Monday, December 15, 2008

When Jesus met Buddha

There was a fascinating article in Sunday's Boston Globe about the largely forgotten cross-influences of Buddhism and Christianity on each other along the old Silk Road.


In a widely publicized open letter to Italian politician Marcello Pera, Pope Benedict declared that "an inter-religious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible." By all means, he said, we should hold conversations with other cultures, but not in a way that acknowledges other religions as equally valid. While the Vatican does not of course see the Buddha as a demon, it does fear the prospect of syncretism, the dilution of Christian truth in an unholy mixture with other faiths.

Beyond doubt, this view places Benedict in a strong tradition of Christianity as it has developed in Europe since Roman times. But there is another, ancient tradition, which suggests a very different course. Europe's is not the only version of the Christian faith, nor is it necessarily the oldest heir of the ancient church. For more than 1,000 years, other quite separate branches of the church established thriving communities across Asia, and in their sheer numbers, these churches were comparable to anything Europe could muster at the time. These Christian bodies traced their ancestry back not through Rome, but directly to the original Jesus movement of ancient Palestine. They moved across India, Central Asia, and China, showing no hesitation to share - and learn from - the other great religions of the East....

When Nestorian Christians were pressing across Central Asia during the sixth and seventh centuries, they met the missionaries and saints of an equally confident and expansionist religion: Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhists too wanted to take their saving message to the world, and launched great missions from India's monasteries and temples. In this diverse world, Buddhist and Christian monasteries were likely to stand side by side, as neighbors and even, sometimes, as collaborators. Some historians believe that Nestorian missionaries influenced the religious practices of the Buddhist religion then developing in Tibet. Monks spoke to monks.

In presenting their faith, Christians naturally used the cultural forms that would be familiar to Asians. They told their stories in the forms of sutras, verse patterns already made famous by Buddhist missionaries and teachers. A stunning collection of Jesus Sutras was found in caves at Dunhuang, in northwest China. Some Nestorian writings draw heavily on Buddhist ideas, as they translate prayers and Christian services in ways that would make sense to Asian readers. In some texts, the Christian phrase "angels and archangels and hosts of heaven" is translated into the language of buddhas and devas....

One story in particular suggests an almost shocking degree of collaboration between the faiths. In 782, the Indian Buddhist missionary Prajna arrived in Chang'an, bearing rich treasures of sutras and other scriptures. Unfortunately, these were written in Indian languages. He consulted the local Nestorian bishop, Adam, who had already translated parts of the Bible into Chinese. Together, Buddhist and Christian scholars worked amiably together for some years to translate seven copious volumes of Buddhist wisdom. Probably, Adam did this as much from intellectual curiosity as from ecumenical good will, and we can only guess about the conversations that would have ensued: Do you really care more about relieving suffering than atoning for sin? And your monks meditate like ours do?

These efforts bore fruit far beyond China. Other residents of Chang'an at this very time included Japanese monks, who took these very translations back with them to their homeland. In Japan, these works became the founding texts of the great Buddhist schools of the Middle Ages. All the famous movements of later Japanese history, including Zen, can be traced to one of those ancient schools and, ultimately - incredibly - to the work of a Christian bishop....

Check it out. It's worth the read.


At December 15, 2008 at 10:36:00 AM EST, Blogger Transient and Permanent said...

There is a lot that is dubious about the Buddhist history being presented here. Seems like a case of very thin evidence being blown well out of proportion in order to push an agenda.

At December 16, 2008 at 11:08:00 PM EST, Blogger Anna said...

I guess that different religions did, and do, benefit from each others sources of mystical wisdom, as well as from prehistoric wisdoms, and that each religious doctrine has become a cocktail of wisdoms, expressed through cocktails of rituals that are topped up with highest wisdom.

I think that some enlightened Masters have a more complete vision about Ultimate Reality, or Ultimate Truth, than other wisdom Masters.

I am convinced that religious leaders who expect all the people in the world to believe in a one and only God, create wide spread suffering, rather than harmony and happiness.

To me, being a beginner on the path to attain freedom from delusion, some of the many brilliant Teachings of Buddha and Jesus seem to be radically different.
The buddhist, hindu, and catholic rituals seem quite similar.
Buddhist and christian philosophies teach to love unconditionally all people, and to be compassionate and generous.
Both philosophies teach equality for all.

That Jesus traveled to the East makes sense.
Maybe that is why christianity, outwardly, and I guess esoterically too, has a lot in common with hinduism, and buddhism.

Here follows, not word for word, some of what Levi writes in his Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, about where Jesus went after he had left home, at the age of twelve(?).

Levi writes that:
... Jesus, with consent of his Parents, traveled with a wealthy indian man, who had become his Patron, to the East.
In Orissa Jesus learned the Vedas and the Manic laws.
In Varanasi he became a pupil of Udraka.
Four years he was in the temple of Jagganath.
He repudiates the doctrine of castes.
(Buddha did this too).
Jesus teaches in Bihar.
Thousands of people listen.
From Varanasi he must flee to Nepal.
In the city of Kapilavastu, where the Buddha grew up, Jesus stayed for some time.
The priests of Buddha opened wide their temple doors for him.

Maybe it was here that 'Jesus meets the Buddha'...

Jesus takes exception to the buddhist doctrine of evolution.
Jesus reads the Jewish Psalms and Prophets; the Vedas, the Avesta and the wisdom of Gautama.
Then Jesus is in Lhasa, Tibet.
Meets Meng-Tse.
Goes to Leh in Ladakh.
Is in Lahore.
Travels to Persia and is in Persepolis. Jesus is four-and-twenty years of age when he entered Persia on his homeward way.
He goes to Assyria.
Teaches in Ur of Chaldea...where Abraham was born.
He goes to Babylon.
He arrives in Nazareth.
His Mother is happy and makes a feast for him, inviting all her kindred and friends.

Jesus' brothers are not pleased that such attention should paid to one they deemed a sheer adventurer...they called him indolent, ambitious, vain; a worthless fortune hunter; searcher of the world for fame, who after many years returns to Mother's home with neither gold, nor any wealth.

Little did they know that during his, more or less, twenty years of absence, their brother had studied with various accomplished Masters of highest wisdom, had meditated for days, weeks, and sometimes months on end, had healed very sick people, animals too, and had comforted many people; that he went hungry many times, and more than once had escaped with his life because ignoramuses were set on harming, even killing him...
little did they know that their brother,
through diligent, hard work, had actualized his innate, highest wisdom mind, that their brother had become fully humane, now was an Enlightened One; and that he had returned home to tell his Mother, and as many people as possible that they too could become fully humane, and become great healers of spirit and body of all the people who had lost The Way.

Jesus leaves home again and travels to Greece, to Egypt, all the while studying,
meditating, meeting Sages,
exchanging highest esoteric wisdom.

Levi writes that Jesus said that people cannot become an animal after death.

Yet, the Buddha explains why people, depending on actions in previous lives, and in this life, after death can become, but not forever, a denizen of hell, a hungry ghost, an animal, a human being, a demi-god, or god.
Buddha knows, and explains to those who can hear, the methods with which one can avoid being compulsory, and endlessly, reborn in these six realms of cyclic existence, realms that are fraught with endless frustration, pain, much sorrow, and unavoidable death.

Also, Jesus gives the impression that once we have made it into his Heaven, we can stay there forever.

Yet, the Buddha teaches that, to wish for to remain for ever in any one of the many buddhist heavens, is selfish.
Once in a heaven, one should leave again, and go to dimensions where sentient beings suffer intensely, to help them set themselves free from delusion, delusion being the cause of endless compulsive rebirth in one of the six realms of existence where suffering is King.
Fortunately one can return to ones own, or various other buddhist heavens to take a break!

In The Cult of Tara, a book about a female Buddha, I discovered a quite similar -ritual of transcendence- as is performed during Holy Mass, within the Catholic tradition.

Jesus and Buddha taught equality for all people, and were protectors of defenseless animals.
Neither Buddha (vegetarian out of great compassion), nor Jesus (vegetarian out of great compassion) condoned animal sacrifice.
They advised not to eat meat.
Buddha said to eat meat when based on medical grounds, when one is invited for a meal where meat is served, or when circumstances leave people with no choice.

The few core differences of vision from the Buddha and Jesus on the subjects mentioned here, are for me of importance, but the overall similarity in the vast and priceless wisdom teachings of these two enlightened World Teachers is remarkable, and quite wonderful.

Nevertheless, religions are so complex, and confusing, that people can't make head nor tail of their profound messages.

I am afraid, that as long as only males are allowed to interpret, and explain the mystical teachings of Buddhas and Jesusus, as long as only males run the the Universities, and Countries, and as long as males keep ignoring the facts that both Jesus, and the Buddha, were vegetarians, women will stay second class citizens, and there will always be many unholy, cruel abattoirs, as well as many unholy, devastating wars.

In spite of the existence of profound wisdom, and of various world religions, of human rights declarations, and War Tribunals, since patriarchy took over, nothing has changed for the better.
In fact, everything has become worse.

Besides the millions and millions of human victims of war, there are now billions of cruelly fed, and cold heartedly massacred animals.

But, few women work in abattoirs.
Few women go to war, bless rifles and bombs, and then, with their God on their side, give the green light to start mowing down sacred life: babies, children, Mothers & Fathers, Grand-Parents, whole families, animals, Mother Nature, exquisite world heritage sites; no living being, nothing is spared; or, out of sheer arrogance and hunger for power and money, every morsel of food can be poisoned, as well as the soil, water and air, thus creating untold agony world wide.

Whether an omnipotent God exists or not is not clear, and somehow irrelevant.
Either way doesn't dissolve the man made intense suffering that is taking place world wide on an unprecedented scale.

I believe, that as soon as the majority of people world wide have gained a deep understanding of the workings of the merciless Natural Law of Cause and Effect, they will, at least for their own sake, maybe mainly to avoid causing more suffering to ripen in this, or in their future lives, wish to stop eating meat, and start with, and keep practicing Kindness, Generosity, And Great Compassion For All That Lives And Is, defenseless animals, and Mother Earth, included.

Then the chances become big that the majority of all inherently sacred people that live on this planet, together with the majority of all inherently sacred, living animals, will experience a spiritually rich, and relatively easy life, and death, here on sacred Mother Earth.

At December 17, 2008 at 11:05:00 AM EST, Blogger fausto said...

That Christianity spread eastward is well documented, but that Jesus himself may also have traveled to the east is highly speculative.

The canonical Gospels are silent on what Jesus did between his early teen years (when he lingered in the Temple talking to the priests) and the time he began his ministry. The non-canonical tales of his "missing" adolescence and early adulthood have never been confirmed as reliable by either Church tradition or scholars. They are at best folk legends. The idea that Jesus traveled as a boy to India under the patronage of an Indian trader seems just as dubious to me as the better-known (to English speakers) legend that he traveled to England on trading expeditions under the patronage of Joseph of Arimathea.

The "Aquarian Gospel" was written in the 20th century, so it's especially unreliable as a historical source. For example, Lahore didn't exist yet in Jesus' time, Meng-Tse had died something like 300 years earlier, and Persepolis had likewise been demolished centuries earlier by Alexander the Great.

At December 23, 2008 at 11:18:00 PM EST, Blogger Transient and Permanent said...

Jesus would have found Lhasa very boring, since he lived many hundreds of years before Buddhism was brought to Tibet, and Lhasa at the time was a tiny backwater of no importance, regionally or otherwise.


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