Q. Is there a Jewish view of Buddhism?
A. Judaism and Buddhism have had very little contact. Nonetheless a comparison of their respective philosophies is instructive as each is a serious, noble system of thought which approaches life from a distinctive viewpoint of its own.
Buddha taught that all life was suffering: “Birth is suffering, Age is suffering, Death is suffering, all desire is suffering”. Suffering can, however, be negated by following the eight paths. There are three main roads, righteousness, meditation and Buddhist wisdom.
Judaism, for its part, does not deny that human beings experience pain and suffering but is an optimistic faith that accentuates the positive, celebrates life and aspires towards the joy of messianic fulfilment. It neither deifies nor denies desire but seeks to direct and discipline it. In contrast to the quietness and passivity of Buddhism, it is an activist, dynamic faith that believes that social justice is both necessary and practicable.
In a significant passage in his Essence of Judaism (3:60-61), Leo Baeck writes: “There are but two fundamental and determining forms of religion, that of Israel and that of Buddha… The one is the expression of the command to work and create, the other of the need to rest… Judaism seeks to reconcile the world with God, while Buddhism tries to escape from the world.”
It goes without saying that Judaism highly respects Buddhist spirituality but regards as erroneous the lack of a God in some Buddhist teachings and the polygamy in others.