Was Buddha influenced in the development of his spiritual philosophy by the writings of the ancient Jewish ruler King Solomon?

Was Buddha influenced in the development of his spiritual philosophy by the writings of the ancient Jewish ruler King Solomon?

Ashland author R.E. Sherman explores that possibility in his new book "Buddha & Jesus: Could Solomon be the Missing Link?"

A Christian with a deep interest in other faiths, Sherman began researching Buddhism about five years ago and was immediately struck by the many similarities between Buddha's teachings and the writings of King Solomon, which are captured in the biblical books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

King Solomon reigned from 970 to 930 B.C., while Buddha lived centuries later from 563 to 483 B.C., Sherman notes in his book.

Yet both viewed the world as an illusion, stressed the pervasive nature of suffering, warned about the dangers of riches, advocated peace and shared many other views, he said.

"I was struck by the similarities. I spent more than a year investigating the question of whether it was worth writing a book — or if it was just interesting information," Sherman said.

King Solomon and Buddha also had some biographical similarities. King Solomon was a wealthy and wise ruler, while Buddha was a sheltered prince who abandoned his family in search of enlightenment and a new philosophy to counter Hinduism and its onerous caste system.

But Sherman also found historical information that he said shows it's possible that Buddha was exposed to King Solomon's teachings. Trade between India and the Middle East flourished during ancient times.

"One thing that really struck me was what India was like when Buddha was searching. I was astonished to learn how diverse India was. There was not monolithic Hinduism. There was a lot of commerce of ideas and goods from the cultures of the word," Sherman said. "It's likely that would affect anyone seeking to develop a path to truth and happiness."

Intriguingly, he found that a colony of Jewish people settled in India at the time of Buddha's birth after Babylonians conquered Judah. The Jewish immigrants may have taken part in the religious debates of the day and influenced local residents searching for alternatives to Hinduism, Sherman posits.

To help cement the potential connection between King Solomon and Buddha, Sherman devotes several chapters to similarities in their teachings.

Sherman, who in addition to being an author is a consulting actuary who analyzes the financial costs of risk, put his research skills to work for the book, which has 1,000 footnotes.

He also devotes space in the book to the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity — and some of the significant differences.

Sherman notes that many Christians are initially attracted to Buddhism, but eventually find that there are some irreconcilable differences. Christians believe in a single god, while Buddhism doesn't require a supreme being. Christians believe they have a soul and will go to heaven, while Buddhists seek to erase their ego and sense of self in order to attain enlightenment and end the cycle of reincarnation.

Sherman warns that people who embrace the Buddhist practices of detachment and prolonged meditation may become alienated from friends and family, lose interest in their lives and fall into a depression.

On the other hand, Christians, with their belief in a monolithic god and strict set of moral rules, can be intolerant and judgmental, he said.

Practicing meditation in moderation and learning to control one's desires can be useful for people of all faiths or no faith, said Sherman, who was raised as a Christian but then spent seven years as an atheist in his high school and college days before returning to Christianity.

"Rather than thinking you are entitled to happiness, it's about being surprised by moments of joy," he said.

Regardless of whether readers buy his hypothesis that King Solomon's writings may have influenced Buddha, Sherman said learning about other faiths can enrich a person's spiritual life.

"It's deepened my religious experience," he said.

Sherman's book is available in Ashland at Bloomsbury Books, Soundpeace, CD or Not CD and Bookwagon.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.