Buddhist and Christian scholars in the past often said that the Buddha rejected the notion of God or “the sacred.” But more recent scholarship suggests that what the Buddha rejected was the god of supernatural theism—that is, God as a personlike, supernatural being separate from the universe. But there is another notion of God, namely, the sacred as the unborn, uncreated, undifferentiated formless source of all that is, present right here as well as more than right here. This way of thinking about God is found in both Christianity and Judaism, as well as Asian religions. In this sense, one may speak of the sacred as central to the Buddha.


This difference may reflect their different social classes: The Buddha was born into a wealthy ruling class, Jesus into an oppressed peasant class. As my colleague John Dominic Crossan has remarked, a passion for justice most commonly comes from the experience of injustice. A second factor is that Jesus stood in the tradition of Moses and the social prophets of Israel, all of them God-intoxicated voices of religious social protest.


John 14:6 also affirms that Jesus is “the truth and the life.” According to John, Jesus is the incarnation of all of these (and more).


This is one of the four cross-cultural characteristics of mystical experience, according to William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience (first published in 1902 and available in several editions), lecture 16.