Analysis of “Jesus and Buddhism: A Christian View” by Xavier Henderson

By March 3, 2017 voices No Comments

In “Jesus and Buddhism: A Christian View”, Marcus J. Borg compares the historical Jesus to Buddha, and he also discusses the “exclusivist and absolutist claims made about Jesus by the most common forms of Christianity” (Borg, 1999). His motivation for creating this article was to see Buddhism from a Christian perspective, while evaluating, as well as attacking commonly mistaken ideas regarding Christianity. He begins the article by stating Jesus was a Jewish mystic (spirit person) that became a healer, wisdom teacher, social prophet, and movement founder. This provides his rationale for comparing Jesus to Buddha.

There are a couple apparent similarities between Jesus and Buddha. These men both provided an opportunity for a religious alternative life for those who are marginalized, stressed the importance of interior life, experienced an enlightening transformation at around the age of thirty, “became teachers of a convention-subverting wisdom flowing out of their enlightenment experiences,” and established reformist movements (Borg, 1999). Both Buddhism and Christianity traditions take spirits and magic very seriously. Their beliefs start to differ when it comes to social issues.

Buddha and Jesus had one major drastic difference concerning social justice. Jesus placed a huge emphasis on social justice, but was killed prematurely due to the fact he was a social prophet. On the other hand, Buddha simply died from food poisoning. A minor difference between the two is the amount of public activity they experienced. Buddha spent around forty to fifty years in the public spotlight, while Jesus spent a brief period of one year in public activity.

Borg further explains what the phrase “the way” means within the context of Jesus’ teachings. He essentially states that there is a broad path and a narrow path, but those who are meek will be honored and the path to a new life involves death and burial of the former way of living. This idea of releasing the old is very similar to the teachings of Buddha as well. However, they taught differently based on their experiences on the issue. The author added if the two teachers encountered each other, they would not attempt to persuade the other, but instead would recognize and understand each other (Borg, 1999).

The author goes on to discuss a few possible meanings of the death of Jesus Christ. He starts by saying that he does not believe his death was more of “Jesus going back to himself” or a sacrifice for sin of mankind. However, he tends to lean more toward the idea that His death represented, “The defeat of the powers, as disclosure of God’s love, and as embodiment of the way or path of transformation.” Later, he explains how it had a completely different meaning during the first-century. Essentially, “Temple theology apparently had an institutional monopoly on access to God: some sins and impurities could be dealt with only through sacrifices offered in the temple. In this context, to say “Jesus is the sacrifice” negated this claim: the “once for all sacrifice” had been made. Thus “Jesus is the sacrifice” was initially a metaphorical proclamation of the immediacy of access to God apart from institutional mediation. As such, it affirmed that which was also at the heart of Jesus’ own teaching: a way of transformation that subverted tradition.”

Borg clears up the idea that Christians should refer to Jesus as the “superior one.” He further explains that Jesus is who Christians look for affirmation in their Christian identity. He empathizes with the other religions understanding they put their faith into who they believe to be right. Borg makes an important observation by stating that as Christians affirming Jesus is the decisive revelation of God does not mean that we must claim Christianity is the only true religion.

I believe Borg does an excellent job of clearly developing his arguments. He does background research on the topic, while providing impeccable examples and evidence to support his claims. Also, he is able to see an issue from another perspective, understand, and logically think from that mindset to develop conclusions. All of his arguments relate very well to the main idea. For example, he argued that both religions involve a release of the “old way of living” and embracing a new way of living, to become honored or exalted in some way (Borg, 1999). Every single one of his arguments pertained to the central idea of the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity.

Borg uses an abundance of sources to provide the most information on the topic at hand. He has multiple sources cited, clearly showing his thorough research on Jesus and Buddha both. Also, a few of the sources listed are from books Borg has published early, which shows how knowledgeable Borg is regarding these two topics. I believe the author used the sources effectively by providing additional information, and sometimes even background information and context to the two topics. He was so well-versed on the topic he would present an argument opposed to his claim, and then rationally think through that perspective, while still holding fast to what he believes in.

As a whole, this article was a success because it provided new, intriguing information for me. It was not biased at all, but instead it presented both Buddhism and Christianity in the same light. The article did a great job of presenting the similarities in teachings, showing how similar these two religions truly are. For example, it showed how both religions followed a teacher who preached a message of social justice, and how both of these men experienced an enlightening experiences around the age of thirty.  Also, how both religions stress interior life, reformist movements, and the release of the old way of living and embracing a new and improved way of living. Personally, the only critique I have for the article was perhaps some additional information on the teachings of the two religions and some more background information on Jesus and Buddha’s personal life, before they began teaching. All in all, I believe Borg brought to light some very important topics of conversation among Christians, Buddhists, and other religious communities as well.

This article exposed me to some new ideas and a fresh perspective on both Christianity and Buddhism. I learned that after Buddha’s enlightening experience he started to preach wisdom from his experience. Also, I learned that there are different interpretations of what the death of Jesus symbolized. In addition, I learned that it is not imperative for Christians to claim Jesus as their only decisive revelation to God, because other people might experience a different form of God. I believe this article expanded my understanding of the subject, because I was very narrow-minded about both of the topics, but the new information and a different mindset opened my mind to a new way of looking at these two very similar religious beliefs. After reading this article, it has opened my eyes to the fact some Christians can be very exclusive and close-minded with their religious beliefs. However, I believe they should strive to be at a place where they can still firmly stand for what they believe in, yet still be able to see and understand an opposing view.

Thank you for taking the time to read, “Jesus and Buddhism: A Christian View” by Xavier Henderson. If you enjoyed this article or it has moved you in any way, please consider supporting the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at Let us be the change!

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