Miracles of Buddha and Christ: Similarities

In my previous blog, I pointed out some of the differences between Buddha’s and Jesus’ miracles. In this blog, I will discuss some of the similarities. Buddha and Jesus are both known for miracles involving power over nature, over their own bodies, and the power of divine sight. In general, however, the miracles Buddha performed were not cited as benefiting anyone, or only a few people, particularly in comparison to similar miracles performed by Jesus (or Moses).

Power Over Nature

Power to Transform Water

The Buddha asked one of his disciples to get him some water, but when the disciple went to the well it was filled with grass and chaff. The Buddha asked him several times, and the answer was always that the water was not drinkable. Eventually the disciple went to the well one last time, and all the grass and chaff had been expelled by the Buddha, so the water was drinkable.[1]

Rather than making water drinkable, Jesus, while attending a wedding, turned water into wine, much to the relief of the wedding host who had run out of wine for his many guests.[2]

Dominion Over Water

The Buddha, when faced with a flood, commanded the flood waters to stand back, and he walked between them on dry ground.[3] No one was cited as being helped.

In contrast, many centuries before Buddha lived, Moses parted the Red Sea so that over two million Israelites could escape from Egypt and slavery under the Pharaoh.[4]

When the disciples were at sea with Jesus and a terrible storm hit, the disciples feared for their lives. Just by speaking Jesus calmed the storm.[5]

Buddha walked on water.[6] When Jesus walked on water, it was a faith-building exercise for Peter and the disciples.[7]

Power Over Their Bodies

Known as the Twin Miracle, Buddha transformed the top half of his body into flames and the lower half into streams of water. He alternated this from the top and bottom and left and right.[8] I could not find any reference to anyone being influenced by these miracles.

In the Gospels, Jesus’ transfiguration is described,

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.[9]

And in John’s vision in Revelation:

And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.[10]

The Buddha passed through solid objects as if through space (intangibility). He rose and sank in the ground as if in the water. He walked through mountains, dove in and out of earth.[11] The Buddha was said to travel to other worlds, like the world of Brahma, with or without his body, and traveled to the heavens to school the gods and returned.[12]

After his resurrection, the Apostles were hiding in fear and gathered in a room with the doors shut. Jesus entered the sealed room by passing through the walls or a closed door.[13] To calm their fears, he twice said “Peace to you.” After being seen by a great number of people (approximately 500[14]), he blessed his disciples and ascended into heaven.[15]

Power of Divine Sight

The Buddha was said to have the gift of Divine seeing: telepathy, the ability to see past lives, and knowing a person’s past, their present thoughts, and future events. I was unable to find any references to Buddha’s exercise of these powers affecting or influencing anyone.[16]

When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, he knew her history, that she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man that was not her husband. The woman marveled at his knowledge of her life, and told many in her village. As a result, many people in her village became followers of Jesus.[17]

Documentation

Because the documentation for the Buddha’s miracles comes from manuscripts written 400-500 years after he lived (the Pali Canon was an oral tradition until it was committed to paper in 29 CE[18]), we may consider them as legends. In contrast, documentation for the miracles of Jesus were written down by people who knew him and they wrote about them during their lifetimes. In other words, they were eyewitness accounts.


[1] “The Clean Water.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#The_clean_water, retrieved December 12, 2012.

[2] John 2:1-11

[3] “Power Over Nature.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Power_over_nature, retrieved December 12, 2012.

[4] Exodus 14:1-31.

[5] Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25.

[6] “Miraculous Powers,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Miraculous_Powers, retrieved December 24, 2012.

[7] Matthew 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21.

[8] “Twin Miracle.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Twin_miracle, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[9] Matthew 17:1-2 (NIV). Full passages on the transfiguration are found in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36.

[10] Revelation 1:13-16 (NKJV).

[11] “Miraculous Powers.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Miraculous_Powers, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[12] “Miraculous Powers.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Miraculous_Powers, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[13] John 20:19.

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

[15] Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:9-11

[16] “Other Miracles.” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha#Other_miracles, retrieved on December 12, 2012.

[17] John 4:1-30.

[18] “Pali Canon,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C4%81li_Canon, retrieved on December 24, 2012.

Miracles of Buddha and Christ: Differences

When looking at the miracles of Buddha and Christ, distinct areas of difference come to light.

In the Digha Nikaya: The Long Discourses are descriptions of miracles that Buddha performed. He defined three types of miracles,

Kevatta, there are these three miracles that I have declared, having directly known and realized them for myself. Which three? The miracle of psychic power, the miracle of telepathy, and the miracle of instruction.[1]

Further in the discourse he expressed his abhorrence for miracles,

Seeing this drawback to the miracle of psychic power, Kevatta, I feel horrified, humiliated, and disgusted with the miracle of psychic power.[2]

And he repeated the same thing about the miracle of telepathy. The only miracle of value that he found was the ability to direct a student in instruction. However, further in the text his definition of the miracle of instruction extends to other powers, such as vanishing, traveling through walls and space, diving in and out of the earth, hearing divine sounds, mind reading, recollection of past lives, etc.[3]

When confronted, Jesus refused to say under whose authority he was doing miracles.[4] However, he did them to bring glory to God and to help people.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”[5]

When Lazarus had died and Jesus heard about it he said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”[6] He said that in reference to the fact that he would raise him from the dead.

In a future blog, I’ll discuss some of the similarities, but in this blog, I’ll point out two major differences. Jesus fed and healed people. I know of no legends where Buddha did that.

Jesus fed people miraculously. On two occasions, he was moved with compassion on the crowds that came to hear him teach. He fed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and two fish,[7] and He fed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fish.[8] On both occasions there were baskets full of leftover food, far more than they started with.

In the Gospels, 37 instances of healing are documented, and the Apostle John noted that there were many other things that Jesus did that weren’t written down. Jesus healed:
The Blind (5)

  1. Two blind men at Galilee[9]
  2. Blind man of Bethsaida[10]
  3. The Blind man at birth[11]
  4. Blind near Jericho[12]

Lepers (11)

  1. One leper[13]
  2. Ten lepers[14]

Paralytics (2)

  1. The Centurion’s Servant[15]
  2. At Capernaum[16]

Women (3)

  1. Peter’s mother-in-law (fever)[17]
  2. Woman with 12 years of bleeding[18]
  3. Infirm woman[19]

Men (6)

  1. With withered hand[20]
  2. Deaf-mute of Decapolis[21]
  3. Man with dropsy[22]
  4. At Gennesaret (many men)[23]
  5. Healing the ear of the servant of the High Priest in the Gardenof Gethsemane[24]
  6. Invalid at Pool of Bethesda[25]

Exorcisms (7 major episodes)

  1. At Synagogue in Capernaum[26]
  2. A mute[27]
  3. At sunset (many)[28]
  4. Gerasenes demonic[29]
  5. Blind and mute man[30]
  6. Canaanites woman’s daughter[31]
  7. Boy possessed by a demon[32]

Resurrection of the dead (3) plus his own (1)

  1. Son of the Widow of Nain[33]
  2. Daughter of Jairus [34]
  3. Lazarus[35]
  4. Jesus[36]

Plus a reference to miracles not written about . . . [37]

When you add in His own resurrection, that is a total of 38 documented healings.

In general, Buddha’s miracles were pure demonstrations of power, and his teachings turn a person inward. Jesus’ miracles and teachings are demonstrations of miraculous compassion, meetings people’s needs and healing their bodies.


[1]Digha Nikaya: The Long Discourses (1997-2012), DN11 Kevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta: To Kevatta PTS: D i 211, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.11.0.than.html, retrieved December 17, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew 21:23-27.

[5] John 9:1-3 (NIV).

[6] John 11:4b (NKJV).

[7] Matthew 14:31-21, Mark 6:31-34, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15.

[8] Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 8:1-9.

[9] Matthew 9:27-31.

[10] Mark 8:22-26.

[11] John 9:1-12.

[12] Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43.

[13] Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16.

[14] Luke 17:11-19.

[15] Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10, John 4:46-54.

[16] Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26.

[17] Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-34, Luke 4:38-41.

[18] Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:43-48.

[19] Luke 13:10-17.

[20] Matthew 12:9-13, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11.

[21] Mark 7:31-37.

[22] Luke 14:1-6.

[23] Matthew 14:34-36, Mark 6:53-56.

[24] Luke 22:49-51.

[25] John 5:1-18.

[26] Mark1:21-18 and Luke 4:37-37.

[27] Matthew 9:32-34.

[28] Matthew 8:16-17, Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41.

[29] Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39.

[30] Matthew 12:22-28, Mark 3:20-30, Luke 11:14-23.

[31] Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30.

[32] Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-49.

[33] Young man from Nain: Luke 7:11-17.

[34] Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56.

[35] John 11:1-44.

[36] Matthew 28:1-10, 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-18.

[37] John 20:30 and 21:25.

Is Karma King?

Historian Will Durant defined karma as “that universal law by which every act of good or of evil will be rewarded or punished in this life, or in some later incarnation of the soul.”[1]  Belief in this law may have had its roots in the Jewish culture of Solomon’s time, or it may have been imported into Solomon’s culture from earlier or neighboring cultures.

The Law of Karma is not exactly the same in Judaism as it is in Hinduism and Buddhism. The different versions of the concept relate to differing beliefs about life after death. The Jewish style of application may have naturally shifted when transplanted to a Hindu culture as Hindus adapted it to their way of thinking and integrated it with their other beliefs.  Jews believed in a single life after death, if they believed in an afterlife at all, whereas Hindus believed in repeated reincarnation. It would have been an easy matter to extend the concept of good and bad consequences to the long view of many lives as opposed to one lifetime.

Hindus were captivated by the far-reaching implications of a belief in repeated reincarnation.  If you believe you are the reincarnation of a prior being, who could have been some kind of animal, and you are an heir to the good or bad karma of that prior being, you look at the tragedies and good fortunes of your life quite differently than if you did not believe you could have existed previously. To a Hindu, the misfortunes of this life are most likely the result of bad deeds from one of your prior lives.  Because of this belief, it is not uncommon in India for people to choose not to help someone who is struggling—to do so would be to interfere in the natural consequences of their bad karma.  Buddha disagreed with this perspective, calling his followers to help those in need—not to subvert the workings of karma, but to practice compassion for all sentient beings.

Buddha assumed reincarnation as a fact, not something to wonder about.  Karma is so key to Buddhism that Buddha’s first two proverbs in the Dhammapada highlight it:

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.[2]

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.[3]

The apostle Paul also believed in karma: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”[4]

So it would seem that karma is king. If you can get Solomon, Buddha and Paul to agree on something, then it likely is so. However, Jesus made it clear that karma is not always king.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.[5]

Jesus then healed the man of his blindness, giving him sight for the first time in his life. Giving sight to the blind is cited in Isaiah 35:5-6 in the Old Testament as one of the miracles that the Messiah was prophesied to fulfill. So, his performance of this healing served as a witness that he was the Messiah. One of the times that karma is not king is when some higher purpose is being served than the basic working out of karma created by past actions.

We will see in the next upcoming blog article that there are many ways in which karma is not king, and that for the Christian, this is far more true than for the Buddhist. Just as an airplane transcends the law of gravity, by respecting yet overcoming its earthward pull, so the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God can overcome the debilitating drag of bad karma.


[1] Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Part I: Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963), 427.

[2] Dhammapada 1.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Galatians 6:7 (NKJV).

[5] John 9:1-3 (NKJV).

Nirvana or Resurrection and Ascension?

Buddhists believe that the Buddha himself attained enlightenment at the age of 35 and so did not reincarnate when he died at age 80. The Buddha claimed that he entered a state of Nirvana when he died. What this state is like cannot be known since it is “outside of all conceivable experience.”[1]

In contrast, after his death by crucifixion, the Bible records that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and he appeared on numerous occasions to many people. He appeared on 14 different occasions that are recounted in the Four Gospels and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. These different appearances are summarized below in the order in which they occurred:

1) To Mary Magdalene, while she was weeping outside the empty tomb. He told her not to hang onto him, but to go to his disciples and tell them that he would be ascending into heaven.[2]

2) To a group of women who were hurrying to tell the disciples about the empty tomb. They clasped his feet and worshiped him.[3]

3) To two men on the Road to Emmaus, who without recognizing Him told Jesus about the events of His death. Jesus reminded them that the prophets spoke of the Messiah having to suffer and then entering into glory. He began with Moses and the Prophets to explain all the Scriptures that were about Him.[4]

4) To Simon Peter also known as Cephas.[5]

5) To all the disciples except for Thomas, after the two men arrived with Jesus from the Emmaus road. He showed them his wounded hands and feet and was given a piece of fish to eat.[6]

6) To the disciples and Thomas, when they had gathered together a week later. He allowed Thomas to touch his hands and side where the wounds were.[7]

7) To seven by the Sea of Galilee [Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Canain Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples], as they were out fishing. Jesus served them bread and fish.[8]

8) To Peter, when He questions Peter three times, asking him if Peter loved Him, and telling him to feed his sheep.[9]

9) To 500 men and women.[10]

10) To James.[11]

11) To all His disciples.[12]

12) To the disciples, when He commissioned them[13] to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”[14]

13) To those gathered as He ascended into heaven.[15]

14) To Paul.[16]

During appearances 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, specific details of the account make it clear that Jesus had a physical body after his resurrection and so he was not just a disembodied spirit.

 


[1] “Nirvana: Parinirvana,” Wikipedia, Retrieved November 13, 2012.

[2] Mark 16:9-11 and John 20:11-18.

[3] Matthew 28:8-10.

[4] Mark16:12 and Luke 24:13-32.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:3-5a and Luke 24:34.

[6] Luke 24:36-43, Mark16:14 and John 20:19-24.

[7] John 20:26-29.

[8] John 21:1-14.

[9] John 21:15-23.

[10] 1 Corinthians 15:6.

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:7.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Matthew 28:16-20, Mark16:15-18 and Luke 24:44-49.

[14] Mark 16:15b.

[15] Mark16:19-20 and Luke 24:50-53.

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:8.

Possible Shift in China Re: Buddhism

In 1959, during the invasion of Tibet by China, the 14th Dalai Lama fled and has lived in exile ever since.[i] While there has been no change in China’s official stance towards the Dalai Lama, there are indications that tensions in China may be relaxing towards Tibetan Buddhism.

While corrupt business practices have been ensconced, for some of the super-rich in China there is a search for new ways to be even more successful. This longing has manifested itself as a desire for good karma through practicing Buddhism, and spending their resources promoting Buddhism, and providing for Buddhist monks.

In a New York Times interview[ii] with John Osborn, author of Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich, Osborn stated,

Now that every Shanxi coal baron’s mistress can afford Louis Vuitton, in order to differentiate themselves, other new rich are moving on to other pursuits and tastes.

I think this is part of what’s driving this interest in spiritual and moral cultivation. Some people are genuinely interested in spiritual transformation. But there’s also an element of social distinction that’s feeding this trend.

Osborn explained that some of the wealthy donating to monks and temples call it their “spiritual protection money,” but found that others have been more serious about applying Buddhist teachings to their lives. He said, “. . . I’ve encountered several people whose lives have been radically transformed by Buddhism.”

In a recent BBC article, “China’s Super-Rich Communist Buddhists,”[iii] BBC Journalist John Sudworth described being invited into a former senior Communist Party official’s home. There he witnessed Xiao Wunan sitting with Buddhist monk Geshe Sonam and beneath a portrait of the Dalai Lama and a Buddhist shrine. He explained that the idea of seeing a former official doing this would previously have been “preposterous” or “laughable,” yet it was exactly what Xiao was doing.

Further in the article, another wealthy Chinese businessman, Sun Kejia, said, “I was once confronted with great difficulties and problems in my business. I felt they couldn’t be overcome by human effort and that only Buddha, ghosts and God could help me.”

Thirty-six year old Sun’s fortune is estimated at over $100 million. He runs a chain of clubs, and he pays for Buddhist gurus to come and teach his clients. Sun said, “I desire influence.”  He describes his friends coming to his club as being “attracted to this place. I can use the resources they bring to do my other business. From that angle, it is also my contribution for spreading Buddhism. This brings good karma and so I get what I want.”

According to the Cultural China website[iv], Chinese worship the Tibetan Gods of Wealth, such as the:

  • Heavenly King of Wealth
  • Yellow Wealth God
  • Black Wealth God
  • White Wealth God
  • Umbrella Heavenly King

In addition, “Each time of the Spring Festival, every family will hang a picture of the god for blessings of great luck and large wealth.”

It is unknown when China as a nation might officially recognize the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism, but it is evident at this time that the people of China have already begun to do so, and in particular many of the super-rich are in pursuit of karmic blessing and transformation.


[i] “Dalai Lama,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalai_Lama, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[ii] Ian Johnson, “Q and A with John Osburg on China’s Wealthy Turning to Spiritualism,” New York Times. (December 18, 2014), http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/q-and-a-john-osburg-on-chinas-wealthy-turning-to-spiritualism/?_r=1, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[iii] John Sudworth, “China’s Super-Rich Communist Buddhists,” BBC.com. (February 7, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30983402, retrieved February 9, 2015.

[iv] “Tibetan Buddhist Gods of Wealth,” CulturalChina.com, http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/html/en/Traditions29bye115.html, retrieved February 10, 2015.

Tibet, Tibet: Book Review

At age 16 Mr. French met the Dalai Lama in 1982 when His Holiness visited the Catholic school for boys he attended. He was quite fascinated by the Dalai Lama’s style and exoticism. “Joy poured from him; there was no trace of piety, the great Christian virtue.”[1] Later French’s fascination led to his becoming one of the leaders of the Free Tibet Campaign and editor of the Campaign’s magazine.[2]  “The Tibetan cause became a central part of my life, and many friendships and relationships developed from it.”[3]

And it was, and is, a very worthy cause. In 1950 the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet. They destroyed 6,000 monasteries and killed 1.2 million people, one-fifth the entire population. Only 70 monasteries remained.[4] The Communists looted the monasteries, confiscating their money, gold, carvings and grain reserves.[5] They told the villagers that “religion was poison and monks were parasites.”[6] And the Communists made sure that the monks who remained were of ill repute.[7]

Before finishing the book Mr. French was very empathetic toward, if not fully persuaded about, Buddhism. “For me, Tibetan Buddhism was a workable approach. Leaving the Roman Catholic faith of my childhood was not hard. Buddhism appeared to create contentment among its followers, and reincarnation seemed a fair explanation of what happened to the spirit after death. So my admiration was partially utilitarian: it felt good to be around Tibetans, and if their religion brought good to them, it was worth pursuing….It was the Buddhist explanation of life, the universe and everything that drew me, rather than the ritual or the theology.”[8]

In spite of the empathy and admiration of Tibetan Buddhism evident in his book, French had numerous reservations about it. Tibet, Tibet emerged out of “a gradual nervousness that the idea of Tibet, particularly the views of Tibet campaigners, was becoming too detached from the reality of what Tibet was like. So I did a long journey through Tibet in 1999.”[9]

In a book review by Pico Iyer published in The Los Angeles Times, Iyer described French as a “scrupulous and disciplined writer” who “has a decided gift for inspired and heartfelt research and a knack for coming upon overlooked details that are worth several volumes of analysis.”[10] Tibet, Tibet is a treasure trove of historical and sociological observations about Tibet and its communist oppressors.

So, what reservations did French cite about Tibetan Buddhism? Here are the primary ones:

1) “The outward aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, and the celibate male hierarchy running the show, were what I found least appealing, although I still respected the Dalai Lama.”[11]

2) “As I studied Buddhism more closely, some of the failings began to show, and I noted the schisms, bigots, frauds, hypocrites and predators that you would find in any ecclesiastical system.”[12]

3) “I was put off too by the tone of many of the foreign converts, who thought they could strip the tradition of its tough ethical underpinnings. They were implausible, with their showy accountrements of conversion, their beads and bracelets, their devotion to instant spiritual empowerment, their reliance on airport-hopping teachers who were not always taken seriously by Tibetans.”[13]

4) “…there were the prominent blunders: the teacher and promoter Sogyal Rinpoche, served with a lawsuit for seducing a student; and the Nyingmapa monk Penor Rinpoche who, in the most dubious circumstances, identified the high-kicking Hollywood action hero Steven Seagal (Marked for Death, Hard to Kill) as a reincarnation of the seventeenth-century master Chungdrag Dorje.”[14]

5) “I was also cautioned by the Dalai Lama’s own refusal to proselytise. After long observation, he had decided that conversion usually led to confusion, and that without the support of the prevailing culture, it was hard to maintain your spiritual practice: ‘In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you? Homeless inside yourself.’”[15]

The book does not provide further elaboration on why the Dalai Lama is so reticent to encourage Westerners to convert to Buddhism. This is a very important question. My own research led to comments from two other sources:

1) The Dalai Lama has said that “westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”[16]

2) What kind of difficulties might the Dalai Lama be referring to? Lorin Roche, Ph.D., a meditation instructor who has counseled thousands of people who have engaged in prolonged, intensive meditation, offered his own list on his website.[17] It includes: 1) depression, 2) a feeling of being lost, 3) trouble adapting to life in the city, 4) weird health problems, 5) bipolar disorders, 6) panic attacks, 7) psychosis, and 8) suicide. His web posting, “The Dangers of Meditation,” is an astonishingly revealing and thorough document.

Obviously, Dr. Roche’s list does not refer to issues involved in practicing short sessions of meditation, since he himself strongly advocates it. The challenge is that anyone hoping to attain liberation and enlightenment must engage in prolonged, intensive meditation. It is an essential part of the route to Nirvana. That is the conundrum that Buddhism presents to Westerners attracted to it. People in the West are so conditioned to indulge in worldly gratifications that highly disciplined self- denial is extremely difficult and debilitating. And the self-imposed isolation that such marathon meditation requires is psychologically perilous, especially for people who already have major issues.

No wonder the Dalai Lama doesn’t push conversion to people in the West. And yet, it is obvious that he wants Westerners to have a very positive view of Tibetan Buddhism. Why? He wants our support of his efforts to free Tibet.


[1] Patrick French, Tibet, Tibet (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 17.

[2] Ibid., 29.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Ibid., 63.

[5] Ibid., 43.

[6] Ibid., 44.

[7] Ibid., 63.

[8] Ibid., 24.

[9] Interview: Nandini Lal on Patrick French Outlook Magazine. March 10, 2003.

[10] Himalayan Descent. The Los Angeles Times. October 19, 2003.

[11] Op. cit., French, 24.

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] Ibid., 26.

[14] Ibid, 26-27.

[15] Ibid., 27.

[16] Mary Garden, “Can Meditation Be Bad for You?” Humanist, September/October 2007, www.thehumanist.org/humanist;MaryGarden.html.

[17] Lorin Roche, “The Dangers of Meditation,” www.lorinroche.com/dangers/homeless.html.

More Similarities to Solomon’s Proverbs

Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?
[Excerpt from Chapter Fourteen of
Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?]

There are many examples of the words of Buddha (and of Christ) echoing the writings of Solomon.  Often, the similarities are so striking that one can only wonder whether Solomon’s influence was direct. Here are two more examples:

Generosity

Solomon (950 B.C.)

“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”[i]

“He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, righteousness and honor.”[ii]

 

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“Hard it is to understand: By giving away our food, we get more strength; by bestowing clothing on others, we gain more beauty.”[iii]

“With generosity and kind words, always doing to others what is good, he treats all people as the same. His compassion for the world is like the hub that makes the wheel go round.”[iv]

 

Christ (A.D. 30)

“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”[v]

“. . . you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”[vi]

 

Buddha’s words here carry the same essence as Solomon’s two verses, as do the words of Jesus. Again, there is no reason to posit a direct relationship between Buddha and Jesus, because Jesus clearly was echoing Solomon, and Buddha may well have been echoing Solomon as well.

Further, the following excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is reminiscent of Solomon’s teachings on generosity:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.[vii]

In this passage Jesus even mentions Solomon by name, providing further evidence that he had Solomon in mind as he was speaking. Solomon, too, taught the great importance of pursuing, or “treasuring,” righteousness and love.

 

Practice Charity

Solomon (950 B.C.)

“There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.”[viii]

“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth.”[ix]

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”[x]

 

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“The greatest reward in the world is to provide for others.”[xi]

“Because he gives a gift at the right time, wherever the result of that gift ripens he becomes rich, affluent, and wealthy, and benefits come to him at the right time, in abundant measure.”[xii]

 

Christ (A.D. 30)

“. . . you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”[xiii]

“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”[xiv]

 

Buddha’s quote draws an analogy from farming—the planting of trees that will “ripen” to provide shade, flowers, and fruit.  His imagery is similar to Solomon’s third quotation, which refers to fruits, crops, and vats of wine.  As usual, Buddha leaves out any reference to God, implying that the universe (via karma) will naturally bring blessings to those who are generous toward the needy.  In contrast, Solomon and Jesus saw a personal God as the one who provided blessings to those who were charitable toward others in need.


[i] Proverbs 11:24–25 (NIV).

[ii] Proverbs 21:21 (NIV).

[iii] Nitin Kumar “Buddha and Christ: Two Gods on the Path to Humanity,” Exotic India, November 2003, www.exoticindiaart.com/article/buddhaandchrist, retrieved February 3, 2011.

[iv] Richard Hooper, Jesus Buddha Krishna Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings (Sedona, AZ: Sanctuary Publications, 2007), 117.

[v] Luke 6:38 (NIV).

[vi] Acts 20:35b (NASB).

[vii] Matthew 6:25–34 (NIV) (emphasis added).

[viii] Proverbs 13:7 (NKJV).

[ix] Ecclesiastes 11:1–2 (NKJV).

[x] Proverbs 3:9–10 (NIV).

[xi] Hooper, Jesus Buddha Krishna Lao Tzu, 120.

[xii] Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed. In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005), 170–171.

[xiii] Acts 20:35b (NASB).

[xiv] Luke 6:38 (NIV).

Similarities to Solomon’s Proverbs

 

[Excerpt from Chapter Fourteen of
Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?]

There are many examples of the words of Buddha (and of Christ) echoing the writings of Solomon. Often, the similarities are so striking that one can only wonder whether Solomon’s influence was direct. Here are two such examples:

Love Your Enemies

Solomon (950 B.C.)

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” [i]

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.” [ii]

“Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth!” [iii]

Christ (A.D. 30)

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” [iv]

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” [v]

 

Note that Buddha’s first proverb above ends with the words, “This is an old rule.”  This is direct evidence that at least one of the proverbs in the Dhammapada came from an earlier source than Buddha himself.

Solomon’s proverb may have had its roots in these words of Moses, who in this verse is recording a portion of the commandments to the Israelites as given to him by God:

The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.[vi]

The natural tendency of people to distrust and even to hate people of a different race or culture is very common. Why should you feed your enemy if he is hungry, and give him water if he is thirsty?  Isn’t it to melt your enemy’s animosity, so that he will be persuaded to be kind and caring?  Buddha’s teachings closely parallel Solomon’s proverb, and his exhortation to love echoes Moses’ teaching.

Jesus expanded on Solomon’s proverb.  He starts with doing good, and then adds spiritual ways of loving your enemy—by blessing them and praying for them. In Jesus’ second quotation above, additional examples are provided.

Care for Your Companions

The concept of caring for others as one would within a close-knit family was expressed by Solomon centuries before Buddha.

Solomon (950 B.C.)

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.”[vii]

“. . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”[viii]

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later, I’ll give it tomorrow’—when you now have it with you.”[ix]

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“If you do not tend to one another then who is there to tend to you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick.”[x]

Christ (A.D. 30)

“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”[xi]

 

Buddha’s wisdom and Jesus’ teaching echo Solomon’s emphasis on caring for one another. Buddha equates tending to the sick and suffering with tending to him personally. In the following explanation of what will happen at the last judgment, Jesus made the same comparison much more clearly:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”[xii]

The unitalicized passages above directly mirror Buddha’s teaching, and the meaning is reinforced by the entire passage.

Buddha’s and Jesus’ words above are much more similar to one another than they are to Solomon’s proverbs. At first this might be taken as evidence that Buddha influenced Jesus. However, it should be remembered that Solomon was the wealthiest and most powerful king of his time, so the notion of someone caring for him out of compassion for his needy state would have been ludicrous. On the other hand, both Buddha and Jesus were very poor, and doing something to care for them personally would have been a very natural thing to do.


[i] Proverbs 25:21 (NKJV).

[ii] Dhammapada 5.

[iii] Ibid., 223.

[iv] Luke 6:27b–28 (NKJV).

[v] Matthew 5:38–42 (NIV).

[vi] Leviticus19:34 (NKJV).

[vii] Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 (NASB).

[viii] Proverbs 18:24b (NASB).

[ix] Proverbs 3:27–28 (NIV).

[x] Buddha, Vinaya, Mahavagga 8.26.3, in Borg, Jesus and Buddha, 21.

[xi] Matthew 25:40b (NASB).

[xii] Matthew 25:31–40 (NIV) (emphasis added).

Common Roots in Judaism?

Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?

[Excerpt from Chapter Fourteen of
Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?]

Some have asserted that similarities between the ethical teachings of Buddha and Jesus provide evidence that Jesus may have traveled to India.[i] The argument usually points out that the Bible makes no reference to events in Jesus’ life when he was between the ages of twelve and thirty, providing ample time for these travels to have taken place. What makes this possibility unlikely is that Jesus was the son of a poor Jewish carpenter. It is doubtful that he could have afforded the 2,500 mile trip to India.

In this book, we set forth an alternative explanation: Buddha and Jesus were both significantly influenced by Judaism, in general, and the proverbs of Solomon, in particular.

Buddha/Jesus Similarities to the Books of Moses

The five books of Moses (the Torah) were first written around 1380 B.C., more than nine hundred years before Buddha lived and taught. In light of that fact, it is not unreasonable to suppose, when one of Buddha’s key teachings is virtually the same as a key verse of Moses’, that Buddha could have been echoing Moses’ words. This likely was also the case with Jesus. The following provides a key example.

Love Your Neighbor

Moses (1300 B.C.)

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”[ii]

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“Consider others as yourself.”[iii]

Christ (A.D. 30)

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[iv]

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”[v]

Given the close similarities of these sayings, would it be more reasonable to presume that Jesus was quoting Buddha or that he was quoting Moses? Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who often quoted Moses and other Old Testament authors. The Torah was very widely known in Israel for almost 1,400 years before Jesus quoted it. So, Jesus was probably quoting Moses.

Love Strangers

Let’s look at another example. In the same chapter of Leviticus in which Moses exhorted his people to love their neighbors as themselves, he urged them to also love strangers from other cultures and peoples.  Jesus taught that God loved men and women from every culture so much that God sent him to make salvation available to all people.  In this, we again see the inclusion of every manner of stranger within the scope of God’s love.  It is much more natural to assume that Jesus inherited this “love strangers” principle from Moses than that he traveled to India and picked it up from Buddhism.

Moses (1300 B.C.)

“The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” [vi]

Buddha (525 B.C.)

“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.” [vii]

Christ (A.D. 30)

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”[viii],

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” [ix]

Buddha’s exhortation to love people everywhere reiterates the same theme that was sounded by Moses nine hundred years earlier.

Buddha’s example of caring for anyone anywhere as a mother would her only child is echoed in Jesus’ exhortation to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. It differs in that Jesus’ exhortation is tighter in scope; however, this scope is widened to the whole world in the second quotation from Jesus.


[i] Swami Abhedananda, Journey into Kashmir and Tibet (the English translation of Kashmiri 0 Tibbate) (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Math, 1987).

[ii] Leviticus 19:18b (NIV).

[iii] Dhammapada 10:1, in Marcus Borg, ed., with coeditor Ray Riegert and an Introduction by Jack Kornfield, Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 1997), 15.

[iv] Mark 12:31b (NKJV).

[v] Luke 6:31 (NIV).

[vi] Leviticus 19:34 (NKJV).

[vii] Buddha, Sutta Nipata 149–150, in Borg, Jesus and Buddha, 25.

[viii] John 15:12–13 (NKJV).

[ix] John 3:16 (NKJV).

Reviews: Buddhism for Dummies and Rogues in Robes

 

Buddhism for DummiesBuddhism for Dummies is a user-friendly, extensive presentation of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. It can be read from cover to cover, or it can be used as a reference book by turning to the section you are interested in.

It provides an introduction to Buddhism, discussing whether or not it is a religion, a philosophy, or a practical way to conduct your life.

If Buddhism is not primarily a belief system and is not centered upon the worship of a supreme Deity, then why is it classified as a religion at all? Because like all religions, Buddhism gives people who practice it a way of finding answers to the deeper questions of life, such as “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?” “Why do we suffer?” and “How can I achieve lasting happiness?” (page 11)

Further, it surveys the history of Buddhism from the life and teachings of Buddha through Buddhism today, and the practical application of Buddhist thought. Almost a third of the book is devoted to walking the Buddhist path toward enlightenment, and there is a section on ten common misconceptions about Buddhism and ten ways Buddhism can help you deal with life’s problems.

Although the authors have tried to simplify the terms used throughout in the book, a glossary of useful Buddhist terms is provided at the back of the book. Additional resources are listed as well.

Rogues in RobesRogues in Robes gives a detailed history of Buddhism in Tibet and examines the historical basis leading to the conflict over the selection of the 17th Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a story filled with political upheaval in Tibet and the sometimes deadly intrigue in the various Tibetan Buddhist schools.

When a Tibetan Buddhist leader dies, he leaves clues as to where he will next incarnate so that he can be found and trained to take up his duties again. When the sixteenth Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, died in 1981, the search for his successor soon began. This is the story of the politics and intrigue involved in finding him, not a simple task as it turned out, as told by a Western student of Lama Ole Nydahl. (back cover description)

In 1956, author Tomek Lehnert was born in Poland, and he studied Civil Engineering at the Polytechnics of Gdansk and English literature at the University of Poznan. He became a practitioner of Buddhism in 1983. He has traveled extensively, and has translated Buddhist lectures into Polish and Spanish for more than ten years. He is a student of Lama Ole Hydhal.