Book review: Jesus and Buddha, the Parallel Sayings

by Marcus Borg


Three thousand miles from where Jesus was born, another miraculous birth occurred: the Buddha. As the Buddha walked on water, passed through walls, and raised the dead, so did Jesus in his day. As the Buddha fed 500 with a few small cakes, so did Jesus work with loaves and fishes. Five hundred years after a terrible earthquake marked the death of the Buddha, the earth shook again when Jesus breathed his last.

Given the eerie parallels between these two lives, one naturally wonders if their teachings were also similar. In a book that is probably best read as a daily devotional, Borg provides a “Jesus” saying on the left side of each page, and a parallel “Buddha” saying on the right side. Here are some of my favorites:

Jesus: “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” Buddha: “Stealing, deceiving, adultery; this is defilement. Not the eating of meat.”

Jesus: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in a steal.” Buddha: “Let the wise man do righteousness: A treasure that others cannot share, which no thief can steal; a treasure which does not pass away.”

Jesus: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” Buddha: “Do not let there be a schism in the order, for this is a serious matter. Whoever splits an order that is united will be boiled in hell for an aeon.”

What is going on, here? Were Jesus and Buddha spiritual masters inspired by a single cosmic source? Is the Christian “very God of very God” one with the Buddhist “God of gods?”  You can’t help but be inspired as you contemplate the similarities of these two great religious leaders.