I’ve been thinking of writing a book about Jesus. So I’m gonna write down these thoughts and post them without really editing it much. It’ll be messy. But maybe something useful will come of it. Here goes…

There must be a hundred “Buddha and Jesus” books out there. But, although it’s a subject I’ve been intrigued by for a very long time, I have never come across a Buddha & Jesus book that interested me enough I ever even considered buying it. I flip through them in the book stores and, at best I might go, “Oh, that’s nice.” But that’s it. It seems like most of them fall into a few categories, which I’ll list along with my reactions to them (like you’re just dying to know).

1) Buddhist Master from a non-Christian country trying to convince to folks from Christian countries that Buddhism is not devil worship. These guys want to demonstrate how Buddha and Jesus really said the same kinds of things and so we should all just get along. Fine. Not interested. The Masters in question usually don’t know enough about Christianity to say a whole lot so they just kinda go on and on and on…

2) Christian convert to Buddhism writes about why Buddhism is a more refined version of what Jesus had to say. Or, again, that Buddha and Jesus really said pretty much the same thing. Sweet. Not interested.

3) New Age True Believer who wants to prove that Jesus really was a Buddhist because maybe he went to India and stayed in a Buddhist monastery before returning to Palestine to start his mission. This is an intriguing idea. But I’ve yet to come across any books about it that seem truly level-headed and present a real historical analysis. There seems to be some evidence this may have happened. But nothing very conclusive.

4) Jesus talks to Buddha imaginary conversation books. OH GOD PLEASE NO!!!!!!!!!

5) Christian (usually Catholic) who’s interested in Buddhism and gives his view of it. Usually, like #1, in an effort to demonstrate how we all should just get along. Slightly more interested, but not really. Again, the Christians involved don’t ever really seem to get what Buddhism is about and rarely have any experience of Buddhist practice.

I’ve been interested in Christianity since I was a little kid. In my teens I wanted to become a Christian. The problem was that when I investigated Christianity, I found I could not make heads or tails of it. For example, when I was a Freshman at Kent State University, I visited a booth run by the Campus Christian Ministries and started talking to them. Their view seemed to be that Jesus did miracles, this proved he was God, therefore what he said must be very important. The problem for me was that the evidence for these miracles is so flimsy I could not accept it at all. And, in any case, why do we need miracles in order to believe what someone said if he said some really kick-ass stuff?

Nevertheless, I pressed on. I visited some churches. They were all either boring as shit or they seemed to be packed full of genuine crazy people who scared me. I prayed to Jesus to come into my heart. Nothing happened. I bought a little silver cross and wore it for a while. No change. I read the New Testament. Nice. But not very moving. After a few years I just gave up. But I’ve maintained an interest in Christianity ever since. In fact, I’m far more inclined to read and study about Jesus’ life than I am to read and study about Buddha’s.

Now before you write in and try to convert me, let me say clearly and unambiguously that I am too far gone to ever be “Saved.” I’m a Buddhist monk and a thoroughly convicted believer in Dogen’s philosophy. I’ve seen the truth in what Dogen wrote about for myself and there is no way I can ever turn my back on that.

Still I remain fascinated by Jesus’ life, mission and teaching. I do not think Buddhism and Christianity are incompatible. I think you could practice Zazen, study Dogen’s outlook and attitude towards life and yet still remain a Christian. But I think you’d emerge from you study a very different kind of Christian. Possibly a Christian that other Christians may not even recognize as a Christian. The same is true, I think, of any religion you mighty come to Zazen practice believing in. But I don’t know enough about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Zorastranism, Wiccanism or any of those to make any intelligent or useful specific comments on them. But, just maybe, I might be able to do so with Christianity.

Still, I’m not sure this is really my point. I mean, I don’t really get why so many people want to write “why don’t we all just get along” type books about Christianity and Buddhism. It’s not as if Christian/Buddhist clashes have ever been a big problem in the world. Nor does it seem to me likely they ever will be. But we are living in a time when Buddhism is starting to infiltrate what have been up till now Christian cultures. As this interpenetration occurs, a new kind of Buddhism will emerge. In the same way that Inidan Buddhism was influenced by Taoist ideas when it entered China, Euro-American Buddhism is even now being reinterpretted through a Judeo-Christian outlook. What will happen?

A lot of people wonder whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. I’m starting to think more and more that Buddhism is really neither. It’s more of an attitude. Buddha himself made use of certain aspects of the religions he knew, just as later Buddhists used aspects of the religions they knew. So American and European Buddhists today are doing the same. Yet it’s important that in doing so we maintain the core attitude. We can’t just grab stuff willy-nilly because it makes people in the culture we live in comfortable or to gain more followers and converts. Buddhism has nothing to do with gaining converts.

I’m not interested in making Buddhism feel safe to Christians or vice-versa. In fact, to an extent, I’d say Buddhism is slightly dangerous to Christians in a way. Not in the sense that it poses any kind of physical threat, of course. But it may become more and more necessary for Christians to come to terms with the ideas expressed by Buddha and Dogen and other Buddhist teachers. Coversely, though, I do not feel Christianity is any sort of threat to Buddhism. It may be a threat to certain oddball philosophies that call themselves Buddhism. But true Buddhism is just realism. And the realistic attitude can be applied to anything. If what you call “Buddhism” is not 100% realistic and therefore able to withstand anything it encounters, then it isn’t Buddhism and should be discarded immediately.

If Christianity is realistic, it can emerge from its encounter with Buddhism unharmed. I, for one, hope it can. I want it to. But I wonder if that’s possible.

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67 Responses

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  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 29, 2006 at 3:57 pm |


  2. Ed
    Ed November 29, 2006 at 5:41 pm |

    Check out Marcus Borg’s new book: Jesus: Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary. Accessible, intelligent, wholly sane, and very insightful.

  3. Andrew S.
    Andrew S. November 30, 2006 at 10:41 pm |

    Hahah, Ryuei doesn’t geeeeeeet iiiiiiiit.

  4. Sunyata
    Sunyata November 30, 2006 at 11:07 pm |

    From my many years of personal experience with the Christian religion and private study and practice of Buddhism my thought is this.
    The two are as oil and water. They do not mix and should not mix as they were each created for seperate and varying levels of consciousness.
    Respect between the two and all other religions, beliefs/non-beliefs, philosophies etc. could gain much by simply teaching respect.
    I do agree though that another book or group about the similarities of Buddha and Jesus seems uncessary and fruitless.
    Great post and great comments.

  5. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey December 1, 2006 at 1:57 am |

    “They do not mix and should not mix as they were each created for seperate and varying levels of consciousness.”

    Lawl. Seperate and varying levels of consciousness, eh?
    So are we higher or lower than the Christian folk in terms of conscious awareness?

  6. Sunyata
    Sunyata December 1, 2006 at 5:56 am |

    ‘So are we higher or lower than the Christian folk in terms of conscious awareness?’

    Yes. But that is not in terms of better or worse than. It is simply reality. We are all at different stages of consciousness. The Buddha knew this and adjusted his teaching to the levels of those he spoke to and his teachings changed through the years as his enlightenment expanded.

    All religions meet the level of the person practicing. No offense intended.


  7. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey December 1, 2006 at 8:12 am |

    So Sunyata, my disaproval of biblical religions is not due to logic and reasoning, but instead my higher consciousness. Wow very mystical. Complete bullshit though.

  8. Sunyata
    Sunyata December 1, 2006 at 11:12 am |

    How you perceive is how you perceive drunken monkey…afterall, it is ‘your’ journey.

    With Metta

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 3, 2006 at 3:00 pm |

    I reconsidered my comment about talking to christian nuns and monks. While I still think it is a good idea, I think it may be too much of a challenge to find the people you are looking for, and it will probably make you give up on christianity yet again.

    If you are really interested in this, interested enough to write a book, you should talk to theologicians. I studied theology for a while and NONE of my professors believed any of the things you think all christians believe. They really do not believe that God is a magical creature in the sky that made heaven and earth in seven days etc. etc. They all agree that it does not matter what actually happend thousands of years ago, it matters what the books mean to us, right now (yes, that’s actually what they teach, I am not making this up after reading your book). They way you describe Kannon is exactly like the way many “modern christians” view saints like the Virgin Mary. They really do not believe that there is an actual women in the sky, listening to our prayers and telling them to “God”.

    This is not just true at very modern theology universities. Mine was a normal university here, that was accepted by the Roman Catholic church as a university where you can get a priest-education. Granted, there are some bishops who think these teachings are awful, but they are a minority.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 5, 2006 at 1:02 pm |

    It’s striking how most hold their “path”, “faith, “practice”, “truth”, “experience”, “belief”, you name it, to be “the realistic one” and deny that “reality quality” to others’.

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 7, 2006 at 10:10 pm |

    A nice complement to Ehrman’s book
    that you should probably read before
    writing your own Jesus book is
    The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 10, 2006 at 12:21 pm |

    >Belief in
    >Jesus as the One God defines
    >Christianity and its followers.

    Me (Chris):
    >How about the Unitarians or the >United Church of Christ?

    Anatman quoting Unitarians:
    >asserts the divine character,
    >divine spirit, and divine
    >foundation of the teaching of
    >Jesus Christ

    I think this, and to a lesser extent the UCC quote, are carefully worded to assert the divinity of Christ without claiming that he is the “One God”. It’s one thing to say someone is divine, another to say they are the only one who is divine.

    I don’t mean to split hairs, I just think you’re misunderstanding the attitudes of some Christians. There are definitely Christians who see Jesus as the divine path they have chosen personally, and not as the only divine path. I think your quotes demonstrate that nicely by their carefully worded non-exclusiveness.

    But, as you have stated, plenty, plenty of Christians, perhaps most Christians, do believe they have the only answer, so you’re mostly right. I’m just picking nits because I happen to know some Christians who don’t believe they have the only answer.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 10, 2006 at 2:27 pm |

    Never piss off a Unitarian
    or he might come and burn
    a giant question mark
    in your yard!

    Good point, chris bogart.
    It might be safe to say
    that Christianity is not
    one religion but a thousand
    different religions that
    just happen to use some
    of the same words (with
    different meanings?) to describe
    ambiguous beliefs and experiences.

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 12, 2006 at 4:13 am |

    Jesus never existed, so who cares?

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous December 13, 2006 at 6:56 pm |

    Cool website. Thanks.
    Here’s another:

  16. Jonathan
    Jonathan December 21, 2006 at 5:00 pm |

    What about the fact that budhism is an atheistic religion. It’s not that Budhism doesn’t involve a God, it’s that it believes there is not onw. Clearly this make Christianity and Budhism incompatible. You can not be a Christian and a Budhist at the same time.

  17. Tim Cook
    Tim Cook January 30, 2009 at 10:22 pm |

    Mention was made of “centering prayer,” which is sometimes portrayed as a sort of Christian catch-up to zazen. That may be partly true, at least for some, but centering prayer is more accurately a revival of a Christian meditative tradition that lasted lineage intact up to the Enlightenment, which is to say Christianity has a longer history of meditation than it has a history without meditation. Ancient texts such as those by the Desert Fathers, St. John of the Cross, the medieval Cloud of Unknowing, despite differences in particularities, often read like Buddhist tracts. Such a revival of meditation is not unknown in Buddhism either. Meditation among the laity is a relatively modern concern in Buddhism, and even now, most Asian Buddhists, even Zen priests, have no interest in meditating. It’s something they had to slog through in training. This is not to say one religion or the other, or some third one, is purer than the other, just that they’re all human constructions and thus susceptible to messy histories.

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