Skip

The lotus-cross
December 19, 2008 9:20 PM   Subscribe

When Jesus met Buddha. "Something remarkable happened when evangelists for two great religions crossed paths more than 1,000 years ago: they got along." [Via]
posted by homunculus (51 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ooh, this is a good place to ask something I was going to post in askme.

I'm looking for a good book on the history of Buddhism, how it started, how it spread, etc. I'm particularly interested in finding out why it mostly died out in India, the place that it originally started.
posted by empath at 9:35 PM on December 19, 2008


I guess this means that Anne Frank found Jesus?
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:37 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Buddha is a canonized saint, actually. Well, kind of.
posted by Rinku at 9:42 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


That was a really interesting article. One thing I've been reading about recently is the history of the Mid East and South Asia. We tend to think of all these world religions as having sprung from the mind of a single prophet, but none of them were created in a cultural vacuum. The Romans had regular trade missions from India and China. Before that, Alexander, of course, conquered the entire middle east and a big chunk of India. There were Greco-Buddhist kingdoms in Afghanistan. Greek historians wrote about visiting hindu yogis. The Questions of Menander is a fascinating dialogue between a Greek King and a Buddhist monk. "Mystery Religions" from the east regularly swept across the Roman Empire.

Persian Zoroastrianism (sp?) sprung from the same culture as the Vedas and had a huge impact on the development of Christianity and Judaism. All of these prophets most likely would have had regular contact with other religions and an interest in learning about them.

It would be surprising if an eastern Christianity hadn't organically grown outward from Jerusalem, without much influence from Rome. If it hadn't, then the only reasonable explanation would be that the religion had originated in Rome, not Palestine. I think the differences in scripture and doctrine would probably help to illuminate the differences between Jesus's original teachings and later additions made by Rome after it became the state religion, and was adapted to serve the needs of a temporal power.
posted by empath at 10:00 PM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Awesome article.

I think this calls for a little Jesus Christ Superstar action.

Tell me what you think about your friends at the top.
Who'd you think besides yourself's the pick of the crop?
Buddha, was he where it's at? Is he where you are?
Could Mohammed move a mountain, or was that just PR?

posted by inconsequentialist at 10:11 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


A university student while visiting Gasan asked him: "Have you ever read the Christian Bible?"

"No, read it to me" said Gasan.

The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet, I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory hath not been arrayed like these . . . Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."

The student continued reading: "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh recieveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

Gasan remarked: "That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddahood."
posted by Ironmouth at 10:18 PM on December 19, 2008 [13 favorites]


The Questions of Menander is a fascinating dialogue between a Greek King and a Buddhist monk.

And it was one of the earliest explorations of the metaphysics of deskology.
posted by homunculus at 10:26 PM on December 19, 2008


Basic Information Before Leaving Earth
posted by netbros at 10:34 PM on December 19, 2008


"Jesus, Son of Mary (on whom be peace) said: The World is a Bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day, may hope for eternity; but the World endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen."

An inscription on a bridge built by a Akbar the Great in India in the 14th century. I don't know where the quote originated, but it's a wonderfully phrased encapsulation of the core idea behind a lot of religions.
posted by empath at 10:37 PM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Later restated by Bill Hicks, of course.
posted by empath at 10:38 PM on December 19, 2008


What do you think? Did they take mushrooms or marijuana?
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:06 PM on December 19, 2008


I was so sure this post was about Saint Young Men (from the summary: What if Jesus and Buddha were living on Earth in modern times? What if they shared an apartment in Japan? )
posted by pantsrobot at 11:24 PM on December 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


I saw Jesus at McDonald's.
posted by Eekacat at 11:50 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think this calls for a little Jesus Christ Superstar action.

Later restated by Bill Hicks, of course.

When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:00 AM on December 20, 2008


empath - I found Edward Conze's A Short History of Buddhism delivers on its promise very well and addresses the questions you mention.
posted by Abiezer at 12:51 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


This Jesus guy sounds cool. I wish Christians were more like Him.

(Yes, yes, a paraphrase of Gandhi, and refuted in The Brothers Karamazov.)
posted by orthogonality at 1:15 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


So what happened to this medieval Christian church in Asia?
posted by LarryC at 1:17 AM on December 20, 2008


Still going it seems, LarryC, despite the best efforts of Timur in 14th century. It was him did for Buddhism in Northern India/Bengal too iirc.
posted by Abiezer at 1:37 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm wrong about Timur and Buddhism in north India. Having dragged out my copy of the Conze book I recommended and turned to his chapter "India: the collapse and its causes" the dharma was done for by around 1200 in India "though lingered on in districts lik Maghada, Bengal, Orissa and South India." Muslim invasions are the main cause but Conze notes Jainism and Hinduism were able to weather this storm and that Buddhism also declined in places not reached by the invaders like Nepal. This he ascribes to its failure as a social force, with the laity not forming a coherent movement and its decline as a creative spiritual force, being "played out" and having cross-pollinated so long with Hinduism as to have blurred what was distinctive about it. "The separate existence of Buddhism no longer served any useful purpose." Conze does not see this as a sign of failure though and notes the vigour displayed by its missionaries in new lands to the north. He also notes its own doctrines of the decline of the dharma and impermanence and that the ancient masters had forseen its fall 1500 hundred years after the nirvana of Gautama.
posted by Abiezer at 1:51 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


what seems odd is people tend to look towards religions during invasions, famines, and horrific periods of change. so if that was goin on in the 1200s i would think the christian church would have grown stronger. in any case, they certainly wouldn't have just disappeared. right?
posted by Glibpaxman at 2:16 AM on December 20, 2008


I love that scene in the diner when Jesus tries to embarrass Buddha by faking an orgasm! Right there in the restaurant!
posted by billysumday at 4:41 AM on December 20, 2008 [7 favorites]


And then Lao-Tzu says "I'll have what he's having."
posted by RussHy at 5:32 AM on December 20, 2008 [8 favorites]


Fascinating! Thanks for posting this.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 5:54 AM on December 20, 2008


"So, Buddha, I'm all about the compassion and shit... but I'm gonna have to fork over and create my own religion... know why dude? It's that swastika thing... I mean, dude... that's just not cool... just not cool. Like, come on dude... your friend, Jesus... 'King of the Jews'... hello-o..."
"Yeah... yeah... but I gotta tell you... I watched this Mel Gibson movie last night, and these guys are... ahhh... nahh... not gonna spoil it for you... you'll see it, you'll see it."
posted by qvantamon at 5:56 AM on December 20, 2008


The great Roman Catholic apologist Chesteron described Buddhism as "a sort of ecstasy of indifference. The Buddhists call this beatitude... to us it is indistinguishable from despair... Indeed the Lord of Compassion [Buddha] seems to pity people for living rather than for dying." (From Chesterton's entertaining critique of "comparative religion," The Everlasting Man.)
posted by Faze at 7:14 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


They got along this well.

Here is (I suggest) the key line in the article referenced by homunculus: "In presenting their faith, Christians naturally used the cultural forms that would be familiar to Asians." That is the A-1 secret of why Christianity overcame so many other religions: it either used force or it swallowed them up.
posted by eccnineten at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Loved it. Thank you for this.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2008


empath, thank you! I was talking about this last night. How nothing exists in a vacuum and people have been wandering around since forever and ever and you can't seal up belife systems or traditions in little volumes called "Greek History" or "Early China".

It's why Iranians have a festival that pre-dates Christianity, blond mummies pop up in China, bits of cocaine in Egyptian tombs, and why Squanto spoke perfect English and Spanish.

That being said, it's always odd when a Historical Figure lives too long outside the little box of history they're supposed to go in. Like when Michelangelo pops up visiting Rubens cause the magnificent bastard lived to be about a 100. Is there a word for that? Temporal Dissonance?
posted by The Whelk at 9:04 AM on December 20, 2008


eccnineten -- the Shogunate wasn't Buddhist.
posted by empath at 9:45 AM on December 20, 2008


The text of the Nestorian Stele
posted by empath at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2008


And then Lao-Tzu says "I'll have what he's having."

Little known fact: Lao-Tzu was actually the father of the director!
posted by billysumday at 10:13 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Excellent post as usual, homunculus.

My favorite line (which is tangential to the point of the article): The lotus is a superbly beautiful flower that grows out of muck and slime.
posted by desjardins at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2008


Buddhism isn't a religion and anyone who treats it as such has lost the plot.
posted by gman at 12:07 PM on December 20, 2008


gman, your dogma is showing.
posted by desjardins at 12:10 PM on December 20, 2008


The key question here, in my mind, is which region of the world took the path to Christianity that Jesus himself would've preferred?

Was it the Asian Christians, who practiced their faith with such compassion and tolerance that eventually their Christianity diluted into a melting pot of other Asian faiths, to the level that their Christianity became a part of another religion all-together and could no longer be labeled singularly as "Christian".

Or was it the Western Europeans who ignored the Christian message of compassion, and converted through means of imperialism, conquest, and torture so that the label of "Christianity" upon their religion could reign supreme?

Which is better, distorting the principals of a Christianity to keep the religion singular, or to live by the principal of Christian compassion and in doing so, lose the singularity of a religion.

Interesting question.
posted by BettyBurnheart at 12:55 PM on December 20, 2008 [8 favorites]


Buddhism isn't a religion and anyone who treats it as such has lost the plot.

Your definition of religion appears to be incorrectly and unnecessarily narrow.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:21 PM on December 20, 2008


Your definition of religion appears to be incorrectly and unnecessarily narrow.

Yeah, it includes deities, superstition, and blind faith.
posted by gman at 3:05 PM on December 20, 2008


Yeah, it includes deities, superstition, and blind faith.

Then your definition of those may be a tad narrow. Ganapati and Yama and Lha-mo and on and on? Deities. Karma, reincarnation, and all the demons and wizards running around in Buddhist folklore? Superstition. Blind faith? Question some Nichiren Buddhists while they're trying to convert you.

"Take the bits you like, ignore the rest" is a commendable concept and one I wish more religions held, but that's not even a uniform or universal Buddhist ideal. There's no need to overstate the case.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:47 PM on December 20, 2008


gman, take a look at Tibetan Buddhism: you've got head lamas who lived in palaces and kept slaves only a few decades ago, and who still perform rituals, wear special garments, and tell people what to do based on a claim to spiritual knowledge. Sure sounds like the most basic form of religion there is.

Now, I'll happily agree they got it wrong in the same way followers of any dogmatic religion do. I sometimes feel especially sorry for Mohammad, who kept telling people, "I'm just a guy," but the most fundamentalist of his followers won't even write his name without adding a ritual phrase.
posted by shetterly at 8:41 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


There is a philosophy associated with Buddhism that works fairly well separated from the various flavors of Buddhist religion.

There's also quite a bit of Christian philosophy that works well separated from Christian theology.
posted by empath at 9:22 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


pantsrobot - thanks for Saint Young Men, very weird and funny. I feel like the writer doesn't quite get Jesus as a character, makes him a bit materialistic and selfish for the way he's written in the Bible - he should be a bit angrier, but nicely strange and Japanese.
posted by MythMaker at 11:49 PM on December 20, 2008


My sis-in-law (who I adore) is Korean and was raised Buddhist but converted to Catholicism. In fact, one of her sisters is now a Catholic nun - she got the whole family to convert. On the other hand, I was raised Methodist and now practice Tibetan Buddhism and my brother is now exploring Buddhism.

My theory, anecdotally confirmed by my SIL's general awesomeness, and the real world, is that successful religious organizations eventually start work on maintaining their dominance rather than working on enlightenment or salvation. Which is not exactly news to the majority of folks on mefi. I gotta say, it doesn't go over with religious people and it REALLY doesn't go over with honky Tibetan Buddhists who like to think Tibet was a paradise before 1959.
posted by smartyboots at 2:21 AM on December 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


the Asian Christians, who practiced their faith with such compassion and tolerance that eventually their Christianity diluted into a melting pot of other Asian faiths, to the level that their Christianity became a part of another religion all-together and could no longer be labeled singularly as "Christian". ... Which is better, distorting the principals of a Christianity to keep the religion singular, or to live by the principal of Christian compassion and in doing so, lose the singularity of a religion.

Well, it's not like European Christianity retained all the traditions of the original Judaic followers while they were converting with the sword. Talk about "dilution" - early Christians incorporated many European pagan practices, beliefs and traditions as part of their effort to convert. And it's not exactly as if Asian Christians were any less guilty of violence towards non-Christians, either - you can see this in the histories between Armenian and Azerbaijani, in Central Asia and in India. This mixing is also often a two-way street - Cao Dai in Vietnam is a great example of Christian aspects being adopted by an Asian culture to create a new faith. Christianity never retained a singularity anywhere in the world.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:39 AM on December 21, 2008


BettyBurnheart, I see your rhetorical question. However I'll venture an answer:
The key question here, in my mind, is which region of the world took the path to Christianity that Jesus himself would've preferred?
One could say that no region of the world has it made and that our own tendencies, prejudices, and preferences will always cloud our view. We see through a glass darkly, if you will. Certainly we in the west don't have it made, and I think the point you go on to make is that there are as many distortions here as there, but we (or the church in the west) are more blind to them because it's what we grew up with.

I believe this is the doctrine of catholicity. That there is a true faith which transcends cultures and, despite local variants in expression, is universally applicable. And while I don't think any branch of the church has it perfect — most likely especially not those that claim so the loudest — eventually "our divisions will cease and all will be one as Christ and the Father are one".

In the meantime we try.
Which is better, distorting the principals of a Christianity to keep the religion singular, or to live by the principal of Christian compassion and in doing so, lose the singularity of a religion.
What do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, "Son, go work today in my vineyard." He answered, "I will not," but afterward he changed his mind, and went. He came to the second, and said the same thing. He answered, "I go, sir," but he didn't go. Which of the two did the will of his father?
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you don't enter in yourselves, neither do you allow those who are entering in to enter. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel around by sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much of a son of Gehenna as yourselves.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me."

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?"

The King will answer them, "Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." Then he will say also to those on the left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn't give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn't take me in; naked, and you didn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me."

Then they will also answer, saying, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn't help you?"

Then he will answer them, saying, "Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn't do it to one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me." These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Those of us in the church are most in need of mercy and forgiveness for every hungry, thirsty, naked person we can see but don't help, and every lonely prisoner and sick person we are happy not to see. Particularly when our example turns people away.
posted by vsync at 5:01 PM on December 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Christianity never retained a singularity anywhere in the world.

Wouldn't a Christian singularity be known as a "rapture"?
posted by acb at 3:20 AM on December 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Right now on Sundace is a doc called "Jesus in India" about pretty much this exact topic.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:29 PM on December 22, 2008


It wasn't great, if anyone wondered.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:31 PM on December 22, 2008


A couple books for those interested:

The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity by Martin Palmer. It explored some archeological findings - an 8th-century pagoda/monastery with Christian statues, a "stone sutra", and some sutras on scrolls from a secret library - to piece together a picture of the people who created them.

These early Chinese Christians drew upon imagery from their understanding of the Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Jainism and Shamanism of Tang Dynasty China, which allowed them to present a radical image of Christ as the Dharma King, sending "your raft of salvation to save us from the burning streams" - even saving humans from karma and reincarnation.

Here's one:
Beyond knowing, beyond words
You are the truth, steadfast for all time.
Compassionate Father, Radiant Son,
Pure Wind King - three in one...

Supreme King, Will of Ages,
Compassionate Joyous Lamb
Loving all who suffer
Fearless as You strive for us
Free us of the karma of our lives,
Bring us back to our original nature
Delivered from all danger.

Sutra of Praise to the Three Powers
, A.D. ca. 780-790
(see page 203)
Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene. It evaluates ancient Chinese spirituality and the writings of Lao Tzu from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, and Eastern Orthodox Christian spirituality from an ancient Taoist perspective. It's a really unique book, and gives a fresh perspective on both spiritualities.
posted by puddleglum at 2:46 PM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's also St. Bono of U2:
Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I'd be interested to hear that.

Bono: That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep shit. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

-Michka Assayas, "Bono: Grace over Karma." Excerpted from Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas.
posted by puddleglum at 2:48 PM on December 24, 2008




homunculus, the Sufis made the same point Hayward does. Abu Yazid said, “This thing we tell of can never be found by seeking, but only seekers find it.”
posted by shetterly at 5:20 PM on January 7, 2009


« Older 'Twas the knit before Christmas.   |   Science: How About Some Kenny Loggins Instead? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post