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I have heard that Buddha preceded Christ by approximately 500 years and that it may have been possible for the teachings of Buddha to have reached the ears of the young Christ and inspired his revelation. The parallels in their lives, teachings, and even metaphors are uncanny.

Further reading that supports the claim:

That said, I'm looking for definitive points of similarity or disagreement between the two. If direct historical lineage can be proved, or fundamentally definitive points of departure could be pointed out to disprove the link, that would help any answers.

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@Sreekesh Hope you don't mind the edit - we tend to frown on "Here's a theory. Is it right?" questions. I'm trying to make your question more answerable by putting in the criteria by which at least I would judge the rightness or wrongness of a response... –  Affable Geek Mar 18 '13 at 16:31
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For all the similarities, the ministries differ in a fundamental respect: Buddha claimed to discover a way; Christ said I AM the way. So, if there is any historical link between Christ and Buddhism, any legitimate Christian interpretation must be that Christ blessed the truths in Buddhism; not that He learned anything from them, per se. –  svidgen Mar 18 '13 at 17:16
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You might check out Ravi Zacharias's The Lotus and the Cross which is (fictional) dialog between Jesus and Buddha, comparing and contrasting their philosophies. –  aceinthehole Mar 19 '13 at 21:45
    
Often the words of Jesus appear rather to be spoken as from the point of view of a part of yourself, an element of the mind, for which the people of the time didn't really have any concepts. In this interpretation the "I" in "I am the way" is nothing other than the wiser voice within yourself. It's that part of you that calms "the storm," turns "water to wine," overturns "the tables of the moneychangers" in "the temple." It is clearly esoteric and metaphorical in meaning, not exoteric and literal, and Jesus is very much a symbolic character. –  Scott Lahteine May 30 at 18:51
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4 Answers 4

While the Ba'hai might make such a claim, Nicene Christianity would not. Most Christians have sufficiently fundamental differences with Buddhism over how to live that calling one a disciple of another would not capture the relationship well. Leaving aside radically different notions of the afterlife (Jesus did not believe in reincarnation!), there are fundamentally different perscriptions in how to handle life's vicissitudes.

The Buddha's first noble truth, for example teaches that joy should be avoided, in order to avoid the pain that comes with it.

In contrast, Hebrews 12 says of Jesus:

..looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Whether or not their understanding of how one should live a "good" life is similar, and whether or not they conveyed their messages using simiar metaphors would not be as great as such a fundamental difference of opinion on how to live a life. Given this great dichotomy, even if one could plausibly make a case that a Jewish rabbi 500 years after Buddha in a country very, very far away, somehow was aware of him, it would be difficult to call him a major influencer.

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The fundamental difference in their teaching pointed out by you is a strong refute for such an assumption. While Buddha lived like a weak mortal, Jesus showed His divine powers. –  Seek forgiveness Mar 18 '13 at 14:52
    
+1 for the difference pointed out and for calling it Nicene Christianity. –  MaskedPlant Mar 18 '13 at 17:07
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While Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tze, John the Baptist and other ancient teachers came before Him, Jesus was not a disciple of any of them.

When Jesus teaches in the Temple courts in John 7, the people are amazed at his teaching, because they realized Jesus had never been a disciple of anyone. Jesus responds to their amazement by asserting that His teaching came from God the Father--the One who sent Him.

Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. John 7:14-16 NASB

If Jesus were, in fact, a disciple of Buddha, then His teachings would merely be an extension of Buddhism. This is not the case at all, though, as the teachings of Jesus are completely original and quite distinct from all other teachings about God.

So, Jesus never studied as a disciple of anyone, so He could not have been a disciple of Buddha or anyone else. In fact, he lived much of His life presumably as a carpenter without any religious teaching. Also, the teachings of Jesus are completely original and distinct, which indicates that He was building on no other philosophy.

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First

I haven't read 'Living Buddha, Living Christ' by Thich Nhat Hanh, so I can't comment on that.


Second

I skimmed thorugh the article 'Was Jesus a Buddhist?'. I would like to propose a few counterexamples.

  • The article claims that Jesus' time in Kashmir coincides exactly with his 'lost years' in the Gospels, and mentions a king:

    At the age of twenty-nine he left India and eventually reappeared in Judea to begin his ministry. His time in Kashmir coincides exactly with his "lost years" in the gospels. [...] The Kashmiri Hindu text "Bhavishya Maha Purana" speaks about king Shalivahana (circa AD 80) meeting a foreigner calling himself Ishvara Putaram (Son of God).

    Now suppose that Jesus did go to Kashmir during his 'lost years'. Then Jesus would've gone to Kashmir before he started his ministry:

    Scholars generally estimate that the ministry of Jesus began around 27-29 AD and lasted one to three years.

    Compare with this:

    Gautamiputra Satakarni (Telugu: గౌతమిపుత్ర శాతకర్ణి, Marathi: गौतमीपुत्र सातकर्णि; also known as Shalivahana) (c. 78–102 CE) was the twenty-third ruler of the Satavahana Empire.

    As you would know, CE is an alternative term for AD. Now, if we take it that Jesus was in Kashmir before 27 AD, and that Shalivahana was born in 78 AD, they could not have met during the 'lost years', since Shalivahana wasn't around before 27 AD. Therefore, this is a contradiction.


    On a side note, suppose we take it for a fact that Peter was the first one to call Jesus as the Son of God, as revelead by God The Father:

    Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare′a Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli′jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17, RSV)

    Then it does not make any sense for Shalivahana to be the first one to have called Jesus as the Son of God during the lost years. Then again, he couldn't, anyway, as he wasn't around at the time.

  • Taking one example, the article claims a similarity between Jesus and the Buddha:

    Born as an incarnate god.

    Probably not:

    ... the Buddha himself denied that he was either a man or a god...

Note also that the article is confusing. At some parts of the article the author tries to assert that Jesus was, to an extent, a Buddhist. Then the author seems to imply that the figure of Jesus was taken from the figure of Buddha by listing the similarities between them.

Take a look at this urban legend, see here for more. So much for the sake of making something 'similar'.


Third

I haven't watched the whole movie 'The Man from Earth'. I did watch the excerpt you gave me, however.

I looked on Google to see if I could find a source for the statements made about Moses that are said in the excerpt, but I did not find one. I found a transcript for the movie (I do not know if it is complete or not), to look up the spelling of 'Misis'. Googling for 'misis syria', I could not find anything that is specific to it. The articles that I did read, that contain the name 'Misis' does not have any citations either, they aren't credible. So for now, I can safely say that that is just an assertion without anything to back them up. Do tell me if you find some. I have not searched for evidence for the other statements. I don't think it is a good use of time anyway. Here is why.

The plot summary from IMDB for 'The Man from Earth' is as follows:

An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the retiring scholar reveals to his colleagues he never ages and has walked the earth for 14,000 years. Written by Eric D. Wilkinson

And, if you look at the site, the genre of the movie is 'Drama' and 'Sci-Fi'. Obviously, this movie is fiction, so you probably shouldn't take it seriously.

Compare with the movie 'Prometheus', which are classified as 'Adventure', 'Mystery', and 'Sci-Fi'. The following is an extract of the interview with the director Ridley Scott, where 'RS' stands for Ridley Scott.

Movies.com: You throw religion and spirituality into the equation for Prometheus, though, and it almost acts as a hand grenade. We had heard it was scripted that the Engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and that Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever considered?

RS: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, “Lets’ send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it. Guess what? They crucified him."

As a fan of the 'Alien' franchise, and as someone who is interested in Christianity, I find the idea captivating. However, in the end, it's just fiction.

So, no matter how fascinating or thought-provoking an idea is, made up of cuts and pastes of fiction and non-fiction, don't take it in unless you can find evidence to back up the statements.


One final note. Going back to basics, there are fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity:

... one significant element being that while Christianity is at its core monotheistic and relies on a God as a Creator, Buddhism is generally non-theistic and rejects the notion of a Creator God which provides divine values for the world. [...] There are other fundamental incompatibilities, e.g. while Grace in Christianity is part of the very fabric of theology, in Theravada Buddhism no deity can interfere with Karma and hence the notion of any type of grace is inadmissible within these teachings.

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This seems to be well researched answer –  Seek forgiveness Mar 19 '13 at 8:30
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From a Christian perspective:

It doesn't matter.

The one fundamental difference between Christ and all other prominent religious gurus is that Jesus' primary teaching is that He Himself is God. Whatever similarity Christ's teachings then have with any other guru's, far from being incidental, is that they both stem from the Christ Himself, God's Word. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the inspiration for all truth and beauty everywhere. His human relationship and "learning" is one of blessing or publicly acknowledging the truth which He had inspired from the beginning.

Therefore, if any historical evidence could show that Jesus connected with Buddhists, the Christian interpretation is and must be that Christ blessed their truths for their sake, rather than that He learned from them in the strict sense. So, rather than interpreting Buddhism as a source of truth and something on which Christ depended, the salvational value of Buddhism depends on Christ's presence in it.

Fr. Barron addresses this distinction in the Catholicism series.

From a theological perspective, if an encounter with Buddhism occurred, the encounter is of minimal Christian value. And it's more notable that important than we have no idea what He was doing in those year. It's more notable and important that during those years, as far as we know, Jesus was an ordinary person.

From a more historical perspective:

A similarity between two beliefs does not necessitate a common historical ancestry. People on opposite sides of the planet discovered numerical systems, for instance, and properly understood addition and subtraction without one having to learn it from the other. The only tangible and meaningful link between an innate truth understood across cultures is the "style" or "manner" in which the truth is understood. We can observe that numerical notation, for instance, can differ between unrelated cultures, even though the basic truths are the same. Related cultures, on the other hand, will show notational similarities or similarities in conceptual nuance.

So, whatever similarity there may between Christian and Buddhist teachings is not necessarily relevant without an explicit mention or "unlikely" stylistic similarity. And Jesus explicitly teaches Jewish scripture -- incredibly knowledgeably at that, seemingly demonstrating many years of study. He doesn't explicitly say anything about Buddha or any Buddhist teaching; He only speaks explicitly of Jewish scripture and the proper understanding of Jewish scripture. And He does so in a very Jewish fashion: quoting scripture, debating, and telling stories. He does not, in the style of Buddism for instance, offer Koan's to His disciples.

It is most reasonable, then, to explain the "missing years" with Jesus studying and practicing Judaism. It would be tough to imagine how a man could be so intimately more familiar with a religion than the contemporary experts if He didn't spend the bulk of His life in the study and practice of that religion.

So, I'd maintain that accounting for the "lost years" of Christ with the study of Buddism is more an imaginative conjecture, at this point, than it is a serious conjecture. I'm not convinced we have the necessary, meaningful evidence. More importantly, I suppose, most credible experts don't make such a conjecture; just a small circle of eccentrics, it seems. In other words, the folks who push this theory (as far as I know) are the ones looking for History Channel specials and publicity for their own books. They aren't the ones trying to get their theories peer-reviewed and included in textbooks ... other than the "textbooks" they write themselves.

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Luke 3:46-47 (12 year old Jesus amazing people at the Temple) hints that even without 20 years of study his teaching would have been astonishing. Aside from having a prophet's advantage of direct communication with God (even more so being one person), original sin (lacking in Jesus) hinders reception of truth and some speculate substantially weakens mental faculties. –  Paul A. Clayton Mar 18 '13 at 19:02
    
@PaulA.Clayton A valid point (maybe). But, from a purely historical perspective, Jesus is not the Son of God, nor does He have a special connection with "God." He's just a man. If you accept the basic Christian assumptions, refer to the basic Christian answer. Otherwise, taking the historical approach, you'd just discredit the literal interpretation of Luke 3:46 as either "hyperbolic" or "religious symbolism." –  svidgen Mar 18 '13 at 19:16
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protected by Affable Geek Mar 19 '13 at 17:06

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