Comparison of Buddhism and Christianity

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There is no better description of biblical spirituality than ceaseless vigilance or perpetual mindfulness. ~ Aloysius Pieris

Since the arrival of Christian missionaries in the East in the 13th century, followed by the arrival of Buddhism in Western Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, similarities were perceived between the practices of Buddhism and Christianity.


  • Even the Buddha found a place on the saints' calendar under the name Saint Josaphat. ... The Gospels contain a number of almost literal repetitions of phrases, parables and scenes from the Buddhist canon, particularly from the Mahaparinirvana-Sutra: the master walking on water (and saying to the baffled disciples: "It's me"), the simile of the blind leading the blind, the multiplication of the loaves of bread, the master asking and accepting water from a woman belonging to a despised community, the call not to pass judgment on others, the call to respond to hostility with love, and other overly well-known motifs. (Gruber & Kersten 1995, Derrett 2001) Both doctrinal elements and biographical anecdotes have been borrowed. The Buddha's mother saw in a dream how a white elephant placed the promising boy in her womb while a heavenly being revealed the great news to the father, roughly like the annunciation to Mary and Joseph. The loose but devout woman Mary Magdalene is a neat copy of the Buddha-revering courtesan Amrapali. (Lindtner 2000) The iconography of Jesus resembles that of the expected future Buddha Maitreya, a name derived from maitri, "fellow-feeling, friendship", close enough to the Christian notion of agape/charity. The Maitreya is depicted with lotus flowers in the places where Jesus has stigmata of the crucifixion. This is becoming too much for coincidence, and the similarity is moreover strengthened by very specific details. Thus, Jesus relates how a widow offers two pennies from her humble possessions and thereby earns more merit than a wealthy man who gives a larger gift from his abundant riches. In Buddhist texts we find the same message in several variants, among them that of a widow offering two pennies; a holy monk disregards the larger gift of a wealthy man and praises the widow's piety. ... These similarities are certainly the fruit of historical contacts, though apart from the presence of a Buddhist community outside Alexandria (the Therapeutai), the details of the whereabouts of Buddhists in West Asia are as yet eluding us.
  • In the teachings of primitive, southern Buddhism, Catholicism would have found the most salutary correctives for its strangely arbitrary theology, for its strain of primitive savagery inherited from the less desirable parts of Old Testament, for its incessant and dangerous preoccupations with torture and death, for its elaborately justified beliefs in the magic efficacy of rites and sacraments. But, alas, so far as the West was concerned, the Enlightened One was destined, until very recent times, to remain no more than the hero of an edifying fairy tale.
  • The religions whose theology is least preoccupied with events in time and most concerned with eternity, have been consistently less violent and more humane in political practice. Unlike early Judaism, Christianity and Mohammedanism (all obsessed with time) Hinduism and Buddhism have never been persecuting faiths, have preached almost no holy wars and have refrained from that proselytizing religious imperialism which has gone hand in hand with political and economic oppression of colored people.
    • The Perennial philosophy - By Aldous Huxley
  • It is a significant fact and worth pondering upon that the Bible commences with the words: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.", while the Dhammapada … opens with the words "Mind precedes things, dominates them, creates them". These momentous words are the quiet and uncontending, but unshakeable reply of the Buddha to that biblical belief. Here the roads of these two religions part: the one leads far away into an imaginary Beyond, the other leads straight home, into man's very heart.
    • Nyanaponika, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (1965), p. 21
  • It may be relevant here to recall gratefully a fraternal correction I was kindly offered by the Archimandrite Ambrosius of the Greek Orthodox Church. After listening to a lecture I delivered at Oxford University some years ago, he gently chided me (in private, not in public) for not perceiving the difference between the brand of Hellenism affecting Western theology that had absorbed the philosophical thought of ancient Greece, and the Hellenism of Eastern Orthodox theology which had assimilated the spiritual praxis of their non-Christian ancestors. Mulling over this critical observation of his, I came to understand why our scholastic tradition has not given importance to what Greek Orthodox spirituality has named nepsis (vigilance), which is its own technical term for mindfulness.
    • Aloysius Pieris,"Spirituality as Mindfulness: Biblical and Buddhist Approaches," Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 10, no. 1, Spring 2010, p. 39
  • A “discerning person” (anthropos diakritikos), according to the Orthodox Greeks, is someone perpetually mindful or watchful of God working in all things and at all times. Ever conscious of God’s Love, which is God’s Will, a vigilant Christian is never taken unawares by circumstances. In the eschatological discourses of the Gospels, Jesus advises us to read the cosmic signs that announce God’s recurrent visitations and thus remain watchful and awake every hour of the day and night, that is to say, remain perpetually mindful. Hence there is no better description of biblical spirituality than ceaseless vigilance or perpetual mindfulness.
    • Aloysius Pieris,"Spirituality as Mindfulness: Biblical and Buddhist Approaches," Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 10, no. 1, Spring 2010, p. 39

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