In 2013, I visited Cambodia. The predominance of Buddhism in the country was apparent to me as an American. Instead of churches and crosses, there were orange-robed monks and Buddha statues sprinkled throughout the city.
I stayed at a little bed and breakfast, where I enjoyed baguettes and jelly, a bowl of tropical fruits, and Cambodian coffee every morning.
On several occasions, a young girl came by selling trinkets. Several times, I politely refused to buy any trinkets. I had been forewarned by my friend children were often used by their parents to get money from tourists to support drug addictions.
Not wanting to fuel a negative pattern, but wanting to show the girl love, one day I offered to give her one of my necklaces. I held up three necklaces to her and let her choose her favorite.
My gesture opened the girl up to conversation. She said, “Most people [foreigners] are mean, like you were, but now you are nice.”
Curious, I encouraged the girl to continue. She must have had a lot of experience with foreigners. From my dialogue with her, I gathered that she must have regularly attended some charitable organization run by Christian missionaries. In the midst of her comments, she stated, “They talk about Jesus, but I think Buddha is a better god than Jesus. Everyone liked Buddha. But not Jesus.”
The girl’s perspective was so foreign to me that I had nothing to say in response. I did not know much about Buddhism in general, and her assessment left me curious to ponder further the topic of how Buddha and Jesus compare.
When I arrived back in the US, one of the first wall posters I saw exiting the airplane was a collage of images, including Jesus and a cross, with the words, “Welcome to the United States!” I felt relief coming home to a country where Christianity is the predominant religion. But why? Did this relief reveal my cultural and religious bias?
I was determined to get to the roots of the battling viewpoints I heard argued in my country. Are Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, and other key religious figures throughout history representations of the divine? Did Buddha and Jesus teach essentially the same thing? Are all spiritual paths leading to the same destination? Are Buddha and Jesus ascended masters, further along on the path of enlightenment, providing models for humans to follow?
Since 2013, it has been my mission to investigate these questions. I have talked with religious leaders, scholars, philosophers, and practitioners; I have read guide books, sacred texts, scholarly articles, internet forums, blogs, and sociological studies; I have listened to testimonies, scoured through spiritual mentoring videos, explored ideologies, and practiced various techniques and disciplines.
Finally, after several years of open-minded investigation, I have gathered enough evidence and experience that I feel I can share what I’ve learned with you. After the turn of the new year in 2018, I feel that I have finally gotten down to the roots.
In the weeks and months that follow, I will release the observations I’ve made, the insights I’ve had, the questions I’ve struggled through, and the experiences that make these investigations come to life.
I will start with the cluster of topics surrounding Buddha and Jesus: who are they, what do they teach, and what do they represent? We’ll see where things go from there.