The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Friday 15 September 2023

Lotus and the Cross - Overlaps

There are estimated to be well over 4,000 religions, faith groups, and denominations in the world. Can they all be right, correct, and/or true? Similarly, can they all be wrong, incorrect, and/or untrue?

If you were inclined to test these two questions, by “trying out” each of the religions then, if you lived to be in your 70s say, you would need to check out more than one a week. As that is not possible, then how do you and I decide which religion to choose, including the option of no religion?

Such decision making would suggest that the religion we opt for is less a matter of pure choice, and more one of: the religion we are born into, our cultural heritage, the environment, our upbringing and education, the period in history into which we are born, our country of birth, and our friendships, inter alia.

And that in turn makes it unwise and unhelpful to claim that the religion I adhere to is the only correct one.

However, the fact that well over 80% of the world’s people belong to one or another of these 4,000 suggests that some sort of spirituality is core to the human condition. Furthermore, a large section of the 16% or so of the world’s population who are unaffiliated to any religion are not necessarily non-spiritual.

If there is a spiritual element to the human condition, and if religion is one way of expressing that, then there are likely to be similarities and overlaps in the beliefs and values of these religions.

That being the case, it would be helpful to seek out and acknowledge these similarities and overlaps. With so much polarisation, discord, and distrust in the world, discovering the common humanity in our religious beliefs must surely be healing.

I recently read The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha by Ravi Zacharias. I was highly disappointed, as, far from attempting to seek such healing and the overlaps between Christianity and Buddhism, this book was a blatant and baseless attack upon Buddhism. Early in the book, Zacharias asserts that ‘Jesus and the Buddha cannot both be right’ (see my introduction above) and that they are ‘diametrically opposed beliefs.’ Thus, Zacharias has immediately set up antagonism where harmony and shared humanity could have been explored.

Hence, what follows is an attempt by this author to make amends and to offer some overlaps between Buddhism and Christianity.1

Sowing Karma

If someone has heard anything of Buddhism, then one of the likely concepts they will have heard of is karma. This is the idea that one’s present is shaped by one’s past. Some have referred to this as “fate,” although that is an extremely limited understanding of karma.

The concept of karma predates Buddhism and was well known in India at the time of Buddha’s birth. Buddha elaborated upon the concept. Literally translated, the term means action, and recognises that our actions support or undermine our habits, thoughts, and behaviours and thus point to what habits, thoughts, and behaviours we will display in the future.

This concept is remarkably similar to the advice Paul makes to the Galatians when he notes that ‘Whatever a man (sic) soweth, that shall he also reap.’ Here, Paul is unquestionably suggesting that the habits, thoughts, and behaviours we embody today will become the habits, thoughts, and behaviours we experience in the future. Paul was reiterating the writer of the Old Testament Book of Job who noted that ‘they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.’ Thus, the concept is well publicised within the Bible and Christianity.

The two – karma and sowing/reaping – are similar.

Greed and Desire

Zacharias claims that Buddha ‘unshackled (people) from desire’ implying that there was nothing inherently problematic with desire.

Indeed not, and this assertion is a gross misunderstanding of the Buddha’s teachings on desire. Buddha did not advise against desire, but did note that craving for desire is harmful. Buddhism does not reject nor deny desire but does recognise healthy and unhealthy desire. The Pali word Tanha is used to describe the unhealthy aspect of desire and means to desire more than is attained.

Effectively, this could be summarised by the word greed.

Greed is warned against within Christianity, with the writer of the Gospel of Luke proclaiming, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.’

There is much overlap between the Buddhist notion of Tanha and the Christian notion of Greed.

Personification of Evil

One of the well-known stories about Jesus is that of his being tempted by the Devil during his solitary 40 days and 40 nights in the Judaean Desert. Jesus resists each temptation, and the Devil departs, enabling Jesus to begin his evangelism.

Similarly, Buddha meditated for seven weeks beneath a Bodhi tree and during that time was tempted on numerous occasions by Mara, a similar (but not synonymous) personification of Evil as that of the Devil.

Like Jesus did with the Devil, Buddha resisted Mara, and famously responded to Mara’s challenging of Buddha’s right to resist and to sit calmly amidst temptation, by simply touching the Earth with his right hand. At this, as with the Devil in Jesus’ case, Mara vanished.

Both Buddhism and Christianity have a personification of Evil that can be resisted.

A Dissimilarity

The above three examples show clear cases of overlap between the thought (theology?) of Christianity and Buddhism. There is one area of dissimilarity that should be mentioned. Sadly, it is an area of dissimilarity that Zacharias fails to recognise which leads him into a dubious argument between his characters of Jesus and Buddha.

Zacharias has Buddha claiming that ‘I was concerned with one fundamental matter – Truth.’

This was not Buddha’s primary concern, and there is no evidence for him claiming this. Buddha was primarily concerned with the existence of suffering, and how suffering2 could be dealt with. Indeed, the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths are all about the existence of suffering, its causes, that there is a remedy, and what makes up that remedy.

However, this dissimilarity does not invalidate the contention that there are a number of overlaps between Christian thought and Buddhist thought.

If we are to obtain harmony and cooperation in the world, then we should be acknowledging and celebrating these overlaps, not seeking to find areas of disagreement or dispute.


1. The writer of this blog is familiar with both Christianity and Buddhism. I was brought up within the Presbyterian and Anglican church systems and in my late teens and early 20s was a member of a fundamental Christian church. At that time I attended a Bible School for approximately two years. Whilst at University I was exposed to Zen Buddhist thought. Since the early 1990s I have studied Buddhist thought and practice, as well as maintaining a regular meditation practice. As well as these two religious groundings I have a good understanding of atheist concepts also, often referring to myself as an atheist from my late 20s onwards. 

2. Suffering is an insufficient, and poor, translation of the original Pali word, dukkha. The Pali term dukkha might more fully be translated as: unease, discomfort, pain, unhappiness, as well as suffering. Hence, dukkha has a much wider meaning than does our modern understanding of suffering.

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