I recently traveled to Southeast Asia and learned much more about Buddhism from Buddhists than I ever have in books or on the internet. I was struck by how similar the figures of Christ and Buddha are, and felt strongly that these two titles are referring to the same person. Specifically, the teachings of Theravada Buddhism caught my attention and resonated with my beliefs as an LDS Church member. Buddha was born to a virgin mother by the name of Maya. A holiday that corresponds with the lunar calendar marks the day for Buddhists as the day Lord Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died. (All three of these significant events are said to have fallen on the same date.) In my mind, this experience of enlightenment corresponds with the experience of fulfilling the atonement. Buddha was of course a great teacher and had many disciples. It is also so interesting how many parables are taught using things found growing in these Asian countries, such as rice and lotus flowers. Theravadin Buddhists also expect Buddha to come back to the earth one day. September 22nd marks the celebration of “Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day”. Buddha is currently visiting His Mother in heaven.
While I was in Thailand a man explained to me how Buddha is portrayed slightly different in each Asian country, mostly to show Him as resembling the people in that country. Buddha in Thailand and Cambodia, for example, is never shown as a chubby figure, but as thin and with curly hair. The Buddha shown with the big belly often in China, he explained, is as such because He consumes the pains and sorrows of the world and holds them there. The phrase “bowels of mercy” came to my mind.
My point in writing this post is that when it comes to other religions around the world, we are often looking at the same thing just from different angles, and calling the same Beings by different names and titles. I’m grateful to have and know so much truth as an LDS person, but also recognize that there are many things to learn from other cultures and their perspectives of Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, and Jesus Christ. A Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that “When you are a truly happy Christian, you are also a Buddhist. And vice versa.”
Barbara is an LDS woman who is single in her 30s, and she detests the made up term “midsingle.” She is a hair color and texture specialist in the Chicago area who loves to study history and psychology.