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For the first time, I saw a church message board that actually made me want to visit the church. The words were, “Jesus and Buddha, parallel paths.”

I thought to myself, “That’s ballzy…”

Not that I disagree…Jesus and the Buddha have some very similar values and the practices of the two traditions are highly compatible. Both traditions value compassion toward others. Both place a strong emphasis on the inner life of the mind and heart and cultivating healthy and uplifting thoughts. These two traditions both emphasize self-awareness and self-control, these ideas bound up in terms like “mindfulness” and “Self-control.”

I’m very curious about what this church meant by “parallel.” If they mean “Similar in many respects, but different in some important areas” I’d agree. If they meant, “Essentially the same thing,” I’d say they were inaccurate.

The taos of Jesus and the Buddha are not completely parallel because their premises have some significant differences. One of the biggest is that the Buddhist tradition doesn’t identify a central God-figure. Buddhism is actually very similar to humanism in the way the tradition looks inward to the human soul for the majority of wisdom and guidance needed. The Jesus tradition, of course, looks to God and the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance and there is indeed a central God-figure.

For my own spiritual practice, I will always pray to Jesus. As I pray those prayers though, I will probably be focusing on the beautiful gift of a single breath, mindful breathing being one of the most celebrated Buddhist practices. I find that I have much to learn from both traditions about how to live well and I’m thankful to God for putting on flesh in the person of Jesus and for sending other great teachers like the Buddha to walk among us.

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