Was Jesus a Buddhist?

HawkgrrrlMormon 32 Comments

The NT doesn’t give much insight into Jesus’ life between age 12 and 30. Did he encounter Buddhism and seek personal enlightenment? Or are these ideas just inherently the best ones humanity will continue to stumble upon in our spiritual lives?

http://eternalvalues.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/buddha.jpgBuddha was a teacher who lived over 500 years before Christ.  The influence of his teachings had spread far in the centuries before Christianity.  Buddha is viewed as an awakened teacher who provides insights to help people end their own cycles of suffering.  Others have made additional parallels between Buddha and Christ, although there are many differences as well.

Many Christians are completely closed off to the notion that Jesus encountered Buddhism and that it influenced his teachings, considering Buddhism either a false, pagan religion (wrong on all 3 counts, IMO) or citing the fact that Buddha was only a teacher, not a God. Fair enough, but some early Christian docs refer to Jesus as not divine (gnostic texts often take this stance, IIRC). And certainly, if we are focused on becoming Christlike, that’s placing him primarily in the role of teacher.

The idea that Jesus was Buddhist was an underlying theme of the totally fictional book Lamb: The Gospel of Biff, Childhood Pal of Christ, a somewhat irreverent novel.  In the book, Jesus & Biff (his BFF) take off at age 12 and explore the path to enlightenment by looking up the 3 wise men to find out what Jesus is supposed to do with all this divinity of his.  (SPOILER ALERT:  He decides to become a Bodhisattva (savior) after his travails.)

Another Jesus/Buddhism parallel is this notion that Jesus is buried on an island in Japan, and that the Jesus of the NT is his Japanese brother who took his place. That’s another theory that has evangelicals’ knickers in knots. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shingo,_Aomoriand again here:http://www.thiaoouba.com/tomb.htm

http://vargagallery.com/TRIPTYCHfrontfor%20web.jpgMany sayings of Buddha could just as easily have been said by Jesus and his followers.  (The following comparisons are from a Mormon theological perspective, including NT, BOM and D&C quotes):

  • Both taught about living in the present:
    • Buddha:  “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
    • Matthew 6: 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.
  • Both taught that individuals should be able to recognize the truth through their own internal guide:
    • Buddha:  “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
    • Matt 13: 9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
  • Both decried envy and encouraged humility:
    • Buddha:  “Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”
    • Matt 23: 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant
  • Both taught that the physical is affected by the spiritual power within:
    • Buddha:  “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.”
    • 3 Ne 17:8 I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you
  • Both taught that life is full of trials, whether one is rich or poor, and that compassion is best:
    • Buddha:  “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”
    • Matt 18: 27 – 33 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him aan hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
  • Both taught the power of mind over matter:
    • Buddha:  “He is able who thinks he is able.”
    • Matt 21: 21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
  • Both taught that that humanity should join in unity:
    • Buddha:  “He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.”
    • D&C 38:27 Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.
  • Both taught the value of fellowship and friendship, and the need to comfort others on their spiritual path:
    • Buddha:  “He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.”
    • Mosiah 18:9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort
    • 2 Cor 7:13 Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all.
    • Mark 3: 35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
  • Both warned against the negative effects of anger:
    • Buddha:  “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
    • 3 Ne 12: 22 But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
  • Both taught that acting on wise counsel is more important than hearing wisdom:
    • Buddha:  However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?
    • Matt 7: 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    • Matt 7: 24-27 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
  • Both taught that anger and envy lead to selfishness and derail one’s spiritual path:
    • Buddha:  In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.
    • James 3:16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
    • 2 Cor 12:20 For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.
    • 3 Ne 32: 2 2 Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel.
  • Both taught the importance of one’s internal life over external influences.
    • Buddha:  It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.
    • Matt 16: 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
    • 2 Tim 1: 7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
  • Both taught that salvation is ultimately an individual matter.
    • Buddha:  No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.
    • Philip 2: 12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

http://mikeduran.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/jesus-buddha.jpgThe NT doesn’t give much insight into Jesus’ life between age 12 and 30.  Did he encounter Buddhism and seek personal enlightenment that colored his ministry?  Or are these ideas just inherently the best ones humanity will continue to stumble upon in our spiritual lives?  Discuss.

Comments 32

  1. I guess it is not inconceivable but it still appears, from the accounts that we have, that Jesus was still very much a Jew. But that is a superficial impression.

  2. Of course, many of the elements of, say, the Sermon on the Mount are recorded elsewhere in the teachings of other rabbis. Concurrency of moral teachings does not demonstrate the commonality of a terrestrial source. Positing Jesus as divine and other teachers (Socrates, Buddha, Zoroaster, Mohammed) as divinely inspired indicates to me that, rather, these teachings were being distributed all over the world by Heavenly Father.

    My “objection” is also based on the fact that it would be unlikely for a young Galilean peasant to travel to the Indus, or Britannia, or China. I think it far more likely that Jesus was brought up as many of the prophets, instructed divinely. (Consider Joseph Smith, who never traveled extensively; or Samuel, who probably never left Israel.)

    Incidentally, you might find The Jesus Sutras to be of interest.

  3. Dating from Alexander, the Greeks imported Buddhists as curiosities into their sphere of influence and a Greek king in India even managed to end up a Buddhist saint. That said, it is more likely that Buddha was inspired by Christ, rather than the other way around 😉

  4. #1,
    Did I hear “Urantia?” I was given that book recently and read the last third which chronicles the life of Jesus from birth to the start of his ministry in DETAIL. According to Urantia he was educated in all the prevailing philosophies of the world pre-ministry–including Buddhism

    The part I like about Urantia is Christ’s reaction to animal sacrifice—it is nonsense and repulsive, and implies as Jeremiah, Micah and Isaiah suggest—not God given but man created—the taking of blood and animal sacrifice has never been necessary to gain God’s approval—go GIRARD.

  5. RE: #1 If Hawkgrrl were indeed “Urantian”— (as in a reader-believer, not just a resident of the planet)— she would know Jesus spent two years tutoring the son of a wealthy Indian merchant, for whom he also served as a translator, as they traveled to various locations around the Mediterranean. But Jesus was not a Budhhist,or any other kind of organized religionist while on Urantia; he was the Son of God-incarnate, and as such he had a specific mission to reveal a greater revelation of our spiritual Father.

    Part Four of The Urantia Book contains the entire Life and Teachings of Jesus, a revelatory presentation that will eventually awaken present-day Christianity from its slumber to face the challenge of a new age of scientific minds
    and materialistic tendencies. If you know you truly love Jesus, then learn all you can about him; read The Urantia Book while you have time.

  6. I was born and raised LDS. I am still an active LDS. Over the past few years, I have actually studied quite a bit about Buddhism and I have undergone an evolution in my thoughts.

    Initially, there is the “knee-jerk” reaction. Aren’t Buddhists those guys what walk around in orange robes and shaved heads? Isn’t Buddhism atheistic and therefore a falsehood of the devil? The Dalai Lama seemed like a genuinely nice guy, but overall it seemed strange and foreign. As I studied further, however, I found a great many truths that have made a great difference in my life. There are many, many parallels between Buddhism and Christianity/LDS religion, far more than those listed above. And in many ways, I think the Buddhist approach to things is much better than ours.

    Many of Christ’s sayings are extremely similar to Buddhist texts that pre-dated his mortal life. Does this mean that Christ was influenced by Buddhism? Perhaps, although I don’t know that we’ll ever really know. My own feelings, however, are that God reveals truth to many people, even past the traditional “prophets” we consider in our religion. From time to time, God influences someone to not be satisfied with the religions / beliefs around them, and causes them to reveal more truth. History is replete with examples of this. Moses was called to reveal truth which established the Jewish religion. Christ revealed truth which became Christianity. Martin Luther revealed truth which started reformation religions. Joseph Smith revealed truth which started Mormonism. Buddha revealed truth which started Buddhism. Mohammed revealed truth which started Islam. There are many, many others.

    I do differ from a more “orthodox” “McConkie” interpretation of this, however. According to this train of thought, if you’re not us, you’re of the devil. The implication of this extends to missionaries wiping the “dust off their feet” for someone that doesn’t accept Mormonism. It is encompassed in the “one true Church” doctrine. This is a very pessimistic doctrine. Instead, I think there is truth everywhere. I have found profound truths in Buddhism and ways of looking at myself and my fellow man that I never got out of decades of active LDS participation. I went through some very difficult times and was struggling with ways of dealing with them that I couldn’t get over using the “tools” I had in our religion. The truths in Buddhism, however, helped me through and actually brought me closer to God.

    So, why are teachings of Buddhism and Christ similar? The same reason they are similar to Islam and Jewish and Hindu and other teachings. They are all inspired of God at their core. They all teach people to be better people. Anyone who truly lives and follows any of these teachings will return to God, in my opinion. Sure, there may be some ordinances that may have to be performed in some fashion (ie. baptism for the dead, etc.), but 99.9% of humanity isn’t “Mormon” so the vast majority will have to get their ordinances that way anyway. Perhaps these are all methods of getting back to God, and being Mormon is much like being a Levite, where they had to perform the ordinances for the masses, but it didn’t mean they were the only ones “saved”.

  7. For the Japan and Jesus thing, I posit that the Jaredites, upon traveling from the Babylon area and finally to the Americas, they journeyed east over Asia. They got to Japan and this is where they stopped for a while, with the Lord finally getting back to them and chastising them for stopping before they got to the real promised land. See, the Jaredites thought Japan was the promised land. Japan is very pretty and very fertile land. Who wouldn’t think it was a promised land? And it was in Japan that the brother of Jared made the boats with the glowing rocks. That’s my theory.

    As for Siddartha, no, Jesus was not a follower, but Siddartha was inspired of God to receive at least some portion of truth.

  8. Stephen,


    That said, it is more likely that Buddha was inspired by Christ, rather than the other way around

    That would be impossible because the Buddha was alive before Christ was born.

  9. Dan, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. Jesus is the Word, the light and the life of the world, who illuminates all who come into the world.

    So, being from everlasting to everlasting, I don’t see any problem with the light of Christ having inspired the Buddha and others.

  10. Mmmmm religious pluralism vs. religious absolutism. I personally think it doubtful that either Jesus or Buddha influenced the other; rather, I think both were tapping into universal truths about life, humanity, and the Divine. That they come to similar conclusions isn’t really surprising. Whether both were implanted directly by Deity or came to enlightenment on their own is of course unknowable.

  11. 1. I don’t think it so unlikely that someone from Galilee would travel great distances. Thomas reportedly traveled all the way to India.

    2. A book I recommend is “The Zen Teachings of Jesus.”

  12. Jesus wouldn’t necessarily have had to travel to India or China to pick up threads of Buddhist philosophy. Contact between what we call the Near East and the Far East did exist during Jesus’ lifetime. The gnostic gospels, especially the Gospel of Thomas, contain many Buddhist ideas such as finding the light within. Since Jesus did not leave any written work, it is impossible to know if all words attributed to him by later writers were actually spoken by him.

  13. “I agree with SteveS. Certainly Buddha had the light of Christ.”

    Ah yes, the light of Christ, fourth member of the godhead and convenient explanation for why some people are good without being Latter Day Saints. Sorry, but I think the Holy Ghost does just fine.

  14. Stephen,

    So, being from everlasting to everlasting, I don’t see any problem with the light of Christ having inspired the Buddha and others.

    Unless Siddhartha knew about the prophecies of Jesus, and the principles which he would have given when in life in the future, then there is no chance that he knew of Jesus, and thus inspired by Jesus. Seriously, this isn’t that hard. Siddharhta may have been inspired by God with the spiritual knowledge he inspired in others, but he most likely had no knowledge whatsoever of Jesus. The historical record, as well as scriptural record from Buddhists show no evidence the Buddha knew.

    Besides which, you didn’t originally say that Buddha was inspired by the “light of Christ” which we know is a separate entity. You said that it was more likely that the Buddha was inspired by Christ, rather than the other way around, indicating that Buddha learned from the life of Christ, rather than Christ learning from the life of Siddhartha.

  15. Furthermore, the story does not indicate that Siddhartha knew of any teaching outside his region (Nepal). Belonging to a small city state, it is really highly unlikely he would have heard of Jewish prophecies concerning someone not yet born and saying, “yes, I’m impressed with that man.”

  16. Siddhartha wasn’t content with any of the religious philosophies of his time. He thought about it. He pondered it. He tried different things. Ultimately, he had a revelatory experience where he gained insight into the nature of things. These formed the basis of what he taught, and through the remainder of his life, he expounded on these things. There are now hundreds of millions of people who follow his same teachings. There are hundreds of millions of people who are better because of that. A few comments:

    1) In our LDS frame of reference, we call this the “light of Christ” testifying to truth. In other perspectives, Siddhartha might have “discovered” the universal truths inherent in all things. To me, the similarities testify that whatever religion you want to call it, or however anyone wants to approach it, there are basic underlying things / precepts that make us better people and a better society.

    2) If you look at the first paragraph and replace Siddhartha with Joseph Smith, it would still make perfect sense. This seems to be a archetype that occurs at times throughout history. You could also substitute Muhammed in that paragraph with his vision after spending time in a cave, or even Christ, after his 40 days in the desert to start His ministry.

  17. Additionally, while reincarnation seemed completely foreign to me when I first learned about it, in reality, it does seem quite merciful. In our understanding, we get one chance at earth life and are consigned to a “reward”. These are necessarily graded according to how we lived. But once assigned a lower kingdom, I don’t see where in our teachings we can ultimately reach the absolute highest kingdom and be with God.

    With reincarnation, if we don’t succeed in attaining our goal of becoming “one” with God in this life, we get another chance. It may take dozens or hundreds or thousands of lifetimes, but ultimately, everyone gets the chance to reach the highest goal. It actually seems quite merciful.

  18. As noted above, Siddhartha lived centuries prior to Jesus of Nazareth, and several statements attributed to Jesus are remarkably similar to much earlier statements attributed to Siddhartha (some are much more similar than even those that Hawkgirll posted). I find it fascinating that these two facts would create enough cognitive dissonance to motivate anyone to claim that Siddhartha really got his teachings from Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, the idea that Siddhartha was influenced by the mortal ministry of Jesus of Nazareth is patently absurd. Apparently, certain devotees of Jesus feel so threatened by his lack of originality, that they must grasp for a way to “turn back the clock,” putting Jesus’ words in the mind or ears of Siddhartha via the Holy Ghost, the “light of christ,” or some other pre-advent mechanism. Such believers evidently feel a deep need to lay claim to all truth as the exclusive “spiritual real estate” of Jesus, with all others being mere plaigarists, even if they pre-dated Jesus by half a millenium.

    Such mental gymnastics should be cause for concern, yet they mirror the tactics used by some to avoid any hint that Joseph Smith was influenced by his own 19th century American environment. So many would-be apologists attempt (sincerely or not) to convince their audience that the Temparance Movement had no influence on Joseph’s Word of Wisdom revelation, or that Freemasonry had no influence on Joseph’s temple rituals, or that the many pre-1830 writers who argued an Israelite origin for the Native Americans had no influence on Joseph’s scriptural writings. I’ve even seen “respected” LDS scholars argue that Joseph Smith couldn’t have been influenced by any of the popular literature of his day, because he grew up on a farm, and couldn’t have had time to read!

    These games should be beneath the dignity and intelligence of faithful persons. Rather, believers should be secure enough to follow Joseph Smith’s own guidance, by embracing all truth, wherever it may be found, rather than trying to prove prophecy by “uniqueness.”

  19. well said nick #24 and every1 else, only stummbled across this site today and i think wow awesome, anyway, laying claim to holiness has been a problem for all churches, after all ‘the man shall be known by his seed’, or ‘the tree by the fruit there of’. so how do we ignore the holiness of some1 not of our faith, with lies of course. if we tell enough of them maybe people won’t even bother to look and if they do look and see the truth hopefully they’ll be to caught up in our traditions and botherhood, or to scared, to contradict us.

    luckily the time of fear has passed and we now know, the holy spirit = pure buddha, same spirit, same teachings(ie the word), same blessings, different culture.

    the LORD jesus was the mortal incarnation of the holy spirit, it is pride on our behalf to think that this only happened 1 time, in 1 place, in all of history, and we lucky few are the only beneficiaries of that occurrance.

    so in answer “was jesus a buddha?” i say the answer was yes. also siddartha was a christ.

  20. Mark 10:16 – And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

    Just a gospel thought to ponder. Jesus/God ministers always; before, during and after his time on this earth. Time is only our perception. God is everlasting and timeless and for us to presuppose that one taught the other in either doctrine (Christian/Mormon/Buddhism) is judgmental and damnable, not in my terms, but in Gospel terms.


  21. The Buddhists started sending missionaries to the Mediterranean starting around 250 BC. It is entirely possible for Jesus to have encountered Buddhism without ever leaving Palestine.

    The Bible does explicitly mention, however, a time when Jesus lived out outside of Palestine. Matthew says that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled to Egypt to avoid King Herod. In the region of Alexandria was a mysterious group known as the Therapeutae. The Therapeutae were described the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria in the First Century AD.

    Philo said the Therapeutae were distributed throughout the Greek world, and also outside the Greek world. Their practices had significant similarities with Buddhist monasticism. Philo said that they had their own holy books, and also possessed and read Jewish scriptures. It is entirely possible Jesus could have encountered the Therapeutae. Since it is very likely the Therapeutae may have been a community founded by Buddhist missionaries, that gives us a plausible connection to Buddhism for Jesus.

    Judaism has not had a tradition of asceticism or monasticism. Some have wondered where these traditions in Christianity came from. Asceticism is one thing that Buddhism and Christianity share. The Therapeutae may be the reason why.

  22. I have often pondered how different Christianity would be if we had the accurate writings of apostles like Thomas and Matthew who, supposedly, headed east instead of west (like Paul). It seems like the gentleness of Buddhism is more fitting with the authentic teaching of Jesus than neo-platonism. We know that Zoroastianism from Persia affected the OT writers during the Jews sojourn in the East. With the constant travel along the Silk Road to the north and the Frankensense Road to the south, the flow of ideas from the east were readily available in the 1st century in Palestine.

    Again, Hawkgrrrl, you always come up with great topics. I have been fascinated with Buddhism for years and wish that I was better at non-attachment and mindfulness as I strive to be a disciple of Jesus.

  23. Perhaps God is not partial about who He gives truth to. Maybe the truths taught by both are universal to all humanity and are open to any seeker with or without access to scripture or teacher.

    In my experience, when you quiet the mind sufficiently, (40 days in the wilderness would probably do it). Certain realizations about the nature of our mind and our perception of “reality” naturally spring forth. We are deceived by our senses. “They look but do not see, listen but do not hear.” It is only when we have a quiet mind that the mystery begins to reveal itself.

    We are constantly tempted to look outside for the easy answers and take someone else’s word for it. We have all the answers within ourselves if we will only look and listen. Try out a 10-day silent retreat, you will not regret it.

  24. I believe that a person can be Buddhist without applying. Buddha did not set out for others to call themselves Buddhist, just like Jesus did not set out for people to call themselves Christians. All these labels are what distract people from the message of all the great beings that have spent their life learning how to live. If I had never heard of Buddhism yet I spent my life meditating and following the moral code that is inherent in all of us, then I believe that another could say in a sense that I was Buddhist. It is not Buddhist that some of are or try to become, contrary it is just a enlightened spiritual being on a path of self discovery. Buddha was just one great teacher that gave us tools to do so so that we don’t spend our entire life developing those tools, we can just go straight into it. You learn English from others which lends a way for you to express how you feel, and the things you believe. I like to think that Jesus already knew all of the self evident truths that we all somewhere in our minds know, just sometimes you learn how to say them from the language of other people. 

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