the mantra "om mani padme hum" is used by both Hindus and Buddhists, who share a number of customs, symbols and beliefs

Buddhism grew out of Hinduism. Because Hinduism, which is about 1000 years older than Buddhism, never spread much further than India, Buddhism is regarded as the oldest international religion. Even though Buddhism began in India, ironically, hardly any of its followers are found there.

The beliefs of other religions, namely Hinduism, are accepted rather than viewed as blasphemous. Many Buddhists, and non-Buddhists share similar beliefs, worship the same deities and revere gods in other religions as well as their ancestor spirits in hope of pacifying everyone and thus ensuring good fortune. Unlike many Christian, Jews and Muslims, who zealously believe there is one path to salvation, Asian people seem to practice the religious equivalent of hedging their bets.

Ancient rites and customs—some of them Buddhist in origin, some of them not—abound in Asia. Temples and shrines are found in almost every village, town, city and important mountain. They honor local heroes, important ancestors, local deities, and as well as figures from Confucianism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism or Taoism. Hindus sadhus (ascetic holymen) and Buddhist monks have some similar customs.

The Buddha offers a salvation, which each man can attain for himself, by himself in this world, during his life, without the help of God or gods. The Sri Lankan monk Aryadasa Ratnasinghe wrote: “Buddhism differs from other religions because: 1) it does not believe in a Creator or an Almighty God who is responsible for all our actions; 2) Buddhism, in actual sense, is not a religion, though people generally call it so, because there is no belief in, recognition of, or of a higher unseen authority, or a controlling power, but emotions and morality connected therewith; 3) is a moral philosophy in pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, norms and laws, and all other things connected therewith. In Buddhism, there is nothing to speculate or conjecture, because it is a doctrine, par excellence, leading to the attainment of Nibbana ceasing rebirth. Every Buddhist aspires to attain this condition in this life or in the life to come. Buddha is the greatest man who ever lived in this world of ours, dominating the whole of human history, by his boundless compassion and unrestricted loving kindness, and still his doctrine stands supreme above others.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), the famous philosopher and mathematician, who was a Christian, says: "Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its orthodox form, because it has had the smallest element of persecution".

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion

Buddhism and Christianity

Early depictions of Christ (from the Roman Era) and Buddha (from Gandhara) show Greek influences

On the difference between Buddhism and Christianity, Deepak Chopra, author a novel about Buddha, told U.S. News and World Report, “They are similar in relations to the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you—and in the total embodiment of nonviolence. You must turn the other cheek and love your enemies. Buddha said when you look deep enough at your enemy, you will see that he is yourself. But what Jesus calls sin, Buddha calls ignorance. Lack of awareness, the god question is also very different. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the universe, whereas in the Buddhist tradition, God, or the intelligence that is at the source of creation, is not some outside intelligence but is inherent in the consciousness that conceives givens and become the universe.”

The Dalai Lama told Newsweek: “As a Buddhist by attitude towards Jesus Christ is that he was either a fully enlightened being or a Bodhisattva of a very high spiritual realization”

St. John Paul II visited a Buddhist temple during a 1984 trip to Thailand. Pope Francis did the same in Sri Lanka in 2015. In his bestselling book "Crossing the Threshold of Hope , Pope John Paul II wrote: "Buddhism is in large measure an atheistic system." He also asserted that the Buddhist doctrine of salvation through nirvana is "almost exclusively negative." In Buddhism the Pope wrote, "we do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad."

Christians Converting to Buddhism

Ajahn Candasiri, a senior nun at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in Hertfordshire, England, wrote on the BBC website: “I was brought up as a Christian and turned to Buddhism in my early thirties, so of course I have ideas about both traditions: the one I grew up in and turned aside from, and the one I adopted and continue to practise within.... Having tried with sincerity to approach my Christian journey in a way that was meaningful within the context of everyday life, I had reached a point of deep weariness and despair. I was weary with the apparent complexity of it all; despair had arisen because I was not able to find any way of working with the less helpful states that would creep, unbidden, into the mind: the worry, jealousy, grumpiness, and so on. And even positive states could turn around and transform themselves into pride or conceit, which were of course equally unwanted. [Source: BBC |::|]

Buddhist statue with a hidden cross on the back used by persecuted Christians in Japan

“Eventually, I met Ajahn Sumedho, an American-born Buddhist monk, who had just arrived in England after training for ten years in Thailand. His teacher was Ajahn Chah, a Thai monk of the Forest Tradition who, in spite of little formal education, won the hearts of many thousands of people, including a significant number of Westerners. I attended a ten-day retreat at Oakenholt Buddhist Centre, near Oxford, and sat in agony on a mat on the floor of the draughty meditation hall, along with about 40 other retreatants of different shapes and sizes. In front of us was Ajahn Sumedho, who presented the teachings and guided us in meditation, with three other monks. |::|

“This was a turning point for me. Although the whole experience was extremely tough - both physically and emotionally - I felt hugely encouraged. The teachings were presented in a wonderfully accessible style, and just seemed like ordinary common sense. It didn't occur to me that it was 'Buddhism'. Also, they were immensely practical and as if to prove it, we had, directly in front of us, the professionals - people who had made a commitment to living them out, twenty-four hours a day. I was totally fascinated by those monks: by their robes and shaven heads, and by what I heard of their renunciant lifestyle, with its 227 rules of training. I also saw that they were relaxed and happy - perhaps that was the most remarkable, and indeed slightly puzzling, thing about them. “

“I felt deeply drawn by the teachings, and by the Truth they were pointing to: the acknowledgement that, yes, this life is inherently unsatisfactory, we experience suffering or dis-ease - but there is a Way that can lead us to the ending of this suffering. Also, although the idea was quite shocking to me, I saw within the awakening of interest in being part of a monastic community.” |::|

“On that first Buddhist retreat it was pointed out that there is a way between either following or struggling to repress harmful thoughts that arise. I learned that, through meditation, I can simply bear witness to them, and allow them to pass on according to their nature - I don't need to identify with them in any way at all. In Buddhism I found what was lacking in my Christian experience. It could be summed up in one word: confidence. I don't think I had fully realised how hopeless it all seemed, until the means and the encouragement were there. There is a story of a Brahmin student called Dhotaka, who implored the Buddha: "Please, Master, free me from confusion!" The Buddha's perhaps somewhat surprising response was, "It is not in my practice to free anyone from confusion. When you yourself have understood the Dhamma, the Truth, then you will find freedom." What an empowerment! |::|

Jesus In the Eyes of a Buddhist

Christ and Buddha by Paul Ranson, 1880

Ajahn Candasiri, a senior nun at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in Hertfordshire, told the BBC she believes that Jesus' suffering encapsulated many Buddhist teachings. She said: “I was brought up as a Christian and turned to Buddhism in my early thirties...After re-reading some of the gospel stories, I would like to meet Jesus again with fresh eyes, and to examine the extent to which he and the Buddha were in fact offering the same guidance, even though the traditions of Christianity and Buddhism can appear in the surface to be rather different. So now, after more than twenty years as a Buddhist nun, what do I find as I encounter Jesus in the gospel stories? Well, I have to say that he comes across as being much more human than I remember. Although there is much said about him being the son of God, somehow that doesn't seem nearly as significant to me as the fact that he is a person - a man of great presence, enormous energy and compassion, and significant psychic abilities. [Source: BBC |::|]

“He also has a great gift for conveying spiritual truth in the form of images, using the most everyday things to illustrate points he wishes to make: bread, fields, corn, salt, children, trees. People don't always understand at once, but are left with an image to ponder. Also he has a mission - to re-open the Way to eternal life; and he's quite uncompromising in his commitment to, as he puts it, "carrying out his Father's will". His ministry is short but eventful. Reading through Mark's account, I feel tired as I imagine the relentless demands on his time and energy. It's a relief to find the occasional reference to him having time alone or with his immediate disciples, and to read how, like us, he at times needs to rest. |::|

“A story I like very much is of how, after a strenuous day of giving teachings to a vast crowd, he is sound asleep in the boat that is taking them across the sea. His calm in response to the violent storm that arises as he is sleeping I find most helpful when things are turbulent in my own life. I feel very caught up in the drama of it all; there is one thing after another. People listen to him, love what he has to say (or in some cases are disturbed or angered by it) and are healed. They can't have enough of what he has to share with them. I'm touched by his response to the 4000 people who, having spent three days with him in the desert listening to his teaching, are tired and hungry. Realising this, he uses his gifts to manifest bread and fish for them all to eat. |::|

Buu Mon Buddhist Temple in Port Arthur, Texas

“Jesus dies as a young man. His ministry begins when he is thirty (I would be interested to know more of the spiritual training he undoubtedly received before then), and ends abruptly when he is only thirty-three. Fortunately, before the crucifixion he is able to instruct his immediate disciples in a simple ritual whereby they can re-affirm their link with him and each other (I refer, of course, to the last supper) - thereby providing a central focus of devotion and renewal for his followers, right up to the present time. I have the impression that he is not particularly interested in converting people to his way of thinking. Rather it's a case of teaching those who are ready; interestingly, often the people who seek him out come from quite depraved or lowly backgrounds. It is quite clear to Jesus that purity is a quality of the heart, not something that comes from unquestioning adherence to a set of rules. |::|

“His response to the Pharisees when they criticise his disciples for failing to observe the rules of purity around eating expresses this perfectly: "There is nothing from outside that can defile a man" - and to his disciples he is quite explicit in what happens to food once it has been consumed. "Rather, it is from within the heart that defilements arise." Unfortunately, he doesn't at this point go on to explain what to do about these.|::|

“What we hear of his last hours: the trial, the taunting, the agony and humiliation of being stripped naked and nailed to a cross to die - is an extraordinary account of patient endurance, of willingness to bear the unbearable without any sense of blame or ill will. It reminds me of a simile used by the Buddha to demonstrate the quality of metta, or kindliness, he expected of his disciples: "Even if robbers were to attack you and saw off your limbs one by one, should you give way to anger, you would not be following my advice." A tall order, but one that clearly Jesus fulfills to perfection: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." |::|

“So why did I need to look elsewhere for guidance? Was it simply that Jesus himself was in some way lacking as a spiritual template? Was it dissatisfaction with the church and its institutional forms - what Christianity has done to Jesus? Or was it simply that another way presented itself that more adequately fulfilled my need at that time? In the gospels we hear that Jesus speaks with authority; he speaks too of the need to have the attitude of a little child. Now, although this could be interpreted as fostering a child-like dependence on the teacher, Buddhist teachings have enabled me to see this differently. The word 'Buddha' means awake - awake to the Dhamma, or Truth, which the Buddha likened to an ancient overgrown path that he had simply rediscovered. His teaching points to that Path: it's here, now, right beneath our feet - but sometimes our minds are so full of ideas about life that we are prevented from actually tasting life itself!” |::|

Jesus and The Buddha as Teachers

church in Mandalay, Myanmar

Ajahn Candasiri, a senior nun at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in Hertfordshire, wrote in the BBC website: “On one occasion a young mother, Kisagotami, goes to the Buddha, crazy with grief over the death of her baby son. The Buddha's response to her distress, as she asks him to heal the child, is to ask her to bring him a mustard seed - from a house where no one has ever died. Eventually, after days of searching, Kisagotami's anguish is calmed; she understands that she is not alone in her suffering - death and bereavement are inevitable facts of human existence. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Jesus too sometimes teaches in this way. When a crowd had gathered, ready to stone to death a woman accused of adultery, he invites anyone who is without sin to hurl the first boulder. One by one they turn away; having looked into their own hearts, they are shamed by this simple statement. |::|

“In practice, I have found the process to be one of attuning, of attending carefully to what is happening within - sensing when there is ease, harmony; knowing also when one's view is at odds with What Is. I find that the images that Jesus uses to describe the Kingdom of Heaven explain this well. It is like a seed that under favourable conditions germinates and grows into a tree. We ourselves create the conditions that either promote well-being and the growth of understanding, or cause harm to ourselves or others. We don't need a God to consign us to the nether regions of some hell realm if we are foolish or selfish - it happens naturally. Similarly, when we fill our lives with goodness, we feel happy - that's a heavenly state. |::|

“The teaching of Jesus that even to have a lustful thought is the same as committing adultery had seemed too hard, while the idea of cutting off a hand or foot, or plucking out an eye should they offend is sensible enough - but how on earth do we do that in practice? I can see that it would require far more faith than I, at that time, had at my disposal! So I was overjoyed to learn of an alternative response to the states of greed, hatred or delusion that arise in consciousness, obscure our vision and lead to all kinds of trouble. So, as the Dalai Lama said: 'Everyone wants to be happy; no one wants to suffer.' Jesus and the Buddha are extraordinary friends and teachers. They can show us the Way, but we can't rely on them to make us happy, or to take away our suffering. That is up to us.” |::|

Pope Francis Visits Buddhist Temple in Sri Lanka

Pope Francis II visited a Buddhist temple during a 1984 trip to Sri Lanka in 2015. Associated Press reported: “Pope Francis became the second pope to visit a Buddhist temple on Wednesday, changing his schedule at the last minute to pay his respects at an important place of worship in Sri Lanka's capital and to witness a key ritual for Buddhists: the opening of a casket of relics of two important disciples of the Buddha. Francis listened respectfully as Buddhist monks chanted and prayed while opening the stupa, or casket, containing relics in the Agrashravaka Temple, the Vatican said. [Source: Associated Press, Jan 14, 2015]

Pope Francis at a temple in Sri Lanka

“Usually, the relics are only put on display once a year, and Buddhists from around Sri Lanka line up for days to pay homage to them since it is such a rare privilege. The head monk at the temple, Banagala Upatissa, told The Associated Press that allowing the pope to witness the relics "is the highest honour and respect we can offer to his holiness." Upatissa had invited Francis to visit the temple when he greeted him at Colombo's airport, the Vatican said. Upatissa, who heads the Mahabodhi Society Headquarters, an important Buddhist organization, is active in interfaith dialogue and visited the Vatican during Pope Benedict XVI's papacy; a photo of the two men is in one of the Mahabodi reception rooms.

“The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis didn't pray or meditate during the visit, though he did take off his shoes as all visitors to the temple must do. He noted that unlike Francis' recent visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul - where the pope did pause for a moment in prayer with the chief imam - this visit was a much shorter affair, arranged at the last minute. "There was not a time of silence in this sense," Lombardi told reporters. "I can only say the pope was listening with great respect, and listening also to the prayer of the monk showing the relics and this was all."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University; Asia Society Museum “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); BBC, Wikipedia, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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