Brief Introduction about the chapter
In this chapter, the authors’ Brennan Hill, Paul F. Knitter, and William Madges presented an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Buddha, about the social issues surrounding their respective era as well as the religious differences and similarities between Christianity and Buddhism. According to Hill, Knitter, and Madges, Buddha had lived around 500 B.C.E. which means that he had lived around five hundred years before Jesus was born. The imaginary conversation was based on the perception and understanding of the followers on the image of both religious leaders, which means that the Jesus and the Buddha being referred to in this conversation is not exactly the Jesus or Buddha referred to in historical and biblical literature.
The conversation presented in this chapter include topics such as religious corruption, which has been the main reason of many religious reform movements during their respective time, the role of political circumstances during their period towards the formation of Christianity and Buddhism, and the areas where Christianity and Buddhism could agree. The conversation presents Jesus and Buddha to be “genuinely open to and interested in each other’s message and both of them with a keen awareness of and concern about the mess our modern world is in” (p. 256).
Summary of the conversation
The initial exchanges of ideas reveal their genuine interest not only to learn more from each other but most importantly, to foster cooperation among their followers to do something about the great suffering that terribly afflicts humans. While they had a striking contrast with regards to their personal background, Buddha being born into extremely well-to do family, had lived in the palace during his youth, and was married at age sixteen, Jesus being born into a poor family and had to live as refugee in Egypt for a time, both agreed that beyond these economic and social status, the other circumstances in their lives were just similar.
In introducing themselves to each other, both spiritual Gurus cited the political and religious circumstances that led them to call for a more sincere conviction about relationship with God, and about realization of what reality is. Jesus for his part emphasized that from the beginning, he had a special relationship with God and it was from this relationship that he came to realize his special mission announcing the kingdom of God and calling people to believe and work for the kingdom of God (p. 257). Buddha on the other hand, acknowledge that there were indeed some similarities between them and cited his own Hindu belief that the ultimate God “is not so much a deity “that steps into history in special acts, but a divine energy that is always there keeping things going as they are” (p. 258) which was contrary to the Jewish concept of God.
The conversation also reveal the socio-political situations surrounding the two spiritual masters which suggest the most significant difference between Jesus and Buddha, and between Christianity and Buddhism during their early beginnings. Jesus mentioned that the whole Palestine area during his time was turn by unrest, poverty and oppression, and that Israel nation was reduced to a subservient colony of the Roman Empire. During this time, there was a growing community of poor, sick, unemployed, landless farmers, widows and orphaned children. Thus his message was particularly addressed to these people criticizing not only the religious authorities for their insensitivity for the real need of the people, but also the entire system of the Jewish religion. His message of the good news about the kingdom of God offended both the Romans and religious authorities that resulted to his death on the cross.
The political and social circumstances surrounding Buddha were much better during his time than Jesus.’ Though Buddha lived in a period of unrest and transition from splintered tribal system to the formation of republics and empire, his message about the value of personal responsibility and of individual freedom has found “ready ears among merchants who were trying to establish their place in rigid social system” (p. 261). The striking differences however, between the circumstances surrounding the two were not only in terms of the socio-political context of their message but the way they both died. Jesus died in violent death by hanging on the cross, while Buddha died in serenity under tree.
In their view of the main problem of the society, both had seen the sufferings, the helplessness, the oppression, the poverty, and the sickness afflicting the people and their messages were directed to encourage these people. Though their messages differ in content, with Jesus preaching the good news about the Kingdom of God, and Buddha preaching the experience of enlightenment to achieved nirvana, both however had seen the hollowness of the conviction of their religious leaders during their respective time which had even contributed to the sufferings and affliction of their people. The succeeding conversation beginning from page 65 appears that the two masters had fully understood each other regarding their differences and their point of agreement in their views and teachings, and, from page 270; they were already working out fixing these differences as indicated in the statement of Jesus “…I feel that they are the kind of differences that enable and require us to talk more rather than part paths” (p. 270). This mutual understanding was further strengthened by their conclusive remarks on the socio-political issues confronting their people about what something that needs to be done. That is, the need to act on the sufferings and affliction of the people, the need to do God’s will of loving and working for justice, the need to be quiet, the need of wisdom, the need to meditate. They both agreed that that there are specific areas wherein Buddhism and Christianity can work hand in hand towards changing this world and to desire them one must be rooted in wisdom and wisdom must flow into action. Furthermore to be able to achieve this purpose, one need to be one with God or tuned in to nirvana (p. 275).
The last portion of the arguments talk about the things they differ yet finds that they can be reconcilable. In the words of Jesus, their agreement was not an “agreement despite our differences, but an agreement because of our differences, an agreement that comes out of and affirms our differences” (p. 275). In the end, the conversation centers on acknowledging that each have an important message to tell regardless of how they are identified by their own followers. That despite of the differences in their teaching, they both have a unique message that can “make difference in this world if the would really live these messages” (p. 280).
In the conclusion of the conversation, the authors portrayed both Jesus and Buddha to be very satisfied with their meeting affirming each other for the ideas they learned from each other and hoping that their followers will realize that even there are differences in teaching of Buddhism and Christianity, these differences are reconcilable and that there is a great potential for both the followers of Buddha and Jesus to work cooperatively to address the problem of human sufferings, poverty, sickness, and all the human miseries that these two spiritual masters were so much concerned of during their own time.
This chapter of the book is a powerful and very creative means of conveying the idea that Buddhism and Christianity have something in common and that if their efforts will be directed to one direction they can do great in addressing the same problem that their masters had seen during their time. This Chapter provides important ideas that while we cannot avoid having differences in our opinion, in our religious experiences, in our views of what are the real need and in many aspects that we interpret things that comes our way, yet, it only need to have an open mind, to be willingness to listen and accommodate other views, and the desire to learn from others, appreciate the things that we learned, and try to blend them with our own understanding.
Personal explanation of the chapter
The chapter actually presented two very contrasting religious teaching. Jesus preaches a personal relationship with God which is directly in contrast with Buddha’s teaching about enlightenment which is impersonal, yet we find that they did not argue in their difference but find a way to settle them.
This Chapter was an attempt by the authors not only to harmonize the two great religions but also to demonstrate the practical side of the perception of these two great spiritual gurus. Often, the followers of the two spiritual masters looked only on the spiritual side, that Buddha is the divine power that blesses those who seek to follow his teachings, so as with Christianity. Christians would only look to Jesus Christ as the savior and Lord. The conversation between Buddha and Jesus reveals the practical side of the two Gurus during they were ordinary person alive on earth. What makes the difference was that they gave much and honest effort to help address the problems that were prevailing during their times coupled with emphasis on genuine spiritual experience.
While authors made it clear from the beginning that that the conversation was imaginary, the ideas presented in this chapter seemed to be easier to say than done. Apparently, the author was drawing a point wherein Buddhism and Christianity can sit back and talk the way Jesus and Buddha discussed their views on the socio-political condition during their time. I would agree with the authors that if only the followers of these two of the greatest religions in the world would joined hands in responding to the need of this world such as, addressing the ever worsening poverty, the growing sufferings of the people from disease and hunger, the oppression and exploitation of the weak and powerless, and the need of poor and orphaned children, of education, and, unite against religious and government corruption, they really can do much.
Although I appreciate the authors’ creativity of conveying important ideas, the author seemed to have neglected to include one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus which is life after death in God’s kingdom. The argument that the authors presented regarding the teachings of Jesus concerns only on the practical aspect of the message. In reality there is a stark contrast between Buddhism and Christianity in terms of the object of their faith. In this case, the level of cooperation between Buddhism and Christianity if indeed it is possible would be limited to socio- political cooperation. But this cooperation cannot really be expected to take place in view of the conservative nature of the Christian teaching based on the experiences of the early Christians until now. While Ecumenical movement was an attempt to foster religious cooperation against injustice, poverty, oppression, and other forms of abuses, it was not really successful in meeting their objectives simply because of the many boundaries relating to theological and doctrinal interpretation. In view of this, the authors’ ideas though creative and nice, yet it appears that it is lacking of the most important argument, the argument about life after death.
Hill, B., Knitter, P. F., & Madges, W. (1997) Faith, Religion and Theology USA: Twenty-third Publications