Rembrandt - Christ with Hands Folded (Public Domain), and Nivedita, Sister - the Departure of Siddhartha

The Christ And The Buddha: How Can You Explain the Uncanny Similarities?

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Buddhism soon split into two different factions.  The oldest, Theravada, venerated the living Buddha with statues traditionally cast in one of three different positions.  The well-known lotus, or seated position, represents the founder in his enlightenment, the position of meditation.  The standing position represents Buddha the teacher.  The reclining position pictures Buddha entering Nirvana. 

Buddha statue in the well-known lotus position.

Buddha statue in the well-known lotus position. ( Public Domain )

This tradition parallels that of the traditional Catholic Church, which traces its ancestry back to the founder, Jesus.  He, too, is often pictured in three traditional postures: 

Sometimes he is praying, either alone in the desert or off in the mountains.  Sometimes artistic renderings portray him teaching the multitudes.  Other renditions show him ascending into heaven. 

Both Theravada and the Catholic church thus place a great deal of artistic emphasis on their founder's private spiritual lives, public teaching and eventual journey into Nirvana or Heaven.

Both Belief Systems Broke Apart

But just as the Protestant Reformers broke away from the Catholic church, forming denominations that differed from one another in matters of tradition and theology, Mahayana Buddhism broke off from Theravada and formed new offshoots, among them Tantric Buddhism, Zen, Pure Land and Nichiren.  Although these are not called "denominations," they formed in the same way many Protestant denominations did.  Someone had a new insight, a new way of living out the tradition, and others followed.

Restoration of T'ang dynasty Nestorian image of Jesus as Christ found in Cave 17 at Mo-kao Caves, Tunhwang. The original work dated back to 9th century.

Restoration of T'ang dynasty Nestorian image of Jesus as Christ found in Cave 17 at Mo-kao Caves, Tunhwang. The original work dated back to 9th century. ( Public Domain )

More Alike Than Different

To this day, both Buddhism and Christianity have a multitude of followers, each living out the tenants of their founders with great zeal while often declaring their particular interpretation to be, if not the only way, then certainly the best and most authentic tradition.  But given the similarities of the origin stories of the two world religions, one almost has to wonder if a hidden mythology is lurking unseen in the background — a central mythology that has shaped Buddhism and Christianity into the great forces they are today.   

Jim Willis is author of nine books on religion and spirituality, he has been an ordained minister for over forty years while working part-time as a carpenter, the host of his own drive-time radio show, an arts council director and adjunct college professor in the fields of World Religions and Instrumental Music. He is author of The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers.


Top Image: Rembrandt - Christ with Hands Folded ( Public Domain ), and Nivedita, Sister - t he Departure of Siddhartha ( Public Domain );Deriv.

By Jim Willis


Ellwood, Robert S. and Barbara A. McGraw . Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in the World Religions, 7 th Edition . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentiss Hall, 2002.

Willis, Jim. The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints and Seers . Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 2004.


Excellent article. I’ve always thought there were many similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. If we dug deeper, I’m certain that even more similarities would be found. They show how we should live our lives

the most important thing they have in common is that neither of them is real

Though Buddhism is indeed a religion and is practiced as such, there is in some ways more of a philosophic bent to it, such that if one wanted to be both a Buddhist in philosophy and a Christian or a Jew in religious practice, I shouldn't think it would matter much. I think Sufism is sort of a blend of Islamic and Buddhist traditions.

Given the contemporaneous and near-contemporaneous writings that mention Jesus, I think the more logical assumption is that he did exist. What I think is more interesting is that Josephus devotes more mentions to his brother James, and those have no reference as James as a Christian. It seems he was the more important figure at time Josephus was writing, and squarely in the Jewish religion.

Famous (former) atheist Anthony Flew also left his home and Methodist upbringing, faced opposition, spread teachings, and although he wasn't a priest he certainly had a system of views. (Which changed again when he became theist.)

I think these points in the article may be way too broad to draw useful parallels from.


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