The Book of Ecclesiastes is unique. This suggests that Qohelet's thought is
not, as some scholars have maintained, dependent on other thinkers of his time.
Qohelet interacts with and challenges wisdom tradition and other contemporary beliefs.
His theology is not limited to Israelite religion. His concern is universal and not
confined to the people of Israel. Although Qohelet does not interact directly with the
teachings of the Buddha, this thesis argues that the theological content of Ecclesiastes
can be profitably studied in comparison with Buddhism. Though the Buddha and
Qohelet are separated from each other by time, geography and culture, they share a
common focus on human suffering-dukkha in Pali, hebel in Hebrew. The Buddha
maintains that desire is the primary cause of human suffering; Qohelet sees it as
deriving from various causes, including human limitations, and the unpredictability of
The Buddha looks for a way to end human suffering, recognising that if human
beings continue to be reborn in the world, they will continue to suffer. He then
suggests that human beings should break the cycle of rebirth (kamma) and seek
nibbana or the state of emptiness. This state can be reached through strenuous
meditation. Qohelet, on the other hand, believes that God has created this world with a
definite plan; however, humans lack the capacity to understand the present events of the
world and are unable to predict the future. Qohelet advises human beings to enjoy life
on a day-to-day basis, rather than hope for a better future. While admitting that there
are many unpleasant things in this world, Qohelet still loves living in it. He is much
more in and of this world than is the Buddha. Seeing that the pleasant things in this
world are transitory (anicca) and illusory, the Buddha decided to leave the world
behind. Qohelet is the world lover. The Buddha is the world leaver.
This thesis has three main parts. Part one discusses the nature of the Book of
Ecclesiastes in detail. Beginning with a general review of scholarly opinion on the
book, the discussion continues with the status of its author, its audiences, its style and
language, its structure and purposes. Though these discussions are not used in the
comparison, they are important for understanding Qohelet's thought. Two chapters
which are essential for the later comparison include a discussion of the key words of
the book and its main teachings. Part two provides the history of Theravada Buddhism
in Thailand and discusses the main concepts of Buddhism, including kamma, anicca,
dukkha, anattd, meditation, arahant and nibbana. Part three compares the two
traditions. A detailed comparison is undertaken in the following areas: Qohelet's
understanding of God and the Law of Kamma, the theological implication of Hebel
and Dukkha, Observation and Meditation as ways of encountering the world, the Sages
and Arahants as interpreters, Work and Merit-making as human activities, and Joy and
Nibbana as responses to what humankind has been given.
This thesis aims to help Thai Christians to find some common ground for
dialogue with Thai Buddhists and to open up the much-neglected area of Jewish-Buddhist dialogue.