The Difference Between Buddha and Jesus

Siddhartha Gautama’s path to becoming the Buddha began with observing four sights.  I take the wording from this site, from which you can get some more information on Buddhism.

One day, as Siddhartha was touring a park area of the kingdom, he saw four things that changed his life. First, he saw a sick person. He had never seen a sick person before and was shocked at the sight. Next, he saw an old person, someone stooped over and suffering the effects of old age. Again, he was shocked for he’d never seen this suffering before. Then, he saw a corpse! He’d certainly never seen a dead person before, nor did he even really understand the reality of death. His father had kept him sheltered from all these things, particularly death.

Finally, he saw a sage or holy man walking up the path. The sage passed by the sick person, the old person and the corpse – and as he did so, his face and demeanor was filled with compassion, peacefulness and joy.

I often wonder how Jesus would have reacted to these four sights.  We know Jesus saw sick people and healed them.  But on a deeper level, he saw sickness as a sign of ways that creation had not submitted to the kingdom of God.  Sickness is something that has a temporary existence.  We do not know much of Jesus’ reactions to the elderly.  Likely he would see them as people to be respected, especially those who have remained faithful.  Aging was not something to be feared but a part of human existence and something that gets us closer to the resurrection.  Jesus did raise people from the dead, but again that was a sign of the coming kingdom.  Jesus did not end all death at that time, that is something that would take place in the future.  Jesus did understand that there are different kinds of death.  Spiritual death is much more serious than physical death.  But even physical death will come to an end with the resurrection.  I suppose the best way to summarize the way Jesus would have reacted is that he would have seen these things in their eschatological context.  Then there is the fourth sight of the sage walking by in full peace.  Why was the sage at peace?  Was it because he did not fear sickness, aging or death?  Or was it because he had achieved a state where he was no longer disturbed by the suffering of others?

However the sage may have reacted, we know that the Buddha saw the answer to the suffering he observed as being a destroying of desire and a separation from anything that can make you suffer.  Despite the English summary of the events, compassion is not really a part of Buddhism.  I am not saying that Buddhists do not perform acts of charity and mercy.  I know they do good deeds.  But Buddhism at its core is not compassionate, in the literal sense of “suffering with.”  In fact, the point of Buddhism to to escape suffering.

In contrast, Jesus entered into the suffering of the people he encountered.  The whole point of the incarnation was so that the Son of God could know our suffering, not just as fact but as experience.  He felt compassion.  He joined people in corporate repentance with John’s baptism.  He was moved by the sick and grieving.  He cried at a funeral.  Jesus embraced our suffering on the cross.  As Christians we are called not to a detached form of care for others but to rejoice to those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve.

I say this not to make a judgment about Buddha or Buddhists (although as a Christian, I have made a choice).  Rather, I want to demonstrate that Buddhism and Christianity are very different religions at their essential core.

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