‘The Buddha’ and Jesus Christ: Lamps of the World
Dr Aniruddha Babar
'What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind” - Albert Einstein
Invitation to be one of the key speakers to share my thoughts and research on the relevance of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama “The Buddha” in a prestigious International Conference organize by Arunachal University of Studies, Namsai, Arunachal Pradesh, May 26-28 2022 was not easy to be handled. The reason was very simple. To understand the Buddha’s teachings you have to be a devotee of science of logic and scientific temperament. Faith has no scope, space and place in the teachings of the Buddha, in fact like an Investigator and a Scientist he urges his disciples and students – both lay and monks-nuns to diligently live a life of inquiry.
Scientists use a way to visualise the working of electric and magnetic fields; we visualise lines of forces or fluxes due to the presence of charges, static vs. dynamic. In a similar way, the Buddha used a way to visualise the working of this world. The fluxes are called Asava. Just like scientists consider that everything is influenced by physical laws, the Buddha consider humans and also gods are under the influence of different sets of laws. For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. Scientists call it Newtonian law, but the Gautam Buddha calls it karma and fruit. Due to the scientific and systematic nature of teachings that is evidently characterized by Hegelian dialectic that is -Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis the best minds in the world history attracted to the teachings of the Gautam Buddha for over two thousand years.
I was delighted with the invitation as I thought it to be an opportunity to present Buddha’s teachings as constructive solution to the modern, burning world and its problems. While I was preparing my lecture/presentation titled “Reminiscent of Gautam Buddha’s teachings- An Inquiry into the Buddhist Principles of Good Governance”, I fondly remembered hours of serious discussions that I had with my disciples Mosa Sangtam, Keneisediu Mezhu, Ghukha Chophy, Vemudozo Tetseo, Putionen Jamir, Kezhavikho Lhoushe and many other best, seeking, inquiring minds I came across at Tetso College. It would not be wrong to say that the topic of my presentation at International conference was a result of an inspiration that I derived from my students from whom I learned a lot. Intelligence is flooding everywhere, but what is rare to be found in today’s world is –THE CONTEMPLATIVE MIND- which I discovered in my students.
My relationship with Gautam Buddha is not new. I discovered him in my childhood. In fact, the discovery of Moses, Jesus and the Buddha was the best discoveries of my childhood life. Frankly speaking, I don’t understand, or maybe I am not evolved enough to understand their divinity as what is being normally projected. In fact, I do get really bored reading about all those stories about miracles and divine interventions, however, my focus has always been on the core teachings which transformed my inner world completely. I do not pray loudly ( I just cannot), nor do I worship, but I meditate on teachings and try to apply them in my life. Jesus Christ and the Gautam Buddha are my two personal teachers. I imagine them and myself in a relation of disciple and the teachers. Whether I am religious or a believer or not, should have no relevance because the plain in which the union of me and my teachers exist is not a material plain but a cosmic plain of the mind where earthly, manmade words and concepts like religion, faith, beliefs, rituals, systems, rules has no space. What a greater pleasure a seeker can have than having a company of two Masters of the wisdom?
The International Conference was successfully concluded, I also got a chance to chair one of the sessions, and however, my mind was clouded with thoughts and ideas. It was heavily raining outside. Night was becoming stormy. I went into a contemplative mode- the most dangerous state of mind where I often meet my LIVING Masters- The Jesus and The Buddha. What DO they teach us? What do they teach me?
Jesus and the Buddha both urge followers to live a life of peace and love, returning love and compassion 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. Both Siddhartha Gautama, who was to become the Buddha, and Jesus of Nazareth, who was to become the Christ, are said to have left their homes in the prime of their lives, seeking truths that exist beyond the scope of most people's interest.
Both were eventually led into a wilderness where, alone, they faced the devil and his traditional three temptations. Siddhartha sat beneath the Bodhi tree where Mara, a malignant celestial king and devil figure, confronted him while he was meditating. Jesus, in the Judaean Desert, after forty days and nights of fasting faced Satan, the fallen angel formerly known as Lucifer. It’s believed that both were tempted by the cravings of the flesh, the spirit, and worldly pride. Both emerged from that experience with a new teaching and immediately proclaimed their insights. The Buddha's first order of business was to deliver the famous Deer Park Discourse.
Here he put forth the teaching that was to become the bedrock of Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths. Jesus preached what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount, wherein he outlined, in the Beatitudes, a model for Christian life. Both sermons detailed, in systematic fashion, how followers were to live out the precepts of the founders. Even the final words of the Buddha are echoed by the proclamations of Christianity. The Buddha said, "Be ye lamps unto yourselves." Jesus said almost the same thing: "Ye are the light of the world." The Buddha declared all matter in this world to be transitory. Jesus said: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." The Buddha's last words are said to be, "Work out your own salvation with diligence." The Apostle Paul, speaking for Jesus, said, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
Moreover, there is a strong tendency in Christianity to consider Jesus or Christ as a “living essence”, and not just as an individual. This is quite clear through indications such as the “Christ in you” or that “God exists in your heart”. In this perspective, Christ is synonymous with the spirit of love, compassion and devotion to helping others, features which coincide with what Buddhists understand “the Buddhanature” existing as a potential in all people. Call of Jesus for “overcoming self” (Deny yourself) is almost identical to the Buddhist principle of Self-Mastery (mastery over the mind and desires). Christian is a religion which believes in an omnipotent God who has feeling like humans do; and He is concerned about which persons believe his existence and which do not.
Buddha and Jesus started out as devout followers of an older religion (Judaism, Vedic Tradition) but set out to break the monopoly of spiritual power by a hereditary priesthood, which guarded spirituality as the privilege of elite. Both of them tried to simplify the principles of their religion, reduce it to its moral and spiritual essence, and then make it universally available to all the people, the “lowest” as well as the highest. Neither sought to start a whole new religion. Both sought to purify and strengthen their religion by reminding people what religion ought to be all about.
Buddha rejected the Vedic Caste system and the notion of “untouchability.” a terrible way of treating the lowest of the low of society, who were made to do all the dirty jobs no one else wanted to do. Jesus, for his part was always taking the side of the poor and admonishing the wealthy to share their good fortune.
Buddhism is more of a philosophy although some people turned it into a religion and Christianity was primarily an idealistic social movement which gradually turned into a religion. Jesus and Buddha both attempted to transform the society as a whole and the Man in particular through their teachings. A Common Man was the focal point of their observation and teachings.
Remember, neither Jesus nor the Gautam Buddha was preacher. They both were teachers. You can never ask a question to a preacher but you can ask questions to a teacher and also agree-disagree with him.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus defined himself by saying who he was and what his mission was. At the same time, he never controlled or manipulated others to agree; instead, he asked questions and invited others into conversation to help them see where they stood in relation to him. ALSO, from its origins in India, Buddhism has had an appreciation for reasoning and debate skills. The profound purpose of Buddhist debate and reasoning is to clear away a wrong conception of our own natures and thereby to become free of suffering and even death. Siddhartha Gautam “The Buddha” was a debater, a logician, he encouraged debates and dialogues. He gave liberty to his disciples, students and followers to disagree with him.
Whenever the topic of religion and faith would crop up, my parents would always encourage me to discover ‘truth’ on my own. “Don’t ask us or anybody in family or friend circle anything, we do not want you to be under any internal or external influences, it is your life, you have to discover yourself and tell us”. I was never given any religious moral teachings/training nor was I ever sent to any Gita, Koran, Bible School or Buddhist, Jain Monastery.
Such a freedom given by parents was not easy to handle however, my exploration started at very early age. Even though I am a believer in the Christian context, I am closer to the ‘teachings’ of Jesus than his divinity, similarly as a disciple of the Buddha all what I am concerned about is his teachings alone. There have always been an aura of myths and miracles around great personalities in the history, therefore a seeker’s duty is to not get carried away by them, but discover the core of what has been taught by the great masters of wisdom. The path of Christ- is a Practice. The Path of Buddha- is a Practice. Let us not remain just followers, let us become wise, diligent practitioners- beyond material, ritualistic approaches.
(Dr Aniruddha Babar is a Professor of Political Science & International Law at Tetso College in Dimapur, Nagaland)
May 29 2022