[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).