Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as Shakyamuni, became known worldwide as the Buddha after he obtained enlightenment and the highest level of consciousness: nirvana. The historical Buddha, a real flesh and blood man, lived almost four hundred years before Jesus. His teachings, a reformation of Hinduism, quickly spread among the nations of Asia and East Asia, growing and forming new schools and traditions over time. At its core is a message that all this life is marked by delusion, and that we experience suffering due to our desire. If we would cease our desire, then we would end suffering, thus ending our delusion.
Jesus understood the suffering of this life. He also experienced the delusions we have and the havoc our desires wreak upon the world. Yet, while the Buddha sought ultimate extinguishment of self, Jesus calls us to find the fulfillment of ourselves in relationship with God. I wonder what they might have said to one another, if they happened along in their travels. It might have gone something like this…
(Image courtesy of mattstone.blogs.com)
On a long, winding path, Jesus came across a man sitting at the foot of a tree. He stopped and inclined his head in acknowledgement of the man’s presence. The Buddha returned the gesture and invited Jesus to rest. As Jesus lowered himself to the ground, the Buddha gazed at him, taking in the sight of this newcomer. Both men were young, in their early thirties, but they held a wisdom beyond their years. Neither was offended or uncomfortable with silence, so they sat, silent for a long time. Each could hear the other’s breathing, the sound of the wind blowing through the branches above, and the occasional call of a bird to its mate. They sat under a fig tree, known as the Bodhi Tree, where the Buddha would sit until he attained enlightenment.
Jesus closed his eyes and pictured a very different fig tree. This fig tree was barren of fruit, and so Jesus cursed it. It instantly withered from the power of his word (Matthew 21:19). His disciples had been astonished and confused. This recollected memory made him smile. “What is amusing to you?” asked the Buddha. “The power of faith,” Jesus replied. “In what do you have faith?” the Buddha asked him. “I do not need faith, because I AM, but I have seen the power of faith of others,” he said. Jesus recalled the centurion who told Jesus that his servant would be healed by just a word from Jesus (Matthew 8:8). He remembered the woman with the hemorrhage that had suffered for twelve years, but had faith that if she only touched the hem of his garment, she would be healed, and she was (Mark 5:25-29). There were many others; their faces and their voices rushing back to his consciousness.
Then Jesus looked at the Buddha. He was a smart man, wise beyond his years. He would continue to grow in wisdom, and he would live a long life, into his eighties, before he expired. When he passed from this life, the Buddha would find his final state of being; he would become shapeless, formless, having stopped the cycle of reincarnation. But not Jesus. He would die just a few years later, and he would not become less of a being, but more. Jesus would grow in presence, and his mind would become the minds of millions around the world. He would teach generations upon generations about faith, and he would be there for them. Not in some far off plane of existence, but here and now, when we need him most. Then, having foreseen all this, Jesus would smile at the Buddha, incline his head, and be on his way. The Buddha would watch this ethereal man walk away and wonder what he meant. Like so many who were in Christ’s presence and could not, or would not, understand, the Buddha would be left to wonder.
We are left with so much more. We have the Risen Jesus. And we have our faith.