Forgiveness: Jesus vs. Buddha

JesusAndBuddhaArt by Elizabeth Paxson

I’ve written about forgiveness once before wherein I took a very obviously Buddhist perspective on the subject. In that article, there is a delightful story of the Buddha’s take on forgiveness, which I will briefly recount, though I urge you to take a look at the full anecdote.  

Now, the title is a tad misleading (but compelling, no?). Understand, it is not my aim to put these two wisest of teachers at odds. On the contrary, I seek to make a sound comparison between the two. Whether or not I succeed will be entirely up to you.

If you’re a frequent reader, you’ll know that I have a very Buddhist/Agnostic view of the universe, but for those of you who do not know me, it may surprise you to learn that I was raised Catholic. And while I’m no longer a strict practitioner, Jesus’ teachings are never far from my mind. In fact, I submit that they very much coincide with the Buddha-dharma.

Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).

Christ implores us to forgive our enemies. He illuminates the notion that to hold anything against anyone is ultimately to hold it against yourself (by barring God’s forgiveness). It transforms the act of forgiveness into a very introspective event. We do not forgive one another so that we may rise above one another. We forgive because we realize that we have the capacity to choose. We have the choice to accept. For what is forgiveness, but acceptance?

Furthermore, Jesus stated that the kingdom of God is within each of us. If that is the case, then God resides inside as well. Therefore, when we forgive others, we (or God within) forgive ourselves. I said this in the aforementioned article and I say it again because it is paramount: a refusal to forgive someone else is a refusal to forgive oneself, or to reconcile oneself in the moment. It is an unwillingness to accept what is.

So where does Buddha fit in? Oh, there is no fitting involved. He’s already there. At the core, the teaching is the same: Do not resist. Accept. How do we accept in Buddhism? By cultivating the god within through practice (meditation). When we have realized the eternal present, we are fully conscious and in communion with God. Then, we can forgive others, and thereby forgive (accept) ourselves.

For instance, when a man spit in the Buddha’s face, he said, “What next?” No anger, no sarcasm; simple presence and curiosity. In fact, the Buddha gently scolded his disciples who wanted to exact revenge. He explained to them that the man who spit was unconscious with anger. He knew not what he did.

So too, when Jesus was dying on the cross he said, “Forgive them, father. They know not what they do.” He quells the anger that God (that truest most inner self) might feel about his murder. For him to be angry would have been to fall into the same lack of awareness to which his executors were victims. He realized he did not need to partake of the unconsciousness that surrounded him. He embraced the moment through intense presence, and forgave thereby liberating himself.

Jesus and Buddha were both fully conscious beings. Forgiveness was at the heart of both of their teachings. The context may have been different, but the message is the same. Cultivate awareness, and what follows is compassion, friendship, love, and inevitably forgiveness.

When we are in that state of eternal being, we have already forgiven a thousand times over. We understand that those who would do us wrong have not discovered the joy of being. As such, we must extend lovingkindness, compassion, and forgiveness to them.

May you hold your suffering with tenderness and care.

By Terence Stone

For further reading on forgiveness, take a look at Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go by Adam Hamilton. It is a simple, practical, and illustrated read that deals with this intense subject in an unassumingly profound way.

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Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained (and training) actor and singer living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.

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  • http://bloggingisaresponsibility.wordpress.com bloggingisaresponsibility

    As always, great article.

    I especially like this section: “We do not forgive one another so that we may rise above one another. We forgive because we realize that we have the capacity to choose. We have the choice to accept. For what is forgiveness, but acceptance?”

    This both sums up the problem with traditional views of forgiveness and of what forgiveness really consists.

    Then this line: “For instance, when a man spit in the Buddha’s face, he said, “What next?” No anger, no sarcasm; simple presence and curiosity.”

    Great way of putting things.

    The only issue I have is with The Buddha explaining the guy’s anger. On the one hand, having these explanations can be good for detaching from things which trouble us. On the other hand, they can turn into a subtle way of not accepting by forcing an interpretive framework on experience. I don’t have a problem with the latter — it’s certainly better than the way many live their lives, and this may be the mechanism by which the spiritual path works. However, full acceptance would seem to require a raw acceptance of what is, without comforting interpretations. It also includes not knowing what caused the troublesome situation. Maybe the guy was blinded by anger, maybe he didn’t mean to do that, but maybe he did it with full malice, maybe it was personal. Can we accept in all those situations, including the not knowing which of these situations holds?

    • http://urbanspiritual.org/ Terence Stone

      As always, thanks for reading. You make a good point, and I think that’s what my article ultimately calls for: To stay present, and forgiving in the face of any situation.

  • http://paarsurrey.wordpress.com/ paarsurrey

    Paarsurrey says:

    Referring to your words “So where does Buddha fit in? Oh, there is no fitting involved. He’s already there. At the core, the teaching is the same: Do not resist. Accept. How do we accept in Buddhism? By cultivating the god within through practice (meditation). When we have realized the eternal present, we are fully conscious and in communion with God.”

    Do you think that Buddha believed in the one true God?

    • http://urbanspiritual.org/ Terence Stone

      Yes and no. The Buddha would never have referred to one God. In fact the Buddha rarely spoke of God or gods at all. But what he was urging his followers to cultivate and realize was (I believe) that same God. It is really a question of semantics and context. The religious traditions were different in the parts of the world where Jesus and Buddha lived, and so the terms and concepts they used to reach their followers were different, but I think the core of their messages were the same.

      Now, that of course is my opinion. There are many people who have argued and will argue with me until the sun comes up. That is fine. I always listen and encourage thought and healthy debate.

      • http://paarsurrey.wordpress.com/ paarsurrey

        Will you permit me to publicise your opinion on my blog? in fact I also believe that Buddha believed in one true God; Buddha’s ways are that of a believer in God; his ways don not match with the Atheists.

        • http://urbanspiritual.org/ Terence Stone

          No he certainly wasn’t an atheist. Agnostic is perhaps more appropriate. Yes, you may use my opinion on your blog if you don’t minding linking back here! thanks for your input.

      • T’hubten

        “In fact the Buddha rarely spoke of God or gods at all.”

        This is incorrect. The Buddha spoke of gods (devas), even ones resembling the all-powerful god depicted in Abrahamic religions. Buddhism doesn’t deny the existence of gods or the existence of the Christian God; if there is a Christian God, they are not really all-powerful and are as impermanent as any other sentient being in Samsara. There are even sutras in which the Buddha speaks with Brahma, the Hindu god of creation.

        “But what he was urging his followers to cultivate and realize was (I believe) that same God.”

        This is also gravely incorrect. It’s your opinion, yes, but that is not what every cannon and monastic Sangha say.

        • http://urbanspiritual.org/ Terence Stone

          Thank you for your input. I appreciate it, and I apologize if you were offended in any way.

          Just to be clear, I never claimed to be a Buddhist. I also made it very clear that these are my opinons, my philosophical and spiritual meanderings. How can an opinion be incorrect? And what is wrong or right, really? Just subjective concepts.

          My overall message is one of cultivating presence. I have studied and continue to study many religions to aid in my journey. I do not subscribe to just one, nor do I ask that of my readers.

          Wishing you the best.

          • T’hubten

            Not offended at all! When I see incorrect statements about the Dharma on the internet, I feel like I must say something. Having an opinion is fine, but making statements like the Buddha rarely spoke of gods, Buddha urging his followers to cultivate and realize God, and your statement in the other comment regarding the Buddha being agnostic is simply incorrect. It is akin to saying, “Jesus never really died for our sins, he was really urging his followers to realize Buddha-nature.” (As for your other comment about thinking the core message is this same, while I disagree with you, I think is a valid opinion, and know many people, Buddhists included, that share it.).

            Let me be clear: I am all for people adopting Buddhist thought and philosophy into their own lives and whatever religions tradition(s) they follow, what I do have a problem with is making statements of what they think the Buddha was and what Buddhism is. I hope you understand where I’m coming from.

            You should check out http://www.accesstoinsight.com It has the majority of the Pali Cannon and plenty of commentaries. It’s an invaluable resource to anyone genuinely interested in the Buddhadharma.

          • T’hubten

            Edit:

            Let me be clear: I am all for people adopting Buddhist thought and philosophy into their own lives and whatever religions tradition(s) they follow, what I do have a problem with is making [incorrect] statements of what they think the Buddha was and what Buddhism is. I hope you understand where I’m coming from.

          • http://urbanspiritual.org/ Terence Stone

            I do understand, certainly! Perhaps I need a refresher, but I have read the majority of the Pali Canon and deities are not mentioned very frequently. The Buddha himself speaks about the gods and devas as higher beings still caught in the samsaric cycle. I was perhaps hasty in stating that he rarely mentions them. What I should have said is that he rarely mentions God or gods as supreme, all-knowing beings. Finally, While I do speak with authority, my opinions and beliefs are my own. I do not mean to say this is what Buddhism IS. I mean to say, this is what I have gleaned from the teachings and how I choose to apply it to my life. If others align with that, fantastic. If not, fantastic.

  • http://www.sexychallenges.com Janelle Alex, Ph.D.

    Nice job :) I don’t think in any way that you pitted one against the other. Isn’t it really about what resonates most deeply with each of us and about loving others without living in fear of being punished? I consider myself a Wiccan Buddhist. Ha ha ha….good luck trying to blend those two :) But, for me I have been able to pretty do just that. Walked away from Christianity years ago.

    Honoring you with a low bow,

    • http://urbanspiritual.org/ Terence Stone

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more. We all must find what works for us at the end of the day.

      returning your bow. namaste.

  • Pingback: Forgiveness is Not a Pardon | Roots to Blossom()

  • http://lovelightlearn.wordpress.com nattietee

    I respect the teachings of both Jesus and Buddha. But trying to discern what either of their motives were such a long time ago, from this point in consciousness is impossible. What matters is now which I believe was part of Terence’s original point. If it matters so much to one to know, then you may cultivate your consciousness until the secrets of the universe unfold to you as they did for these two masters. It may take lifetimes but I honestly believe that by the time you get there you will have found that the original curiosity is pointless. Much love.

    • http://urbanspiritual.org/ Terence Stone

      Thanks for reading and for your input! Yes it is impossible to know, but the ultimate point is that they were fully conscious and urged their followers to achieve the same.

      • http://lovelightlearn.wordpress.com nattietee

        That is very true. I have also observed many similarities in this and other religions. My belief is that they were all onto the same thing. ;D