Jerry Johnston: Tales of Jesus and the Buddha

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

There’s an old saying, “When Jesus goes East, his name is Buddha. When Buddha comes West, his name is Jesus.”

The idea behind the thought is that the Kingdom of God as taught by Jesus and Buddha's notions of mindfulness are much closer to each other than many imagine.

And in recent years, the search for that common ground between the two traditions has intensified.

As science, archaeology and history make inroads into the past, many Christians are looking to take their religion to what they see as a new level.

On the other side, Buddhist writers see the West as a great field of young seekers just waiting to be harvested.

And as an observer, I've been intrigued by writers from both traditions pushing toward each other. They are determined to link up in the middle, like the transcontinental railroad, and drive home a Golden Spike of the soul.

They are determined to prove that East and West can indeed meet.

More than that, they are determined to tug them together.

For example, a new book by Christian thinker John Shelby Spong — “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” (HarperOne, $26.99) — sees Jesus as a model, not unlike Buddha, for wholeness and higher consciousness. For Spong, Jesus came to show us the way to “oneness.” He is a guide for becoming fully human.

Meanwhile, a Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, has been writing books such as “Living Buddha, Living Christ” (Riverhead, $20) that beckon America’s freshly minted generation of spiritual vagabonds and nomads.

Those young wanderers are also the target of a recent cover story in Shambhala Sun, a Buddhist magazine. The publication asks: “Spiritual but not religious? 10 Ways Buddhism will enrich your path.”

In short, Buddha is coming West and Jesus is heading East.

As readers of the Deseret News Faith section, I suspect this melding of religions strikes you in various ways.

Some of you, I’m sure, feel encouraged by it. Some likely see the mixing of East and West as a contamination of both. Others will see lost souls stumbling through the mists of darkness.

Personally, I have to say, I’m optimistic about it. Any discussion of spirituality in 2013 is a plus.

Besides, I think the motives behind the push are good.

The goal of both Christianity and Buddhism is the elimination of suffering — Christianity through redemption and forgiveness, Buddhism through showing that conflict and confrontation are simply illusions of the mind.

Buddhism seeks to find the great sea of consciousness resting at the heart of all human beings.

Christianity seeks a kingdom where lambs and lions serenely lie together.

Can common ground be found?

I say go for it.

Perhaps my attitude is a function of my age, but each year I become more interested in learning and less interested in instructing.

And this new batch of authors out there mining for gold between the worlds of Buddhism and Christianity have a lot to tell us.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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