Jesus and Siddhartha
Spiritual teachers often teach similar things
There are probably no greater spiritual teachers in human history than Joshua ben Joseph, (aka Jesus of Nazareth) and Siddhartha Gautama, (aka Buddha.) Both had life-transforming experiences around the age of thirty. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his public career. Siddhartha had a revelation sitting under a fig tree: both of them had an enlightened wisdom, a new way of seeing the world that no one had noticed before.
Both taught similar metaphorical styles, using simple yet profound language. The emptying out, letting go and dying to self are central themes of both of their philosophies. Both men were a radical slap in the face to the existing orthodoxy. Siddhartha Gautama’s teachings were a refreshing rebuke to the Brahmin culture of elaborate rituals and Vedic philosophies and Joshua ben Joseph blasted the religious leaders on more than one occasion.
Buddha rejected the caste system and its evils including rituals based on animal sacrifices, fasting and pilgrimage — he preached total equality. Doesn’t this sound familiar to the Christian reader? They both taught a transformative new and better way that subverted tradition. It’s not possible to be a follower of Jesus without undermining the present social order and coming into conflict with religious and political leaders.
Both of them laid great emphasis on love, equality and non violence. Even current Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama to this day has repeated the slogan “My religion is compassion.” Siddhartha taught “consider others as yourself” a similar instruction to Joshua’s “love your neighbor as yourself.”
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.”
“If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, a knife or a stick, you should abandon any desires and offer no evil words.”
And then compare their teachings on overcoming evil:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”
“Hatreds do not cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth. Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving; overcome the liar by truth.”
Both Jesus and Buddha gave it all up. This is a common theme that repeats itself when we view the lives of spiritual teachers: they forsake the traditional life of marriage, family, career and possessions. The real lessons that we learn about life are often found when we give up the things we desire the most: Buddha taught non-attachment to worldly desires; he discovered that the root of all suffering is in our desires. Jesus, similarly once said, “What does it profit a man to inherit the world and lose his soul?”
Other places where there is alignment between the two teachers is found in their views about judging others:
“The fault of others is easily perceived, but that of oneself is difficult to perceive; a man winnows his neighbour’s faults like chaff, but his own fault he hides.” (Dhammapada 252.)
“Judge not, that you be not judged… And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
Though there are many differences between the two great teachers, there are some remarkable similarities that point to a new and better way of life that is more satisfying and fulfilling than what our current materialistic age is offering. The reason why both Siddhartha Gautama and Joshua ben Joseph are still relevant is that they both taught those timeless truths that transcend the centuries. Human beings may be in the process of evolution and hopefully we are learning and growing as a race but we still need the wisdom of the ages to help shape and guide our societies.