Text: Matthew 4:1-11
The similarities in the lives of Jesus and Buddha are as compelling as the parallels in their thought and in their faith journeys. In each of their traditions they are tempted by the devil while fasting during a lengthy retreat near a river. The devil challenges each of them to use his supernatural powers for worldly ends. Each refuses. Listen to these parallel narratives from the life of Jesus and Buddha.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 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 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 God.’”
Then Mara the evil one drew near to him, and said: “Let the Exalted One exercise governance, let the Blessed One rule.” “Now what, O evil one, do you have in view, that you speak this way to me?” “If the Exalted One 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?” Then Mara the evil one thought: “The Exalted One knows me! The Blessed One knows me!” And sad and sorrowful he vanished then and there.SAMYUTTA NIKAYA 4.2.10
As we can hear in these narratives, it is not only that Jesus and the Buddha are alike, the devils, too, are alike. They are lords of death who control earthly domains and attempt to lure everyone into their way of being and thinking. After defeating the devil, Jesus and Buddha have similar responses. Both give up their seclusion and defy social convention by teaching among people who struggle with the world’s temptations. Buddha dines in the house of a courtesan, angering the nobleman of the city, and Jesus is attacked for eating with sinners and whores.