BUDDHISM IN CHRISTIANITY
> I JUST THOUGHT THIS WAS AN INTERESTING POSTING BY AN YVETTE ROSSER
> : There is a good likelihood that Jesus' ideas were influenced by
> : Buddhism, since Judea was on the crossroads of world trade routes
> : between the eastern Mediterranean and India, and some Buddhist ideas
> : reportedly made it to Greece and Egypt.
It's _possible_ that [Jesus} was
> influenced by some Buddhist ideas -- I like to think that his command for his
> followers to pray quietly and privately is, in a sense, endorsing
> meditation -- but even this is stretching things. Culturally, Jews of his
> time were a fairly insular lot. They were devoted to their own theology,
> which was true of every part of the Roman empire, but they also insisted
> on the complete _exclusion_ of other theologies -- which was true of
> no other part of the Roman empire. Merely associating with non-Jews
> was believed to make a Jewish person unclean. That being the case, it
> seems unlikely that Jesus had much opportunity (or, for that matter, desire)
> to learn any schools of thought beyond those found in the Hebrew scriptures.
I must point out that Jesus was not very traditional and was wont to
associate with the rather unsavory types... prostitutes, etc. He also
seemed quite willing to criticize old forms as did Buddha. (Pharisees =
This rather long post is excerpted from a talk I gave in a Comparative
Religion class. It may be of interest. I've attached the bibliography.
Sorry about the length... I did edit for this post.
BUDDHISM IN CHRISTIANITY
A few months ago, I heard Jesus quoted "even to have an angry thought"
was as punishable as actually murdering someone. This idea seemed to have
a direct correlation with the Buddhist idea of "mental volition", that
even our thoughts create karma. This seemingly obvious connection poses
the question: what other teachings of Jesus Christ could be found mirrored
in the teaching of Gautama Buddha?
There are three main types of literature on the subject: First, books
that date from the end of the nineteenth century which attempt to show
that there was Buddhist influence in the fertile crescent and in Greece
during the years before the birth of Jesus. This speculation arose as a
result of the translations of Buddhist texts into European languages that
occurred during the British colonialism of India. Scholars recognized the
similarity in the stories of the births and life styles of Jesus and
Buddha. It was also noted that many of their teachings were parallel.
In these seminal works there is much speculation about Buddhist influence
in early Christianity. These books are often scholarly works that use
sources such as the records of historians who were roughly contemporary
with Jesus, and other texts: Biblical (Christian, Jewish), Greek and
Arabic, in an attempt show an historical connection between the two
The second type of literature is the New Age genre books that attempt
to tie the two masters together as emanations from the same cosmic divine
source. In this group there is even a fairly extensive body of literature
that claims that Jesus went to India and there studied from Hindu and
Buddhist masters between the age of thirteen and thirty. These are
referred to as the "lost years of Jesus".
The third type of literature, which could be called, "Creating a
Christian-Buddhist Dialogue", seeks to compare and contrast the teachings
of the two masters in an effort to bridge the gap between cultures and
make to the world a better place. This type of literature usually denies
any borrowing or Buddhist influence in Christianity but does admit that
certain elements within the two doctrines are similar..
Much of the early academic research that was done tended to center
around the possibility of Buddhist influence in Palestine and in Greece
during the two centuries prior to the birth of Christ. In India, around
270 B.C., the great king Ashoka ascended the throne, and after his
conversation to Buddhism, he sent missionaries around the world to preach
the word of the Lord Buddha. There are records, left by Ashoka, that
indicate that "his missions were favorably received" in countries to the
West. There are also records from Alexandria that 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. The Essenes were
a monastic order that did not marry. They lived in the desert and were
very simple in their life styles. They did not believe in animal
sacrifice and were vegetarians. They believed in the pre-existence of the
soul and in angels as divine intermediaries or messengers from God. They
were famous for their powers of endurance, simple piety and brotherly
love. They were interested in magical arts and the occult sciences. John
the Baptist was an Essene. His time of preparation was spent in the
wilderness near the Dead Sea. Jesus was greatly influenced by his stay
with John the Baptist. Many of the basic tenets found in the teachings of
Jesus can be traced back to the ideas flourishing among groups such as the
Essenes. Were these groups indeed influenced through several centuries of
dialogue with Buddhist monks who traveled through Palestine?
Before, during, and after the death of Christ, there were Buddhist
missionaries who visited Greece, Egypt and other countries in the
Mediterranean area. One such visit is documented in 20 B.C. in Athens.
In this account an ambassador from India was accompanied by a Buddhist
philosopher who burned himself (to prove some point of impermanence?).
His tomb became a famous tourist attraction and is mentioned by several
historians. It has been argued that in St. Paul's first letter to the
Corinthians, he alludes to this well known event when he writes that
"though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me
The fact that there was commercial trade between the Indian
Subcontinent and Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and the countries of the
Fertile Crescent, for almost 2500 years before the birth of Christ is well
documented. Cuneiform records dating from 2400 B.C. describe shipments of
cotton cloth, spices, oil, grains, and such exotic items as peacocks from
thje INdus Valley region. Ideas as well as merchandise had been exchanged
between the Middle East and India for centuries. Pythagoris is said to
have been influenced by Oriental ideas and a Greek prince, Seleucus
Nikator, shortly after the time of Alexander the Great, gave his daughter
in marriage to the Indian sovereign and sent an ambassador, Megasthenes,
to the court of Chandragupta, who was the grandfather of Ashoka. There
were practitioners of Buddhism, living in the western parts of Askoka's
empire who were from Greece and also from Palestine. This is known
because one of the famous edicts of Ashoka, carved on a pillar in what is
now the country of Afghanistan, is written in both in Greek and Aramaic,
the languages spoken in Palestine at the time.
Stories of Buddhist origin, and some of the basic concepts of Buddhism,
were known in the West prior to, during, and after the time of Jesus. The
most famous Buddhist story that made its way into Christendom, is the tale
of "Barlaam and Josephat," which enjoyed considerable notoriety during the
Middle Ages and ultimately resulted in the canonization, in the sixteenth
century, of Buddha, as a Catholic saint. In the story of Barlaam and
Josephat, Josephat, which is a corrupted version of the word
"Boddhisattva", was an Indian prince who was heir apparent to a throne
occupied by his father, a tyrannical idolater who persecuted Christians.
At Josephat's birth prophets predicted his future greatness as successor
to the king, but one wise man said that the prince would achieve greatness
not as a worldly king, but because he would convert to Christianity. To
shelter his son, and prevent his conversion, the king kept him locked in
the palace. Eventually, the young prince was allowed to leave the palace
and saw a crippled man, a blind man and a senile man, and so learned of
life's darker side (that life is suffering?). Josephat soon met a monk
named Barlaam, who converted him to Christianity. The story continues
that when Josephat went to search for Barlaam he had to suffer austerities
and was tempted by the devil to give up his faith. He eventually found
Barlaam and the two lived as hermits until their deaths. Relics of these
saints were worshipped in Europe and there were several churches built to
Josephat in Russia, one in Vienna and in Portugal. As I said, they were
canonized by the Catholic Church in the 16th century... Saint Josephat,
Anyone who knows the story of the life of the Buddha will see the exact
repetition of the tale in the story of Barlaam and Josephat: The fact
that he was an Indian prince even provides the correct setting, the
predictions at his birth of spiritual greatness, his early life spent
locked in the castle and finally his exposure to people in pain and old
age which led, in the case of the Boddhisattva, to enlightenment and in
the case of Josephat to conversion. Even the austerities and temptations
that they had to endure are parallel. There is no doubt that this is a
Buddhist story transplanted and retold within a Christian context. The
Buddhist origins of the story were obscured when the tale was retold in
Europe, but earlier versions of the story exist in Arabic, which do not
refer to Josephat's conversion, but which testify to the story's Buddhist
roots. The fact that Saint Josephat was very popular in Europe, where his
relics were worshipped, is an ironic aspect of this borrowing theory of
Buddhist influence on Christianity since some scholars theorize that relic
worship is a Buddhist implant into early Christianity. There are other
Christian stories that have their origins in the Buddhist Jatakas Tales
such as the conversion of the Roman general Placides, who was converted
while hunting a beautiful deer.
There are numerous elements in Christian practices that could have
originated from the many Buddhist missionaries who traveled from India
spreading the teachings of the Buddha. Philosophically, Alexandria in
Egypt was the center of early Christian thought. There is mention of a
teacher called Ammonius Sakka, who had a great influence on the thinkers
of the first century of the common era. Some scholars speculate that
Ammonius Sakka could be a reversed form of "Sakya - Muni", one of the
names of the Buddha, which means "the sage of the Sakya clan". (Sakya was
Buddha's family name.) This philosopher-teacher who believed in
reincarnation, has been called a Neo-Platonist. He was the teacher of
Plotinus and Origen. Origen who was one of the early philosophers of the
Christian church whose writings were later expunged at the Council of
What are some other points of convergence between the practices of
Christianity and Buddhism? There are a wealth of similarities: shaving
or cutting of the hair of monastic initiates, ringing of bells, domed
basilicas, shared legends, the practice of confession, relic veneration,
celibacy, rosaries, monasticism, and the burning of incense. A comparison
of the Sermon on the Mount with verses from the Dhammapada, yields a rich
collection of interconnections and similarities. Even if some of these
similarities are synchronistic in nature and are not borrowed,
nonetheless, there are still many elements that have distinctive Buddhist
overtones and which are not found within the predominant Jewish practices
of the time. There are many stories about the life of Jesus and Buddha
that are so similar that it is hard to believe that there was not some
borrowing or merging of myths that occurred.
The story of the conception and birth of Christ in the Gospel of Luke
has an uncanny resemblance to the birth stories of Buddha. In both cases
the mother was a pure woman who had a vision and from this vision became
pregnant with a extraordinary child, without the help of sexual
intercourse. At their birth, each baby was surrounded by persons and
events that marked them for greatness. Each was delivered outside while
the mother was on a journey. Their births were both announced by angels
in the heavens. It may be hard for us creatures of the twentieth century
to appreciate the role of angels, but previously, they played an important
part in the scheme of things: bringing messages, making great spiritual
announcement with pomp and splendor. After the birth of Buddha a hermit
sage, who had heard the celebrations of the angels, was told by them with
great rejoicing that "In the city of Kaplilavastu, to king Suddhodana, a
son is born. This boy will sit on the throne of enlightenment and become
a Buddha." In the Christian story, the angels appeared in great
awe-inspiring beauty and told the shepherds that a child was born that day
who is Christ the Lord. The story of the conception and birth of Christ
in the Gospel of Luke has an uncanny resemblance to the birth stories of
Buddha. In both cases the mother was a pure woman who had a vision and
from this vision became pregnant with a extraordinary child, without the
help of sexual intercourse. At their birth, each baby was surrounded by
persons and events that marked them for greatness. Each was delivered
outside while the mother was on a journey. Their births were both
announced by angels in the heavens. It may be hard for us creatures of
the twentieth century to appreciate the role of angels, but previously,
they played an important part in the scheme of things: bringing messages,
making great spiritual announcement with pomp and splendor.
After the birth of Buddha a hermit sage, who had heard the celebrations
of the angels, was told by them with great rejoicing that "In the city of
Kaplilavastu, to king Suddhodana, a son is born. This boy will sit on the
throne of enlightenment and become a Buddha." In the Christian story, the
angels appeared in great awe-inspiring beauty and told the shepherds that
a child was born that day who is Christ the Lord. Both narratives stress
the fact that at the birth of the infant, along with the angels, holy
people came to pay homage to the savior who had descended into the world
of humans. In the Bible there is a story about the righteous man Simeon,
who was informed by the Holy Spirit that he "should not see death before
he had seen the Lord's Christ." Inspired by the Spirit, he came to the
temple on the day that Jesus was brought in for his naming ceremony, where
he took the child into his arms and said that he was destined for
greatness. Mary and Joseph marveled at the words of this old sage. In
the Buddhist story the hermit Asita performed the same role in announcing
to the amazed parents that this child was destined for spiritual
greatness. In both stories an elderly wise man was the first to inform
the parents that their sons were no ordinary boys.
The Biblical accounts of the birth of Christ are somewhat different in
Luke and in Matthew. In Matthew the account of the visitation by the Magi
is dealt with in great detail. These Magi were astrologers from the East,
where astrology had been a developed science for centuries. They
represented the pinnacle of foreign scholarly achievement; and it was
they, rather than the Hebrew, who were able to discern that the baby who
lay in the manger in Bethlehem was a very special child. The word "Magi,"
is a Persian word that named a class of learned men who sought to master
the occult sciences. This is the root of our word, Magic. Only later were
they referred to as kings, initially they were called Holy Men.
References to Magi in the Palestine of Jesus's day usually had negative
connotations, but in Matthew's account, the reference is quite positive.
Similarly, the infant Gautama was first adored by four divine archangels
who presided over his birth in the wooded grove near Lumbini. Later,
sages came to pay homage to the child and amazed his father. In both
stories there is a reference to a star that announces the birth of the
There are other similarities in the lives of these two great beings.
Some may say that this type of comparison is inevitable when great
spiritual leaders come into the world. However, some of the events in
their lives have quite a resemblance. Both Buddha and Christ were
precocious youths who confounded their teachers with their gifted
knowledge. Both began their spiritual quest at about the age of thirty.
Both fasted and prayed in the wilderness and both were tempted by the
devil while practicing these austerities. The setting of these two
accounts is almost identical as are the events. Both men were fasting
when tempted by the devil who tried to entice them into worldly pleasures
and trick them into using the magical powers that they possessed. Both
men overcame the temptation and soon left their seclusion and took up the
mission of a life of teaching and traveling. Jesus's life at this time
seems very much like the age-old life of an Indian mystic or holy man. He
traveled from village to village and lived off the hospitality of the
people of the village. There are some differences, but, nonetheless, both
Buddha and Christ got into trouble with the ruling aristocracies by their
deliberate blindness to social status and by taking food and refuge from
courtesans and prostitutes.
Both masters told their disciples to leave behind their homes and
families and to follow him. Both sent his followers out to preach their
message. Both were social revolutionaries who reacted against the
conservative elements of their time. Both put an end to animal sacrifice
which was popular in both Hinduism and Judaism. As you can see there are
great similarities in the lives of these two great beings. Both forgave
evil doers, both conquered death in a metaphysical sense. The earth shook
when each of them died. Their messages are also similar: they told their
followers to overcome anger, to practice non-violence, to "turn the other
cheek" to be pure of mind and body.
There is, as well, the school of thought that says that Jesus traveled
to India during the lost years of his youth. There is a temple in the
state of Kashmir that is dedicated to Saint Issa. The priests say that
Jesus traveled there two thousand years ago. Many of the miracles
performed by Jesus are similar to miraculous powers possessed by holy men
in India. Jesus even taught his disciples to perform these miracles such
as Peter walking on the water. There is a work by a Russian who lived at
the end of the 19th century, Nicolas Notovitch, who claims to have seen an
ancient document that told the story of Saint Issa and his return to his
home in the West and his subsequent violent death. These tales are
unsubstantiated and somewhat fanciful, however the priests at the Kashmiri
Temple to Saint Issa are devout and completely believe in the story.
There are also visionaries such as Edgar Casey who had similar visions of
Jesus. Jesus did adopt a remarkably Indian-like approach to wandering,
begging and preaching immediately upon beginning his public career.
There is, however, documented evidence that Buddhists traveled to the
region where early Christianity was developing. It must be remembered
that Christianity did not become the established religion for several
hundred years and actually it was not the accepted religion of the
European masses for almost a thousand years. During this period, when
church theology was being formulated, there was much discussion about the
true nature of the savior and many of the early ideas of the church were
discarded in favor of ideas that would support the establishment of a
centralized Church. These factors are a discussion for another time, but
suffice it to say that many scholars have tried to prove that the Councils
at Nicea expunged all references to reincarnation from the words of
Jesus. He was after all, influenced by the Essenes, who did believed in
transmigration of souls.
I realize that these ideas are heretical to some people. However to
me, they are fascinating. That Jesus was divine, that He was God made
man, I do not deny. I call Him an AVATAR, a Boddhisattva... but, I do not
say that He is exclusive in this role.
Buddhism in Christianity
Allegro, John, The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls Revised, Grammercy
Publishing Co., New York, 1981 (first published Penguin Books, 1956).
Amore, Roy C., Two Masters, One Message, The Lives and the Teachings of
and Jesus, Parthenon Press, Nashville, 1978.
de Silva, Lynn, A., The Problem of the Self in Buddhism and Christianity,
Macmillan Press, London, 1979.
-Reincarnation in Buddhist and Christian Thought, 1968.
Haring, Hermann & Metz, Johann-Baptist, eds., Reincarnation or
SCM Press, Maryknoll, 1993.
Head, Joseph, & Cranston, S.L., eds., Reincarnation An East-West
(Including quotations from the world's religions & from over 400
thinkers), Julian Press, New York, 1961.
Howe, Quincy, Jr., Reincarnation for the Christian, Westminster Press,
Leaney, A.R.C., ed., A Guide to the Scrolls, Nottinham Studies on the Qumran
Discoveries, SCM Book Club, Naperville, Ill., 1958.
Lefebure, Leo D., The Buddha and the Christ, Explorations in Buddhist and
Christian Dialogue (Faith Meets Faith Series), Orbis Books, Maryknoll,
New York, 1993.
Lillie, Arthur, Buddhism in Christendom or Jesus, the Essene, Unity Book
Service, New Delhi, 1984 (first published in 1887).
- India in Primitive Christianity, Kegan House Paul, Trench, Trübner
Lopez, Donald S. & Rockefeller, Steven C., eds., The Christ and the
Bodhisattva, State University of New York, 1987.
Phan, Peter, ed., Christianity and the Wider Ecumenism, Paragon House, New
Pye, Michael & Morgan, Robert, eds., The Cardinal Meaning, Essays in
Comparative Hermeneutics: Buddhism and Christianity, Mouton & Co.,
Radhakrishnan, S., Eastern Religions in Western Thought, Oxford University
Siegmund, Georg, Buddhism and Christianity, A Preface to Dialogue,
Frances McCarthy, trans., University of Alabama Press, 1968.
Smart, Ninian, Buddhism and Christianity: Rivals and Allies, Macmillan,
Streeter, Burnett H., The Buddha and The Christ, an Exploration of the
Meaning of the Universe and of the Purpose of Human Life, Macmillan and
Co., London, 1932.
Tambyah, Isaac T., A Comparative Study of Hinduism, Buddhism and
Christianity, Indian Book Gallery, Delhi, 1983 (first edition 1925).
Yu, Chai-shin, Early Buddhism and Christianity, A comparative Study of
the Founders' Authority, the Community, and the Discipline, Motilal
Banarsidass, Delhi, 1981.
Barlaam and Josephat