Book review by Rosie Richards
This short book contains parallel sayings by Jesus and the Buddha placed side by side on opposite pages covering subjects such as compassion, wisdom, materialism, temptation, the inner life, salvation and discipleship. Comparisons of miracles attributed to them, aspects of the divine, and their life stories are also included.
In his editor’s preface Marcus Borg emphasizes the striking similarities between Jesus and the Buddha both in their lives and in their ethical teaching. Both had life transforming experiences around the age of thirty and began renewal movements within their own religious traditions, Hinduism and Judaism. Similar religious traditions grew up around them. Both were perceived as more than human, and while stressing their humanity, were given exalted even divine status reflecting the enormous impact their lives and teaching had upon their followers. Both were teachers of wisdom and the path of transformation leading to an alternative way of living. In human beings they often saw blindness, anxiety, grasping and self-preoccupation, and for both the path of transformation involved awareness, letting go, dying to the old life, embracing the new thus enabling their followers to become more compassionate people. They taught that what a person was really like was important and were criticized for mixing with sinners, thieves and prostitutes.
According to Marcus Borg there is one major difference between the Buddha and Jesus possibly because of their different cultural and social situations. As well as being a wisdom teacher and healer Jesus was also a social prophet. He actively challenged the religious elites of his day and his public life was much shorter than the Buddha’s. Jesus, living in a country occupied by the Roman Empire, was also in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, while the Buddha, a fifth century BC prince, was heir to a throne in northern India. Jesus’ socio-political aspect is absent in the Buddha.
In this book Marcus Borg is not saying that Christianity and Buddhism are identical. Rather he sees the book as an opportunity for reflection and meditation. How are the sayings different and how are they similar? Sometimes a well known saying of Jesus can be further illuminated by a similar response from the Buddha’s teaching.
It is a book to dip into, reflect upon and savour.