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The Many Similarities Between Jesus and Buddha

Updated on August 01, 2016
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Catherine Giordano is a writer and public speaker who often writes and speaks on topics related to science, philosophy, and religion.

The Second Coming of Buddha?

Was Jesus the second coming of Buddha?
Was Jesus the second coming of Buddha? | Source

Was Jesus the Second Coming of Buddha?

Christians often say Jesus Christ was unique—the story of his life and his teachings were something totally new. This is not true. The story of Jesus, as told in The Holy Bible, appears to be strongly influenced by many different traditions--Jewish, pagan, and Eastern traditions--most notably Buddhism. There are many similarities between Buddha and Jesus Christ.

Before I go any further, I need to state that Jesus probably did not exist so when I speak of Jesus I am speaking of the stories about the fictional character of Jesus that are told in The Holy Bible.

See: Did Jesus Exist or Is it All a Myth?

I also need to state that while Gautama Buddha was probably an actual person (born about 600 years before the time of Jesus in the region of India now known as Nepal), there are many myths that have become attached to his story. However, Buddha, himself, did not proclaim himself a deity or make any claims of miracles.

See Understanding the Life and Teachings of Buddha

Although Buddha and Jesus are separated by 600 years and by about 3000 miles their stories and teachings have many similarities. So I ask: Were Jesus and Buddha brothers by another mother? Could Jesus be the reincarnation of Buddha? Could Jesus be the second coming of Buddha?

[Note: I don’t believe in miracles so I use the terms “second coming” and “reincarnation” as metaphors and not actual events.]

There are two possible explanations for the similarities.

  • One is the great-minds-think-alike theory which states that the same story arises independently at different times and in different cultures.
  • The other explanation is the there-is nothing-new-under-the-sun theory which states that early stories influence and/or become incorporated into newer stories. (This is known as syncretism.)

I subscribe to the latter theory.

Trans-Asia Trade Map--1st Century

This map shows the trade routes during the first century. The Mare Internum (top left) is the Mediterranean Sea, The map shows how ideas in India cold have made their way to Rome where the Bible was written.
This map shows the trade routes during the first century. The Mare Internum (top left) is the Mediterranean Sea, The map shows how ideas in India cold have made their way to Rome where the Bible was written. | Source

Were the writers of The Holy Bible aware of Buddhism?

Although the distance between the homelands of Jesus and Buddha was great, there was plenty of contact between the two areas and 600 years for ideas to spread. Both trade and the wars of the ever-expanding Roman Empire facilitated contact.

There is also the possibility that ideas “met halfway.” It did not require one person to traverse the 3000 miles. The ideas could have been passed along like the Olympic baton.

There is a lot of evidence of trade between the two regions. There are various overland routes stretching from China, Asia, Arabia, and Europe, some going back as far as 1500 BCE. These routes were known as The Silk Road (or Silk Route), the Incense Route, and the Spice Route. The transport of goods along these routes relied mainly upon pack animals (camels) and river boats. Goods were also transported by boats across the Indian Ocean.

There are cuneiform tablets dating to 2400 BCE describing shipments of cotton cloth, spices, oil, grains, (and even peacocks) which arrest to this trade. Even the Holy Bible attests to this trade with the story of The Three Wise Men from the East traveling by camel with gifts of frankincense and myrrh.

You can be sure more than goods were being exchanged. Ideas also traveled these routes. The Buddhist ideas were undoubtedly among the ideas being spread, especially since Buddhist monks had a tradition of missionary zeal.

Buddhism does not reject other creeds and religions. Thus, Buddhist ideas could be easily blended with whatever local religious beliefs the monks encountered. Buddhist settled into many areas of the Roman Empire, including Judea. The historian/philosopher Philo, who lived during the time of Jesus, recorded the presence of Buddhists in Egypt.

It is quite likely that the authors of The Holy Bible were aware of both Buddha and Buddhist ideas.

How are the life stories of Buddha and Jesus similar?

There are many similarities between the mythical elements of Jesus and Buddha. Here are just a few of the most striking similarities.

  • Conceived in a miraculous manner
  • Similar names of mother (Maya for Buddha, Mary for Jesus)
  • Was a bit of a child prodigy
  • Underwent a long period of fasting while traveling alone
  • Tempted by, but overcame, the devil
  • Began an itinerant ministry around the age of 30
  • Had disciples who traveled with him.
  • Performed miracles, such as curing blindness and walking on water
  • Renounced worldly riches and required his disciples to do so also
  • Rebelled against the religious elite (Brahmans for Buddha and Pharisees for Jesus)
  • Dispatched disciples, shortly before his death, to spread his message

Of course, there are many differences as well.

The Bible and The Dharma Wheel

The teachings of Jesus are in the Bible. The dharma wheel symbolizes the eightfold path of Buddha.
The teachings of Jesus are in the Bible. The dharma wheel symbolizes the eightfold path of Buddha. | Source

How are the teachings of Buddha and Jesus similar?

The overall themes of the teachings of Buddha and Jesus are similar. Buddha organized his teachings into the Eightfold Path, while the teachings of Jesus are given sporadically in different books of The Holy Bible.

To learn more about the Eightfold Path, see: The Buddhist Eightfold Path for Modern Times

They both advocate what has come to be called “The Golden Rule”—treat others as you would wish to be treated. They both urge followers to live a life of peace and love, returning love for hate and anger. They both promote what Buddha called “right action”—do not kill, steal, slander, etc. they both stress the importance of helping others.

Here are a few examples

The Golden Rule

"Consider others as yourself." (Dhammapada 10:1)
"Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31)

Love others

Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world." (Sutta Nipata 149-150)
“This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Love your enemies

Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth. (Dhammapada 1.5 &17.3)
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6.27-30)

Turn the other cheek

"If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires and utter no evil words." (Majjhima Nikaya 21:6)
"If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also." (Luke 6:29

Help others

"If you do not tend to one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick." (Vinaya, Mahavagga 8:26.3)
"Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." (Matthew 25:45)

Do not judge others

"The fault of others is easily perceived, but that of oneself is difficult to perceive; a man winnows his neighbour's faults like chaff, but his own fault he hides." (Dhammapada 252.)
"Judge not, that you be not judged… And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:1–5)

Disdain wealth

"Let us live most happily, possessing nothing." (Dhammapada 15:4)
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20)

Do not kill

"Abandoning the taking of life, the ascetic Gautama dwells refraining from taking life, without stick or sword." Digha Nikaya 1:1.8)
"Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

Spread the word

"Teach the dharma which is lovely at the beginning, lovely in the middle, lovely at the end. Explain with the spirit and the letter in the fashion of Brahma. In this way you will be completely fulfilled and wholly pure." (Vinaya Mahavagga 1:11.1)
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)

More Parallel Sayings

Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings
Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings

The quotes above contain just a few of the parallel sayings between Jesus and Buddha. There are many others and also parallels with other Eastern teachers. You'll come away with a better understanding of religious syncretism.


Are there any other theories about the similarities in the teachings of Buddha and Jesus?

Some say that the teachings of Jesus are similar to those of Buddha because Jesus traveled to India before beginning his ministry. This is very unlikely. First, it presumes that Jesus actually existed which I doubt. Also it would have been quite a long journey, round trip, for a poor carpenter. But even if Jesus had traveled to India where he learned about Buddhism, he still would have been only repeating the wisdom of Buddha, not saying anything new.

Another theory is that both Buddha and Jesus drew upon a more ancient source and their sayings are based upon the sayings of the Jewish king and sage, Solomon, who lived from 970 to 931 BCE, a few hundred years before Buddha. The Jewish sect, The Essences, would have been the source for both of them. There were Jewish settlements in India during the time of Buddha and Jesus could also have been in contact with the Essences in Judea during his time. However, again, this requires Jesus to have actually existed.

I’m going to stick with syncretism: Everything builds on what came before. Buddha himself recognized this eternal truth, saying that there were many Buddhas (the title means Enlightened One) before him and there will be many after him.

What do you think...

How would you explain the similarities between Buddha and Jesus?

See results

© 2016 Catherine Giordano


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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 8 months ago from USA

      What a careful and thoughtful analysis you have done here! I especially like the side-by-side comparisons on their tenets.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 8 months ago from Orlando Florida

      FlourishAnyway: Thank you for taking the time to comment. It is striking to see the sayings side by side.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 8 months ago from Oklahoma

      They're both kind of hippies, which is cool. Personally I prefer the Buddha character.

      Great read!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 8 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Larry Rankin: Now that you mention it, I can see that if they lived in modern times, they would be hippies. The message always seems to be the same: Love one another.

    • emge profile image

      Madan 8 months ago from Abu Dhabi

      Very interesting hub. Devout Catholics may not like it. The fact is that recent research does point that Jesus may have spent time in India. He didn't die on the cross, survived and went to Kashmir. He was a Buddhist and that's the reason the similarity exists.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 8 months ago from Orlando Florida

      emge: I think that most Christians will not like the idea that the Christ story is based on the Buddha story.

      I have heard the theory that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived and went to India. I don't give the theory much credit. If it happened, why is it not part of the Bible story? Also how did the Eastern stories become attached to the Biblical stories. Did Jesus return to Palestine and tell these stories? I think I have given a more credible explanation to explain the similarities between Jesus and Buddha.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This is a great comparison of the similarities between Buddha and Jesus, Catherine. Jesus was either influenced by Buddha's teachings or they were both influenced by some, even more ancient wisdom (possibly Solomon). In fact much of their teaching was based on love, acceptance, and common sense.

      My only issue is your repeated inference that Jesus probably did not exist. I feel there is just as much evidence that he existed as many other historical figures of those times. Overall, a great article.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 7 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Jodah: Thanks for your comment. I did mention that Solomon might have been the source for both Buddha and Jesus. It is also possible that Solomon took his teachings from an even more ancient source.

      I wanted to make clear that just because I spoke of Jesus' teachings I was not implying that Jesus existed. (The links in the article show why I believe this way.) These are the sayings attributed to Jesus.

      Also if you take away the myth and miracles from the story of Buddha, you still have a life story--from birth to death. Not so with Jesus.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 7 months ago from California

      Very interesting article. I'm fascinated by the topic and believe that these similarities are not coincidental.

      From a comparative mythology perspective, it's not unusual for different religious traditions to have striking similarities. On the other hand, from a religious perspective, all these people, assuming they did exist, were messengers of the same Supreme Being, so their teachings and even their life stories will be similar to some degree.

      To your point, there's also been a number of similarities pointed out between Jesus and Osiris, Jesus and Horus, Jesus and Mithras etc. Which speaks to the probability that Jesus did not exist as a historical figure. But if he did, there is a theory suggesting that he traveled to India during his "lost years" where he studied Buddhism, so that could explain why his teaching was so similar to that of Buddha.

      Thanks for the great read and the food for thought!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 6 months ago from Orlando Florida

      kalinin1158: Thank you for your comment. The reason the similarities exist between many religions can be summed up in one word: syncretism. Each new religion borrows from the ones that came before. Buddha never claimed to be a messenger from a Supreme Being nor did the pagan gods you mentioned. Buddha was no more than a teacher and each of the pagan gods thought they were the Supreme Being themselves. I discussed Jesus' possible trip to India in the essay and concluded that it did not happen.

    • profile image

      Daniel Hopkins 6 months ago

      Jesus's 'my father' is tge Tathagata. The author left a great deal out, such as the one Terebinthus whom early church fathers claimed was persecuted from Judea to Persia where, they say, went by the name BUDDAS. The "man of sorrows" was called "PENTHOS(pain)" and his tree was the TERE-PENTHOS, or, TERE-BINTH tree.For a more thorough review of the materials, see my book 'JESUS'S GODAMA SOURCES'

    • profile image

      James Brady 6 months ago

      I wrote these words some time ago.

      If you believe in God, & when you die and there Is no God or Heaven. Then you have lost nothing.

      But if you die and you did not believe in God or Heaven & there Is a God & a Heaven. Then you have lost everything.

      From the Mind of James.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 6 months ago from Orlando Florida

      James Brady: You are a bit off topic because your comment is about neither the sayings of Jesus nor the sayings of Buddha; it is about the sayings of James Brady. Actually, it is about the sayings of Blaise Pascal. You are citing "Pascal's Wager. I suggest you read my essay: "Pascal's Wager: Is it a Good Bet?" You will find it in the "More by this Author" section just below the conclusion of this essay or on the owlcation cite.

    • profile image

      Sam 6 months ago

      Birth taugh tolerance, love and inner peace. They are both great!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 6 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Sam: I agree that both Buddha and Jesusboth taught tolerance, love and inner peace. However, Jesus didn't stop there as Buddha did. The Biblical story of Jesus adde4d a bunch of stuff that makes him unacceptable to me.

    • profile image

      PD Poole 6 months ago

      As you had previously stated....Buddhism and Christianity do have a core of commonality based on the syncretic nature of oral traditions which later became written teachings. Some of the similarities exist only because we'd like them to exist. The example of Maya and has to determine what they mean ...Maya means "Illusion" in sanskrit/pali...while Mary comes from Hebrew...possibly Egyptian....from Hebrew מִרְיָם (Miryam), a name borne by the sister of Moses in the Old Testament. The meaning is not known for certain, but there are several theories including "sea of bitterness", "rebelliousness", and "wished for child". However it was most likely originally an Egyptian name, perhaps derived in part from mry "beloved" or mr "love". So we see there is actually NO similarity between the two names.

      Jesus could NOT have been the next appearance of the the sutras clearly state that the next appearance of the Buddha will not occure until the bodhidharma has completely vanished from this world. The best source of information on this event would be the the Sanskrit text, the Maitreyavyākaraṇa (The Prophecy of Maitreya), stating that gods, men, and other beings will worship Maitreya; it implies that he is a teacher of trance sadhana:

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 6 months ago from Orlando Florida

      P.D. Poole: Thanks for your comment. I agree some of the similarities between Jesus and Buddha are superficial and could just be coincidental. But there are other parts of their life stories (the mythical parts, like walking on water) that are part of the "hero archetype."

      As for Jesus being the second coming of Buddha--it was a facetious question. Obviously I don't believe that anyone is the second coming of anyone else. I am surprised that so many people take that question literally. I was joking, playing on the idea that there would be a second coming of Jesus.

    • profile image

      christian 6 months ago

      I think anyone that makes the bold proclamation that "If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" or, "that one cannot bear fruit" without Jesus or even "God", since we're not even taking into account the myriad of religions dotting our planet's landscape, is making a statement that is quite short sighted for a person who most likely didn't have a full understanding of world religion and anthropology. Anyone that says all religions teach the same thing hasn't studied religion enough. If a singular God speaks to ALL of humanity per the biblical author's assertions, then every geographically separate non-christian culture divided by oceans, mountains, and most importantly time periods, should have basically written almost identical versions of the bible pointing to monotheism and/or Jesus as the one true prophet or "god" without having to come into contact with one another culture. No where in advent of religions and recorded history has happened.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 6 months ago from Orlando Florida

      christian: There is a process known as syncretism--it means new religions take parts of old religions while adding new ideas. Every new religion reflects its time and culture. Religions even change as they move into different cultures and they also change over time. However, humans are humans the world over so there are certain elements that reflect our humanity and are common to most religions.

    • profile image

      Mei 3 weeks ago

      Nice article, idea, opinion, I like it. Thanks to writing this.

      I'm Buddhist practice, not Buddhist believe, from my opinion, I saw that you have writen about similar teaching or maybe similar story of their life, is not the most important point of their teaching.

      In Buddhism, I found lokhutara's teaching when Buddha was teaching Dhamma to Bahiya (Bahiya Sutta), the point is anatha, this is the real Buddhism teaching to be realized by experience life. I haven't found in the holy bible about lokhutara's teaching, is all about lokiya's teaching (love, compassion, tolerance, helping people, etc.).

      If your idea about jesus was probably amonk maybe or reincarnation of Buddha or maybe christian teaching was influenced by the buddha's teaching, why the point of Buddha's teaching could not be found in the holy bible?

      The real point of Buddha's teaching is to destroy 10 shackles of life, to understand anica, dhukkha and anatha (Tilhakkana Nature Law), the way is noble eight path (this is what we do) so what do u think?

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 3 weeks ago from Orlando Florida

      Mei: Buddha and Jesus are not 100% similar. The point was that some of the ideas attributed to Jesus are not original with him. The question about Buddha being the reincarnation of Jesus was not meant to be taken literally. I don't believe in reincarnation and I don't believe that Jesus existed as a flesh and blood man. I was saying that Buddha's ideas were "reincarnated." Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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