A Buddhist Christmas – Was Jesus a Buddha?

A Buddhist Christmas – Was Jesus Buddha?

Since today is Christmas Day I thought I would write a short post about Jesus and Buddha.

So how do Buddhists view Jesus?

The simple truth is that Buddhists love Jesus and most Buddhists consider Buddha and Jesus to be spiritual brothers.

The Teachings of Buddha and Jesus Christ

Buddhist christmas

Christ and Buddha by Paul Ranson

There have been many books written on the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, and the possible influence of Buddhism on Jesus and his mission. It is said that Jesus went to Tibet during his “lost years” (from age 12 to 29) and learned the Buddhist path and was known by the name Issa. Other scholars disagree citing that there is no evidence for a sojourn to Tibet, but that kind of travel was certainly feasible during the time when Jesus lived.

Before I go on I’d like to note that there are many parallels in their lives and teachings, but there are also some differences due to different cultural and religious contexts. However, I think there are more similarities than differences.

Some of the many similarities between the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus (the Christ) are as follows:

A Buddhist Christmas

Issa (Jesus)

Both issued moral rules that prohibited:

  • Killing/ Murder
  • Stealing
  • Adultery (sexual misconduct)Bearing false witness
  • Coveting the possessions of others

Both emphasized the same moral themes:

  1. Advocate peace, not war
  2.  Avoid the corruption of wealth
  3. Abolish slavery and caste systems
  4. Abandon self and selfishness
  5. Love your neighbor and your enemy

Jesus: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)
Buddha: “One who acts on truth is happy in this world and beyond.” (Dhammapada 13:2)

Jesus: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
Buddha: “Anyone who withdraws into meditation on compassion can see Brahma with his own eyes, talk to him face to face and consult with him.” (Digha Nikaya 19:43)

Jesus: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
Buddha: “The yeoman farmer gets his field well ploughed and harrowed. But that farmer has no magic power or authority to say: ‘Let my crops spring up today. Tomorrow let them ear. On the following day let them ripen.’ No! It is just the due season which makes them grow.” (Anguttara Nikaya 3:91)

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 all desires and utter no evil words.” (Majjhima Nikaya 21:6)

Jesus: “Love your enemies, do good to those you hate, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again” (Luke 6.27-30)
Buddha: “Hatred does not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth. Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good, overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.” (Dhammapada 1:5 & 17:3)

Jesus:“This is my commandment, that you love one another, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15.12-13)
Buddha: “Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world.” (Sutta Nipata 149-150)A buddhist christmas

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 one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick.” (Vinaya, Mahavagga 8:26:3)

Jesus: “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 2:26)
Buddha: “Those who have sufficient faith in me, sufficient love for me, are all headed for heaven or beyond.” (Majjhima Nikaya 22:47)

“Jesus knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” (John 2.24-25)
Buddha: “He was an expert in knowing the thoughts and actions of living beings.” (Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra 2)

Jesus: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8.20)
Buddha: “The thoughtful exert themselves; they do not delight in an abode. Like swans who have left their lake they leave their house and home.” (Dhammapada 7.2)

Jesus: “The devil was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8.44)
Buddha: “Mara, the evil one, appeared desiring their ruin, and he closed off the safe and good path that led to their happiness, and he opened up a false path so that they might later come upon disaster and loss.” (Majjhima Nikaya 19.25-26)

Jesus: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
Buddha: “The body of the Buddha is born of love, patience, gentleness, and truth” (Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra 2)

As you can see the similarities are striking, and also seem to complement and complete each other. In fact, some Buddhists say that “Jesus is Buddha” which makes sense when you consider that the word ‘Buddha’ means ‘awakened one’. By saying this Buddhists are not elevating Buddha above Jesus but consider him an equal in terms of the teachings.

Birth Stories

No post about Christmas would be complete without comparing the birth stories surrounding both Buddha and Jesus. The births of both Buddha and Jesus were definitely important and influential events in the history of humanity.

A Buddhist Christmas

The Buddha’s Birth

Buddha’s story is as follows: “A few days after Buddha was born (according to the sutra this was a virgin birth conceived by the Spirit of Enlightenment), many people in his country of Kapilavastu came to pay their respects, including an old sage named Asita. After contemplating the baby Buddha, Asita began to cry. King Suddhodana, Buddha’s father was alarmed. “Holy man, why are you crying? Will some misfortune overtake my child?” The holy man replied, “No your majesty. The birth of Prince Siddhartha is a wondrous event. Your child will become an important world teacher. But I am too old and I will not be there. That is the only reason why I am crying.”

And Jesus’ story: “Eight days after His birth, the baby Jesus was brought to the temple for circumcision. When a man named Simeon looked at Him, he was able to see that Jesus would bring about a profound change in the life of mankind: ‘When the time comes for the purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. And they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves. Now there was a man named Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that we would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the spirit, Simeon came into the temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary under the law.
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to our people, Israel. It is said that he wept tears of joy when he first set eyes on baby Jesus.

a buddhist christmas

Simeon seeing baby Jesus

Clearly both Jesus and the Buddha represent the compassion of the Divine reaching into our dualistic world to relieve our suffering and give us the tools we need to attain Buddhahood.

As Jesus said, “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, He/she that believeth in me, the works that I do shall he/she do also; and greater works than these shall he/she do; because I go unto my Father (or merge with the father the Infinite, Indivisible, Divine Bliss but yet he remains distinct one of the paradoxes of Nirvana or heaven)”

I think today is a good day to reflect on compassion, generosity, gratitude, giving, and receiving. Remember today isn’t about the acquisition of more material possessions. And remember to carry this Christmas spirit within you every day of the year!!!

Have a Merry Buddhist Christmas!

a buddhist christmas

Jesus Christ

Please enjoy Dr. Robert Thurman’s podcast below named “A Christmas Podcast: Buddhists love Jesus too”

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4 Responses to A Buddhist Christmas – Was Jesus a Buddha?

  1. LakanDula says:

    Similarites and influences on religion are indeed a no brainer, and a fascination. I wonder how they’d give Jesus the name “Issa” in Tibet, “Issa” is a Classical Arabic name for Jesus, that’s what Muslims normally refer to Jesus as, though he’s only a prophet in their eyes. Buddhists are indeed known for their tolerance and acceptance of prophets from other religions.

    • Ian H says:

      I was referring to the hoax that was perpetuated by Nicholas Notovitch with his book “The Life of Saint Issa” where he went to India at 12 to study the Vedas and then went to Tibet to study Buddhism. I don’t think this is true, but that doesn’t mean he would not have learned about it in Judea since there were Buddhist “missionaries” sent out by King Ashoka before the birth of Jesus.

      I didn’t realize that Issa is the Arabic name for Jesus, thanks for pointing that out. According to Ahmadiyya Islam, he escaped the crucifixion and went searching for the 10 tribes of Israel, and ended up in Kashmir India where he died a natural death.

      I love researching how the same figures are interpreted by various religions. It’s definitely fascinating.

  2. Billy Hunter says:

    Whoa, this was very interesting! I remember first learning about Buddhism in High School. I was familiar with the term at first.. but that was just because I saw a statue of a buddhist figure at a hibachi restaurant. I wouldn’t doubt that Jesus learned the ways of buddhism and spread them to Christianity. The story goes back such a long time, who really knows what happened back then.. this is such an interesting read!

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks Billy!

      You wrote: “who really knows what happened back then?”

      Yes, sometimes people take ancient texts too literally or believe that they are complete when there are glaring chronological gaps. People are more comfortable when things don’t change over time, with Buddhism you don’t need to worry about this kind of thing because it’s the actions and experiences that count.

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