I was brought up as a Christian but do not identify with that anymore. I have started to see some of what I am calling “parallels” between buddhism and christianity. For example, they both believe in something after you die. In both cases, the path after death is different depending on your actions in this life. In both , there are moral codes you abide by in this life that gain you merit. There are “saints” or very revered “holy” figures. I am not advanced enough to make more parallels at this moment but wondering if one really did influence the other. I think Buddhism is older than Christianity but not sure about Judaism or other religions. Any knowledge of this? Thank you in advance.
There seem to be many core doctrines found in Buddhism & Christianity that are not found in the Old Testament; such as going to heaven & hell due to deeds (kamma).
The deliberate renunciation of marriage is all but completely alien to Judaism. Scarcely any references to celibates are to be found in the Bible or in the Talmud, and no medieval rabbi is known to have lived as a celibate (see L. Loew , Gesammelte Schriften , 2 (1890), 112; 3 (1893), 29ff.). The demands of celibacy were included neither among the acts of self-denial imposed upon the Nazirite (Num. 6:1–21), nor among the special restrictions incumbent upon the priesthood (Lev. 21:1–15). Celibacy among Jews was a strictly sectarian practice; Josephus ascribes it to some of the *Essenes (Wars 2:120–21). Equally exceptional is the one solitary case of the talmudist Simeon ben *Azzai who explained his celibacy with the words: “My soul is fond of the Law; the world will be perpetuated by others” (Yev. 63b).
The parallels are interesting. I often distinguish the religious parallels vs those that are about human psychology.
When King Asoka send delegations to spread buddhist teachings, they reached west as far as Greece (or Greek influenced territory). This was around 200BCE.
Along with Zoroastrianism, the Cult of Mithra, and religion from Egypt, elements of Buddhism may have influenced many cult and religions that arise around Judea, including Christianity.
The evidence is scarce despite surface similarities.
Later, along the Silk Road, there is syncretism between Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism, this religion is called Manichaeism. This is around 216 CE - 274 CE.
The only clear and direct influence would be the tale of Baarlam and Josaphat. Essentially it is caused by long distance telephone game across thousands of kilometers and thousands of years, with mistranslation and adaptation.
The Buddha end up becoming one of Christian Saint.
the buddha is actually a christian saint:
in addition, there is suspicion that an early sect of gnostic christians, the therapeutae, who are considered the first christian monks, may have been a practicing theravada community:
there are of course the contested accounts of jesus residing in india and learning indian philosophy as a young man, prior to his ministry, but there are reports from islamic (and other) sources that he may have survived the crucifixion and returned to (and died in) india in later life.
as an aside, there is possibility that jesus was a genuine ascetic who may have attained a measure of jhana, and may seen a previous life in the brahma realm, leading to the mistaken assumption that there is a creator god as described by the buddha.
the buddha’s description of these kinds of powers are relevant to jesus’ story:
There is the case where a monk wields manifold psychic powers. Having been one he becomes many; having been many he becomes one. He appears. He vanishes. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space. He dives in and out of the earth as if it were water. He walks on water without sinking as if it were dry land. Sitting cross-legged he flies through the air like a winged bird. With his hand he touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful. He exercises influence with his body even as far as the Brahma worlds.
In my former brand of Christianity it had nothing to do with good deeds, but in clinging to views. Belief in Christ alone gets you to heaven. It is more in line with Pure Land. I just heard a Venerable say the other day the main difference between Christ and the Buddha is you can write down all the known words of Jesus on a napkin but there’s an over abundance of the Buddhas words in volumes
Very interesting, everyone. Thank you. I’ll read through some/all of these links on a non-work day. Thank you!
Interesting. I view it as the human condition influenced all of these. History and the evolution of ideas, thought, and wisdom are not always concurrent or linear.
How one is saved is known as “justification” in Christian theology. There is normally a belief element involved…I’m not aware of the concept of gaining merit by observing a moral code in Christianity in the absence of belief. The general consensus among Abrahamic religions is that the good deeds of a non-believer have no reward in heaven. Theistic religion is therefore not compatible with merit as conceived of in Buddhism.
Think about it…all of the charity ever performed by Buddhists over the past 2,500+ years has no post-mortem reward according to Christianity. It doesn’t sound like a merit doctrine to me.
Again, the concept of holiness in Christianity is a bit different. A regular type of explanation of sainthood in Christianity is that the saints aren’t good, only God is good and saints etc receive grace. In Buddhism, there is such a thing as a good person and human effort.
For me, the fact that there are superficially similar (even if totally different) concepts of merit between Christianity and Buddhism was nonetheless helpful, as Buddhism gives logical answers many of the awkward questions that Christianity can’t, such as whether there is a reward for the good deeds of non-believers, or whether one can become holy person through one’s actions.
I’m very happy to be a Buddhist & to believe in merit and in good people precisely because Buddhism is NOT like Christianity in these respects.
It’s easier for me to believe that Jesus had no contact with Buddhism at all than to imagine that he received Buddhist teaching and then completely missed the point.
Isn’t belief in Jesus Christ what it means to be Christian for everyone? At least that’s what my Christian friends tell me, “I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died on the cross to save us from our Sins.” They tell me that this is the confession of faith for all Christians.
To me that doesn’t sound at all like Buddha, or any form of Buddhism that I know of.
There has been some academic research done suggesting that quite possibly the story of the life of Jesus borrows from the accounts of one or more Egyptian gods.
Might be helpful in general re “justification” as Christian theological concept: Justification (theology) - Wikipedia
(Has nice chart).
Unless you are Unitarian, Muslim, or Bart Ehrmann. Anyway:
See topic: Christology Christology - Wikipedia
The Apostle’s Creed, which one tradition holds to be the earliest Christian statement of faith, doesn’t actually touch on christology. By contrast, the longer & historically later Nicene creed (which was developed in response to Arianism, which didn’t embrace the divinity of Jesus) does.
Re: dying on cross for sins. Further reading on atonement in Christianity: Salvation in Christianity - Wikipedia
Part of the problem with talking about Christianity in abstract is that Christianity itself has been so historically diverse that Christians have had to theorise what they believe to try to impose some intellectual order on the chaos…so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which theory is meant. Theories of atonement can have quite a different vibe in Eastern Orthodoxy because of recapitulation/theosis.
Recapitulation theory of atonement - Wikipedia.
Anyway, as far as statements of faith go, atonement in general features in neither the Apostle’s or Nicene creeds. Jesus dying on the cross to save us from sin likely wasn’t a huge concern for the early church, whose members were busy thinking about more important things, like the apocalypse and martyrdom.
I would kind of like to know at what point in history people started comparing the Buddha and Jesus. That would be very interesting.
Yes, because that is the Christianity most modern people know of.
It was a standard belief from Council of Nicaea (google it!), after 300 years of evolutional doctrine, enforced by Roman Empire.
Before that, Christianity had diverse doctrines… that long page of wikipedia article describe the many other views.
So it was quite reasonable when someone take out some early Christian doctrines and compare it to Buddhism, and some of them had similarities. Many of them were not chosen to be the official doctrine later.
Thank you. As far as I know, through Ethiopian friends, the Coptic Church differs somewhat in relation to its understanding of the Trinity, yet in recent history it resolved schism and so the Nicene Creed is the “ecumenical” statement of faith.
As far as I know the Christians of the time believed he was the Messiah.
Well Christianity was definitely influenced by the Mystery Religions. Considering its area of development was within the Levant that’s quite a big influence. But I know some Christians who might have a problem with what I just said, so I’m not here to get into the diverse causes.
However, myself, I am reading an article “Computer Models of the Evolution of Premodern, Religious, Philosphical, and Cosmological Systems” by Witzel et al.
There really isn’t any specific mention of afterlife in Judaism, especially the pentateuch, all it says is that God takes a handful of people up to the clouds and they live forever, sounds more like UFO abduction to me.
As far as the Tanakh goes, even Ecclesiastes says it doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, all beings go to the same place (sheol).
15 Then I said to myself, “What befalls the fool will befall me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity.
16 For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise man dies just like the fool!
This is pure nihilism, i.e. nothing matters because everyone’s going to die anyway, and that everything is random, that the good don’t get their reward, this is the opposite of karma
So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. 2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad,[a] the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
As it is with the good,
so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them.
3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. 4 Anyone who is among the living has hope[b]—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
5 For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even their name is forgotten.
6 Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.
eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do.
8 Let your garments be always white; let not oil be lacking on your head.
9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life which he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.
12 For man does not know his time. Like fish which are taken in an evil net, and like birds which are caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.
So basically for the average person it doesn’t make a difference if you’re good or bad, and if you’re a chosen prophet then God will take you to the sky and make you live for eternity.
It’s only once early Judaism got mixed up with the Persian empire, was rabbinical Judaism born which led to reincarnation doctorines, probably because of Persia’s zoroastrian past.