Reviews: Becoming Enlightened and Jesus & Buddha: Parallel Sayings



Becoming Enlightened

Becoming Enlightened is a practical introduction to and handbook for anyone wanting an understanding of the practices and beliefs of Buddhism.

The information in the book is presented in prose, and twice again in "contemplations" or abbreviated lists itemizing the information. The first of these lists appears in the chapter initially presenting the information, and then all the contemplations are repeated again in a single chapter at the end of the book for quick reference.

Buddhist practices emphasize selflessness, altruism, kindness, tolerance, and compassion. Topics regarding karma, death and reincarnation, the impermanence of life, being a positive force for change, and developing wisdom are discussed.

Speaking of Buddha, the Dalai Lama states,
    People the world over, regardless of whether they are Buddhist or not, are aware that there was someone called Gautama Buddha, praised for his profound and unique presentation on the nature of persons and objects and for his related teaching of the altruistic intention to become enlightened, in which others are cherished more than oneself. (page 216)

This accessible and matter-of-fact approach of presenting the steps for advancing toward enlightenment in every area of life is designed to assist the reader with making the practical day-to-day changes. For the non-Buddhist, it is an illuminating look into the philosophical underpinnings and practices of Buddhism.

It was written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D., who was his translator for ten years.

Jesus & Buddha: The Parallel Sayings

Editor Marcus Borg set out to list parallels between Jesus and Buddha's teachings and lives, by demonstrating parallels between their sayings and in the events surrounding their lives. He outlines parallels in numerous areas of their teachings and life stories, such as compassion, wisdom, materialism, inner life, and temptation, to name just a few.
    "The primary purpose of the parallels collected in this volume is not to make a scholarly case for similarity. We would need to include many more, as well as the debate whether and to what degree the dissimilarities count against similarity. Rather, the purpose of this collection is to provide opportunity for reflection and meditation. . . ."

    "And so I invite you to ponder the parallels between these two enlightened teachers of an enlightenment wisdom. The path of which they both speak is a path of liberation from our anxious grasping, resurrection into a new way of being, and transformation into the compassionate life." (Editor's Preface, page 11)

However, we take exception to his conclusions on the basis of three points:
  1. While there are a few points of comparison, many of these may be attributed to being generally accepted truths. However, many of the so-called parallels are weak at best.
  2. The author's assumptions are deeply flawed in that he presents the parallels as though the texts he is quoting from have equal veracity. He fails to note that the New Testament authors were disciples of Jesus and eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, teaching, death and resurrection, while the sayings attributed to Buddha and the writings about Buddha were not put in written form until centuries after he lived, and many of the events attributed to Buddha as miraculous and which appear to be parallel to Jesus' life are known to be myths that developed over the centuries and were not documented facts about his life at all.
  3. Rather than Buddha being an influence on Jesus, the author fails to observe that Solomon may have been an influence on Buddha, since Buddha would have had access to Solomon's writings as a Prince of northern India. This premise is explored in R. E. Sherman's book, Buddha and Jesus: Could Solomon Be the Missing Link?

The editor offers this book as a volume for meditation, but the basic premise is so flawed as to nullify the value of this exercise.
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