acts of the Buddha”; Buddhacaritam, Devanagari) is an epic poem in the Sanskrit mahakavya style on the life of Gautama Buddha by As’vaghos.a, composed in the 2nd century AD. Of the poem’s 28 cantos, the first 14 are extant in Sanskrit complete (cantos 15 to 28 are in incomplete form).
Virgin Birth: Gautama was born to Suddhodana and his wife of twenty years, Maya. Though critics claim Maya was a virgin, we must assume she was not as she was the king’s favorite wife. Also, The Acts of the Buddha acknowledges Maya and Suddhodana as having sexual relations (the two tasted of love’s delight…) though I feel it is fair to point out most English translations do not contain this statement. A detailed account of Gautama’s birth may be found here. Though Maya is portrayed as being virtuous and pure-minded, a virgin conception is never mentioned regarding the birth of the Buddha. At the very most, it was a womb transference as in the story of Krishna:
The most Excellent of all Bodhisattvas fell directly from his place among the residents of Tushita heaven, and streaking through the three worlds, suddenly took the form of a huge six-tusked elephant as white as Himalaya, and entered Maya’s womb. Buddha Karita 1:18
Skeptic Interjection: Does the resemblance between the names Maya and Mary hold any significance? Answer: Though similar in their English translations, their original forms and translations are completely different. Maya, from Sanskrit, means Illusion whereas Mary (Maryam) translates from Hebrew as Bitter.
Crucifixion: Though critics claim some vague accounts mention Gautama being crucified, I can find no mention of this in any Buddhist source. In fact, we are told Gautama dies of natural causes at the age of 80. His followers accompany him to a river and provide him with a couch.
“‘Be so good as to spread me a couch…I am weary and wish to lie down…’ Then the [Buddha] fell into a deep meditation, and having passed through the four jhanas, entered Nirvana.”
Resurrection and Ascension: After his death, Gautama’s body was cremated.
“And they burned the remains of the Blessed One as they would do to the body of a king of kings.” Source Gautama was said to transcend all meditation levels upon his deathbed before reaching Nirvana. But according to Buddhism, Nirvana is not a physical place, but a mental state. Like we mention with Krishna, the concept of Buddha transcending into Nirvana differs greatly from the Christian Heaven.
Erroneous Similarities Claimed By Critics:
He fed a multitude with a basket of cakes. There is no mention of this in any Buddhist text.
Transfiguration on a Mount. Though Gautama reached spiritual enlightenment, he did not experience a physical transfiguration. Nor did this occur on a mount- Buddha obtained his enlightenment beneath the Bodhi tree.
Crushing the Serpent’s Head. Like Krishna, Buddha is never referred to by this title but a tale does surface in a later text which mentions him literally slaying a serpent. But as stated, this was a metaphorical title of Jesus.
Poverty Vows. Though some Christians may take vows of poverty, this was never taught by Jesus. He only warned how the love of earthly possession could turn our focus away from eternal things. Matthew 6:19-24
Similar titles: Good Shepherd, Carpenter, Alpha and Omega, Sin Bearer, God of Gods, Master, Light of the World, Redeemer, Everlasting to Everlasting, etc. But Gautama never claimed to be a deity, rendering these titles obviously false. The only titles he shared with Jesus that I could find mentioned in Buddhist texts were Lord, Teacher and Holy One.
In Conclusion: Because Buddhism shares many concepts with Hinduism (and originated in the approximate vicinity), there are actually more similarities between the stories of Buddha and Krishna than Buddha and Jesus. There are other such similarities, but they are all written in the 2nd century and after. Therefore its undying parallelism is not to be considered authentic or original. In all probability they have been plagiarized from the Gospels. Whether this was done intentionally or un-consciously, remains a mystery to this day.
4. Historical Evidence of Buddhism In Judea
Historical evidence indicates that Jesus knew about Buddhism, simply because both he and it were in Judea during the same time. Other evidence, while perhaps apocryphal, indicates that he spent most of his so-called lost years outside Judea, possibly in Kashmir to study Buddhism exclusively.
Regarding Buddhism in Judea, Jesus did not live in a pastoral, ethnically isolated place and time. On the contrary, non-Jewish political and cultural influences permeated Judea, which was an important shipping center for trade between India and the West and the military gateway to invade Egypt via land. Both land and sea trade routes had run through Jerusalem for centuries. Overland routes extending to Persia and western India were especially active after Alexander’s invasion of western India 360 years earlier; most of the routes, whether connecting to wealthy cities in Egypt or in Greece and Rome, came through Jerusalem, where goods for Greece and Rome were shipped via the Mediterranean Sea. Sea routes from Bombay and the mouth of the Indus River went through the Persian and Red Gulfs, the distance between the mouths of the Indus and Tigris and Euphrates rivers being only about three hundred miles; much of the trade came up the Gulf of Aquaba and overland up to Jerusalem (actually nearby Jappa) as the shipping point to the Mediterranean.
During Jesus’ time, Judea was a Roman dominion and most of the trade was Roman. Being the wealthiest empire of the time, Rome sent tons of gold-minted sesterces eastward for goods from India and other places. Most of this trade came over the Mediterranean and through Judea, making Jerusalem a cosmopolitan shipping center. Because of trade alone, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism were well known to the people in Judea. News from other lands was naturally of great interest. Most traders provided detailed accounts of the events of cities and states along their routes, often in the form of eloquent verse. Easterners in Judea were as anxious to hear news as were Jews in Persia or western India.
In addition to trade, Zoroastrians and Buddhists settled in northern Arabia, including Judea, which was only two hundred miles from Mesopotamia. The story of Jesus’ birth attracting the three Magi priests, if true, or more reliable, a great many wise men demonstrated close ties with Zoroastrians. Settlements occurred especially during Alexander’s invasion of the East after 330 BCE. This included Jews who welcomed Alexander’s overthrow of Egyptian rule and who joined Alexander’s army. Many settled along the invasion route through Persia and what is now Afghanistan and Kashmir/Punjab, a practice encouraged by Alexander to maintain his empire. About 360 years later, Jesus dispatched Thomas, perhaps his closest and most loyal apostle, to practice Christianity in India. The descendants of these Jews continue today to reside in Kashmir or Punjab.
5. Were Buddhists Really In Judea, As Jews Were In India As Cited In Part 4?
In Jesus’ time Buddhism was already five hundred years old and had spread from India, east to southeast Asia, north to central Asia, and west to the Middle East. The overland route westward was through what is now Afghanistan, northern Persia, and the area of Baghdad, then forked east to Palestine and Egypt or the northeast and lesser-traveled route through Syria, Turkey, and Greece. After Alexander’s eastern conquests, the great India ruler Ashoka, according to Will Durant’s account, “sent Buddhist missionaries to all parts of India and Ceylon, even to Syria, Egypt and Greece, where, perhaps, they helped prepare for the ethics of Christ.” (1) Furthermore, Max Muller stated that missionaries also were sent more than thirty years prior to Ashoka’s reign: “That remarkable missionary movement, beginning in 300 BCE, sent forth a succession of devoted men who spent their lives in spreading the faith of the Buddha over all parts of Asia.” (2) Philo noted the presence of Buddhists in Alexandria, Egypt. (3)
The link between Buddhism and Jesus appears to be primarily the Essenes, perhaps also the Mandeans, Mithraites, and probably other sects generally known as Gnostics. While the members of these splinter groups were Jews, they rejected the worldly, rationalist, optimistic faith of Jewish mainline thinking in the Torah or Old Testament. Their beliefs were ascetic, millenarian, otherworldly, and about a god beyond reason and ordinary intelligence, as (the way they see it) expressed by John the Baptist and partly by his protégé, Jesus. Though I do not agree with Malamed, as he discusses these differences and concludes, “Numerous scholars long ago discovered Buddhistic elements in the Gospel of John and also recognized the Buddhistic background of Essenism, by which Jesus greatly influenced others. The conclusion is inescapable that Palestine, together with many other parts of Asia Minor, was inundated with Buddhistic propaganda for two centuries before Christ.” (4). A similar historical account of that time is provided by Rosser: “Records from Alexander indicate a steady stream of Buddhist monks and philosophers who, living in that area, which was at the crossroads of commerce and ideas, influenced the philosophical currents of the time. There are strong similarities between Buddhist monastic teachings and Jewish ascetic sects, such as the Essenes, that were part of the spiritual environment of Palestine at the time of Christ’s birth.” (5)
I personally believe it was the other way around. It is in all likelihood that the writings of Deuteronomy – a book of blessings and cursing/sufferings, the poetic books, and prophets influenced the average Buddha.
Derrida provides a contemporary account of the radical break between Jesus and Jewish tradition, echoing the ancient themes stressed by the Gnostics in the apocrypha. First, Jesus bypassed traditional temple and doctrine by referring to the spirit as existing within the soul or conscience of the individual. Second, Jesus stressed virtue over justice and warned explicitly against the Old Testament admonishment of an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth (Matthew 5:38-39) and against striking back at one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). Third, Jesus stated that the giving of alms and performing other good deeds was to be done privately if not secretly to obtain the favor of God (Matthew 6:1-4). (6)
Historians know little about the origins of the Essenes. Philo, Pliny, and Josephus mentioned them to have existed about 150 years before Jesus, which is shortly after the time Ashoka’s Buddhist emissaries arrived from India. The name “Essene” appears to have Indic origins. Serrano explains, “The word ‘Essene’ could have evolved from the foreign pronunciation of the Indian word ‘Eeshani.’ Eeshan is Shiva (the Hindu God) and Eeshani is one who adores Eeshan or Shiva.” (7)
Mithraism is undoubtedly Indian in origin, Mithras being a deity in several Hindu Vedas. Mithras grew in importance in Persia, being associated with the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda, who was well known in Judea. Mithraism became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire during the second and third centuries and influenced many of the rewritings of Christian doctrines of the time.
Given all of these East-West trade and settlement patterns, Jesus certainly knew of Buddhism. Jesus would have known about Zoroastrianism and Buddhism as a teenager. The Bible refers to Jesus and his family visiting Jerusalem during annual Passover celebrations. Luke (2:47) has the twelve-year-old Jesus in a Jerusalem temple talking to a group of doctors: “All those who heard him were in amazement.” Clearly, the young Jesus was engaged in the ideas and issues of his day, which would have included Buddhism.
The extent Buddhism’s exposure Jesus’ depends on just where he was during his lost years. If Jesus lived his life only in Judea, then Buddhism’s exposure was minimal. If he traveled outside Judea, especially to Mesopotamia, then Buddhism’s exposure to Jesus-greatly influenced its groups.
The Bible makes no mention of where the young Jesus lived. In Matthew (2:23) and Mark (1:23), Jesus is called a “Nazarene” and in other documents a “Nazoraean.” But the town of Nazarene was not mentioned in the Bible-related texts until some four hundred years CE. Nazarene probably refers to another Jewish sect, also known as the “Nazirites,” involving John the Baptist and Jesus’ brother James. In Acts 24:5, Paul is referred to as “the leader of the sect of Nazarenes.” (8)
Non-Biblical historical accounts indicate that Jesus traveled outside Judea. Old Muslim records refer to Jesus as the “traveling prophet” and as the “chief of travelers.” Another states, “Jesus was named the ‘Messiah,’ because he wandered about, and because he did not stay in one place.” (9) The more Jesus traveled about, the more he would have encountered Buddhist ideas.
The Bible provides no account of Jesus’ lost years between ages thirteen and twenty-nine. If Jesus was lost, where was he? Luke 2:40 only generalizes: “And the child grew and waxed strong, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” In the last recorded account of Jesus as a twelve-year-old, Luke 2:51 says that Jesus left Jerusalem with his parents “and lived there in subjection to them … and so Jesus advanced in wisdom with the years.” But this does not square with Luke’s own account of the twelve-year-old Jesus engaging the doctors of Jerusalem. Indeed, this account introduces contrary dimension, which is that even then Jesus had his calling clearly in mind regardless of his parents’ concerns. Luke 2:49 quotes Jesus’ curt reply to his mother, who was worried about his whereabouts for three days: “Could you not tell that I must be in a place [the temple] which belongs to my father?” This cannot be the same youth who supposedly lived “in subjection” to his parents and whiled his time away as a carpenter.
I believe Jesus certainly studied and preached during his lost years. There is no reason for Jesus to have stopped preaching, especially when as a twelve-year-old he told his mother of his commitment. This almost certainly means that he traveled and evangelized elsewhere, as non-Biblical evidence indicates. Perhaps His parents traveled with Him, after the temple incident. Howbeit, the Church never considered to include such evangelistic missions into the Canon. Perhaps fully realizing that we have all that we need for conversion & growth.
Being one of the greatest moral prophets to ever bless humankind, he would not have spent his formative years contented to be a carpenter in his boyhood community, which would have nullified everything about his prophecy as the Messiah, His anointed birth, His prodigious childhood, death and resurrection. For Jesus, this had to be a period of intensive study and contemplation (as the Man) that was guided by some unusual teachers, and probably of evangelizing them as well, and having them realize their own short comings.
On the point of Jesus being away from Judea during his lost years, there is one suggestive incident in the Bible. When Jesus suddenly emerged from his lost years for his baptism as a twenty-nine-year-old by John the Baptist, the people were amazed to hear him speak. According to Mark 6:2-3 they asked, “How did he come by all this? What is the meaning of this wisdom that has been given him, and of all these wonderful works that are done by his hands? Is this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This clearly indicates that they had never heard Jesus speak in this manner before. The last question could be interpreted to mean that they did not know how a mere carpenter could speak this way, which suggests he undertook intensive study, and/or that they simply did not recognize him because of a long absence, or better yet, as the Scripture thus speaketh, “Blindness has come in part unto Israel.”