I recently re-discovered a fantastic book edited by Marcus Borg entitled Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings. Borg, a prominent Jesus scholar and member of the Jesus Seminar, has written a number of books over the years that have done much to bring awareness to the ideas and methods of modern Jesus scholarship. If you read any of his works, or others of the Jesus Seminar, you will quickly discover that Jesus may not be the same guy they speak about in church each Sunday (especially here in the Bible Belt).
My intent for this article is less to do a book review and more to share some of the sayings that Marcus Borg highlights as parallel between Jesus and the Buddha. But before I do, let me highlight something remarkable that Borg has to say about these two religious figures, something I have never heard stated quite so perfectly:
Jesus and the Buddha were teachers of a world-subverting wisdom that undermined and challenged conventional ways of seeing and being in their time and in every time. Their subversive wisdom was also an alternative wisdom: they taught a way or path of transformation. Thus both were teachers of the way less traveled.
Marvelous, don’t you think? Two religious giants, whose modern day followers might cringe at the the suggestion of them sharing much in common, being equated as teachers of wisdom (which can be read as enlightenment) by a modern Jesus scholar. How cool is that?!
So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite parallel sayings. Enjoy:
Jesus: If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.
Buddha: If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words.
Jesus: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You, hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Buddha: The faults of others are easier to see than one’s own; the faults of others are easily seen, for they are sifted like chaff, but one’s own faults are hard to see. This is like the cheat who hides his dice and shows the dice of his opponent, calling attention to the other’s shortcomings, continually thinking of accusing him.
Jesus: Your father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Buddha: The great cloud rains down on all whether their nature is superior or inferior. The light of the sun and the moon illuminates the whole world, both him who does well and him who does ill, both him who stands high and him who stands low.
Jesus: He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.”
Buddha: Then the Lord addressed the monks, saying: “I am freed from all snares. And you, monks, you are freed from all snares.”
Jesus: The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Buddha: If by giving up limited pleasures one sees far-reaching happiness, the wise one leaves aside limited pleasures, looking to far-reaching happiness.
Jesus: Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
Buddha: With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.
The above six parallels should give you a taste of how similar these two teachings can be. What is amazing to me, though, is how, well, Buddhist, Jesus sounds. Remarkable. I was not brought-up in Christianity, but still, I was surprised at the flavor of enlightenment in so many of the words and stories of Jesus. If I hadn’t read the Gospels many times before, I could easily assume that these sayings were penned by a Buddhist or Taoist monk. All roads really do lead to the top of the same mountain, don’t they? No wonder Christian mysticism has produced so many awakened ones throughout the centuries.
If you are interested, you can get Jesus and Buddha at Amazon.com. Namaste.
credit: Phillie Casablanca