Was Jesus a Buddhist?

Of course not!
There are some who speculate that Jesus was influenced directly by Buddhist thought, either through the work of Buddhists traveling west to spread the word or through Jesus traveling east in the missing years of his twenties. I don’t think there is evidence to support either of these claims. Having said that I would also say that my more recent engagement with Buddhist thought has brought “mindfulness” to my attention (pun intended), and I can’t help but think that Jesus exhibits mindfulness to a remarkable degree.

What is mindfulness? Sylvia Boorstein, in her book It’s Easier Than You Think writes that mindfulness is “the aware, balanced acceptance of present experience” (60). Daniel Goleman expands on that a bit. In the most recent issue of Greater Good he writes that it is “a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s internal state and external environment” (11). It has to do with paying attention, calming oneself and being attuned to the feelings of others. Thich Nhat Hanh writes: Right Mindfulness is the energy that brings us back to the present moment. To cultivate mindfulness in ourselves is to cultivate the Buddha within, to cultivate the Holy Spirit. (The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching, 64) Daniel Goleman’s spouse, Tara Bennett-Goleman offers the most expansive notion of mindfulness in her book Emotional Alchemy. Mindfulness entails “harmony and simplicity, a mind alert but at rest, clear attention to the moment” (26). She goes on to write: Just as quieting our tumultuous thoughts offers one such tool for sorting out the jumble in our mind, other qualities of mindfulness provide powerful means for exploring our emotional lives. Among them are spacious clarity, calmness and equanimity, freedom from self-judgment, confidence and courage, intuition and trust, freshness and flexibility. Perhaps most important for emotional alchemy is a sustained investigative awareness, the ability to inquire with openness into an emotion until its meaning is revealed (29).

When reading many New Testament stories through the lens of some traditional Christological categories, one often assumes that Jesus knows things because of his divine nature. At least that is how I often read such stories. Then I got to thinking – however Jesus was divine, he was fully human and his prescience can be attributed to awareness, sensitivity, openness – in short, to mindfulness. “But Jesus, aware of their malice…” (Matthew 22:18) – the question about paying taxes. In the story of the paralytic man healed by Jesus, Jesus first offers forgiveness. Yes, the story really is more about Jesus having the authority to forgive, but might it also be about Jesus mindfully discerning that what this person needed as much as anything was forgiveness? Perhaps my favorite example is the story of the woman who touches Jesus in the crowd. In Luke’s telling (Luke 8:42-48), Jesus is in the midst of a crowd, and is responding to one man’s plea for help when a woman touches him. He knows it, but the disciples don’t understand his degree of mindfulness. He senses that he is being touched and senses the deep need of the one who touched him.

In Jesus we encounter a person of deep mindfulness. To nurture Christlikeness may include nurturing mindfulness. I happen to think it does. I also think we can learn something from the Buddhists about how to do this.

Trying To Create Beauty,