Buddhism teaching

Did Jesus recover Buddha’s teaching?

The four views experienced by Guatama Siddhartha underlie all Buddhist teachings. According to the story, Siddhartha (or as he came to be known, Buddha) lived a luxurious existence until the day he left his palace and “in quick succession met a young child full of energy and joy, followed by an old and a decrepit man who was in a lot of pain… a younger man who was very sick and clearly approaching death… [and] a funeral procession carrying a rotting corpse.[1] As a result of his experiences, Siddhartha embarked on a spiritual quest, eventually coming to the conclusion that the main problem is human need.[2] The ultimate goal of Buddhism is nirvana, “to eliminate all desires or cravings, and thus escape from suffering”.[3]
Christianity and Buddhism offer very different perspectives on the nature of reality, what is wrong, and what action to take in response. Click to tweet

Jesus, during his ministry, addressed the same topics of aging, sickness, death and need identified by Buddhism, but had a very different response. First, Jesus recognized people’s needs and miraculously healed people of their earthly afflictions, even raising the dead.[4] When Buddha was in a similar position, he did not heal the afflicted but rather taught them that they should accept suffering as a reality and attempt to attain nirvana.[5] Even when Jesus did not seek to solve all problems, he taught that comfort could be found not by denying need, but by relying on God’s goodness and trusting that God will care for his people. Jesus said:

“If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not clothe you much more? Man of little faith! (Matthew 6:30)

In fact, it is trust in God that distinguishes Christianity from Buddhism. While Buddha taught that it was each individual’s responsibility to attain nirvana, Jesus taught that Christians can rely on God’s mercy to overcome their worldly obstacles. Not only that, but Jesus spoke of a greater concern than temporal matters like aging or death: his relationship with his Creator. For Christians, need is not the main problem in life, but rather the sins that separate man from God. Fortunately, Jesus taught that through him one could be reunited with one’s Creator and in doing so render many earthly concerns moot:

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25-26)

As Siddhartha spent a long journey seeking the truth, Jesus said:

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

It was by Jesus’ own authority that he claimed to perform miracles and forgive sins, and by Jesus’ authority that his disciples performed miracles,[6] just one of many instances where Jesus demonstrated divine status. Siddhartha claimed to have found wisdom through human reason alone, while Jesus claimed he was the source of special revelation from God (himself).

These two world religions offer very different perspectives on the nature of reality, what is wrong, and what action to take in response.

[1] Irving Hexam, Meet the religions of the world (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 73.
[2] Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus and Buddha: Similarities and Differences,” February 3, 2014, YouTube video, 1:30:16, https://youtu.be/0lUB4P8XbqE.[3] Paul Cardoon, Christianity, cults and religions: a side-by-side comparison chart of 20 cults, religions and worldviews (Peabody: Rose Publishing, 2013), 13.
[4] See Matthew 4:23-24 and John 11.
[5] Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus and Buddha: similarities and differences”.
[6] Matthew 10:1.

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