20 December 2007

Twin paths to a world full of love

They lived 500 years and more than 3000km apart, but Jesus and Buddha were soulmates, according to a new book.

Another recent book on the pair suggests Jesus might have studied Buddhism and adopted some of its philosophies.

Some modern scholars have been intensely studying the sayings of both religious masters to find similarities.

It's not that easy. The Dalai Lama once said trying to mix Buddhism and Christianity was like "trying to put a yak's head on a cow's body".

Maybe, but some modern Buddhist evangelists seem to be doing great business blurring the lines between cows and yaks.

Pop Buddhism has humanist beliefs that seem similar, at a glance, to the noble Christian ethics.

Of course, there are major differences in the spirituality of the West and the East, which avoids attaching a divine will to ethical codes.

Buddhists don't generally believe in the supernatural, but believe in reincarnation and the possibility for humans to live several lives.

In Christianity, each life is unique and is the only chance for salvation.

Buddha was born a prince into a wealthy Indian family, while Jesus was born into a poor and oppressed minority in a land under occupation. He declared himself divine and had to die to prove it.

Christ became a dangerous social and religious revolutionary while Buddha became a quiet teacher of spiritual wisdom.

But many of their words have a common thread,

Jesus said the heart of Christianity was: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." Buddha said his Golden Rule was: "Consider others as yourself. Remember that you are like other men."

About love, Jesus said: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Buddha said: "Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world."

All religion, in essence, makes the assessment that temporal life is, in some ways, unsatisfactory, asks the ultimate human questions and proclaims the answers. For Christians and Muslims it is about salvation. For Buddhists it is seeing "the true nature" of yourself.

The common way to enlightenment, according to each faith, is to proclaim universal love and believe the spirit is more important than the body.

Religious scholar Dr Marcus Borg, in his book Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, said they shared a primary interest in compassion, extolled the love of enemies and encouraged their followers to find a new way to live beyond human appetites.

The wisdom of both was "world-subverting".

Vietnamese Buddhist monk and prolific writer Thich Nhat Hanh lights candles daily to celebrate both Buddha and Christ.

He said Buddha and Jesus were pivotal figures, both "living streams" who opened the way to better lives on Earth and in the afterlife.

But he also said: "We don't want to say that Buddhism is a kind of Christianity and Christianity is a kind of Buddhism. A mango cannot be an orange. If you analyse the mango and the orange deeply enough, you will see small elements are in both. If you look a little deeper, you discover many things in common."

Buddhists generally believe the universe evolved through natural law and that truth has been given through countless ages by various Buddhas.

To Buddhists, Jesus is seen as an Enlightened One, although the crucifixion of Christ is difficult to explain in terms of the law of karma. How could someone so enlightened and good end up on a wooden cross?

Still, followers of the faiths can learn from each other.

Christian philosopher Thomas Merton was not too concerned with the differences between cows and yaks.

He said: "I couldn't understand the Christian teaching the way I do if it weren't in the light of Buddhism."
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