More on the Relationship Between Buddhism and Other Faiths

In a previous post, I touched upon how the story of Buddha found its way into the Abrahamic faiths which eventually led to the Catholic Church proclaiming the Buddha as a Saint. In recognition of the Pesach and Easter holidays, I decided to further expand upon the relationship between Buddhism and other faiths. Alternatively, Tan Swee Eng compiled a list of the differences between Buddhism and other religions. If anyone has anything else to add or correct, please leave a comment.

Buddhism and Hinduism are both post-Vedic religions. However Siddhartha Gautama’s teachings deny the authority of the Vedas and sometimes Buddhism is generally viewed as a nastika school (heterodox, literally “It is not so”) from the perspective of some Hindus. Gautama Buddha is mentioned as an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranic texts of Hinduism. In the Bhagavata Purana he is twenty fourth of twenty five avatars, prefiguring a forthcoming final incarnation. A number of Hindu traditions portray Buddha as the most recent of ten principal avatars, known as the “Dasavatara” (Ten Incarnations of God) – but this view is not accepted by most Buddhist schools. Prominent Hindu reformers such as Gandhi and Vivekananda acknowledge Buddhist influence

Buddhism and Jainism are the two branches of the Shramana tradition that still exists today. The Upanishads, Mahavira (founder of Jainism) and Buddha (founder of Buddhism) taught that to achieve moksha or nirvana, one did not have to accept the authority of the Vedas or the caste system. Buddha went a step further with the principle of anatta, or not-self and dependent origination. Until recently Jainism was largely confined to India, while Buddhism has largely flourished outside of India. However the two traditions share remarkable similarities. In his life, the Buddha undertook many fasts, penances and austerities, the descriptions of which are elsewhere found only in the Jain tradition. Ultimately Buddha abandoned these methods on his discovery of the Middle Way or Magga. To this day, many Buddhist teachings, principles, and terms used in Buddhism are identical to those of Jainism, but they may hold very different meanings.

East Asian
The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoism in particular. Originally seen as a kind of “foreign Taoism”, Buddhism’s scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary. Chan Buddhism was particularly modified by Taoism, integrating distrust of scripture, text and even language, as well as the Taoist views of embracing “this life”, dedicated practice and the “every-moment”. In the Tang period Taoism incorporated some Buddhist elements like monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture into tripartite organization.

Confucianism in particular raised fierce opposition to Buddhism in its early, initial introduction in China. It was principally due to what it viewed at the time would be the negative result of the “nihilistic” worldview of Buddhism (although Buddhism is a Middle Way between eternalism and nihilism) on society at large. The prominence of Confucianism in the Chinese society forced Buddhism to endorse certain uniquely Confucian values. Over time as Buddhism became increasingly accepted by the Chinese intellectual class, relation between these two philosophies became more symbiotic. For example, Buddhism shares many commonalities with Neo-Confucianism.

In Japan, since the symbol of one of the Dainichi Nyorai (non-historical buddhas of Mahayana Buddhism), was the sun, many equated Amaterasu (Sun Goddess) with a previous reincarnation (bodhisattva) of Vairochana. The later Tokugawa Shogunate era saw a revival of Shinto, and some Shinto scholars began to argue that Buddhas were previous incarnations of Shinto gods, reversing the traditional positions of the two religions. Shinto and Buddhism were officially separated during the Meiji Restoration and the brief, but impacting rise of State Shinto followed. In modern Japan, most families count themselves as being of both religions, despite the idea of “official separation”.

Buddhist views of Jesus differ, since Jesus came after Buddha. Some Buddhists, including the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, regard Jesus as a bodhisattva who dedicated his life to the welfare of human beings. Both Jesus and Buddha advocated radical alterations in the common religious practices of the day. There are occasional similarities in language, such as the use of the common metaphor of a line of blind men to refer to religious authorities with whom they disagreed (Digha Nikaya 13.15, Matthew 15:14). Some believe there is a particularly close affinity between Buddhism (or Eastern spiritual thought generally) and the doctrine of Gnostic texts such as the Gospel of Thomas.

Some scholars believe that Jesus may have been inspired by Buddhism, and that the Gospel of Thomas and the Nag Hammadi texts reflect this influence. These theories have been popularized in books such as Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and Beyond Belief (2003), and Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten’s The Original Jesus (1995). Edward Conze has suggested that Hindu or Buddhist tradition may well have influenced Gnosticism. He points out that Buddhists were in contact with the Thomas Christians. Elaine Pagels notes that the similarities between Gnosticism and Buddhism have prompted some scholars to question their interdependence and to wonder whether “…if the names were changed, the ‘living Buddha’ appropriately could say what the Gospel of Thomas attributes to the living Jesus. ” However, she concludes that, although intriguing, the evidence is inconclusive, since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures without direct influence.

Barlaam and Josaphat are said to have lived and died in the 3rd century or 4th century in India. Josaphat’s story appears to be a Christianized version of the story of the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama. The first Christianized adaptation was the Georgian epic Balavariani dating back to the 10th century. A Georgian monk Euthymius of Athos translated the story into Greek, some time before he was killed while visiting Constantinople in 1028. There the Greek adaptation was translated into Latin in 1048 and soon became well known in Western Europe as Barlaam and Josaphat. The story was translated into Hebrew in the Middle Ages as “Ben-Hamelekh Vehanazir” (“The Prince and the Nazirite”). For more information, please read my post entitled The Teacher of Gods and Humans.

The Indian scholar Maulana Abul Kalam Azad proposed in a commentary on the Qur’an that Siddhartha Gautama is the prophet Dhu’l-Kifl referred to in Sura 21 and Sura 38 of the Qur’an together with the Biblical characters Ishmael, Idris (Enoch), and Elisha. Azad suggested that the Kifl in Dhu’l-Kifl (Ar: “possessor of a double portion”) is an Arabic pronunciation of Kapilavastu, where the Buddha spent his early life. Azad did not, however, provide direct historical evidence to support his speculation. According to other ancient Muslim scholars Dhu’l-Kifl was either a righteous man and not a prophet, or he was the prophet called Ezekiel in the Bible.

In his article “A Muslim View of Buddhism”, Professor Majid Tehranian suggests, “Sufism as a bridge between the two religious traditions (Buddhism and Islam).” One of the reasons, he states, is: “In Islam, Sufism represents a reaction against the excessive emphasis on the Shari’ah, the Letter of the Law, as opposed to the Spirit of the Law, the Tariqah.” However, the fact that all the Islamic countries signed the Cairo Declaration indicates that any ethical basis for either global civilization or universal responsibility needs to take Shari’ah into account.

Buddha is classified as one of the Manifestations of God which is a title for a major prophet in the Baha’í Faith. Similarly, the Prophet of the Baha’í Faith, Baha’u’llah, is believed by Baha’ís to be the Fifth Buddha, among other prophetic stations.


About bodhipunk

Just another anarcho-commie dhamma punk.

Posted on 04/08/2012, in holidays, religion, stories and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That is some inspirational stuff. Never knew that opinions could be this varied. Be positive to maintain writing. 269323

  2. An attention-grabbing dialogue is value comment. Im sure that its better to write on this topic, towards the often be a taboo topic but typically persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To another location. Cheers 217205

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