Jesus and Buddha: A Raw Comparison

by Joshua Tilghman on August 12, 2013

Buddha and JesusI was inspired to tackle the topic of Jesus and Buddha compared, mainly because I think most websites address this issue from the wrong angle. Instead of staying on the subject of comparing Jesus and Buddha, many religious websites subtly veer off topic and end up comparing Christianity and Buddha. This is the reason they can justify stark differences between the two. But we shouldn’t bring Christianity into the mix when making comparisons, because, quite simply put: too many Christians seem biased towards Buddha because of Christianity, not Jesus.

When we look beyond the doctrines, dogma, and religious ideas that can be argued 101 different ways (in Christianity and Buddhism), both Jesus’ and Buddha’s sayings reveal a universal theme of love, compassion, and personal spiritual growth that transcends religion altogether and certainly shows that they both come from one source. Many people miss this point because they are too caught up in the idea that they have to be different in order to embrace the true message of Christ.

When looking through many sources that have already compared Jesus and Buddha, I frequently came across this same scenario: The titles of articles claimed the differences between Buddha and Jesus, but then went on to show a comparison chart that was labeled Christianity on one side and Buddhism on the other. If we are going to compare the differences between Jesus and Buddha, we must stick with their sayings.

Below you will find quotes from both masters that teach these universal themes. These quotes come from Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, edited by the Jesus scholar, Marcus Borg

Jesus: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
Buddha: “Consider others as yourself.” Dhammapada 10:1

Jesus: “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Luke 6:29
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.” Majjhima Nikaya 21:6

Jesus: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25:45
Buddha: “If you do not tend to one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick.” Vinaya, Mahavagga 8:26.3

Jesus: “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52
Buddha: “Abandoning the taking of life, the ascetic Gautama dwells refraining from taking life, without stick or sword.” Digha Nikaya 1:1.8

Jesus: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Mark 8:35
Buddha: “With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.” Majjhima Nikaya 72:15

Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20
Buddha: “Teach the dharma which is lovely at the beginning, lovely in the middle, lovely at the end. Explain with the spirit and the letter in the fashion of Brahma. In this way you will be completely fulfilled and wholly pure.” Vinaya Mahavagga 1:11.1

After digesting the quotes, need I say more? But just to be fair, I have decided to briefly discuss what many religious leaders claim make Jesus and Buddha polar opposites. In sticking with the spirit of this article, we’ll use a few direct quotes from both masters again.

Who the Buddha Said He Was

Some religious leaders like to emphasize that Buddha taught he was a mere human. The reason for this emphasis is because they say Jesus was God; therefore their teachings are diametrically opposed. But both of these ideas originate in religion, not from Jesus or Buddha. The true meaning of both Buddha’s and Jesus’ teachings towards divinity and humanity transcends both concepts. To illustrate this point, let’s discuss a few more sayings from Buddha first.

I am going to quote from the Anguttara Nikâya (II, 37), a Buddhist scripture. At one point a Brahmin named Dona asks the Buddha if he is a deva, an angel, a demon, or a human being.  Buddha says he is none of those things, but rather:

“Brahmin, whatever defilements there be owing to the presence of which a person may be identified as a god or a heavenly angel or a demon or a human being, all these defilements in me are abandoned, cut off at the root, made like a palm-tree stump, done away with, and are no more subject to future arising.

“Just as, Brahmin, a blue or red or white lotus born in water, grows in water and stands up above the water untouched by it, so too I, who was born in the world and grew up in the world, have transcended the world, and I live untouched by the world. Remember me as one who is enlightened.”

I want to point out that Buddha’s answer has nothing to do with being a human or a god. His main point is that attachments to anything bring defilement. He was pointing out that he had transcended the world, and that any labels such as the ones Dona brings up are simply attachments he is no longer concerned with.

Jesus Teaches the Same Thing

I used the above quotes from the Anguttara Nikaya because Jesus has a very similar saying.

“They are not of this world, even as I am not of this world” (John 17:16).

In the above quote Jesus is praying to the Father about himself and his disciples. Just like the Buddha, Jesus teaches his disciples to transcend the world. The only way we can be in this world but not of this world is to transcend the desire mind of the lower ego, because it is the ego that brings attachment to the things of the world. This includes relationships with things, people, and yes, even labels such as humans, gods, demons, and angels.

I also want to point out the fact that Jesus, like the Buddha 500 years before, taught detachment. I dedicated an entire blog post to this subject: Detachment: Yes Jesus Taught it Too.

Who Did Jesus Really Say He Was?

Christians teach that Jesus was God. But did Jesus make this claim, or does Christianity make this claim? Jesus never actually says he is God. He does claim the title, the Son of God. So what? Psalms 82:6 claims that we are all sons of the most high. Aren’t we all sons of God?

I once heard a religious leader say,

“For not ever directly claiming to be God, Jesus made some arrogant statements. For example, in response to Thomas, Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me.’ From this statement alone, one has to wonder why nobody can come to God directly. I think Jesus was definitely saying he was God!”

But doesn’t that pastor’s statement put a religious spin on Jesus’ saying? Couldn’t Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life be speaking to the Logos, or divine spark of divinity that is within all of us? Could it true that the ego can only be transcended through the Logos, and that Jesus’ statement simply means the ego cannot come to the Father for the ego (being separated) is the opposite of God (unity)?

Jesus says to God in the Gospel of John:

“…that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22).

Hmm…

In conclusion I want to say that yes, there is a stark difference between Buddha and Christianity. The two are irreconcilable. However, I cannot say that there is a stark difference between Buddha and Jesus. When we look at their raw sayings, they seem to come from a universal idea that conveys transcendent spiritual truths rather than religious differences.

Martin Nathanael August 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm

The Logos in Jesus speaks to the Logos in you and me. That is how to understand the “I AM” sayings in John.

That way, we come up with a very different Christianity. We get a universal teaching that simply clothed itself in the language of its place & time.

Joshua Tilghman August 13, 2013 at 11:23 am

Well put Martin.

love August 12, 2013 at 7:31 pm

There is one mind, and a million bodies. Drop your ego, and join the all seeing mind. Connect to others, and your minds become one. See your buddy, and see yourself in his eyes. The mirror-effect of looking at close relatives, it is in everyone. That is why Jesus says, ‘Only through me’, because he says ‘me’ as in the one and only mind within us, the eye within us, the love within us, we are like a million bodies, all connected to a single source, which transcends this world, and it is our true identity.

Joshua Tilghman August 13, 2013 at 11:24 am

So true!

Mike S August 13, 2013 at 8:43 am

I read this article as well as the article , Did Jesus teach detachment.
I have several books comparing Jesus and Buddha as well as others, and as you I find similarities. Was Jesus God? The thought which came to my mind after reading your thoughts were, (of course I’m reading literal, which you are) the fact that Jesus was sentenced to death by the high priest for such a claim.

I would like to get your thoughts on this thing called attachment, I myself have struggled with this, it seems to me that one cannot live in this place without being attached to something.
Buddha was attached to becoming unattached
Jesus was attached to doing the Fathers business
You are attached to your blog.
Is a purpose an attachment? Their is allot to find purpose in. Their is allot to enjoy in this place, allot of beauty, much to take pleasure in. It seems to me that the dynamics of fear of becoming a slave or in bondage to the offerings here is also a form of attachment as well as becoming a slave or in bondage. I like to eat and taste of the delights and pleasures, I admit it and eat and enjoy, is this attachment, or a form of something else? I would like to hear your thoughts as well as the thoughts of others.

Joshua Tilghman August 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Mike,

Hopefully my next article will help you understand this a bit more in the big picture of things, but here’s some food for thought.

Eastern scriptures teach that attachment is the reason for physical existence. Desires to gratify the senses continually throw the soul into the reincarnation. I believe this is true, but we weren’t meant to be in the physical environment forever. Let me explain:

As far as your current life is concerned, you don’t have to be concerned about enjoying things in life. I just put up some bird feeders on the side of my screen porch. It brings me immense joy to sit outside in the cool mornings and evenings and watch the hummingbirds and songbirds going back and forth to the feeders. Sometimes I write posts as I am enjoying this. I love to go bass fishing and enjoy the nature scene. But I haven’t developed an attachment to it. If I wasn’t able to ever enjoy this again, it wouldn’t ruin my day. I simply enjoy it because I can.

On the other hand, I still have a problem with alcohol. I have shared on this blog before that I use to be a heavy drinker. I was attached to it. In fact, many years ago I wouldn’t have been able to sit on my porch and watch hummingbirds unless there was a beer in my hand. Or enjoy fishing without a beer. Of course this isn’t the case anymore, but I still have to be careful. It’s been imprinted in the psyche, so if I currently have a beer, I sometimes get the desire to have another and another even though I shouldn’t. So in a sense, I guess you could say I have not conquered this sense gratification.

Scriptures teach that when divine union is achieved between the lower and higher natures, desire and attachment of the lower personality completely falls away. Most of us aren’t even close to this point. It’s a process that takes many lifetimes.

There are things we can enjoy in this lifetime that have nothing to do with the desires of our lower nature…like doing the things that bring us fulfillment. These things are often the right things for us to engage in in our current level of development. I will deal more with this subject as the blog progresses. Blessings!

Martin Nathanael August 13, 2013 at 8:55 am

You can enjoy without attachment.
Enjoy what is here; let go when it isn’t.
Don’t be enslaved – that’s addiction.
Enjoy a drink; don’t become an alcoholic!
A good answer to this can be found in William Blake’s short poem:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

anny August 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Hi Joshua,

I totally agree with you on this. Of course we are confronted with this in our every daylife as spiritual people with a christian background and two buddhist daughters in law. When you get to the essence of things, the same things are important.

Do you know about the Vietnamese buddhist monk and teacher Think Nhat Hanh whose motto is interbeing and mindfulness. He also studied theology at Princeton University so he knows all about christianity. He wrote a book called Jesus and Buddha as brothers. He is a great teacher and has been promoting peace and harmony between all people all his life.

Tom Martin October 24, 2013 at 12:45 am

Josh, i can’t begin to tell you how inspired this me was to “stumble” across this blog. Jesus and Buddha: A Raw Comparison was what brought me. Long life to your blog and already i see folks alive in the discussions! At almost 59 i have been driven if you will for 37 years to find the commonalities of religious tradition. i went through many versions, Catholic, fundamentalist, was a Buddhist monk for 3 months and all this led to a lifelong work. “Do what you love and the money will follow”, “Seek first for the Kingdom and all else will follow” was engaged.

Semantics, etymology and linguistics can be a slippery slope and i have found myself getting very simple with language being as it can only infer and “point to” what it is that we mean. Reality is whole, language is dualistic. And each context might call for certain ways of saying something and there will always be someone who can argue a point “professionally”. It was a revelation when i digested the article on the core meaning of Shakyamuni’s and Yeshua’s renunciation statements. Never quite noticed this one to this extent. The core meaning of not taking one’s own will and doing the will of the One as the Sufis say, is to be one with the universe as the Taoists say. What could demonize us if we are all one in the body of Christ?

We demonize ourselves with habituated thoughts, feelings and behaviors and we do not have the centered awareness to transcend them and be born again of Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the living aspect of the Divine that moves through us and answers all our questions – a living stream of awareness en-lightning us. For anyone of any “denomination” to thoroughly plumb the depths of meaning, i dare say, the proper understanding will come.

The Buddha would not comment one way or another on God or no God, his point was to engage the person in question to use their own awareness and decide for oneself. Like Paul having to work out our own salvation. To not be of this world or renounce the addiction to forms would be something that is universal. Where the “rubber meets the road” for me is to use language that is easily accessible in 2013. Mindfulness training in many circles is very fruitful. The word i am drawn to is awareness.

How to “allow” awareness to penetrate our being and be the pure benign loving-kindness that it is and ever giving without thought like Paul says, is to interface with awareness, a living force that can actually be felt in the body. It “shines on the good and bad alike”. We love what we pay attention to. To dispel the notion that we can be taken over by demonic forces is when for me, it is made clear through practice, that with a full field of awareness grounded in itself, no destructive thought, feeling, behavior or anything labelled demonic can take over.

When awareness recognizes awareness nothing can overpower it and we are *born again* into another state of consciousness beyond egoic distinctions that superimposes division on life, they are then experienced as the temporary forms that they are including our personalities. Truly “we” as egos cannot save ourselves as this state of consciousness is fragmented making us victims. Undivided awareness, vibration, sound – the living Word as the light that shines through all our eyes and is the life of all mankind as John says can, and can be felt not just conceptualized, if, we allow it through our minds, hearts and bodies. Life is vibration.

We can sure argue over semantics and translations, what other could being en-lightened mean other than to let our light shine or let our eye be single so that our whole body if full of light – we then are really aware of what we were not aware of, the kingdom of God is in our midst. Ears can be safely replaced with awareness here: Those with the awareness to perceive, let them perceive. The practice of radiating awareness becomes a stronger habit anywhere in life not just in formal meditation, pray ceaselessly as Paul says. Awareness begets understanding. Everything concealed will be revealed in the light of our nonjudgmental awakening. The practice of awareness is everything. Thank you so much for this venue Josh, it means the world to me.

Joshua Tilghman October 27, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Tom,

Great comments! Thanks for taking the time to share what you have learned. Many blessings!

Nick Payton November 30, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Just watched a Amazing video http://youtu.be/QAaW6BYhfNM look it up this Will clear up all The confusion
There is so much information sience internet etc that blind faith is really what it implyes blind we must see open our eyes and bleve in truth .
.if any one made any claims even close to those made about miracles in the bible we would laugh and say prove it for this we are called blasfremers mmm but do I bleave Jesus existed yes I do also Buddha did but I base my beliefe in facts they where amazing masters and chanced the course of our planet but watch the above movie be open this is a real eye opener
Bless you all and keep spreading the love x
Nick

Joshua Tilghman December 9, 2014 at 9:47 pm

Thanks, Nick!

Girma June 17, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Jesus is the Christ, meaning he was not becoming Christed while he was on earth but performing an expressive work for us. Jesus is the head of all the Christed ones because he was never created or never became a soul like all the other created spirits. he is the only one ever to be born or birthed from The Father/Mother God, which means he is the only begotten. in him, the nature and power of God is expressed.

a true Christan is one who becomes Christ like by the power of Jesus the Christ in him. the process of being Christed is not undertaken by our own mind but through grace.

So in Christanity, we don’t follow the teachings of christ like the buddhists do of Buddha., but instead, we become Christ like by nature by the revealing of Jesus the Christ within.

this means Christanity is not a relegion but of faith. relegion is followed and performed by the mind of men but faith if embodied not bu following a teaching but by love, grace, and mercy!!

Joshua Tilghman July 19, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Girma, an astute reply, although I wouldn’t encourage on thing: Jesus as the second Adam did have to go through a transformation during his earthly ministry.

Rafal March 18, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Hi,
Very interesting article. I am comparing Jesus and Buddha teachings as well for past two years and I found many similarities as you did, yet! Still got trouble with understanding of few situations in New Testament and I wonder what is your opinion about them.

First I cannot tell the reference to the Bible but it is a situation when Tomas seeing Jesus is saying words like ‘my Lord, my God’ and Jesus did not disagree with that, didn’t tell Tomas ‘get up I am not a God so do not blasphemy’. Jesus fully accepted those words and did not deny them. This does not fit Buddha teachings at all, as Buddha did not practice attachment, for Buddha aggreing for being God meant ‘becoming’ therefore it led to suffering again. Also Jesus speaks of God as a Father and He never denied his existence at all, He even said that ‘He says what Father in Heaven told him to say’. In case of Buddha apparently God does not exist.

Second is the fact that Jesus actually mention previous and future teachers of the ‘path’ but those words are like this
John 10:8
So He said to them again, “Truly, truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before Me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture.…

This verses suggests that Buddha was a ‘thief’ as he was before Jesus came. Any other religious character like Mohammad, Krishna or Matreya as well. This is one of the points in the Bible where Jesus suggests that He is the ONLY WAY. Not one of the ways.

I wonder if you ever read those verses and thought of it. Would be pleased to share some knowledge and experience.

Joshua March 18, 2017 at 7:17 pm

Rafal,

Thanks for commenting. Remember, we have to see Jesus as the inner Christ, which is part of consciousness. Not as a literal outside source. In this regard there is good reason why Jesus did not deny the assertion of Thomas. Buddha would have agreed. Make sense? This clears up both of your questions.

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