II. If Jesus did not travel to India, if the Buddha’s teachings did not enter Palestine via the Silk Road, then how can their similarities be explained? In the following essay, Marcus Borg contemplates the possibility that they derive not from cultural borrowing but from shared experiences.
I am a Jesus scholar and not a scholar of Buddhism, so I approach this subject as a bit of an amateur. But for about 20 years, I have been struck by the many parallels between Jesus and the Buddha. Like Ray Riegert, I find the similarities impressive. Indeed, I have even said that if Jesus and the Buddha were to meet, neither would try to convert the other—not because they would think the effort hopeless, but because they would recognize each other.
The similarities include not only parallel sayings and stories, a selection of which appear on these pages, but broader similarities that go beyond individual sayings and stories. It is with these greater parallels that I wish to begin.
Both the Buddha and Jesus were mystics. By mystic I mean a person who not only has vivid, and typically frequent, experiences of “the sacred,” but someone whose perceptions and life are transformed in essential ways by these firsthand experiences.