Buddha and Christ Completeness

Russell Minick 0 Comments

Premise
Christ and Buddha experienced some similar realities in the human situation. From these experiences, they each taught some overlapping concepts about life. When talking with a Buddhist, addressing these similarities can facilitate communicating the uniqueness of Jesus. This paper will explore the use of the temptations and teachings of Jesus (the Messiah) and of Siddhartha (the Buddha) as a means of providing a relatively concise context for sharing the Christian message with Buddhists. Of particular importance are the issues of suffering, desire, impermanence and completeness as magnified by an apparent chiastic structure of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

Temptation to Teachings: Siddhartha Gautama “The Buddha”
Siddhartha Gautama was an astute observer and thinker. Though raised in an exceedingly privileged environment, the young prince came to see life differently than what his protective father had intended. While on an outing from his palace, Siddhartha encountered four passing sights. Sickness, aging, death and uncertainty provoked him to the conclusion that his hedonistic course in life was inadequate. He was compelled to pursue a better path than simply carving out an island of pleasure in a sinking swamp of suffering.

The disciplines and world views available to Siddhartha proved inadequate to the intrusive questions raised by the simple observations made in the market place. Something very fundamental was wrong with life, and only a fundamental understanding would offer a course of action substantive enough to deal with the problem and not just the symptoms.
Siddhartha’s Temptation by the Evil one
When Siddhartha left the city, and later the religious companionship of fellow ascetics, he was tempted while alone. Mara, a Satan figure, was powerful due to merit he had earned, but which he used to seduce people into destructive desire and attachment so he could rule over them. A horde of Mara’s minions, various forms of desire which included hunger, jealousy, pride, contempt and more, were rejected by Siddhartha. Mara used his own power from merit earned to try and move Siddhartha from his position of seeking enlightenment. In response to this attack Siddhartha touched the ground as a witness to his own merit gathered in countless lives. When he declared his merit, there was an earthquake and the intervention of the earth goddess “wringing from her hair a flood of water, accumulated in the past when Gotama (sic) had formalized good deeds by a simple ritual of water-pouring.” (Harvey; 21)

Having vanquished the temptations of this world with the help of a goddess, Siddhartha was then able to meditate without interruption. The result was a clarity of thought, and enlightenment, thus the title “Buddha, the enlightened one”. Again, it was the intervention of a spiritual being which guided Buddha to take his teaching and make it available to others. Though Buddha initially doubted there would be anyone who could understand, Brahma Sahampati, a compassionate god, told him there would be some who could follows his teachings.
Course offered to others
Though Buddha initially wanted to begin sharing enlightenment by finding his two yoga teachers, he was too late; they were already dead. He then chose to find his five companions who had exercised an ascetic life with him. When he found them he approached them with confidence. They initially considered him a failure because he had forsaken their way. He then told them, twice for emphasis, that he had transcended ignorance and all that came from it and that he could be their teacher. When their hesitancy was overcome, they washed his feet and submitted to be taught by him.
Teaching Four Noble Truths
Buddha then preached his first sermon. Like a doctor giving a cure for an ailment, the problem was diagnosed, the cause of the problem identified, and the removal of the cause recommended along with a course of treatment. What he ended up with are what are called the Four Noble Truths.

The first noble truth observes the fundamental problem of misery. Life is dukkha. Dukkha is sometimes translated suffering in English, at other times unsatisfactoriness. These ideas are clearly included, but usages in Buddhist writings indicate that dukkha is suffering from hopelessness in regard to satisfaction. This sense of being unsatisfied in life has a discernable cause: desire (tanha).

The second noble truth explains this cause of life’s dukkha. People have cravings that cannot be adequately sated. We desire to grasp for and attach to things that seem to be good, but those things are elusive. That is because, according to Buddha, all things are impermanent (anicca):

‘This monks, is the holy truth of the cessation of dukkha: the utter cessation, without attachment, of that very craving, its renunciation, surrender, release, lack of pleasure in it’.

This is nibanna. No desire for that which one cannot have ultimately means a state in which neither mind nor body finds footing. Essentially, beyond existence is the hope to pursue. That is the third noble truth.

The fourth noble truth is how to get on with getting from the dukkha of a craving existence to the nibanna beyond existence. What is needed is to follow the Middle Path. Without extremes, desire subsides until full release occurs. This eightfold path is the way of living which results in the decreasing enslavement to ignorance (avija) and desire. Each of the eight is called ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ (samma). Being right (perfect, complete) is the means by which a follower of Buddha hopes to experience release from the misery of existence and desire. Similar words and ideas, with a very different conclusion, are found in the comparable story of Jesus’ temptation and instructing of his disciples.

Temptation to Teachings: Jesus, the Christ
Temptation sequence of Jesus
Focusing on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, there are some points of contact with Siddhartha Gautama’s experiences prior to preaching his foundational sermon. There are also distinctions. Whereas Siddhartha was raised a prince in security, Jesus was born in a barn, had to flee his country as a child, and was raised under foreign occupation upon his return to his homeland. Siddhartha was confronted with the four passing sights as a young adult, and he was shocked. Jesus was born in the midst of suffering and hardship; he was well acquainted with sufferings and grief.

Like Siddhartha, there came a point when Jesus left town to encounter the ascetics. For Jesus it was his cousin, John the Baptizer, leading the call to repent (change actions due to a change in thinking). Jesus identified with those seeking purity before God and chose a course determined to fulfill all righteousness. God the Father affirmed him directly, but then drove him out into the wilderness to face temptation by the devil. Into forty days of fasting the tempter approached Jesus three times.

The first temptation was a direct appeal to a specific desire Matthew records that Jesus had: hunger. The challenge was how to handle two competing realities: a real desire for food and a real belief in the access to the God of provision. Jesus’ answer sets the tone quickly. Jesus does not deny that he has desire; he simply subordinates the desire of his flesh to the desire for faithfulness in accordance with the revealed scriptures. Life is not ultimately sustained by the impermanence of calories; life is sustained by the abiding Word of God.

Having resisted the lust of the flesh, the tempter takes Jesus to the most significant public place of worship. The temptation is for Jesus to be seen by others as the Son of God by means of a public miracle. Satan knows that one of man’s greatest desires is to be seen as significant by others. This may be the dominant meaning of the term ‘lust of the eyes’. Looking with lust on another is more an expression of the lust of the flesh attempting to be satisfied, even if just visually. The eyes we lust after, too often, are the eyes of others looking with admiration at us. When others do look upon us with awe, fear, reverence, admiration or any other elevating mindset, we feel a kind of pleasure. Jesus again rejects the temptation by referring to the Word of God and his willingness to wait upon God instead of attempting to force God to serve him.

The ultimate temptation is the capstone of the other two. In order to compromise to his carnal desires and his social cravings, a reflective person has to devise a system to justify his own actions. This is the pride of life. What is offered by the tempter is a simple plan: acknowledge that Yahweh is not ultimate, that there is some authority other than the uncreated creator which is ultimate (all forms of this rebellion satisfy Satan’s desire for worship) and the fallen world is yours to do with as you will. Jesus rejects anything but the will of the LORD as revealed in the Bible.

At this point Jesus is attended to by angels. Though Siddhartha was tempted in similar fashion including, lust, pride, compromising rationalization, the responses were different. Siddhartha appealed to his own merit and was aided by supernatural beings in his conflict with Mara. Jesus appealed to the Word of God as the basis for truth, and no angelic beings or gods were included. Only after the engagement was settled did he get attended to according to the promises of angels being ministering spirits to those of God.

It is interesting that desire is the ultimate test given. Desire is the human problem of living rightly. All of us live life struggling with the various facets of desire. James, the half brother of Jesus, articulates this problem of desire quite forcefully:

From what source do quarrels and conflicts among you come? Do they not come from this source, namely, from your inordinate passions which are struggling with one another in your members? You have a passionate desire and are not realizing its fulfillment; you murder. And you covet and are filled with jealousy, and you are not able to obtain. (James 4:1,2)

Our strife with others, as well as within ourselves, is essentially because we cannot fulfill our desires wisely or with finality; true, lasting satisfaction. What are some possible world view options in relation to this basic problem in life?

1) Resign to desire (and be embittered by the consequences) Nihilism
2) Embrace desire (despite its frequently negative consequences) Epicureanism (some Brahmanic; e.g. Karma Sutra)
3) Suppress desire (punish failures) Legalism (moral/religious fundamentalism)
4) Ignore desire (pretend to be above it) Stoicism
5) Fight for desire (blame others for non fulfillment) Liberation-ism
6) Quench desire (pursue beyond-being) Buddhism
7) Redeem desire (be made a new creation by the Creator) Christianity

Though this list is neither carefully precise nor exhaustive, it is illustrative of the universal nature of the problem of desire and the type of primary strategies offered to deal with the problem. Both Siddhartha, the Buddha, and Jesus, the Christ, walked away from their own intense confrontation with the one who tempts our desires with a message: Light is available!

Gathering of Disciples
For Siddhartha Gautama his very title, Buddha, means enlightened one. What the Buddha offers is a way to experience clarity of thought beyond ignorance like he has. In approaching his former friends, the Buddha declared that he himself had experienced enlightenment, and that they could too. After a couple of appeals, they agreed to be his disciples. Buddha then preached his message, at the conclusion of which, the disciple Kondanna gained experiential insight into the Dhamma that was taught and was duly ordained the first member of the Buddhist Sangha (priesthood). Others soon experienced this as well, and the number of disciples grew rapidly.

Jesus came back to his people and by his very presence Matthew claims the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah concerning a great light being made available to the people living in the shadow of death. At this point Jesus began preaching what was and is his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The message of Jesus is that our thoughts, and subsequently our choices and actions, are not right. We need to repent: change our thinking (and subsequently our choices and actions). We must understand that God is in charge of the very space around each of us right here and now. His rule is immediate in time and proximity despite our limited perception. In order to teach this, Jesus calls out common men who will follow his command without hesitation. Taking these disciples to engage the likes of the four passing sights, Jesus demonstrates the reality and significance of his message. [CIS1] Rethinking is in order, God really is near.

Jesus actively freed people from various hardships (illnesses, wrong thinking, demonic possession, etc.). His impact was astounding, and quickly Jesus was followed by a large crowd. Though Jesus had been preaching that there is good news, and that the gospel is the rule of God (Mt. 4:23), he then stopped and laid out what is tantamount to his own manifesto. He gathered his disciples on a mountainside and gave his message.

The Sermon on the Mount as a Basis for Comparing Solutions to Life’s Problems
Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount enjoy almost universal admiration, but they are not universally interpreted. What follows is a possible understanding of the meanings in the Sermon on the Mount by focusing on the outline. It appears that there is an intentional structure presented in what we see recorded in Matthew that highlights truths in a way that allows emphasis. Of particular importance to this paper, is that Jesus addresses the fundamental Buddhist issue of right living despite the problems of desire and suffering.

The ‘beatitudes’ are given as a vision of what is offered. Whereas Buddha to his disciples emphasized dukkha (misery), Jesus proclaims sukkha (blessedness). The beatitudes are given in sequence, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, and then are exposited in reverse order, 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (see chart below). In doing this, the first and the last blessings highlight the promise that “theirs’ is the Kingdom of the Heavens”, the good news of Jesus according to what Matthew just previously declared was the point of Jesus’ preaching (Mt. 4:23). What is more, the first and the last beatitudes form a chiastic structure such that the main point is the central verse:

“Therefore be complete as your Father in heaven is complete” (Mt. 5:48).

A1… is the Kingdom of Heaven
B1
C1
D1
Be complete (Telos) before God
D2
C2
B2
A2… is the Kingdom of Heaven

What then follows is a list of seven priorities of focus in implementing the experience of the blessing in living in the Kingdom of Heaven. These priorities begin and end with the priority of the permanent over the impermanent, and the central area of the seven refers to the way of life verses the way the leads to destruction.

There is no reason to believe that Jesus is addressing Buddhism directly. Rather, it is arguable that Buddha, with the exception of some of his Brahmanic cosmology, essentially perceives life “under the sun” rightly. Jesus answers questions that Solomon, Buddha, Tolstoy, Camus, and other existentialist thinkers who emphasize the futility of life without genuine permanence. All these thinkers were right in saying that meaning in an impermanent world is ultimately futile despite our amazing abilities of distraction and self-delusion.
Sermon on the Mount Outline Chart[CIS2]
Who is Blessed?
Those who are:
How are they Blessed?
Blessedness Promised
Blessedness Explained
Chiastic Structure
Corresponding need and response
Poor in Spirit
Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven
5:3
6:19-24
(A2)
Discipline
Mourning
Comforted
5:4
6:16-18
(B2)
Fasting
Meek
Inherit the earth
5:5
6:5-15
(C2)
Praying
Starving for righteousness
Satisfied
5:6
6:2-4
(D2)
Giving
Merciful
Receive Mercy
5:7
5:38-47
(D1)
Stinginess?
Pure in heart
See God
5:8
5:27-37
(C1)
Duplicity?
Peacemakers
Are Sons of God
5:9
5:21-26
(B1)
Contempt?
Persecuted for righteousness
Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven
5:10
5:11-20
(A1)
Incomplete righteousness?

A1 Persecuted for righteousness? Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
[These are God’s children who decide that maturity in God is worth suffering for.]B1 Peacemakers (being mature in peace-making is worth suffering)
C1 Pure in heart (being mature in purity is worth suffering)
D1 Merciful (being mature in mercy is worth suffering)

Be mature/complete (Telos) before God (actually be transformed),
not just perceived as righteous before men.

D2 give alms to affect needs (not to be perceived as righteous)
C2 pray to be purely dependent on God (not to be perceived as righteous)
B2 fast over the entanglements of conflict (not to be perceived as righteous)
A2 Poor in Spirit? Theirs’ is the Kingdom of Heaven
[These are people who see the need to keep investing in their spiritual portfolio if they are to experience the blessings provided to them by their heavenly Father.]

priority of seeking permanence
priority of personal responsibility
priority of ‘A.S.K.’-ing
God
priority of path
priority of character
priority of relationship
priority of building on permanence
Kingdom First
and His Righteousness
Do Not Start with Fixing Others
Ask
Seek
Knock
God will Provide
Pursue Life
Do Not Drift to Destruction
Be Careful who you Follow (character not image)
Be careful what you are trusting in (relationship not religion)
Build on what is Permanent, not on the impermanent
6:25-34
7:1-6
7:7-12
7:13,14
7:15-20
7:21-23
7:24-27

There is hope, life can be blessed!

Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Blessed!
(Sukkha!)
Poor
in
spirit
Mourning
Meek
Starving for righteousness
Merciful
Pure in heart
Peacemakers
Persecuted for righteousness

Kingdom of Heaven
Comforted
Inherit the earth
Satisfied
Mercy
See God
Sons of God
Kingdom of Heaven
5:3
6:19-24
5:4
6:16-18
5:5
6:5-15
5:6
6:2-4
5:7
5:38-47
5:8
5:27-37
5:9
5:21-26
5:10
5:11-20

For those who are sensitive the ubiquitous-ness of human suffering, it is arresting to hear a repeated declaration of such broad and emphatic blessedness. This declaration of happiness is doubly perplexing when counterintuitive ideas like blessed poverty, grief and persecution are included. One wonders how such an introduction to a message would be possible if not for the powerful ways in which Jesus had just shown that his understanding and abilities are genuinely effectual for hopeful living. His audience certainly was willing to engage his paradoxes.

Having proclaimed blessedness, Jesus begins to explain his meaning. The last mentioned, is expounded first:
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mathew 5:11-20
Jesus emphasized [CIS3] righteousness here, though being persecuted is significant as well. The problem of dukkha is not just suffering per se, but meaningless suffering. Jesus reminds his listeners that righteousness and suffering are not, and have never in human history been, mutually exclusive. This immediately challenges the concept of karma. Though this will cause Buddhist thinkers to stumble, it addresses experiential problems. Everyone is aware of someone who is good in meaningful ways, and yet real hardship befalls them disproportionate to what would be expected in a just world. Buddhists invoke karma to suggest that when the good suffer it was because at some point, likely in a previous life, they really were evil and are just now receiving what is deserved. Natural[CIS4] disasters then, are sudden eruptions of Karmic correction, leveling people’s accounts for the time being, until continued existence and desire generate more karmic punishment. That is precisely the type of problem that leads to the Buddhist conclusion that there is no safe and satisfying existence.

The type of righteousness Jesus spoke of is unmixed and unhindered. Salt is salty, unless it is impure, mixed with other things, and then it is worthless. Light is pure, but meaningless if hindered from being shared. The righteousness Jesus describes as worth being persecuted for is one where one’s character is unmixed, pure, and unhindered, allow to shine naturally such that the Heavenly Father is glorified.

To address his Jewish audience and those attentive to its universal claim, Jesus emphasizes that he is not overturning previous revelation. He is fulfilling the intent of the history of God’s revelation, which is a way for people to be and live rightly. It is not only possible; it is where blessedness is experienced. The message to a Buddhist is that Jesus claims a good existence is possible and not negated by the prospect of suffering. The distinction of Jesus’ solution to meaningless suffering for those who exist is not to lead to non-existence (or whatever is between existence and non-existence), but to lead to real life in spite of suffering. Suffering is not immediately remedied; purpose and meaning are.

Like the righteous man of Psalm 1, the imagery is of maturity; completeness. What does this righteousness look like? Jesus goes on to give three illustrations of types of incompleteness contrasted with completeness. Each of these has three examples.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9
Expounded in Matthew 5:21-26
v A righteous person loves others by seeking their good by being a peacemaker[CIS5] the way God is with them.

o Not murdering has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Not even having contempt for others is a more complete example of righteousness.
o Going to honor God has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Loving people who you see as part of honoring the God you do not see is a more complete example of righteousness.
o Not neglecting one’s own rights has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Waiving rights for the purpose of reconciliation is a more complete example of righteousness.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8
Expounded in Matthew 5:27-37
v A righteous person is pure in their heart and actions, having no duplicity in their heart or actions.

o Treat her as a sister in public has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Treating her as a sister in one’s heart is a more complete example of righteousness.
o Exercising Jewish matrimonial laws regarding divorce appropriately has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Keeping a covenant of being made one flesh no matter what is a more complete example of righteousness.
o Persuading others by promising really hard has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Being consistent with what one says and does is a more complete example of righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Matthew 5:7
Expounded in Matthew 5:27-37
v A Righteous person is merciful and endures wrong for the sake of love, like God has done for them
o Hurting only as you are hurt has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Absorbing wrongful hurt to overcome wrong is a more complete example of righteousness.
o Tolerating hard situations has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Utilizing hard situations for expressing love is a more complete example of righteousness.
o Loving those who love you has a claim of righteousness, but is incomplete.
§ Loving those who need love is a more complete example of righteousness.

Matthew 5:48 So you should be telos (complete, fulfilled, mature, samma, perfect…) in the right way to be who you are (a created being), the way God the Father is in who He is (the Creator whose attributes are not just potential, but actual).

But how can people experience such mature righteousness? The following disciplines illustrate the inner transformation by God of a redeemed person’s character. Beware that it is possible to do the right things for the wrong reason, and that the primary wrong reason is a wrongly chosen audience: people, not God.
Corresponding disciplines and goals of maturity for a child of the heavenly Father
The disciplines of giving alms, praying and fasting were understood as basics for those who wanted to be righteous in the context of the hearers of the sermon. Jesus uses the existing forms as an opportunity for discussion. Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and others have variations of the same disciplines, or at least of comparable disciplines. Though the illustrations in Matthew five (set “1” below) parallel the disciplines in Matthew six (set “2” below), they are not exclusive matches of need and means.[1] Due to the brevity of this paper, only a caption of each discipline will be provided.

A1 Persecuted for righteousness? Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
[These are God’s children who decide that maturity in God is worth suffering for.]

B1 Peacemakers (being mature in peace-making is worth suffering)
C1 Pure in heart (being mature in purity is worth suffering)
D1 Merciful (being mature in mercy is worth suffering)

Be mature/complete (Telos) before God, not just perceived as righteous before men.
[One’s goal should be to actually be transformed and matured, not to just look like as though one were]

D2 give alms to affect needs (not to be perceived as righteous)
C2 pray to be purely dependent on God (not to be perceived as righteous)
B2 fast over the entanglements of conflict (not to be perceived as righteous)

A2 Poor in Spirit? Theirs’ is the Kingdom of Heaven
[These are people who see the need to keep investing in their spiritual portfolio if they are to experience the blessings provided to them by their heavenly Father.]

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6
Is one starving (tanha) for things to be right (like have the widows and orphans cared for)?
Do not give money for a reward from people for being so generous.
Give to the needy receive a “reward” from God (i.e. “Well done my good and faithful servant”).
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
Does one want to take charge of problems and challenges?
Do not pray to be rewarded by people as a spiritual super warrior.
Be meek enough to quietly call on God who knows what you (and others) need.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4
Is one grieved over unresolved issues, like an unknown direction, or a person needing help?
Do not seek to be rewarded by people for being so concerned.
Seek to be rewarded by God for having your heart in the right place (where His is).
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
Ultimate wealth, prosperity, is when one invests in lasting treasures, not elusive treasures.
One’s perception of value will determine one’s master, choosing wisely is critical.
If one chooses the impermanent as valuable, one’s whole life will be dukkha.

The wealthy usually pursue wealth. Why? Many believe that no matter how much they have, they are living short of what they could or should have. They are “poor” in their portfolio, relative to what is possible, and may feel they need to keep investing. Poor in spirit, likewise, is a declaration that whatever we have in our spiritual portfolio is not enough relative to the goodness God intends and makes available for us to enjoy and share. We need to keep investing in order to fulfill our purpose and experience the blessings we received freely in Christ. This should be the attitude of every Christian this side of paradise. As Paul put it:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect (telos), but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature (telos) think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Philippians (3:12-16)

The preoccupation with the poverty of our portfolio is not in order to make a bid for entrance past pearly gates. The poverty of our portfolio is in our completion of having been conformed to the image of Christ, which is exactly what all who are justified are predestined to be:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
(Romans 8:28-31)

The message is that we can and should be able to experience an ever increasing satisfaction of the most meaningful desires, if we invest in the permanent, not the impermanent. Buddha would almost surely agree, if he believed there was anything permanent and good that was accessible.

No god, no Brahma can be called
The Maker of this Wheel of Life:
Just empty phenomena roll on
Dependent on conditions all
Path of Purification XIX;
translated by Ven. Nyanamolit Thera.[2]

However, he despaired of such, and declared that for any self to find such satisfaction and wholeness, that self would have to be truly perfect:

The Buddha argued that anything subject to change, anything not autonomous and totally controllable by its own wishes, anything subject to the disharmony of suffering, could not be such a perfect true self. (Harvey, 51)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Hebrews 13:8)

Jesus is the self-existent I-AM of the Old Testament. He is exactly what Buddha said would have to be in order for there to be a permanent self, the basis of permanence that does not lead to dukkha. What Buddha would still stumble over, however, is suffering, particularly when it is endured by the one proclaiming freedom. What would need to be understood is the difference between suffering for what is good versus suffering without meaning.

Seven Priorities in the Pursuit of Completeness
How then does one pursue this righteousness that leads to a blessed life where disciplines counter unrighteousness such that the character of the permanent Christ is made more and more a part of our own experience? How does one become complete, telos? That is what is developed immediately after the beatitudes are given and explained. These admonitions appear to come in seven concepts, the divisions of which are suggested below:

priority of permanence
priority of personal responsibility
priority of God
priority of path
priority of character
priority of relationship
priority of foundation
Kingdom First
and His Righteousness
Do Not Start with Fixing Others
Ask
Seek
Knock
God will Provide
Pursue Life
Do Not Drift to Destruction
Be Careful who you Follow (character not image)
Be careful what you are trusting in (relationship not religion)
Build on what is Permanent, not on the impermanent
6:25-34
7:1-6
7:7-12
7:13,14
7:15-20
7:21-23
7:24-27

Permanence first (His Kingdom and righteousness) then impermanent things 6:25-34
Again the priority is in acknowledging that impermanence is inadequate. The beginning and ending of these practical exhortations relate to that concern. God’s Kingdom, and righteousness that has its source and permanence in Him, is the basis upon which life is blessed. The lilies are glorious and the sparrows counted, but they die. Men too are like that. Our glory is fleeting, and then we are overwhelmed by impermanence. We must take shelter in God.[3]

Having done so, we cannot agree with the position that the impermanent world in which we live is meaningless. We do need food and clothes. We do have impermanent needs and desires that are met with impermanent resources. That is not far from Dukkha, in that it is an ongoing sense of needing more for satisfaction. There is suffering but not without meaning.
At times we confuse the meaning of life as being the acquisition (and in noble moods the distribution) of resources. But that is simply not the case. What matters is that our beings are transformed into the purposes intended by our creator and redeemer. What is true is that the transformation of our souls occurs in the process of exercising our will in the gathering of impermanent resources to meet impermanent needs. That life is real, but its meaning is of a permanent nature (for good or for bad!).

Pursuing Completeness is what you need to do with God, not for other people 7:1-6
The excitement about the chance to live a blessed and righteous life can lead to some odd behaviors. Buddha argued that we cannot be about fixing others:

By oneself is evil done,
By oneself defiled.
By oneself it’s left undone,
By self alone one purified.
Purity, impurity on oneself depend,
No one can purify another.” – Dhammapada 165[4]

Jesus agrees in part. Self-salvation should be seen as a self-defeating proposition, especially to those who say there is non-self. Though Jesus says we as people are neither sufficient to exist by ourselves, nor to save ourselves, we are even less sufficient to save others.[5] Yet, this is what religious people tend to do. Jesus lists two options of helping others, both with good intentions but less than good reasonableness.

One tendency is to pick at people’s faults and problems, ‘for their good’. Jesus makes a comical image of a guy with a plank extruding from his eye trying to get close enough to aid another with a speck. Jesus’ admonition is quite practical: give attention to what you have responsibility and control over, which means yourself.

Others think that this restriction is limited to being negative, and though it may be wrong to focus on correcting the faults of other, they believe it is good and wise to provide unsolicited blessings for others. Again, the problem is that if we do not have mastery on what we ourselves need, then we certainly do not need to be presuming what others want or need. Thus, he says to stop pushing pearls on those who do not want them. The message is that we are our own main project before God, and that working towards completeness in our own character should be a primary job.[6]

God has what people need. We each need to ask, seek knock to receive it from him 7:7-12
The way to work on our character includes disciplines, but those are not ultimate. In giving alms, everything we have comes from the Lord. In prayer, he is our provision, our protector and our guide. In fasting, are we not crying out to him? What is needed is awareness that we are not alone. Our hope is in the permanent one providing what we need (including an awareness of what we actually need as opposed to what we think we need). We are to A.S.K: ask, seek, knock. This is relational, and it is worship.

One very basic way of articulating the Good News is to say, “God has what we need (and he will give it if you ask!).”

To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. (Genesis 4:26)

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. (Joel 2:32a)

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
(Hebrews 11:6)

The challenge then is to work on living in God’s permanence by actively asking him for what you need (including wisdom), seeking to understand it, and knocking to take hold of that for which he has taken hold of you.

This is a significant departure from Buddhism, but it is so because of a difference on the existence of permanent self that is whole. If the latter is acknowledged, the former makes sense. What continues is a limited ability to affect others. Therefore, “do unto others” is included in this teaching on asking.

Path of Life! (fulfilled existence) , not destruction (ruined existence) 7:13,14
The central message of these seven points of focus is a call to a robust existence, not the extinguishing cessation of existence. There is a way to life, but it is defined and narrow, not open ended and subject to creative rationalization. Jesus did not come to save us from existence, but from futile and failing existence. He came that we might have life abundantly. Buddha says we are stuck in a swamp of dukkha, but he knows the way to a cliff where we can put an end to our misery. Jesus says we are in a swamp of dukkha, but he is the path to a mansion that is built on an unshakeable foundation, into which we are invited to be received as beloved children.
Be careful who you follow (character, not image) 7:15-20
If then one converts to Christ and wants to walk his path, who should he follow? The Sangha (community of monks) is one of the refuges in Buddhism, is there an ecclesiastical equivalent in Christianity? The answer is yes and no. Jesus warns that images can be deceiving. Like wheat and tares, it is not easy to differentiate between the good and the bad. There is a way to tell what something is, however: observe its offspring, its fruit.

To determine the kind of fruit tree, inspect the fruit. If the fruit is an orange, then it is an orange tree. To determine what kind of animal (wolf or sheep) look at its offspring. (The same is said of elders). The admonition is to identify character, not image. It is not too difficult to imitate appearances; it is much more difficult to imitate essence.
Be careful what you are trusting in (relationship, not religious productivity) 7:21-23
This is a late warning that already evangelical people tend to want up front. There may be a reason for the lateness of the warning. Yes, relationship, not apparent religious productivity is what differentiates those welcomed home and those left outside in darkness and hopelessness. Too often the focus on justification dominates our discussion such that the purpose of the relationship is neglected in the exuberance to distinguish it from a merit based position.

When a child is born, it is a wonderful event. But there is more to a child than just having it born. In fact, the value of its birth is largely linked to the hope of its development beyond birth.[7] The birth of a child is celebrated because that will lead to her first steps and words, her development in personality and abilities, and the beauty of maturing into the person God intends her to be. In the same way, we are born again by his righteousness so we can move from immaturity (babes in Christ) to complete, mature, actually righteous people (living out our positional, imputed righteousness) to the praise of his glory! The bulk of the sermon describes what growing up in God’s household is like. The warning is that imitating a child of the household is not the way to be adopted as a family member. For that, a more complete exposition of asking, seeking and knocking needs to be explored (and of course is explored in detail later in the New Testament).
Permanence First (build on what is solid, not what is impermanent) 7:24-27
The end of the foundational sermon of Jesus is about foundations. Buddha could not have done better to articulate the futility of building a life an impermanent (anicca) base. Both views observe the certainty of hardships (though the reasons for the rain and wind are explained differently when explained at all). Both agree that it is hardly worth it to build on a poor foundation. In fact, the greater the desire and effort to build on the sand, the greater the tragedy of the certain collapse.

What Buddha did not have to offer was another option. If he had seen the firm foundation of the rock, would he have advised abandoning the hope of building? We do not know. What we do know is that Jesus and the life he teaches is that rock upon which our lives can be built. Hardships will come, but they will not be dukkha. Though we have hardships, we are not destroyed.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Conclusion
Jesus and Siddhartha encountered similar experiences and issues . These similarities are not identical, as if the same spiritual story were being repeated with different figures. On the contrary, the similarities of some events and some topics provide a relatively concise and manageable amount of information in which differences can be explored and understood. There are many concepts which are touched on too briefly in this short paper to provide a clear and unequivocal understanding. Questions have been raised for work in other discussions.
Buddhism and Christianity express[CIS6] very meaningful points of contact, but those points are best used for appropriate differentiation, not for presumptuous synchretization. If Buddha is right about the four spiritual truths, then Jesus is an unacceptable teacher. He loved with real attachment and taught that others should seek attachment to what is permanent as well. Karmic-ly Jesus seemed to live a good life, but he died a shameful and horrific death. If Buddha is right, then the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus demonstrate unrevealed evil in the being of Jesus, even if from another life.

Conversely, if Jesus is right that there is a personal God who provides a permanent foundation for completed and satisfied selves, then Siddhartha is an a-buddha[CIS7] ; a blind guide incapable of seeing past the problem of the created world to the uncreated Creator. The two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, were to be lived, not extinguished. Loving God and man with unapologetic and passionate love is only a fulfillment of one of the two teachers’ sermons. The Sermon on the Mount helps us to understand why and how children of God should desire to be more like Christ.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 7:24-29

References

Braswell, George W., Jr. 1994. Understanding World Religions. Nashville:
Broadman & Homan Publishers.

Davis, John R. 1998. Poles Apart; Contextualizing the Gospel in Asia. Bangalore: Asia
Theological Association.

Dryness, William A. 1990. Learning About Theology from the Third World. Grand
Rapids, MI: Academic Books, Zondervan Publishing House.

Harvey, Peter. 1990. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holmes, David. 1997. The Heart of Theravada Buddhism: The Noble Eightfold Path.
Bangkok: International Commercial Company (ICC) Publishing and
Communications.

Hong-Shik Shin. 1990. The Thought and Life of Hinayana Buddhism. Bangkok: Kanok
Bannasan (OMF Publishers).

Igleheart, Glenn. 1985. Interfaith Witnessing; A Guide for Southern Baptists. Richmond:
Foreign Mission Board, SBC.

Khantipalo, Bhikkhu. 1989.Buddhism Explained, An Introduction to the Teaching of Lord
Buddha. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

Lohitkun, Teeraparb. 1995. Tai in Southeast Asia. Bangkok: Manager Publishing.

Marshall, David. 1996. How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture. Seattle: Kuai Mu Press.

Niles D. T. 1967. Buddhism and the Claims of Christ; The Christian Dogmas pp. 32-40
Richmond, Va: John Knox Press.

Piper, John. 1993. Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Raguin, Yves, S.J. 1997. Transplanting the Lotus “Areopagus: A Living Encounter
With Today’s Religious World” Winter/Spring 1997 (Vol. 9, No. 4) pp.36-39.

Richardson, Don. 1981.Eternity in Their Hearts. Ventura, CA.: Regal Books.

Tannenbaum, Nicola Beth. 1995. Who Can Compete Against the World?:
Power-Protection and Buddhism in Shan Worldview Ann Arbor Michigan;
Association for Asian Studies, Inc.

Willard, Dallas. 1998. The Divine Conspiracy; Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God.
San Francisco; Harper Collins.

Willard, Dallas. 2002. Renovation of the Heart; Putting on the Character of Christ.
Colorado Springs; NavPress.

Yos Santasombat. 2001. Lak Chang; A reconstruction of Tai identity in Daikong.
Canberra; Pandanus Books.
[1] For example: There is a sense in which someone not at peace with others should employ the discipline of fasting, but there are other disciplines which help with peace-making. Likewise, fasting helps with other needs of maturity in righteousness as well.

[2] as found in Khantipalo, 52.

[3] In order to save the ‘self’ we must find refuge in that which is permanent. This is almost full circle from Buddhism which argues there is no ‘self’ and certainly no safe permanence for ‘self’. In God both the legitimacy of personhood and permanence are presented as a solution to the limited, but insightful observations that there is incompleteness in all people and that the lack of self (anatta) and the lack of permanence (anicca). If there were not a perfect, personal permanence, then there would be no adequate refuge for the non-self which in ignorance desired to be a self. Then Buddha would arguably be right to back away from desire and existence.

[4] Khantipalo, Bhikkhu Buddhism Explained, An Introduction to the Teaching of Lord Buddha. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1989. Page 30.
[5] A man without what is needed to be saved cannot offer what is needed to be saved to another (be it a rope or righteousness). The distinction in Christ saving another is that he was like all other people with the exception of sin (unrighteousness).
[6] One’s character development may often be in service to others in that the trait we are pursuing is love; of God and others. The distinction is in presumption and posture.

(Visited 38 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *