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Terry C. Muck

Jesus Through Buddhist Eyes

Meet the bodhisattva from Nazareth

Who do you say I am?" Jesus asked his Jewish disciples. Peter responded with a Jewish answer: "You are the Messiah" (Matt. 16:15-16).

Christians over the centuries have continued to ask Jesus' question. As Jaroslav Pelikan shows us in Jesus Through the Centuries, we have continued to add richness and breadth and depth to the disciples' first answer: the Messiah Jesus is the Son of God, the Good Shepherd, the Lord of the Harvest, the Liberator.

Some modern Jewish scholars, who reject their brother Peter's assessment of Jesus as Messiah, have nevertheless seen Jesus as an important religious and historical figure: Jesus as everyday Jew, Jesus as rabbinical teacher. Muslim scholars see in Jesus a great prophet of Allah and accord him religious respect as a fundamental tenet of their religious tradition.

Given the plurality of religions in the United States today, it is perhaps inevitable that other religions, even those not historically connected to Christianity, would recognize the pivotal nature of Jesus of Nazareth for Christian faith and human history and comment on his life and times.

Recently three prominent Buddhists have written books assessing Jesus from a Buddhist point of view. These three books help us begin to articulate a complex and not always consistent answer to the question "Who do Buddhists think Jesus was?"


Arguably, the most famous Buddhist in the world is the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. In some ways it is both misleading and un-Buddhist that one man represent the world Buddhist community. Buddhism is much less hierarchically structured than Christianity, and one of its principle teachings, anatta or no-self, discourages individualism. Further, Tibetan Buddhism represents only one aspect of the world Buddhist community, and a smallish one at that.

In other ways the Dalai Lama's notoriety is understandable.

He represents an oppressed people—the Dalai Lama himself is in exile in India, driven out by the ...

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