Was Buddha Influenced by Solomon?

Buddhism is an Eastern religion that resonates with many Westerners. Why is that? Is it possible that it came about as a blending of an Eastern and a Western religion (i.e., Jainism, a protest movement against Hinduism, and Judaism)? There is much to suggest this.

Most of Buddha’s numerous proverbs are quite similar to those of Solomon, who lived 400 years earlier. In fact, every key part of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path and Five Moral Precepts of Buddha were expressed somewhere in Solomon’s writings or in the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, most of the emphases that Buddhists are noted for were also important facets of Solomon’s beliefs and practices. These include peace, tolerance, viewing this world as an illusion and a place of suffering, meditation, overcoming ignorance with wisdom, enlightenment, monks (priests) and secular ethics. It may not be a coincidence that a high percentage of Western Buddhist leaders have a Jewish background.

That is not to say that there aren’t major differences. However, most of them are due to two things. First, Solomon was a Jew and Buddha was raised in Hindu India. Second, Solomon held onto his wealth and power, while Buddha renounced it.

What is also curious is that Solomon’s proverbs are more comprehensive in subject matter than Buddha’s. The areas where there are absences in Buddha’s proverbs are predictable, based on his life. There is a dearth of proverbs relating to government, women, marriage and family in Buddha’s collection of sayings, whereas Solomon devotes many proverbs to these topics.

Consider the following chronology:

  • Solomon died in 931 BC.
  • Buddha was born in 563 BC.
  • The first colony of Jews settled inIndiain 562 BC.
  • Buddha became enlightened in 528 BC.

So, Buddha’s enlightenment took place over 400 years after Solomon died. The Old Testament tells us that “the whole world sought audience with Solomon,”[1] and that “world” most likely included India. The Jews had a documented practice of copying their sacred writings on parchment for at least 100 years before they were driven from their homeland by the conquering Babylonians (in 583 BC). They wandered through the harsh lands of Persia and Afghanistan for 20 years before coming to the lush land of India, where there was great interest in any religious ideas that differed from Hinduism. It is quite plausible that two of those receptive ears were Gautama Buddha’s.

Perhaps Buddha’s enlightenment came when he realized that by blending Solomon’s ethics with a moderated form of the asceticism of the Jains, he would have a “Middle Way” that would provide a constructive alternative to the anti-Hindu views of the Jains. That alone would have been a major accomplishment. But then he spent the last 45 years of his life refining and proclaiming his teachings.

Even if there is no substance to the Solomon-Buddha link, looking at Buddhism through this lens can help people with a Judeo-Christian background to grasp many aspects of Buddhism. Facilitating cross-cultural understanding is a worthwhile objective.

[1] I Kings10:24 (NIV).