May. 31st, 2011

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If you had been studying Buddhism with well-known meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, just a few years ago, you would've traveled to a small island of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Once there, you would've been treated to a wondrous sight by the monks of the island: two fifty-foot tall statues of Jesus and Buddha, smiling, with their arms around each others' shoulders. Jack describes it this way, "While helicopter gunships flew by overhead and the war raged around us, Buddha and Jesus stood there like brothers, expressing compassion and healing for all who would follow their way."

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) and Jesus Christ don't seem to have had much in common at first glance: Siddhartha was the son of a rich man and Jesus was the son of a poor carpenter. Siddhartha was born into luxury and an ideal childhood, where all unpleasant things were kept from his path. Jesus was born in a poor manger with farm animals looking on… Siddhartha inhabited an Iron Age world and Jesus lived during the height of the Roman Empire. Siddhartha tried more than one spiritual path before becoming a teacher. Jesus knew one path and taught others from an early age. Some sects of Siddhartha's faith embrace many deities, while Jesus' embraces one true God.

So what in the world could these two faiths-Buddhism and Christianity-have in common?

The first and most important answer is, of course, compassion-that quality with which we love, understand and accept others exactly as they are, regardless of their actions. Also, Jesus and Buddha were both able to teach through parables (short, religious stories), the Buddha instructing fellow beings on the nature of the mind, and Jesus on the nature of the soul.

Marcus Borg, who refers to himself as "a Jesus scholar and a devoted but non-exclusivist Christian", has edited a book entitled Jesus and Buddha, The Parallel Sayings. In it, Borg explores some eerie similarities in the texts of the Bible and many of the Buddhist scriptures. However, he tends to downplay the idea that some have espoused that Jesus may have been exposed to Buddhist teachings at some time in his life, and thus carried them forward into Christianity. Instead, he believes that the wisdom teaching of both Jesus and Buddha sprang from similar formative experiences of the sacred.

In comparing the births of these two revered figures, Borg's book sites these two passages:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." --Mathew 2:1-2

For what reasons are these signs revealed? Is it that a god of great merit has been born? Or is it that a buddha has emerged in the world? Never before have we seen such signs! We must trace them together, across a myriad of lands, seeking the glow and investigating it together. --Sadharmarmapundarika Sutra 7

On the subjects of materialism & vegetarianism, The Parallel Sayings had this to say:

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on." --Luke 21.1-4

"Giving is the noble expression of the benevolence of the mighty. Even dust, given in childish innocence, is a good gift. No gift that is given in good faith to a worthy recipient can be called small; its effect is so great." --Jatakamala 3.23

"There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." --Mark, 7.15

"Stealing, deceiving, adultery, this is defilement. Not the eating of meat." --Sutta Nipata 242

To be continued next week... In the meantime, I'd love to read your comments.


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