Three influential teachers that have helped shaped our world


My life has been strongly impacted by the lives and teachings of three master teachers: Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), Socrates and Jesus. 

One could argue that these three are the most influential teachers of all time. Although none of the three ever yielded political power, traveled far from his homeland, or wrote any books, each played a major role in the development of the beliefs and practices of literally billions of people. Also, each distanced himself from formal religion.

I have always been fascinated by the methods which these three teachers inspired so many people and guided entire cultures. 

Although there are similarities in their respective teaching methods, each stands on its own in unique ways. Basically, each followed a very personal and dialogical approach to the task of sharing their respective insights. 

Siddhartha was raised in the teachings of Hinduism, but after exploring many of its various practices and teachings, he decided that he would have to find his own way to intellectual and spiritual integrity. As the story goes, when his disillusionment reached its peak, he sat meditating under a Bo tree, vowing to stay put until he was “enlightened.” After finally “getting it,” he went around teaching informally throughout the countryside. 

The essence of his teaching is all suffering is caused by undue striving, the key to enlightenment is to rid oneself of striving. We must learn to simply “accept” the world and our personal experience the way it comes to us.

This is done by developing a life of integrity in which one makes sure to have proper motives, thoughts and actions. A simple, accepting posture toward life is the key to “happiness,” according to Buddha. 

Socrates did not develop a formal “lesson” in the way that Siddhartha did. Rather, he was committed to the value of asking questions about everything and everyone. This is summed up best perhaps in his famous dictum: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” 

He claimed that the oracle at Delphi had said he was the wisest man in the world, and Socrates knew that this only meant he was the only one who admitted up front that he did not know the answers to life’s big questions. 

Socrates’ disciple Plato wrote a lot of books using Socrates as the “mouthpiece” for his own theories. In “The Republic,” Socrates is asked if all his theories are true, and he replies, “I do not know. I do know that if we keep asking questions we shall be wiser and better people.” 

Eventually, he was tried and put to death for teaching “false religion and corrupting young people.” As he predicted, we all remember his statement “wickedness runs faster than death.”

Jesus, like both Siddhartha and Socrates, was a simple itinerate teacher. He founded no school, no religious sect, wrote nothing, was ostracized by the Jewish authorities, and finally crucified by the Romans. He taught people to “love their enemies,” trust only in God and live simply. After reaching adulthood, he spent about three years walking around in Palestine, teaching those who would listen. He also healed a good number of sick people.

The most authentic record we have of Jesus’ teachings is found in “The Gospel of Q.” 

This source is named “Q” by New Testament scholars after the German term for source, Quelle. 

Although no such document has been found, it can easily be reconstructed by assembling the passages where the Gospels of Luke and Matthew agree without containing any of the Gospel of Mark. It is believed that both Mark and Q were used by the authors of both Luke and Matthew. 

Q has been reconstructed by Professor Marcus Borg in “The Lost Gospel Q” and represents the closest thing we have to the authentic teachings of Jesus. The other universally recognized body of teachings of Jesus is what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew chapters five through seven. These are admitted by all to be very radical teachings that turn nearly all traditional values upside down. Love of God and other people, even “sinners” and “evildoers,” is seen to be Jesus’ main concern.

These three “Master Teachers,” perhaps the most influential teachers of all time, seem to be working from the same page. Personal integrity, the search for truth, and the love of others were their basic values. Perhaps most of all, they each embodied a kind of humility rarely encountered in the world today.      

Jerry H. Gill is a philosophy instructor at Pima Community College.