The similarities in the life stories of Jesus and the Buddha are as compelling as the parallels in their thoughts. The resemblances in their birth accounts are especially remarkable: Both were born of chaste women amid blinding light from the heavens. There is even a Buddhist legend that the newborn child was wrapped in swaddling clothes.


When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit…This took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” (Matthew 1:18, 22–23)


When the Bodhisattva had descended into his mother’s womb, no sensual thought arose in her concerning men, and she was inaccessible to any man having a lustful mind. (Majjhima Nikaya 123.10)

Like the wise men who herald Jesus’ coming, Indian sages pay homage to Buddha. Brilliant stars and heavenly lights illuminate the night sky, dazzling the humble men who are led to the newborn babies.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:8–10)

They took the hermit and showed him the newborn prince. He was shining, glowing and beautiful. It was like seeing molten gold in the hands of a master craftsman as he takes it out of the furnace. To see the prince was to see brightness—the brightness of the flames of a fire; the brightness of the constellations crossing the night sky; the brightness and clarity of the autumn sun shining on a cloudless day. It was a sight that filled the hermit with joy, and he experienced great delight. (Sutta-Nipata 686–688)

Only a single story about each man’s adolescence has come down to us; in each the youth appears as a spiritual prodigy.

When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:45–47)

Meanwhile, the King, having noticed that the Bodhisattva was missing, inquired concerning his absence, asking: “Where has the young prince gone? I do not see him anywhere.” So a great crowd of people spread out in all directions to look for the prince. Shortly, one of the King’s advisors caught sight of the Bodhisattva in the shade of the jambu tree, seated with his legs crossed, deep in meditation. (Lalitavistara Sutra 11)

In adulthood, each is tempted by the devil while fasting during a lengthy retreat near a river. When challenged by the devil to use supernatural powers for worldly ends, each refuses.

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:5–8)

Then Mara the evil one drew near to him and said:…“If the Exalted One [Buddha] were to wish the Himalayas, king of the mountains, to be gold, he might determine it to be so, and the mountains would become a mass of gold.” The Exalted One responded: “Were the mountains all of shimmering gold, it would still not be enough for one man’s wants. He that has seen suffering—how should that man succumb to desires?” (Samyutta Nikaya 4.2.10)

After defeating the devil, each defies social convention by teaching among the tax collectors, gamblers and prostitutes—the people who have succumbed to the devil’s wiles.

As he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but the sinners.” (Matthew 9:10–13)

The Bodhisattva made his appearance at the fields of sports and in the casinos, but his aim was always to mature those people who were attached to games and gambling. To train living beings, he would appear at crossroads and on street corners. To demonstrate the evils of desire, he even entered the brothels. To establish drunkards in correct mindfulness, he entered all the taverns. (Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra 2)

The Gospels and the traditional biographies of the Buddha are filled with stories about Jesus’ and the Buddha’s power over nature. For the Buddha miraculous powers resulted from karmic virtue and the perfecting of the mind, whereas for Jesus they were evidence of God’s power working through humans. But the miracles themselves are remarkably similar.

He came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. (Mark 6:48)

Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)

That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. (Matthew 8:16)

He walks upon the water without parting it, as if on solid ground. (Anguttara Nikaya 3.60)

A monk who is skilled in concentration can cut the Himalayas in two. (Anguttara Nikaya 6.24)

The venerable Kassapa was sick and afflicted, stricken with a sore disease. The Buddha spoke to him and Kassapa was delighted. Then and there he rose up from his sickness and abandoned it. (Samyutta Nikaya 46.14)

Both Jesus and the Buddha made harsh demands on their disciples and instructed them to abandon thoughts of family, personal pleasure and security. Jesus and the Buddha spoke in parables to those followers who did not lose faith. Ultimately, each organized his disciples and sent them out into the world to carry his message when he was gone.

Even in death they seem to fulfill mirror-image destinies, as the passing of each is marked by terrible thunder and a great earthquake.

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:50–51)

At the Blessed Lord’s final passing there was a great earthquake, terrible and hair-raising, accompanied by thunder. (Digha Nikaya 16.6.10)