Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings

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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.

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31 Comments

  • Irene | Light Beckons

    Hi Tom, I’m a new subscriber to your feed. What you said about “all roads really do lead to the top of the same mountain” basically just summed up a big part of my own belief system. This is a great post … now I know where to direct my friends to when they start “fighting”! Thanks. :)

    Irene

    Irene | Light Beckons’s last blog post..Who Are We To Judge?

  • Shadowduck

    Very timely article for me! After a sidetrack during some research on ancient egypt, I’ve been reading a lot in the last few days about theosophy and the study of just how similar most religions are once you get below the window-dressing.

    Cause for optimism, I think, that there perhaps is an underlying truth – and that it’s knowable to some extent. I’m sure many of your readers have reached that conclusion already, of course, but I’m still travelling (and enjoying the journey)!

  • Shilpan | successsoul.com

    Tom,

    I always thought that Buddha and Jessus were similar thinkers. With this great article, my belief has some validity. Keep up the good work. I’m stumbling it.
    Please visit my blog when time permits. :)

    Shilpan

    Shilpan | successsoul.com’s last blog post..6 Things Money Cannot Help You Achieve

  • Tom Stine

    @Irene Nice to have you here! Thanks for reading and enjoying. I’m glad to hear we are on the same page.

    @Shadowduck So much similarity, isn’t there? If there is only one ultimate truth, then that one truth, even if it expresses itself in different ways, ultimately will have a similar ring in each form. At least to me.

    @Shilpan Thanks for the stumble. The Buddha and Jesus would undoubtedly gotten along well.

  • Andrea|Empowered Soul

    Like Shilpan, I’ve always considered that these two great teachers are very much in alignment with each other!

    It’s beautiful to see such clear evidence that Divine Truth and wisdom is expressed in many ways, but really, it is all One Truth.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

    Andrea|Empowered Soul’s last blog post..Developing Intuition: The Mind Trap

  • Davidya

    Perfect, thanks Tom.
    I have seen some possible evidence that Jesus traveled to India during his “years in the desert”. So there may have been some common influence. But really the common influence is what is within. I would say there are as many paths as there are people. But they all lead to the same place. And that is simply because there is only One. From that place, many words in many languages can try to describe what cannot be described, yet all describe the One.

    Davidya’s last blog post..The evolving Scribe

  • Mark

    Tom

    Like Davidya Says the common influence is from within.If one is truly in touch with his inner self that is where God resides. So it is only natural for anyone be it Jesus, Budda, or Puff the magic dragon if you will, that if they are truly in touch with the God within us that the message would be the same, just maybe represented in a little different way.

    I like the way you said “That all roads really do lead to the top of the Mountain,don’t they?” How true.:)

    Mark’s last blog post..I’m justa goin crazy

  • Corinne Edwards

    There are many theories among those who believe in reincarnation that Jesus is Buddha reincarnated.

    An interesting twist on your similar quotes.

    I do believe in reincarnation as a matter of information. I think we choose the lifetime we want and go for it for additional learning.

    Corinne Edwards’s last blog post..LIFE COACH – A case study

  • [email protected]

    Very interesting article! Before I became involved in Zen, I used to be immersed in the Christian mystic tradition. As this post shows, there are similarities in the teachings.

    One of the things these two traditions have in common is the fact that most of the sayings by the founders never happened :-) Later generations added text ‘in the name’ of the founder.

    I think that there are also some interesting differences. Two of them is the Buddha’s focus on personal redemption and his focus on suffering and its causes.

  • Tom Stine

    @Andrea It really is all One Truth. How can there be two? It is almost a litmus test, in a way.

    @Davidya I’ve read the various accounts that could place Jesus in India. You never know. However, interestingly, there were Buddhists in Alexandria during Jesus lifetime.

    @Mark I’ve often thought that the different representations of the Truth are merely the inevitable result of passing it through different minds and personalities. Some people cringe at the notion of “emptiness” while others think it expresses the divine very well.

  • Tom Stine

    @Corinne Cool idea. Wouldn’t that just send a few people I know into hysterics! :-)

    @Mary I’ve only given the Christian mystics a few reads, but I love it. St John of the Cross had a way of expressing things. I’ve also loved the stuff I’ve read about gnosticism, which always felt sort of “authentic” to me.

    But alas, Mary, you are so correct. I took a wonderful course with one of Marcus Borg’s colleagues, Charles Hedrick, about Jesus and the Gospels. Hedrick is a big name Jesus scholar and former Baptist minister. And he is standing in front of large class saying, in no uncertain terms, that we have no real way of knowing whether Jesus said a single word that is written in the Gospels (and the non-canonical ones, too). He even caused a few heads to explode when he pointed out that we have scant evidence that Jesus even existed! I spent a few years reading lots of Jesus scholarship as a result of that one. Fascinating. And I think much the same can be said for the Buddha.

    And yet, still, I believe they did. No evidence, just a gut feeling. Intuition? Who knows! :-)

  • Robert A. Henru

    Hi Tom,
    I do respect your belief, but here is my belief.

    Both teaches good, but Buddha stops at teaching, while Jesus is saving. One is a teacher, another is a Savior.

    That’s from me =)
    Robert

    Robert A. Henru’s last blog post..How failures can make you smile

  • Tom Stine

    @Robert Nice to have your comments. Interestingly, I’m reading a book about the Buddha that made exactly the point you are making. The Buddha never said he was anything but human. Jesus on the other hand…. Well, now there is an interesting point. We could debate until the cows come home what Jesus said or meant. So I won’t do that. But I think we could both agree that it definitely the Church that came after Jesus that really made the point of his specialness as the Son of God, as a Savior, as unique.

    It is interesting to me that most religions have a “founder” who is attributed God-like status. A special one. Even in Buddhism you see in the followers an attempt to put the Buddha on a pedestal. However, he made it clear that he was “a” Buddha. Anyone can become a Buddha.

    Thanks for your comments, Robert. I’m always interested in a differing point of view. :-)

  • Davidya

    If I may add, Tom, Jesus also said the same thing. This too and more can you do, and so forth. Christ is in everyone so everyone can be that.

    Davidya’s last blog post..Expressing Purpose

  • Tom Stine

    @Davidya True. But that doesn’t fly with most of Christianity. The official position is Jesus is unique and special.

  • Breian Malupa - Breian.com

    This is great :)

    Most people never sees that all religion and teachers says the same things in different ways. People tend to focus on religion; which religion is right and which religion is wrong.
    The main focus shouldn’t be on which religion, but we should all focus on the ‘lessons/teachings’ rather debating who is the right religion or not.

  • Tom Stine

    @Breian Thank you! I’m glad to have here reading and commenting. Yes, I agree completely. I really find incredible similarities between teachers and teachings.

  • Chris Kirk

    Thanks for the post Tom. As a follower in the way of Jesus, I have fallen in love with Buddhism the last few years. Thich Nacht Hanh’s “Living Buddha, Living Christ” was very formative to me and seems similar to Borg’s book from a different angle. Thanks for your generosity to those from other viewpoints. Namaste.

    Chris Kirk’s last blog post..?What Would Jesus Buy??

  • Tom Stine

    @Chris You’re welcome. I had not heard of that book by Thich Nacht Hanh, but I will definitely get it. I’ve enjoyed other books of his. You can tell, I think, that I’m interested in works that get at the authentic Jesus.

  • RJ

    Ah Jesus and Buddha, my 2 favorite people. Thanks for the book recomendation Tom, I’m gonna see if it’s available at my local library to check out :)

    RJ’s last blog post..Beat the Sunday Paper Addiction.

  • Nneka | Spirituality Blog

    Hi Tom, there’s a book called World Scripture that juxtaposes spiritual texts on certain topics. It includes texts for Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and some primal traditions.

    It is amazing the teachings that religions have in common. Even more amazing that we choose to focus on the differences.

    Nneka | Spirituality Blog’s last blog post..43 Things To Do When You Stop Watching Television

  • Tom Stine

    @RJ Hey, that will be cool if your library has it. I think my local library would have a collective heart attack if a book called “Jesus and Buddha” came across the main desk. :-D

    @Nneka Greetings! That is a book I must get. I hadn’t heard of it. And great point. Religions have an incredible amount in common. And yet all they can focus on is the differences. Separation is evident everywhere, even in that which purports to join us. Thanks for your comments.

  • Turner

    Ever hear of a movie called The Man From Earth? I liked its explanation best, in that Jesus’ teachings were literally from the Buddha.

    Turner’s last blog post..An Immediate Difference

  • Ariel

    Very cool. It’s nice seeing the correlations there and hopefully more people will come to realize the similarities in their teachings.

    It seems as though Jesus and Buddha’s teachings, though based on the same ultimate truths, were aimed at different levels.

    The Buddha taught that it is all Oneness and the ego is part of the Oneness.

    Yet Jesus taught that we should let go of our carnal mind and instead put on the Christ mind, or transcend the human ego and connect to our true Source and enlightened Self.

    It seems easier for people to grasp Jesus’ concepts. Once you reach that level, it’s easier to step up to the level Buddha thought without falling back into identification with the ego/mind.

    Ariel’s last blog post..The Illusion of Causality

  • Tom Stine

    @Ariel You may be right. The Buddhas is certainly a different character than Jesus, that’s for certain. But the ideas are right on.

  • Jay

    Cool discussion, allow me to add something.

    Look at this website.

    http://www.askrealjesus.com

    I found it a while ago. It’s about Jesus’s teachings in a modern yet timeless context. And yes – it addresses all these things. Consciousness, angels, Buddha, Krishna, Auras, Carnal Mind, Energy, ego etc.

    A much needed alternative to conservative views

  • Jay

    what are your opinions on reincarnation and the ascended host?

  • Tom Stine

    @Jay I liked the askrealjesus site. Pretty cool. I have a personal affinity for Jesus, yet I’m not even within a thousand miles of being a Christian. So I agree with your thoughts.

    As for reincarnation, I did a post on it, sort of:

    Past Lives Ain’t What They Used to Be.

    Check it out. Thanks for visiting.

  • Jay

    I was a zookeeper in past life, apparently.
    I must admit, I really like animals… could it be.. i have seen this before, a dream. a memory, restored.

    Reincarnation is a incredibly interesting and would explain many things. But i agree that it isn’t that important really, for spiritual growth.

    As stated on that website, Jesus didn’t really come to start his own outer religion – but to make people evolve in consciousness. Christ consciousness, Krishna consciousness, Buddha consciousness. Hence the ascended host. This does, heretically, fly in the face of a traditional christian school of thought.

  • Jay

    I pressed submit too quickly, sorry.

    I was getting to the point, slowly, of something i see quite often these days: 11:11. on clocks, paper and other places. also 12:12, 16:16 etc (also 9:11 for some reason). That happen to anyone. I did some reading about it. It’s got something to do with the Mayans, 2012 and an iron deficiency

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