So how do we respond to someone who asks: Are the teachings of Jesus just the recycled teachings of the Buddha? The first thing I would want to say in response to someone asking that question is that maybe they have the question backwards. Let me explain. Although Buddha lived before Jesus, the earliest writings about his life and his teachings that have survived to this day come after Jesus. And so we could ask the question: Did the people who recorded his life and his teachings in these manuscripts actually, by this point, begin to copy Jesus? We just don’t know. Did Buddha copy Jesus? Did Jesus copy Buddha? What we are best to do is to look at their teachings and compare them. And we find there’s lots of similarities and great things that are taught by both the Buddha and Jesus and we can learn from both. But there are some distinct things taught by Jesus that neither Buddha nor any other religious teaching comes close to approximating.
Jesus teaches that ultimate truth is revealed through a person – that’s himself. He is the word of God in person, not the word of God in print, not in a book, not in a concept of enlightenment or any other philosophical concept. His truth, God’s truth is revealed by watching the life of Jesus and seeing how God loves us through a life well lived. God’s ultimate truth is personal.
Jesus also teaches that ultimate reality is relational, that God is love. He’s not just personhood, he is personhood in relationship, always relating within himself. That’s what love is; it’s a relational concept. And that God desires relationship with us, distinct yet unified beings. That’s love. And so the ultimate goal is different too. It is not being absorbed into the one but it is being distinct enough that there can be loving relationship between persons even though they are unified in oneness. It’s a subtle difference but it’s huge. It makes the ongoing experience between personhood – that is that experience that we call relationship – and love, the ultimate reality for us to experience for all eternity.
And one more significant difference: the ultimate goal in Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment and the ultimate goal in the teachings of Jesus is not to achieve anything. Instead, Jesus teaches the reverse – grace. Grace is God giving us what we are trying to achieve through our religious systems but never quite seemed to accomplish. Jesus is the message of God giving us enlightenment, love as a gift, salvation, whatever word you use, is now something all we are asked to do is believe and receive. That’s what you do with a gift. You receive it. And then our eternal life of love starts now. We begin to live that out of the gift of God’s love. So the question still remains: can someone be a follower of the teachings of Buddha and the teachings of Jesus at the same time? But that’s another question.