Was Jesus an enlightened being?

By | Buddha, Enlightenment, Faith

In recent months I’ve been travelling around Western Europe and one thing you can’t help but notice over is how pervasive Christianity is in this part of the world. If we live in similar, modern societies then there’s no doubt we’ve also been exposed to this expansive religion, whether or not we ever went to church or a religious school

As a child I went to church for many years myself, and the school I attended was of a Christian denomination. However despite my exposure to Christianity throughout my upbringing, I must confess that it never particularly resonated with me

In more recent times however, I’ve been inspired by re-familiarising myself with quotes from Jesus’s teachings, and at times developed feelings of great joy and appreciation…. because the Buddhist teachings have helped illuminate them for me and they’ve also helped me to more deeply appreciate the Buddhist teachings themselves

This has come as somewhat as a surprise to me, given that I listened to many teachings from the bible growing up and never found them to be relevant to my own life, nor particularly engaging. However I am now of the belief that this wasn’t so much the fault of the teachings, but rather the limitation of the person attempting to interpret them

In fact if we think about the approach Venerable Geshe-la first took when he came from Tibet to teach in England, he had difficultly teaching Buddhism because they hadn’t been changed in any way to accommodate for the the new audience. Seeing how the teachings weren’t really resonating, he subsequently realised they would need to be re-presented to account for the substantial differences in culture and gained permission from his spiritual guide, Trijang Rinpoche, to do this

In this way we can understand that for us to fully ‘get’ the ancient wisdom arising from spiritual masters more than 2,000 years ago, it makes sense that they would need to be re-interpreted, not just at a superficial level, but in a way that resonates with. As demonstrated by Geshe-la, this is achieved by presenting them in a way that makes the teachings relevant to our own experience and understandings

So in the lead up to Christmas I’ve decided to write a couple of articles exploring how the teachings on Buddhism both overlap with and help to illuminate the teachings of Jesus Christ. Of course this is merely an interpretation, and if we don’t find it helpful or disagree then no problem. Ultimately it’s up to us how we decide to interpret everything that appears to our mind

However if we take a moment to contemplate how much the teachings of Jesus have been proliferated throughout the modern world, then I’m sure we can appreciate the potential benefits for both ourself and others of finding commonalities between these two religions

To give some more context regarding how I will be approaching this, in this first article I would like to explore some of the similarities between the spiritual fathers of each religion (Buddha Shakyamuni and Jesus Christ), and then building on this I will look at the relationship the teachings of Buddha may have, if any, with Jesus and his own teachings

Then in the second article I will be digging a bit deeper into Jesus’s teachings, specifically drawing on some quotes and surmising how they may in fact relate to and overlap with those found in the Buddhist teachings

The purpose of these articles isn’t so much to come to any definite conclusions, but rather by taking scriptural references from both religions, attempt to highlight the connection between Buddhism and the teachings of Jesus, with the hope that, just as I have, we may also develop a greater appreciation for both

Exploring the connection between two spiritual revolutionaries

Prince Siddhartha, who was to become the first Buddha in this world (known as Buddha Shakyamuni), was born over 400 years before Jesus, however there are similarities in the periods in which they entered this world. Both appeared during times of conflict and in societies where there were very clear divisions between the classes

Jesus was born during the reign of the Romans, who had a very distinct class system and one where wealth and power were celebrated. At the time Buddha appeared India had, and still does to this day, a seemingly oppressive class system that inevitably alienated many parts of society

There were prophecies surrounding the birth of both these future spiritual teachers and there were also similarities in the beginnings of their appearances in this world. Jesus’s mother Mary was known as ‘The Virgin’ due to the immaculate conception, whilst something miraculous was also said to surround that of Siddhartha’s birth, who was taken from the side of his mother during which she experienced no pain

Although there are also clear differences between the lives of these two beings, there do appear to be further similarities. Both grew up in religions in which there was fracturing and confusion. Based on some interpretations, we’re told that the church, which at the time adhered to the religion of Judaism, was self-serving and primarily interested in staying in control rather than bringing great benefit to the people

Siddhartha grew up as a Hindu, and not entirely dissimilar to the disharmony arising within Judaism at the time of Jesus, the increasing prevalence of asceticism was challenging the spiritual traditions of the day. This in turn caused great confusion regarding how one should progress on, and ultimately complete the path to end all suffering

Finally, both men ended up becoming spiritual revolutionaries, causing upheaval and radical development in the religious communities within which they arose. Due to the great presence and influence they had in their respective societies, they were feared, with plotting taking place by opponents to destroy them, as well as immensely revered and worshipped.

Ultimately and most meaningfully, they both sparked a great awakening amongst many spiritual practitioners of the time, and throughout the following centuries their followers have continued to realise the truth of what they came to share. Although the evidence of such realisations may be much clearer within the Buddhist tradition, it’s advisable to remain open-minded regarding the positive impact both Jesus and his teachings had on his disciples and followers

What connection does Jesus have with Buddhism?

It seems difficult to doubt that both Jesus Christ and the Buddha are the two most well known and recognised spiritual figures of this world. That’s not to say there haven’t been other people who have radically and positively influenced spirituality and religion, but for me these two stand out in particular

Despite where most of us are based geographically speaking, it’s likely that just going to our local town or city we’d be very likely to see a representation of either Buddha or Jesus; an indication of just how much they’ve become part of modern, mainstream society

When considering the relationship between Buddhism and the teachings of Jesus, it would be fair to say that there is no clear evidence of any such connection. In fact for most people, they probably wouldn’t really see any relationship between them at all and this would be a fair interpretation considering it’s apparent that indeed Christ was not a Buddhist

But although the arrival of Jesus was to trigger the beginnings of an entirely new religion, who’s to say that his immense presence wasn’t somehow related to the arrival of the Buddha 400 years earlier, who himself marked the beginnings of a spiritual revolution in this world

In fact, is it not possible that Jesus was somehow exposed to the teachings of the Buddha during his earlier years, as some academics have theorised. Or taking this one step further still, is it not possible he was an emanation of Buddha himself, sent to benefit the people of this world?

If we take a look inside the book Joyful Path of Good Fortune (a text translated from Buddha’s teachings and interpreted for the modern world), it might even be said that the following paragraph supports the view that an immensely well loved and iconic spiritual figure such as Jesus could indeed have been one of Buddha’s emanations:

‘Since Buddhas attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings and not just to benefit Buddhists, they also manifest as teachers of other religions and give instructions in accordance with the needs and inclinations of different practitioners.’

If we believe that what is written here is true, then one has to wonder – if Buddha were to decide to appear as just one spiritual figure from a different religion, which one would it be? Assuming he would want to benefit as many people as possible, then it would seem logical he would choose to appear as the leader of the religion which was to arguably have the greatest influence in our world

If we choose to believe that Jesus was an emanation of Buddha, understanding this is simply a choice, then we’ll immediately start to feel much more connected with him and more open to his teachings. As a Buddhist we don’t necessarily need to worry about making any particular effort to do this, but chances are that living in society we will inevitably encounter statues and quotes of Christ, so if we’re open to doing this I would suggest we can potentially gain a great deal of benefit

That doesn’t mean to say we would be taking all of the teachings of Jesus literally or following them blindly, but if we feel confident to do so we can apply the filter of our own wisdom gained from Buddha’s teachings and take a new and deeper meaning into our hearts

Also if anyone reading these posts that is in fact a Christian, then I would also hope that they might potentially deepen their appreciation for the teachings of Jesus through some of the deeper meanings being illuminated. Of course it’s not that this hasn’t been done before, but just that it’s likely most people haven’t been exposed to such presentations

Continuing with this process of aiming to identify the connection between these two religions and spiritual teachers, in another book based on Buddha’s teachings, it actually suggests a possible relationship between Jesus and the teachings of Buddha. In How to Transform your Life it is written:

‘Faithful Buddhist practitioners believe that when their Spiritual Guide is ill, in reality he or she is taking on the suffering of others. Many Christians also believe that by allowing himself to be crucified Jesus was taking on the sufferings of human beings. It is quite possible that Jesus was practising taking while he was on the cross.’

I’ve always found this a very interesting reference to Jesus, and one has to wonder why it was included in a book based on the teachings of Buddha. Surely to suggest that Jesus may have been engaging in the practice of ‘taking the suffering of others’, would lead most people to the conclusion that indeed that must have been what he was doing!

It’s also quite possible that the author thought it more suitable to infer that Jesus was doing what’s commonly known as Buddhist practice, rather than stating it outright. Possibly because drawing such explicit links between Buddhism and Christianity may cause confusion for readers, most of whom would likely already have been exposed to a great deal of Jesus’s teachings, and would rather have been seeking to attain a clearer understanding of what the Buddha taught

Who exactly was Jesus?

It’s possible that we’ll never find a conclusive answer to this question, however what Buddhism teaches us to do is interpret whatever appears to us in the way that brings the greatest benefit. Such is the power of the teachings on emptiness, that with wisdom we can learn how to create our own reality and make rapid progress on our spiritual path

In The New Eight Steps To Happiness one of the renowned Buddhist pandits, Milarepa, is famously quoted as saying:

‘I don’t need to read books; everything that appears to my mind is a Dharma book.’

If we choose to follow in the footsteps of the great master Milarepa, then we will see from our own experience how beneficial it is to interpret everything we’re exposed to in the way that most powerfully fuels our own spiritual development.

For me, being open to doing this with regards to just a few of the Christian teachings has helped to enrich my understanding and appreciation of Buddhism. Of course there’s no particular need for anyone to do this and not doing it isn’t necessarily going to create any obstacles for us. Also it may be helpful to point out that for me personally, doing this hasn’t caused any confusion in case, as a practising Buddhist, that’s something we may be wary of

Also, it may be helpful to note that I haven’t particularly gone out of my way to personally revive Jesus’s teachings, but through having been organically exposed to them, and having made the decision to try and be open towards them, I can say it has added a new dimension to my spiritual life. I’d even suggest that by simply being open to reading and contemplating these two articles, this in itself should hopefully be enough exposure for us to deepen our appreciation of just a very small cross-section of what Jesus taught

If nothing else, hopefully this has given us some food for thought and we’re at least slightly open to the possibility that even just some of the teachings of Jesus may hold within them a great depth and profundity. Even though for many of us it may seem that such depth is more easily to be found within Buddhism, that doesn’t mean they’re not also to be discovered in the teachings of Christianity if we’re willing to be patient and open-minded

One thing I’m personally very appreciative of is the presentation of Buddhism I’ve been fortunate enough to study. It’s only through the kindness of Venerable Geshe-la, his study programmes and qualified teachers that has made understanding the teachings of Buddha so straight-forward and easy to understand. If it were not for his kindness, then for me it’s very likely these profound teachings would still be wrapped in a shroud of mystery

In the next article I want to explore a few well-known quotes of Jesus, to examine and hopefully demonstrate how they are related to and informed by the teachings of Buddhism. This in turn will help us come to our own conclusions as to whether or not it appears plausible, or possibly more importantly we could say beneficial, that Jesus was in fact an enlightened being

4 Responses to " Was Jesus an enlightened being? "

  1. Joe says:

    I was hoping the article was going to make connections in Jesus and Buddha based on thir teachings, not the stories of the men they were. I loved to see how Dharma allowed me to read many chapters of the New Testament in a renewed way that made sense and made Jesus seem very similar to the embodiment of many of the realizations I was practicing. The men, I don’t really care about their stories, it’s their teachings and how they interconnect and inspire me as a Dharma practitioner that are meaningful and useful and inspiring. Jesus’s words read correctly help me be a better Buddhist, and Buddha’s words experiences help me help Christians be better Christains.

    • rob says:

      Thanks Joe, it’s a great point. Before getting into the specific connections between the teachings I wanted to present this first post as more of a background. I thought this might be a helpful way for most people to be introduced, as it’s probable the majority wouldn’t have as much familiarity with the subject matter as yourself. Stay tuned for the next article where I plan to more explicitly demonstrate how Buddhism illuminates Jesus’s teachings. I hope that helps clarify things a bit more for you

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi Rob,

    Sorry you havent had a good response to the article xx For me as someone aspiring to be a Kadampa, there is nothing more important than the Dharma not becoming changed by US. We have a lot going on, and can start feeding that into a teaching. Over my 25 years of attending Kadampa teachings Ive seen it happen in many different ways. People can add messages of their own laziness of discouragement or self importance, or presenting a centralised viewpoint as Buddhas view. Eg Buddha see everyone as equal. If we teach inequality it changes the teaching.

    Dont worry its ok this has happened. We can now clarify Buddhism and Xmas/Jesus.

    I was a Christian and I told Jesus I was going to dedicate my life to trying to find out if self grasping is the root of all suffering and evil. Jesus just wanted everyone to go to heaven, to be happy and free from evil/sin. Purity.

    He didnt find the method though. If he did he would have done what Buddha Shakyamuni did eg teaching the 4 Noble Truths. The Perfection of Wisdom etc.

    An emanation means that you can see Buddha THROUGH a medium that is not to ordinary appearances a Buddha. I myself am confused about if we talk about examples of people who dont have Buddhas beliefs but do practice virtue & unconditional love.

    My feeling is its the wrong direction because the outcome would be that every Christmas in all Dharma centres we are talking about Jesus on the throne of Buddha. This would be the wrong direction.

    For me Jesus is an inspiration regarding unconditional love & his wish that everyone is pure can only be accomplished by not following the bible. Thats my opinion. People can become good through the bible but not pure. Pure is a permanent victory over internal evil where it is severed at the root, not just pulled the top off but the root is still there.

    Anyway HUGS & sorry if my post is annoying or like the fish going into the lake!!!

    For me, Christmas is about Santa Claus. The crucifixion is about Easter not Christmas. I feel its right to celebrate Jesus was born as he demonstrated unconditional love. Its a birthday to me of a dear friend who I cherish who helped me to find Buddhism and made the country I live in moral & virtuous. And then Santa is also a dear friend to me who showed me a life dedicated to giving toys to small children in desolate villages cut off by snow.

    But all the people who have obsessed over Jesus & Santa have only got the benefits of giving and a level of love that is saying you cannot overcome the evil in your mind, only try to keep it small. This is because unconditional love & giving alone can only take you so far. Jesus was looking for Dharma. I am convinced if his love was as it is said he would have become a Buddhist if he had heard the 4 Noble Truths. If he was willing to die and be tortured to free people from sin & suffering I am certain he was only hoping when he died a pure manifestation would greet him and explain to him how to help people thereafter in a way that works. Why he didnt find that 500 years after Buddha taught can only be because he was cut off or he had a closed mind in some respect.

    My Christmas is about putting the fish in the lake. Bumblingly trying to do nice things only to find out people dont like my presents or find me annoying! I do hope I make someone happy

    • rob says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on the article.

      I’m not going to try and address all of your points individually, but will touch on some of the main ones.

      I’m aware that not all responses to the article have been positive but that’s okay, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have been contacted by some people who said they have benefited from it and so, as is often the case, the response has been mixed. As with everything we encounter in life, however this article has made us feel, whether challenged, irritated or inspired, we can use it to learn and grow.

      To address some of your other points – as you’re no doubt aware eventually everyone will become a Buddha simply because, at our most deepest and fundamental level, this is our essential nature. For practitioners of highest yoga tantra (Buddha’s ultimate view) then we actually want to be viewing everyone as pure…. as enlightened beings. So then we have to ask ourself how we reconcile this with the viewpoint that it is incorrect to view some people, in this example Jesus, as enlightened.

      It’s also mentioned in the article how Buddhas emanate as teachers of other religions (extracted from Joyful Path of Good Fortune). This does not mean those emanations will necessarily express all the same views Buddha taught, as he understands the followers need to be taught based on their own inclinations and capacity, but that doesn’t mean it’s contradictory to view those teachers as enlightened beings. There will always be something we can learn from them. It also doesn’t mean the entirety of Buddha’s teachings (possibly excluding highest yoga tantra) aren’t there to be found should the follower have the wisdom and karma to discover them

      Buddha created the lower schools of Buddhism, which present views contradictory to Buddha’s ultimate view. Why were those schools and their views created? Simply to help lead us to the ultimate truth of what he taught (we’re not there yet so the teachings in these schools act as ‘stepping stones’). In the context of viewing Jesus as an emanation, we could say many of his disciples are being guided very gradually, often over many lifetimes, until they are ready to be exposed to the ultimate view Buddha taught. For some however they realised emptiness in that same lifetime by uncovering the deeper meaning of the teachings using their own wisdom

      Of course it’s important not to mix different religions and traditions, but if we are viewing the teachers of other religions as Buddha, as our own spiritual guide, then there’s no problem (as long as we know how to do this skilfully, with wisdom). Just as if we view our friend, partner or parent as an emanation of Buddha we don’t need to agree with everything they say or do everything they tell us, similarly if we view a teacher of a religion as Buddha we need to use our own discrimination to best understand how to interpret what they are teaching. Even if some of what they are saying appears to contradict Buddha’s teachings, we can also learn from that. In this way no problem.

      In your comment you said ‘People can become good through the bible but not pure’ and you also said ‘Why [Jesus] didn’t find that 500 years after Buddha taught can only be because he was cut off or he had a closed mind in some respect’. I would suggest there are many reasons why Jesus taught in the way he did, but just because we cannot understand the deeper meaning doesn’t mean it’s not there. For anyone with a deep experience or realisation of emptiness it is apparent through many of Jesus’s teachings that he had indeed realised emptiness and attained nirvana. Problems arise when we grasp at what appears to our mind as being the inherent truth, and because we aren’t able to see the deeper meaning we conclude it’s not there. Also, just because other people also agree with our own view doesn’t make it true (this is as much true for my views as anyone else’s).

      However I would agree with you in the sense that it seems many followers of Christianity have not learned how to be completely free from suffering by following the teachings of Jesus. As I intend to explore in the next article, although many of Jesus’s express his realisation of emptiness, they are nowhere near as clear or self-evident as those taught and expressed by Buddha. I would suggest the teachings were presented in this way for a number of reasons, one of which being that most people (including those within the hierarchy of the church) simply weren’t ready to hear teachings on ultimate truth.

      I hope this makes things a bit clearer and wishing you a happy festive season.

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