Preface

            The following story is a fictional depiction of a dialogue between Jesus Christ (or Yeshua for his Hebrew name) and a Buddhist monk, while Jesus was on a trip to Asia during his ‘teen’ years. This story in no way claims to be historically accurate or even claims that the theology that both Yeshua and the Buddhist monk will talk about would have been the way in which Yeshua or any Buddhist monk would have thought about these doctrines during the first century C.E in which the story takes place.

Furthermore, the purpose of the story is not actually to see what Yeshua may have said to a Buddhist monk (if he were to have travelled to Asia) but rather to show how a dialogue could take place between a Christian/Israelite and a Buddhist as they discuss stories, doctrines, and practices. While this story does not claim to be entirely historically accurate in every detail it will try to give a general sense of the similarities and the differences between these two faiths over the course of history, while at the same time (ideally) trying not to project foreign ideas into the minds of either Yeshua or the Buddhist monk, such as Yeshua teaching the doctrine of the trinity or the monk lecturing about psychology in relation to meditation.

Finally it must be said that the idea for such a fictional dialogue comes from a novel by Christopher Moore called The Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal, which is a comedic novel about Jesus (or Joshua as he is called in this work) and his childhood best friend Biff taking a trip to Asia during their teen years to search for the Magi who were at Jesus’ birth, along the way of which they encounter many different Asian philosophies and religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism.

The Story

As Yeshua was walking along the dirt road he noticed that to his left there was a very peaceful looking garden, his feet were quite tired and could use the rest, so he decided to stop and lie down on the grass for a moment. Soon however he noticed that there were a group of men unlike he had ever seen before, their heads were shaved, they were carrying around bowls of various foods, which they appeared to have collected and they wore robes that looked like they were made of rags.[i] It was not strange for Yeshua to see such poverty but rather what seemed to be such purposeful poverty, such voluntary poverty. Among them were some others dressed exactly like them but were sitting on the ground with their legs folded, eyes closed, and completely silent except for slow breathing.[ii]

Yeshua, fascinated with these men approached one of them asking, “What is that man doing?” pointing to one of the men with their legs crossed over.

One of the men of the group replied, “Our teachers have always said to us that we should not speak unless we can improve upon silence[iii] but I feel that, as venerable as silence is, this conversation would be worth the noise. Please come over here stranger” he said pointing to some wooden steps near by.

As Yeshua and the monk walked toward the steps, Yeshua immediately felt that there was a sense of peace about this man. “I am a stranger to this land. My name is Yeshua. I come from the land of Israel but I have left my home for now in search of these wise men my mother always was telling me about” Yeshua said, feeling rude for even having asked about the man who was quiet.

“You were asking about one of our fellow monks. He is meditating.” Seeing that Yeshua was still confused he continued, “They must not have this practice in your land. Well…” stopping himself he said, “You are much blessed to be taught in this way so immediately because it is not our regular practice to teach such truths so soon but I already see wisdom in you and have chosen to share this with you while you’re still here…Anyways, yes, he is meditating. The point of meditation is to gain knowledge. By putting yourself into such a state of concentration you can perceive between the real and the unreal, leading to insights that shall liberate you from suffering.”[iv]

Yeshua was very confused by most of this, but one word got stuck in his mind, ‘liberate’. Yeshua remembered all the stories his mother used to tell him as a child about how his people were first enslaved to the Egyptians but then were liberated by Moses,[v] then by the Babylonians and freed by Cyrus[vi] and how now his people were under the rule of the Romans. Yeshua was very excited about the possible knowledge that the man who was meditating may have to offer about overthrowing oppressors. “My people are right now currently suffering…” Yeshua said but was interrupted by the monk.

“They’re not now suffering, they are always suffering. One of the central teaching of the Four Noble truths taught to us by the Buddha is that all of life is suffering.” As soon as the Monk said this, Yeshua immediately had a look of puzzlement upon his face.

“All of life is suffering?” Yeshua said.

“Yes. The Buddha, our master first achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Here, he had discovered the Four Noble truths. The Noble truth of suffering, the Noble truth of the origination of suffering, the Noble truth of the cessation of suffering, and the Noble truth of the Way leading to the cessation of suffering”[vii] the monk explained to Yeshua.

“All of life is suffering? No. There is much joy. For have your people not known that God created everything and called everything good?[viii] King David sang to our ancestors, and us ‘I will tell of all your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in you!’[ix] It was also said by our ancestors that the pleasure of our wives we should enjoy, ‘Let her breasts satisfy you at all times’[x]….” Yeshua said but was cut-off by the monk.

“I’m sorry! Monks are normally not meant to stir up anger, but perhaps I am far too attached to the raft, to the teachings of the Buddha.[xi] You are speaking of pleasure and of attachment; desire is the answer to the second noble truth, the origination of suffering. And the third noble truth, that of the cessation of suffering, is the cessation of desire.[xii] We must not grow attached to anything for all is impermanence, all of it will pass. In fact, the last words of the Buddha were ‘…all karmically constituted things are subject to passing away.’[xiii] Let me illustrate this with a story about the Buddha, the compassionate one.” The monk then proceeded with a story.

“ There once was a new mother who brought her new stillborn infant to the Buddha and begged the Buddha to raise him from the dead, so that she could enjoy the pleasures of motherhood. The Buddha said that he would raise her son from the dead on the condition that she bring an offering of rice and a household that had never experienced death. Sure enough, she ran all around, to every house. She could not find one house that had not experienced death, in form of a relative dying or of the loss of someone close. So she returned to the Buddha and confessed that she could not find one household that had not known death. The Buddha then replied that he would not raise her son.”[xiv] The monk upon telling Yeshua saw the look of indignation arising upon Yeshua’s face and asked him “Do you understand the meaning of the story?”

Yeshua still looking angry said, “This Buddha does not sound like a compassionate one to me. If that woman had come to me and I had the ability is raise her son, I certainly would have.”[xv]

“Oh young one, how little you know. The point of the story is that if you accept death, there’s nothing left to fear. This compels one to live a life of compassion before they are released from Samsara, this world”[xvi] the monk tried to explain.

“If my people know anything it is suffering. But the compassion you speak of seems so complacent, so apathetic. Life seems to be some to suffer and endure, not to enjoy and to love. You all seem to be so focused on peace and serenity, how can that exist with a real love. The kind of love that a father shows when he hugs his child. Imagine if the father sat all day, as that monk over there and left his child”[xvii] Yeshua said.

The monk, still being quite upset, tried to understand Yeshua. On the one hand, this boy was stubborn, filled with devotion to his raft, the traditions of his ancestors and yet, on the other hand this boy clearly understood what he said but he just did not accept it as a lot of the laymen throughout the villages did.[xviii] Yeshua appeared to be very wise, exceeding his years. Just then the monk remembered a practice that was done among the Brahmans, known as prayer.[xix] He had wondered if Yeshua had heard of this practice, and that, perhaps if Yeshua had heard of this practice that he might be able to understand meditation better.

“Yeshua, have you heard of prayer? Do you and your people practice such a thing?” the monk said.

“Oh yes! My mother actually created her own prayer when she knew she was going to give birth to me. I thought it was quite good when she recited it to me when I was a young child. I think it will become a great tradition, at least in our village”[xx] Yeshua said with bright eyes.

“Well then, you understand full well what those men over there are doing” the monk said pointing to the men meditating. “See, they are trying to discover the truth about themselves and how to be freed from suffering. They are reaching beyond themselves for help by clearing their mind. They are very focused and attentive. Isn’t that what prayer is? Isn’t prayer merely a recounting of ideas in your own mind, trying to find answers?”[xxi] the monk said trying to convince Yeshua of his understanding.

“ But they are not saying anything. Why are they not talking to God? Where is the emotion? It is almost like they are doing nothing at all. They are sitting by themselves. This is not prayer. In our synagogues we pray together, praying for the day when the Kingdom will come. These men you said are trying to escape from suffering. They are doing a rather good job, for they are doing nothing at all. Do they care about no one except themselves?”[xxii] Yeshua said with the voice of an angry prophet. Yeshua was quite inspired by his cousin John who was quite the prophet who proclaimed justice.[xxiii]

“You keep speaking about God as if there was only one. There are a plethora of gods, well at least for the laity. The monks know that the Buddha himself was the teacher of the gods and that the gods are rather insignificant to our quest for enlightenment.[xxiv] The Brahman have revelations known as Vedas[xxv] but we believe that it’s all within.” The monk tired to explain to Yeshua.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength!”[xxvi] Yeshua was reciting to himself for he was quite nervous, for he had been warned all his life about the pagans. The pagans who worship idols and have abandoned the true God,[xxvii]  not only that but this monk here was claiming that this Buddha character could teach the gods, how arrogant! But furthermore Yeshua was angered by the selfishness of these monks. These monks have apparently gone all around to different houses to collect food from the villagers who revere them and only to in return sit around and pretend to be better than everybody else. The self-righteousness of the monks angered Yeshua. It reminded him very much of the priests back home.[xxviii]

“See Yeshua, you have become so attached to this ‘god’ that your desire for its’ presence is causing you suffering. You need to be released from this world of illusion. It’s all illusionary, it is all empty!”[xxix] The Monk yelled giving up his last ounce of patience.

“So meaningless! Do you have no compassion!” Yeshua yelled. Yeshua had always been taught by his mother not to ‘…answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.’[xxx] But Yeshua was very much devoted to his God, how could he sit back and look at such foolishness. In this case he felt he had to follow the proverb that came right after his mother’s advice, he felt he had to ‘answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes.’[xxxi]

As the monk was sitting thinking over the disagreement that they were having, he remembered about another figure that he had heard of among other monks in China, known as Avalokitesvara, the Lotus bearer, a Bodhisattava[xxxii]. As the monk contemplated the nature of Bodhisattavas, he realized that here was the way that Yeshua had been speaking of all this time. Forgetting that Yeshua had not seemed to know much of anything else that the monk had spoken about asked, “Yeshua, do you know what a Bodhisattava is?”

“No” Yeshua said not sure of what would come next.

“You’ve grown upset at these monks who have seemed to have abandoned life. But the Bodhisattva is a one who has chosen not to have abandoned life but instead has made a vow that, even though they themselves have achieved enlightenment, they would willingly refuse to enter into the void of emptiness until they have done everything they could to bring all creatures with them into enlightenment. The Lotus bearer, Avalokitesvara, “The Lord Looking Down in Pity”, is one very popular Bodhisattva among my fellow monks and he has compassion for all sentient creatures suffering in this existence. He sends his grace throughout all of existence so that anyone throughout the world who prays to him will be heard.[xxxiii] The Bodhisattva, instead of choosing to reach full enlightenment, returns to this world and dwells as a completely selfless creature. The emptiness, which I spoke of, is manifested in him and this is his great compassionate act. He shows what a life free from the threefold fire of desire, hostility and delusion looks like. He brings Nirvana, enlightenment here for the liberation of us all.[xxxiv]” As the monk was telling Yeshua this, he himself felt like he was learning it for the first time.

“Wow. This Bodhisattva has given his life to help others. This was the compassion that I was talking about. Giving up yourself and your own glory to love, to serve and to listen. But I must still ask, how can a Bodhisattva possibly have compassion? For is not compassion still a desire? As noble as a desire to love other people is, is it not still a desire? Something which the Buddha said was the cause of suffering?”[xxxv] Yeshua replied but with still a look of surprise of what an example that Bodhisattva was of self-sacrifice.

The monk thought about this deeply. If all life was suffering, if the origination of all suffering is desire and if the cessation of suffering means the cessation of desire, then that would have to mean that love and compassion would have to cease. But that’s impossible, for not only the Bodhisattva, but also even the Buddha himself were filled with compassion for all living beings. How could this be? How does one love without attachment to the perishable? How can one show compassion towards that which is empty? Just then the monk remembered the word ‘selfless’ that he had used to describe the Bodhisattva. To be sure this realization had not solved all of his difficulties but it might be a start. Yes, the monk remembered another central doctrine, known as anatman, meaning ‘no-self.’[xxxvi] Perhaps it was this realization, that there is no self that would lead to compassion. Then the monk proceeded to say to Yeshua, “I think you are a Bodhisattva.” Seeing the look of intrigue upon Yeshua’s face he continued, “You have had such a deep concern for others. I have shown you so much about the teaching of our master and you have turned down my inclinations for you to follow the path to enlightenment. You would rather liberate your people.”[xxxvii]

Yeshua had remembered a prophecy that he had received when he was much younger in the temple with his parents from a man named Simon. Simon had said, “For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples…”[xxxviii] With prophecies like that Yeshua could not help but know that he was meant to do something extraordinary. What the monk had just told him, while being still strange and foreign to him, seemed nevertheless to resonate with him.

“Monk, it just occurred to me, I still don’t know your name”  Yeshua said while laughing with the monk a bit.

“Ajahn, hahahaha, Ajahn is my name.” Ajahn replied.

“Ajahn, I came out here to see the wise men that my mother had talked on and on about, who came to where I was born. I still have not met them yet, but I want to thank you for your time. Explaining to me these strange practices. But thank you for telling me about the Bodhisattva. He reminded me a lot of a leader of my people that my mother had always told me about, his name was Moses. See Moses was born to a family of our people but because of a royal decree from the pharaoh to kill newborn Hebrew babies his mother put him into a basket and sent him adrift into the river, hoping someone would find him. Sure enough, an Egyptian family found him. But not just any Egyptian family but the royal house itself. However as Moses soon realized that he was not an Egyptian but was one of our people, he could not bear to see our people enslaved. So Moses gave up his position and instead choose to help liberate our people”[xxxix] Yeshua said. “My teachers always thought I was brilliant[xl] but somehow I feel that I should give it up and help my people.”

“You have spoken so wisely. I will remember your words about love and compassion. We monks are not usually challenged the way you have challenged me now and I want to thank you for your insight. But my companions and me must make it back to the monastery. Goodbye, wise stranger.” Ajahn said.

Yeshua got up off the grass and proceeded to hug Ajahn. Ajahn at first seemed uncomfortable but soon embraced Yeshua. Strange that Yeshua had come to meet the wise men but it was Ajahn who felt that he had met the wise man.


[i] These are among the classical ascetic practices found in the Theravada school of Buddhism; Wilson. “Ascetic Practices,” in the Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. (ed.). Vol. 1. (Macmillan Reference: USA, 2003) Pg. 33

[ii] This is the standard posture for a Buddhist Meditator; Gomez, “Meditation” in the Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Robert E. Buswell, Jr. (ed.). Vol. 1. (Macmillan Reference: USA, 2003). Pg.520-21

[iii] A common Buddhist proverb; Ward. What the Buddha Never Taught. (Thomas Allen & Son, Ltd.: Toronto, Canada, 2010), Pg. 70

[iv] Gomez, Pg.520

[v] Exodus 12:31-42. All direct quotations of either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament shall be taken from the New King James Version.

[vi] Isaiah 45

[vii] Central Buddhist Doctrine; Strong. “The Life Story of the Buddha and Its Ramifications” in The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations (Wadsworth Pub Co, 1994.) Pg.17

[viii] Genesis 1:31

[ix] Psalm 9:1-2

[x] Proverbs 5:19

[xi] The doctrine taught by the Buddha is often depicted as a raft that must be abandoned and not held on to; Gethin. “The Four Truths: The Disease, The Cause, The Cure, The Medicine” in The Foundations of Buddhism. (Oxford University Press, 1998). Pg. 72

[xii] Gethin. “The Four Truths: The Disease, The Cause, The Cure, The Medicine,” Pg. 59

[xiii] Strong. “The Life Story of the Buddha and Its Ramifications” Pg.37

[xiv] This story is told in, Ward, Pg.120

[xv] The New Testament recounts such a story of an older Yeshua raising up a dead son, Matthew 9:18-26

[xvi] This is the interpretation offered in, Ward, Pg.120

[xvii] The perceived tension between serenity and love is a point made by a professor of the New Testament named Ulrich Luz; Luz & Michaels. “Jesus’ Ethics” in Encountering Jesus and Buddha: Their Lives and Teachings. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, USA: 2006). Pg.72-73.

[xviii] The nature of the later monastic orders seemed to be to “elitist” and thus the laity were forced to while becoming a member of the community, they did not become part of the monastic order; Prebish. “The Rise of Buddhist Monasticism: An Overview” in Buddhist Monastic Discipline (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974) Pg.3

[xix] The region of the Ganges basin in north-east India, where the Buddha supposedly taught, the dominant religion was what we call today Hinduism; Harvey, “The Buddha and His Indian Context,” in An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) Pg.9

[xx] Yeshua is referring to the prayer that will become one of Christianity’s most famous prayers known as The Magnificat found in Luke 1:46-55.

[xxi] This is of course a distortion of Buddhist ideas about meditation and ideas about the practice of prayer. This distortion is being intentionally used as a literary device (by th author of this story) to further dialogue.

[xxii] For the differences between Christian prayer and Buddhist meditation see; Luz & Michaels. “The Buddha and Meditation” in Encountering Jesus and Buddha: Their Lives and Teachings. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, USA: 2006). Pg.141-155.

[xxiii] Referring to John the Baptist; Luke 3

[xxiv] Buddhism is often regarded as a ‘godless’ religion but while this may be true to its scriptures, Buddhism soon in practice embraced lots of gods from the cultures into which it was assimilated. For on the tension between the ‘godless’ doctrine but the theistic practice of Buddhism see; Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and The Evolution of Belief (New York: Harper Collins, 2007) Pg.241-243

[xxv]Skilton. “The Ancient Indian Context: Buddhist Pre-History,” in A Concise History of Buddhism (Wind Horse Publications, 1994) Pg.15

[xxvi] The famous Shema of the Jewish faith. It is considered to be an essential creed; Deutronomy 6:4-5

[xxvii] Classical depiction of the other nations from the viewpoint of Israel. For one example see; Leviticus 18:24-25

[xxviii] Yeshua would later grow up to condemn the self-righteousness of the Pharisees; Matthew 23

[xxix] This monk comes from the Madhyamaka school of Buddhism; William. “Madhyamaka” in Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundation. (Routledge: New York, NY, 1989.) Pg. 62

[xxx] Proverbs 26:4

[xxxi] Proverbs 26:5

[xxxii] Much of the following information about Bodhisattavas comes from Campbell. “Apotheosis” in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Novato, California: New World Library, 2008) Pg.127-147

[xxxiii] Ibid. Pg. 127

[xxxiv] Ibid. Pg. 141

[xxxv] The notion of compassion as a desire is correctly pointed out by Axel Michaels; Luz & Michaels. “Jesus’ Ethics” in Encountering Jesus and Buddha: Their Lives and Teachings. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, USA: 2006). Pg.72-73.

[xxxvi] McDermott. “Buddhist No-Self & No Mind” in Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions: Jesus, Revelation & Religious Traditions (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000) Pg.142

[xxxvii] It must be said that in the theological terms of both Christianity and Buddhism Yeshua could not be a Bodhisattava in the strictest sense. The sense of a Bodhisattava that the monk is comparing Yeshua too is that of an individual that would willingly give up a chance at reaching a higher status so that they may have the chance to help others. The idea of Yeshua (or Joshua as he is called in the following work) as a Bodhisattava comes from the fictional novel mentioned in the preface; Moore. The Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, a novel (US: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007) Pg.211-212

[xxxviii] This whole story about Simon is found in; Luke 2:25-35

[xxxix] Exodus 1-3

[xl] Luke 2:46-47

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