Parallels between Buddha and Jesus

Dec 30, 1896.  Swami Vivekananda was fast asleep on the ship which was taking him back to India after a whirlwind tour of Europe and America when he had a vivid dream.  An old and bearded man appeared before him, saying, “Observe well this place that I show to you. You are now in the island of Crete. This is the land in which Christianity began.”  In support of this origin of Christianity, the speaker gave two words, one of which was Therapeutae, and showed both to be derived direct from Sanskrit roots.  “The proofs are all here,” added the old man, pointing to the ground, “Dig and you will find!”.  The Swami woke, feeling that he had had no common dream, and tumbled out on deck, to take the air. As he did so, he met a ship’s officer, turning in from his watch.

“What is the time?” he asked him.
Midnight,” was the answer.
“And where are we?”
“Just fifty miles off Crete !”

This unexpected coincidence startled the Swami, lending inevitable emphasis to the dream itself.   He who until then had never doubted the historicity of Jesus began to wonder if the latter had ever existed.  The British school of Archaeology was then active in the Near East, so he wrote to a British archaeologist friend to determine if there were any discoveries which validated his dream[1].  He was unable to follow up because he passed away soon after in 1902.  This story was recorded by Sister Nivedita. Vivekananda also recounted the strange dream in a conversation with Surendranath Sen in 1898 (available online).

Textual scholarship over the past century has confirmed that there was an element of truth in Swami Vivekananda’s dream.  Scholars, most certainly unaware of Vivekananda’s dream (and he in turn, unaware of them), have uncovered intriguing parallels between the life and teachings of Jesus and Buddha. The investigation was triggered by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhaeur (1788-1860) who, after comparing the Christian Bible with the Buddhist scriptures, proposed that the ethical teachings and the Christian notion of incarnation had to be of Indian origin.  Beginning in the late nineteenth century, scholars such as Rudolf Seydel(1835-1892), Arthur Lillie(1831-?), J. Albert Edmunds(1857-1941), and Richard Garbe(1857-1927) worked on this matter.  The investigation flagged for a while but again picked up pace after  the liberalization that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).  Recent work on the subject has been done by Marcus Borg, Zacharias Thundy, Roy Amore, J. Edgar Bruns, Elmar Gruber and  Holger Kersten.   The next two sections explore some of the similarities that have been identified in the biographical accounts as well as the teachings of Jesus and Buddha.

Biographical parallels

The bending tree and the gushing water

When the Buddha’s mother, Maya, was to give birth, a tree bent down for her and two streams of water came gushing forth to refresh the mother and the child, as per the Abhinish-kramana Sutta:

Now, in the garden, there was one particular tree called a Palasa, perfectly strait from top to bottom, and its branches spread out in perfect regularity, its leaves variegated as the plumage of a peacock s head, soft as Kalinda cloth, the scent of its flowers of most exquisite odour. Delighted at the sight, Maya rested awhile to admire it, and gradually approached under the shade of the tree ; then that tree, by the mysterious power of Bodhisatwa, bent down its branches, and, forthwith, the queen with her right hand took hold of one ; just as in the air, there appears a beautifully tinted rainbow stretching athwart heaven; so did she take hold of that curving branch of the Palasa tree and look up into heaven’s expanse.….Then there came forth from mid-air two streams of water hot and cold, respectively, to refresh and cleanse the child’s body as he stood there on the ground; and again there was brought to him a golden seat on which to repose whilst he was washed. [2]

We find a similar story in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew , an apocryphal text which was written at least five to six centuries after the birth of Jesus.  Here also, a tree bends to provide fruit to the mother and a stream of water gushes up.

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop.  Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God. [3]

Incidentally, this story has also wound up in the Koran (19.22 – 19.26) in the chapter where it expounds the story of the earlier prophet Jesus.  Scholars believe the Koran picked up the story from the Arabic Infancy Gospel which was in circulation then.

Then she (Mary) conceived him; and withdrew with him (Jesus) to a remote place. ‏And the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died before this, and had been a thing quite forgotten! ‏So a voice came to her from beneath her: Grieve not, surely thy Lord has provided a stream beneath thee. ‏ And shake towards thee the trunk of the palm-tree, it will drop on thee fresh ripe dates. ‏So eat and drink and cool the eye. Then if thou seest any mortal, say: Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent, so I will not speak to any man to-day. [4]

Fall of idols in the temple

The Lalitavistara relates an episode in which the Buddha enters a temple and immediately all the idols fall at his feet:

Now, when the Bodhisatva set his right foot on the floor of that temple, all the inert images of the Devas, such as Siva, Skanda, Narayana, Kuvera, Chandra, Surya, Vaisravana, Sakra, Brahma, and the guardians of the quarters, rose from their respective places, and fell at the feet of the Bodhisatva. Thereupon, men and gods by hundreds of thousands burst into derisive laughter, and covered their faces with their clothes. The whole of Kapilavastu shook in six different ways. Celestial flowers fell in showers. Thousands of clarions resounded without a cause. [5]

Something similar happens to the Mary during her visit to the Egyptian city of Sotinen at a time when she is carrying Jesus in her womb:

And it came to pass, when the most blessed Mary went into the temple with the little child, that all the idols prostrated themselves on the ground, so that all of them were lying on their faces shattered and broken to pieces; and thus they plainly showed that they were nothing [6].

The widow’s mite

In the New Testament, there is the story of a poor widow who contributes two mites to the treasury:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.  And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.  And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:  For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4)

The Buddhist parallel was discovered by Hans Haas (1868-1934), Professor of Religious History at Leipzig.  In Kumaralata’s Kalpana mandatika (4:22), a widow comes to a religious assembly where she gets something to eat. She regrets that she is unable to give anything whilst others donate precious objects. Then she remembers that she owns two copper coins she had found in a dung heap. She retrieves the coins and joyously offers them. An arhat, who can perceive people’s most secret thoughts, pays no attention to donations by the affluent but sings a song in honour of the poor widow’s piety [7].

In both stories, the person is a poor widow and the contribution is two coins.   According to Gruber,there are several stories in the Buddhist texts which revolve around the theme that the gift of a pure heart is the best gift [7].

Miracle of Loaves and Fishes

In the New Testament, Jesus feeds a gathering of 5,000 people using five loaves of bread and two fish.   Twelve baskets of fragments remained after the feeding.  (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15)

Similarly in the Jataka 78 (Illisa-Jataka), the Buddha is said to have fed 500 disciples using just a few cakes.  The number 500 occurs repeatedly in Buddhist scriptures, while the much larger number 5000 seems anomalous in the Bible, suggesting that the Biblical account was borrowed from the Buddhist account. [8].

Incidentally, it is worth fact-checking these books because sometimes they contain errors.  While relating this similarity, Gruber claims that just like the Biblical tale, the Buddhist tale also mentions that twelve baskets remained after the feeding was done.  I can’t find any reference to such a number in the Jataka tales, as you can verify from the text below:

Then husband and wife came before the Master and said meal-time had come. And the Master, passing into the Refectory, sat down on the Buddha-seat prepared for him, with the Brotherhood gathered round. Then the Lord High Treasurer poured the Water of Donation over the hands of the Brotherhood with the Buddha at its head, whilst his wife placed a cake in the alms-bowl of the Blessed One. Of this he took what sufficed to support life, as also did the five hundred Brethren. Next the Treasurer went round offering milk mixed with ghee and hooey and jagghery; and the Master and the Brotherhood brought their meal to a close. Lastly the Treasurer and his wife ate their fill, but still there seemed no end to the cakes. Even when all the Brethren and the scrap-eaters through-out the monastery had all had a share, still there was no sign of the end approaching. So they told the Master, saying, “Sir, the supply of cakes grows no smaller.”

“Then throw them down by the great gate of the monastery.”

So they threw them away in a cave not far from the gateway; and to this day a spot called ‘The Crock-Cake,’ is shown at the extremity of that cave  [9].

Walking on water

In the Jataka 190 (Silanisamsa Jataka), a disciple of the Buddha, Sariputta, is initially successful at walking on water but begins to sink midway when his contemplation wanes[10].  He is able to resume walking on water only after he recovers his ecstatic state.  Similarly, in the Gospel of Matthew (14:28-33), the apostle Peter attempts to walk on water but at one point, begins to sink due to lack of faith.  Jesus urges him on: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?.”

Other biographical parallels

Several other parallels have been uncovered, including the following:

The story of Jesus’s temptation by the Devil is similar to the Buddha’s temptation by Mara.

Before the conception of the Buddha, his mother had a dream of a white elephant.  Similarly, Mary had a dream of a white dove.  An elephant would not have made sense in the Judaic tradition so scholars believe it was replaced by a dove.

A light shone through the world when the Buddha was born.  The same anecdote occurs in the life of Jesus.

Five wise men came to see the new-born Buddha, while three Magi came from the East to see the baby Jesus.

A wise old man named Asita holds the infant Buddha in his hands and laments that he won’t be around to see the day this infant blossoms into a great sage.  Similarly, Simeon in the temple holds the infant Jesus and predicts his future greatness (Luke 2:21-38).  In relation to this anecdote, Gruber points out that it is not a Jewish custom to present the child in the temple, indicating a possible borrowing from the Buddhist scripture [11].

Parallels in the teachings

Parallels in the teachings of Jesus and Buddha have also been identified.  Some of these parallels could be attributed to the shared source of wisdom which all sages tap into, but the use of the exact same similes can be surprising.  The following similarities were aggregated by Marcus Borg, who describes himself as a “non-exclusivist Christian” [12].

Compare the remarks by Jesus and Buddha on not being preoccupied with the faults of others:

Jesus: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Friend, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye;’ wher you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye (Luke  6.41-42)

Buddha: The faults of others are easier to see than one’s own; the faults of others are easily seen, for they are sifted like chaff, but one’s own faults are hard to see, This is like the cheat who hides his dice and shows the dice of his opponent, calling attention to the other’s shortcomings, continually thinking of accusing him. (Udanavarga 27.1)

Both spoke on the spiritual value of being untethered to the phenomenal world :

Jesus: Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Matthew 8.20)

Buddha: The thoughtful exert themselves; they do not delight in an abode. Like swans who have left their lake they leave their house and home.  (Dhammapada 7.2)

There are parallels in the use of the harvest simile:

Jesus: The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4.26-29)

Buddha: The yeoman farmer gets his field well ploughed and harrowed. But that farmer has no magic power or authority to say: “Let my crops spring up today. Tomorrow let them ear. On the following day let them ripen: No! It is just the due season which makes them do this. (Anguttara Nikaya 3.91)

They both spoke of the falling away of family bonds in the spiritual path:

Jesus: Looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3.34-35)

Buddha: Just as the great rivers, on reaching the great ocean, lose their former names and identities and are reckoned simply as the great ocean, so do followers lose their former names and clans and become sons of the Buddha’s clan. (Vinaya Cullavagga 9.1.4)

Their remarks on the separation of the flesh and the soul:

Jesus: No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above: (John 3.5-7)

Buddha: There are these two gifts, the carnal and the spiritual. Of these two gifts the spiritual is preeminent. He who has made the spiritual offering-such a one, the best of mankind, is honored by all beings as one who has gone beyond. (Itivuttaka 4.1)

Roots of the similarities

There are plenty of other parallels which have been found.  Given these similarities, it would not be amiss to ask what, if any, proof exists for the historicity of Jesus. This evidence has been compiled on wikipedia under Historicity_of_Jesus. The most convincing proof could be the fact that the Jewish scriptures refer to Jesus in derogatory terms.

How do we know that the Buddhist scriptures antedate the Biblical gospels?  I won’t go into that here.  The books listed in the last section address the question in considerable detail.  It is worth noting that textual scholarship relies not just on dates but also on the intrinsic structure of the text as well as intertextual references to determine the passages which could have been copied from elsewhere.  In case of Buddhism, there also exist rock inscriptions depicting the life of Buddha in various parts of India.  The dates when these inscriptions were created can be determined quite accurately.

This brings us to the next important question: did there exist any contacts between India and the Near East which could have brought about these parallels?  Several pieces of evidence have been uncovered which shed light on this subject.  Alexander the Great invaded India in 327 BC.  After his death, contact between India and the Greek world continued to exist through the many Greek kingdoms which had been established by his successors.   After the Romans replaced the Greeks, trade relations continued between India and the Roman Empire as documented on wikipedia under Indo-Roman_trade_and_relations and another page on Indo-Roman relations. Roman coins have been found in excavations in southern India.  The Roman Emperor Augustus(63 BC-14 AD) recorded in his Ancyra (modern day Ankara, Turkey) inscription : “Emissaries from the Indian kings were often sent to me, which had not been seen before that time by any Roman leader.”

During excavations in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt at the end of the twentieth century, a Greek play entitled the Charition mime dated 200 AD or earlier was found.  It is a maid-in-distress tale of a Greek woman who is rescued from captivity under an Indian king.  The play features a number of characters who speak an unknown, possibly Indian, language.  You can read a translation of the play here.  For a detailed description of the play, see the article “Charition Mime and Udyavara” by Maddy.

In the year 79 AD, the Roman town of Pompeii near modern-day Naples was submerged after the eruption of the volcano at Mount Vesuvius.  In 1939, the Italian archaeologist Prof.  Maiuri discovered a statue of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi in the ruins of Pompeii, indicating that some knowledge of Indian culture may have existed in the region in the first century[13].  You can read about this discovery in Maddy’s article on the “Goddess at Pompeii”.

More recently, we have news that the DNA testing of 2000-year old bones found in a Roman cemetery in Italy revealed it to be the remains of a person of East Asian ancestry[14].

At the Red Sea port of Quseir al-Qadim, the ancient Leucos Limen or Albus Portus, archaeologists have recovered three records, one written in the Prakrit script and two in the Old Tamil language.  The garbled text indicates that these were notes written by Indian traders. [15]

Dio Chrysostom (40 AD – 120 AD) was a Greek orator, philosopher and historian in the Roman Empire.  In an address given to the people of Alexandria in Egypt, he alludes to the Indians who were present in the audience:

For I behold among you, not merely Greeks and Italians and people from neighbouring Syria, Libya, Cilicia, nor yet Ethiopians and Arabs from more distant regions, but even Bactrians and Scythians and Persians and a few Indians, and all these help to make up the audience in your theatre and sit beside you on each occasion [16]

So far we have some proof that Indians, possibly traders, were living in Egypt at or before the birth of Jesus.  If you recall the opening paragraph of this article, the old sage in the dream told Vivekananda that Christianity is derived from the ancient sect called Therapeutae, whose name has a Sanskrit origin.  The Therapeutae are conventionally assumed to be a Jewish sect but scholars working on the Jesus-Buddha connection have proposed that the Therapeutae may have been a Buddhist sect instead.  If true, this could also dovetail nicely with the possibility that Jesus had lived in Egypt from the age of twelve to thirty, the span of his life which remains undocumented.

The Buddhist origin of Therapeutae may spring from the mission of Emperor Ashoka, the Buddhist equivalent of the Christian Emperor Constantine, who convened the third Buddhist council around 250 BC.  After the council, Ashoka had sent out Buddhist monks to various regions of the world to spread the teachings of the Buddha.  He engraved on three different rocks in different parts of India, in two different alphabets, the names of five Greek Kings to whom he sent ambassadors: (i) viz., Antiochus of Antioch, Ptolemy of Alexandria, Antigonus of Macedon, Magas of Cyrene and Alexander of Epirus.  No concrete record of the activities of these ambassadors sent to the West has ever been found, but it is tempting to speculate that the Therapeutae who lived in Egypt were somehow successors to these ambassadors.

The life of the Therapeuta has been detailed by the Hellenistic philosopher Philo of Alexandria(20 BC – 50 AD) in his work De Vita Contemplativa.  Their ascetic lifestyle, the presence of female monks (who could be Buddhist Bhikkunis), and other allied remarks regarding them can be seen as indications of them being Buddhist.   For example, Philo says they leave behind “their native lands” to come to Egypt.  This can be interpreted as evidence that the Therapeutae were people of a foreign origin:

When, therefore, men abandon their property without being influenced by any predominant attraction, they flee without even turning their heads back again, deserting their brethren, their children, their wives, their parents, their numerous families, their affectionate bands of companions, their native lands in which they have been born and brought up, though long familiarity is a most attractive bond, and one very well able to allure any one.

and from all quarters those who are the best of these therapeutae proceed on their pilgrimage to some most suitable place as if it were their country, which is beyond the Mareotic lake, lying in a somewhat level plain a little raised above the rest, being suitable for their purpose by reason of its safety and also of the fine temperature of the air[17].

Furthermore, Philo himself doesn’t know why this sect is called Therapeutae.  According to Thundy, the name “Therapeuta” is a Helenization of the Buddhist Theravada (just as the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria mangled the name Buddha to “Boutta”) [18].

While Indians certainly existed in Egypt at or before the time of Jesus, the question of whether Buddhist monks lived around the region is still open.

The Vatican response

The increasing evidence of parallels between Jesus and Buddha prompted a response from the Vatican.  Msgr. Pierre Nguyen Van Tot, a Vietnamese priest, wrote a book published by the Vatican university.  I will quote a few remarks from this book along with a rough English translation.

Les verites que le Bouddha a prechees sont une preparation providentielle a l’evangelisation. Elles sont l’illumination a l’interieur de l’homme et ont besoin de la revelation du Christ pour etre completes.. (Buddha’s teaching was a preparation for the complete revelation of Christ.) [19]

Malgre sa grande valeur, l’enseignement du Bouddha n’est pas cense etre au meme niveau que celui du Fils de Dieu. Car sa doctrine reste au niveau humain, tandis que la revelation du Christ vient de Dieu.  (Despite its great value, the Buddha’s teaching is not at the same level as that of Christ; the former is at a human level, the latter comes from God) [20].

Les actes de Siddhartha servent encore d’exemple, mais de son vivant ils n’ont pas eu l’efficacite de ceux de Jesus.  (Buddha’s actions served as an example but were not as effective as those of Jesus) [21].

Les livres du Sutta-pitaka datent du le siecle avant J.C. tandis que les deux preemiers livres du canon du Mahayana appartiennent au I siecle apres J.C. et le dernier est une traduction de l’an 420 de notre ere. (The Buddhist scriptures are dated much later than the Gospel) [22]

Toutes les nouvelles sur l’Enfance ont comme source principale la Mere de Jesus. (The infancy stories of Jesus come directly from his mother, Mary) [23]

Conclusion

As we can see, there was some truth in Swami Vivekananda’s dream mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article. There are other parallels along with copious details and nuances that I have omitted from this article.  Scholars who have investigated these similarities have proposed that either or both of the following could be true:

(a) Jesus absorbed Buddhism from the Therapeutae sect during his youth in Egypt, and it is this interaction that gave rise to the similarities that are found in the teachings.

(b) The gospel writers, who had access to Buddhist monks or scriptures, deliberately burnished the biography of Jesus in order to gain more converts to what was then a minor Christian sect which was being actively persecuted by the Roman rulers.

In this context, it is worth noting that biographical parallels between Jesus and other mythological figures have also been proposed.  See Jesus_Christ_in_comparative_mythology

If this article has whetted your appetite, you may want to check out these books:

J. Albert Edmunds.  Buddhist and Christian gospels.  Philadelphia: Innes & sons, 1908.  Edmunds working with Japanese scholar Masaharu Anesaki applied his expertise in Pali and Greek (the languages in which Buddhist and Christian scriptures were originally written) to produce a very comprehensive book on these parallels.  It can be downloaded for free from the Internet Archive.  See volume 1 and volume 2.

Zacharias Thundy.  Buddha and Christ : nativity stories and Indian traditions.  Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1993. (amazon).  Thundy was raised Christian in India (a former altar boy) and is currently Emeritus Professor at Northern Michigan University.

Marcus Borg.  Jesus and Buddha : the parallel sayings.  Berkeley, Calif. : Ulysses Press , 1997. (amazon)

Elmar Gruber and Holger Kersten.  The original Jesus : the Buddhist sources of Christianity.  Shaftesbury, Dorset ; Rockport, Mass. : Element, 1995. (amazon)

Humour

Time for some humour.  Goodness Gracious Me was a BBC English language comedy show broadcast in the 1990s which explored the integration issues faced by Indian immigrants to Britain.  The cast consists of British Indian actors.  One of the characters on the show has a penchant for claiming that many things in the Western world are of Indian origin.  In the following clip, which is particularly apposite to the topic at hand, the character demonstrates that Christianity is Indian.

References

  1. Sister Nivedita.  The Master as I saw him, London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1910, pp 351-352,
  2. Samuel Beal.  The Romantic Legend of Sâkya Buddha: From the Chinese-Sanscrit, London: Trubner & Co., 1875, p 43.  http://archive.org/details/theromanticlegen00bealuoft
  3.  Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, chapter 20. 
  4.  http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Parallelism:_Mary,_Jesus_and_the_Palm_Tree
  5.  Zacharias Thundy.  Buddha and Christ : nativity stories and Indian traditions, Leiden; New York : E.J. Brill, 1993, p 111.
  6. Gospel of Pseudo-matthew, chapter 23.
  7. Elmar Gruber and Holger Kersten.  The original Jesus : the Buddhist sources of Christianity, Shaftesbury, Dorset ; Rockport, Mass. : Element, 1995, pp 104-105.
  8. Ibid., p 98.
  9. E.B. Cowell.  The Jātaka; or, Stories of the Buddha’s former births, vol.1, London: Cambridge University Press, 1895. http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j1/j1081.htm
  10. Ibid., vol. 2, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j2/j2043.htm
  11. Elmar Gruber and Holger Kersten.  The original Jesus : the Buddhist sources of Christianity, p 86.
  12. Marcus Borg.  Jesus and Buddha : the parallel sayings, Berkeley, Calif. : Ulysses Press, 1997.
  13. A. Maiuri, Statuetta eburnea di arte indiana a Pompei, Le arti, I (1938-1939), 111-115.
  14. McMaster University (2010, February 2). DNA testing on 2,000-year-old bones in Italy reveal East Asian ancestry. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2010/02/100201171756.htm
  15. Richard Salomon.  Epigraphic Remains of Indian Traders in Egypt, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 111, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1991), pp. 731-736
  16. Dio Chrysostom.  Discourse 32.40.
  17. Philo. De Vita Contemplativa.  http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book34.html
  18. Zacharias Thundy.  Buddha and Christ : nativity stories and Indian traditions, p 245.
  19. Pierre Nguyen Van Tot.  Le Bouddha et le Christ : paralleles et ressemblances dans la litterature canonique et apocryphe chretienne, Rome : Urbaniana University Press, 1987, p 129.
  20. Ibid., p 107.
  21. Ibid., p 108.
  22. Ibid., p 109.
  23. Ibid., p 110.

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16 thoughts on “Parallels between Buddha and Jesus

  1. Sandeep Post author

    In the context of this article, see an earlier comment https://auromere.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/what-exactly-is-a-crush-or-love-at-first-sight/#comment-8216

    Some of the Biblical legends may have their origin in Sumerian literature, as per the work of Assyriologist Samuel Kramer. Apparently, Kramer traced the reason why Eve originated, of all places, from Adam’s rib to a Sumerian legend

    Now the Sumerian word for “rib” is ti (pronounced “tee”). The goddess created for the healing of Enki’s rib, therefore was called in Sumerian Nin-ti, “the lady of the rib.” But the very same Sumerian word ti also means “to make live.” The name Nin-ti may thus mean “the lady who makes live,” as well as “the lady of the rib.” In Sumerian literature, therefore, “the lady of the rib” came to be identified with “the lady who makes live” through what might be termed a play on words. (Kramer, Mythologies page 103)

    Text from http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/SumerianMyth.htm

    Here is another page which enumerates the parallels between Sumerian and Biblical myths.
    http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/sumer-faq.html#A1.6

    Reply
  2. Sandeep Post author

    In the context of this article, parallels between Jesus and previous Judaic prophets also need to be investigated. These are some findings by Geza Vermes from his book “Christian Beginnings”

    Elisha, like Jesus was to do in his time, managed to quell the hunger of a hundred people with a few loaves of bread, and there was even some left over (2 Kings 4:42-4). (Vermes, 8)

    A parallel healing narrative, dealing with the miraculous cure.of the son of Rabban Gamaliel, has survived in two versions; both resemble the cure of the servant of a Roman centurion in Capernaum by Jesus (Mt. 8:5-13; Lk. 7:1-10). (Vermes, 22)

    A deaf-mute was cured after Jesus had put his finger into his ears and transferred his saliva to his tongue while uttering the Aramaic word Ephphatha, ‘Be opened’ (Mk 7:33-4). Likewise
    he is said to have restored the vision of the blind man from Bethsaida by spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him. The story reminds one of a rabbinic legend in which the prophet Elijah cured Rabbi Judaha-Nasi from toothache by touching the bad tooth with his finger
    (yKet. 35a). (Vermes 33)

    The transfiguration story associates Jesus with the leading ‘men of God’ of the Hebrew Bible, Moses and Elijah, and his shining face on a Galilean mountain (Mk 9:2-8; Mt. I7:I-8; Lk. 9:28-3 6) reminds the reader of Moses’ radiant visage on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:29). (Vermes, 37)

    The rabbinic dictum, ‘The Sabbath is delivered up to you and not you to thee Sabbath,’ (Mekhilta of R. Ishmael on Exod. 31:14) is almost the same as the saying of Jesus, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ (Mk 2:27)· (Vermes 53)

    Reply
  3. Sandeep Post author

    An intriguing piece of evidence…

    R. S. Sugirtharajah, of Sri Lankan origin, is particularly interested in the possibility of South Asian linkages to the New Testament itself and to early Christianity more broadly. He says…

    In the Epistle of James, the King James translation of verse 3.6 declares that “the tongue . . . defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature.” Different translations offer widely varying versions of the words here translated “course of nature,” but the Greek phrase is trochos tes geneseos, which can be rendered “wheel of birth.” That sounds distinctly Buddhist or Hindu, especially in the context of describing the evil effects of improper speech.

    from
    http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2012-08/jesus-meets-buddha

    Reply
  4. Sandeep Post author

    Another piece of evidence indicating contact between India and the Middle East during the first century A.D.

    A Tamil-Brahmi script inscribed on a potsherd, which was found at the Khor Rori area in Oman, has come to light now. The script reads “nantai kiran” and it can be dated to first century CE, that is, 1900 years before the present. The discovery in the ancient city of Sumhuram has opened a new chapter in understanding the maritime trade of the Indian Ocean countries, according to specialists in history.

    […]

    The Italian Mission to Oman (IMTO) had found this potsherd during its second archaeological excavation in 2006 in the Khor Rori area. The Director of the excavation was Alessandra Avanzini and Dr. Pavan was part of the team. Since 1997, the Mission of University of Pisa, forming part of the IMTO, has been working in Oman in two sites: Sumhuram in Khor Rori and Salut in Nizwa.

    […]

    The script “nantai kiran,” signifying a personal name, has two components, Dr. Rajan said. The first part “[n] antai” is an honorific suffix to the name of an elderly person. For instance, “kulantai-campan,” “antai asutan,” “korrantai” and so on found in Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions could be cited. The second component “Kiran” also stands for a personal name. More than 20 poets of the Tamil Sangam age [circa third century BCE to third century CE] have “kiran” as part of their personal names. “Thus, the broken piece of the pot carries the personal name of an important trader who commanded a high regard in the trading community,” Dr. Rajan argued.

    For more, read
    http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/potsherd-with-tamilbrahmi-script-found-in-oman/article4038866.ece

    Reply
  5. Sandeep Post author

    Some pertinent remarks by Rick Fields in his book “How the swans came to the lake : a narrative history of Buddhism in America

    The belief that Buddhism influenced Christianity has been a persistent one, at least in some circles. In a recent book Daisaku Ikeda, president of the four-million-member lay Buddhist organization, Sokagakkai, quotes Origen’s third-century commentary on the Book of Ezekiel: “In that island [Britain], the Druid priests and Buddhists spread teachings concerning the oneness of God, and for that reason the inhabitants are already inclined toward it [Christianity].” It has also been suggested that the Essene community to which Christ is believed to have belonged owed more to Buddhist monastic forms than to its own Jewish heritage. Another popular theory is that Christ spent his “lost years” wandering through India. Perhaps more respectable are the theories that propose that mahayana teachings might owe something to Christian influence, or vice versa. The Lotus Sutra, in particular, contains a striking parallel to the Biblical tale of the prodigal son, and the doctrines of the three kayas, or “bodies” of the transcendent Buddha have seemed to some highly suggestive of some kind of Christian-Buddhist cross-fertilization. Similar correspondences between Indian forms of spirituality and Christian ones-the common use of rosaries, the custom of relic worship, a belief in transmigration (not yet condemned as heresy in the early Church), and the similarity between the life led by the desert fathers of Egypt and Syria and the Indian forest-dwelling rishis and Buddhist monks – all lend further support to the cross-fertilization theory. Still, no historical evidence yet exists to clarify whether these, and other similar examples, are instances of true cultural interaction or parallel development.

    (Rick Fields, How the swans came to the lake : a narrative history of Buddhism in America, 3rd ed., Boston, Mass. : Shambhala Publications, 1992, p 18)

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      In a recent book Daisaku Ikeda, president of the four-million-member lay Buddhist organization, Sokagakkai, quotes Origen’s third-century commentary on the Book of Ezekiel: “In that island [Britain], the Druid priests and Buddhists spread teachings concerning the oneness of God, and for that reason the inhabitants are already inclined toward it [Christianity].”

      After looking at Origen’s commentary on the book of Ezekiel, it is not possible to confirm Daisaku Ikeda‘s finding. Maybe Ikeda misread the text….

      There is only one reference to Brittania in Origen’s Homilies, as per Marcel Borret’s translation “Homélies sur Ézéchiel by Origene”, Paris : Editions du Cerf, 1989, section IV.1, line 154

      Origen wrote in Latin:

      Quando enim terra Britanniae ante adventum Christi in 155 unius Dei consensit religionem, quando terra Maurorum, quando totus semel orbis ? Nunc vero propter Ecclesias, quae mundi limites tenent, universa terra cum laetitia, clamat ad Deum Istrahel et capax est bonorum secundum fines suos.

      French translation (by Marcel Borret)

      En effet, quand la terre de la Bretagne, avant la venue du Christ (in 155), fut-elle unanime pour la religion du Dieu unique, quand la terre des Maures, quand tout l’ensemble du globe? Mais maintenant, grace aux eglises qui atteignent les limites du monde, la terre entiere erie de joie vers le Dieu d’Israel, et elle est capable d’actes bons dans ses bornes.

      English translation:

      Indeed, when was the land of Britain before the coming of Christ in 155, unanimously for the religion of God, when the land of the Moors, when the whole of the globe? But now, thanks to the churches that are reaching the limits of the world, the whole earth is filled with the joy to the God of Israel and it is capable of good acts within its bounds.

      There is a new English translation of the Homilies by Thomas Schenck which might shed more light on this matter.

      Some writers believe Origen is asking a rhetorical question in order to show that Britain worshiped many Gods before the coming of the church. This is not proof that Buddhism existed in Britain before Christianity

      Reply
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  7. Sandeep Post author

    Interesting website which documents all the features that Christianity borrowed from Pagan religions of the Mediterranean

    Borrowings:
    1) Christmas tree
    2) Easter egg
    3) Vespatian’s spittle healed a blind man
    4) Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from death
    5) Osiris is said to bring his believers eternal life in Egyptian Heaven
    6) The Phrygo-Roman God Attis died and was resurrected on the third day. His body as bread was eaten by his worshippers.

    See http://www.pocm.info for more

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Poking fun at our beliefs - Page 6 - Religious Education Forum

  9. mike

    Apparently Buddha predicted the birth of Christ according to the famous Gnostic Teacher Daskalos, who is Highly regarded around the world (even mentioned by m.p. pandit).
    Here’s an excerpt from one of His books (the prophecy and a different story of the three kings):

    “It is related that the Lord Buddha told his disciple Ananda that in five hundred years’ time God would be directly incarnated upon Earth. He made it clear that he was not referring to an ordinary human being reaching perfection through incarnations, but that God Himself would be directly incarnate.

    Before the birth of Joshua, or Jesus as we know Him, certain wise men in the East, who knew of the Lord Buddha’s prophecy, had followed—through clairvoyance—the birth of the Virgin Mary and were awaiting the Incarnation of the Logos—God in expression.

    One of these wise men was the Maharajah Ram, who with his friend and counsellor Chekitana, had calculated the time and place in Palestine where they must be in order to pay homage to the incarnate God.

    Ram appointed his mother and brother as joint regents in his kingdom and set out for Palestine, accompanied by Chekitana. Their way took them through Armenia, which in those days was divided into two warring kingdoms, ruled by two brothers, Kaspar and Dikran. When Ram had reconciled the two brothers, Kaspar appointed Dikran to rule both kingdoms and joined Ram and Chekitana on their pilgrimage.

    As they journeyed south, they met an astrologer, Baal Das Ashur (‘servant of God’), who wanted to accompany them, and they accepted him as their companion.

    At the appointed time, they reached Palestine and although they were aware of Herod’s intentions, since they were able to read his thoughts, and had no need of information from him, Baal Das Ashur insisted that they should visit him. In the hope that their visit might alter his plans, Ram and Kaspar agreed.

    Then they journeyed on to Bethlehem, where the three Magi found the stable in which Jesus had been born. The first to kneel before the manger was Ram. He took off his outer cloak and laid it at Christ’s feet, so that only his white undergarment remained. This is why the teachers of the Researchers of Truth wear a white robe, as a symbol of purity of intent and dedication. Ram then drew his sword, broke off the tip and placed it before the infant God, saying, ‘At Thine immaculate feet, O Logos, be all authority’. This is the origin of the Sword of Initiation, which is without its sharp point.

    As the other two wise men offered their gifts, Ram exclaimed, ‘Ham El khior!’ which, in his language, meant, ‘I have seen God.’ From then on he was known by the name which has come down to us as Melchior.”

    Hope this helps…
    Source(s):
    The Esoteric Teachings – Dr. Stylianos Atteshlis (aka “Daskalos”)

    Reply
      1. mike

        Sandeep, this is why l used the word ‘apparently’, because lf it wasn’t for Daskalos saying it, l would have dismissed it (l can’t really see Buddha using the word ‘God’, somehow), because a lot of knowledgeable buddhists think it’s a hoax perpetrated by certain christian sects. But, Daskalos isn’t an ordinary christian, and is regarded as probably the greatest christian mystic of the last century. He had incredible siddhi’s similar to the Mother from the age of seven. So, is he wrong, idk.
        One claim is that it’s in the Tipitaka scripture, but as you can see, this is different to what daskalos says (it’s a Brahmin priest not His disciple Ananda, and Buddha mentions ‘Angels’ – would He use that word??). This is refuted by many buddhists, l believe. The site below has this quote but says it’s a hoax:

        hxxp://sdhammika.blogspot.no/2009/09/buddha-prophesized-jesus.html

        “Then the old Brahman priest asked, “What will the characteristics of the Holy One be like?” The Buddha answered him, “The Holy One who will keep ??? the world in the future will be like this: in the palms of his hands and in the flat of his feet will be the design of a disc, in the side will be a stab wound; and his forehead will have many marks like scars. This Holy One will be the golden boat who will carry you over the cycle of rebirths all the way to the highest heaven (Nirvana). Do not look for salvation the old way; there is no salvation in it for sure”.

  10. mike

    The other night l was wondering why l hadn’t seen anything mentioned by M or SA about Alice Bailey – another woman like Blavatsky who communicated with a so-called mahatma, who she called ‘The Tibetan’. After being kicked out of the theosophical organisation by Annie Besant, she started a group called ‘Ageless Wisdom Teachings’. Strangely today without looking for it l saw what M said about her n the agenda. l put it in this section because it refers to Christ.

    “But these people just can’t get out of their education! Here is a lady [A. Bailey], quite renowned, it seems (she’s dead now), who became the disciple of a Tibetan lama … and she still speaks of Christ as the sole Avatar! She just can’t get out of it!
    And each one has the absolute Truth!
    page 181 , Mother’s Agenda , volume – 2 – 25th April – 1961”

    “The first thing I did this morning was to open this book by Alice Bailey (I’ve had it for several days, I had to have a look at it). So I looked … Ah, I said – well, well! Here’s a person who’s dead now, but she was the disciple of a Tibetan Buddhist lama and considered a very great spiritual leader, and she writes, ‘Christ is the incarnation of divine love on earth.’ And that’s that. ‘And the world will be transformed when Christ is reborn, when he comes back to earth.’ But why the devil does she put ‘Christ’? Because she was born Christian? … It’s deplorable.

    And such a mixture of everything – everything! Instead of making a synthesis, they make a pot-pourri. They scoop it all up, toss it together, whip it up a little, use a bunch of words that have nothing to do with one another, and then serve it to you!

    page 182 , Mother’s Agenda , volume – 2 – 25th April – 1961”

    Reply
  11. Pingback: How Buddhist Cultural Memes Were Appropriated By Christianity | Swarajya

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