Buddhism and Christianity

Buddhism and Christianity
The French artist Paul Ranson's Christ et Buddha (1880) juxtaposes the two figures

There is speculation concerning a possible connection between both the Buddha BC 623-BC 543 and the Christ, and between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism originated in India about 500 years before the Apostolic Age and the origins of Christianity. There are two kinds of speculation: 1) That a number of aspects of early Christianity were directly influenced by Buddhism; and 2) That both the Buddha and the Christ were influenced by a common source that preceded both of them. Regarding the latter, the proverbs of the Buddha (the Dhammapada) bear widespread similarities to the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes of King Solomon, who lived three and a half centuries before the Buddha. Further, as a Jewish rabbi, the Christ was very familiar with Solomon's writings.[1] In addition, the first colony of Jews to settle in India did so during the lifetime of the Buddha.[2] Regarding the first kind of speculation, scholars have explored direct connections between Buddhism and Christianity. Some have compared the earlier infancy account of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke to that of the Buddha in the later Lalitavistara Sutra (a Mahāyāna/Sarvāstivāda biography dating to the 3rd century CE.[3]). During the life of Jesus Christ[4] and the period in which texts like the Gospel of Thomas were composed, Buddhist missionaries lived in Alexandria, Egypt.[5] The Buddhist Jack McQuire believes that in the 4th century, Christian monasticism developed in Egypt, and it emerged with a corresponding structure comparable to the Buddhist monasticism of its time and place.[4]

In the 13th century, international travelers, such as Giovanni de Piano Carpini and William of Ruysbroeck, sent back reports of Buddhism as a religion whose scriptures, doctrine, saints, monastic life, meditation practices, and rituals were comparable to those of Christianity and of Nestorian Christian communities in close proximity to traditionally Buddhist communities.[6] When European Christians made more direct contact with Buddhism in the early 16th century many Catholic missionaries (e.g. Francis Xavier) sent home idyllic accounts of Buddhism.[6] At the same time, however, Portuguese colonizers of Sri Lanka confiscated Buddhist properties across the country, with the full cooperation of the Christian missionaries.[6] This repression of Buddhism in Sri Lanka continued during the rule of subsequently the Dutch and the English. Portuguese historian Diego de Conto reminded the Vatican that their Christian tradition of Saint Josaephat was actually the Buddha.[7]

With the arrival of Sanskrit studies in European universities in the late 18th century, and the subsequent availability of Buddhist texts, a discussion began of a proper encounter with Buddhism.[6] The esteem for its teachings and practices grew, and at the end of the 19th century the first Westerners (e.g. Sir Edwin Arnold and Henry Olcott) converted to Buddhism, and in the beginning of the 20th century the first westerners (e.g. Ananda Metteyya and Nyanatiloka) entered the Buddhist monastic life.[6]

In the 20th century Christian monastics such as Thomas Merton, Wayne Teasdale, David Steindl-Rast and the former nun Karen Armstrong,[8] and Buddhist monastics such as Ajahn Buddhadasa, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have put energy into Buddhist/Christian dialogue.[9] They each see in the otherwise disparate teachings of Jesus and the Buddha a basic commonality of insight and purpose which offers the possibility of profound remedy to an ailing world.[10][11][12] The historian of world culture Arnold Toynbee has speculated that in centuries to come the encounter between Christianity and Buddhism may come to be seen as the momentous event of the 20th century.[13]

Regarding the second kind of speculation, and the possibility of the Buddha having been influenced by Solomon, the following should be noted:

First, Buddha lived during the Axial Age, when "such a simultaneity of genius suggests more intercommunication and mutual influence among these ancient cultures than it is possible to trace definitely today."[14]

Second, Buddha's enlightenment (circa 587 BCE) took place over 350 years after Solomon died (circa 938 BCE). The Old Testament states that "Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom,"[15] and that "world" most likely included India. "The foreign trade of India is as old as her history; objects found in Sumeria and Egypt indicate a traffic between these countries and India as far back as 3000 B.C. Commerce between India and Babylon by the Persian Gulf flourished from 700 to 480 B.C.; and perhaps the 'ivory, apes and peacocks' of Solomon came by the same route from the same source."[16]

Third, a colony of Jews settled in India during the Buddha's lifetime.[17] There were printed copies of portions of Solomon's Book of Proverbs[18] that pre-dated the life of the Buddha by over 60 years.[19]

Fourth, the culture of the Buddha's day was hungry for any new, foreign ideas that differed from Hinduism,[20] and Judaism would have provided an advanced source of such ideas.

Fifth, many of the emphases that Buddhists are noted for were also part of Solomon's beliefs, including peace,[21] tolerance,[22] viewing this world as an illusion[23] and a place of suffering[24] meditation,[25] overcoming ignorance with wisdom[26] and enlightenment.[27]

Contents

Buddhist culture and pre-Christian Greece

From the time of Jesus or soon after: a statue of Siddartha Gautama preaching, in the Greco-Buddhist style of Gandhara, present-day Pakistan. Note the definite Greek style of the sculpture.

By the time of Jesus, the teachings of the Buddha had already spread through much of India and penetrated into Sri Lanka, Central Asia and China.[28] They display certain similarities to Christian moral precepts of more than five centuries later; the sanctity of life, compassion for others, rejection of violence, confession and emphasis on charity and the practice of virtue.

Will Durant, noting that the Emperor Ashoka sent missionaries, not only to elsewhere in India and to Sri Lanka, but to Syria, Egypt and Greece, speculated in the 1930s that they may have helped prepare the ground for Christian teaching.[29]

Mauryan proselytizing

Ptolemy II Philadelphus, one of the monarchs Ashoka mentions in his edicts, is recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra: "India has been treated of by several other Greek writers who resided at the courts of Indian kings, such, for instance, as Megasthenes, and by Dionysius, who was sent thither by Philadelphus, expressly for the purpose: all of whom have enlarged upon the power and vast resources of these nations."[30]

Expansion of Buddhist culture westward

Meanwhile, the Buddha's teachings had spread north-west, into Parthian territory. Buddhist stupa remains have been identified as distant as the Silk Road city of Merv.[31] Soviet archeological teams in Giaur Kala, near Merv, have uncovered a Buddhist monastery, complete with huge buddharupa. Parthian nobles such as An Shih Kao are known to have adopted Buddhism and were among those responsible for its further spread towards China.

Folklorist and historian Donald Alexander Mackenzie argued in his book, Buddhism in Pre-Christian Britain (1928) that Buddhism might have influenced pre-Christian Britain.[32]

Christian awareness of Buddhism

Some have suggested the Church Fathers were acquainted with Buddhist beliefs and practices.

Buddhist tradition records in the Milinda Panha that the 2nd century BCE Indo-Greek king Menander converted to the Buddhist faith and became an arhat
A coin of the Indo-Greek king Menander I (r.160-135 BCE) with a symbol of the eight-spoked wheel (Dharma or Dhamma Wheel) and a palm

The Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria states in the 2nd century CE:

"Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Sarmanas among the Bactrians ("Σαρμαναίοι Βάκτρων"); and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians, who foretold the Saviour's birth, and came into the land of Judaea guided by a star. The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sramanas ("Σαρμάναι"), and others Brahmins (Βραφμαναι)."
—Clement of Alexandria "The Stromata, or Miscellanies" Book I, Chapter XV[21]
The virgin birth of Siddhārtha from the hip of his mother, Gandhara, 2-3rd century CE

Clement writes of the Buddha:[5]

"Among the Indians are those philosophers also who follow the precepts of Boutta, whom they honour as a god on account of his extraordinary sanctity."
— Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book I, Chapter XV

Early 3rd–4th century Christian writers such as Hippolytus and Epiphanius write of one Scythianus who visited India around 50 CE, whence he brought the "doctrine of the Two Principles". Scythianus' pupil Terebinthus supposedly presented himself as a "Buddha" ("he called himself Buddas" Cyril of Jerusalem) and became well known in Judaea and was said to have conversed with the apostles and to have brought books back from his trade with India. The same author says his books and knowledge were taken over by Mani, and became the foundation of the Manichean doctrine.[33]

"Terebinthus, his disciple in this wicked error, inherited his money and books and heresy, and came to Palestine, and becoming known and condemned in Judaea he resolved to pass into Persia: but lest he should be recognised there also by his name he changed it and called himself Buddas."
Cyril of Jerusalem, Sixth Catechetical Lecture Chapter 22-24 [34]

Hippolytus, a Greek-speaking Christian in Rome, around 235 includes Indian ascetics among sources of heresy:

"There is ... among the Indians a heresy of those who philosophize among the Brahmins, who live a self-sufficient life, abstaining from (eating) living creatures and all cooked food . . . They say that God is light, not like the light one sees, nor like the sun nor fire, but to them God is discourse, not that which finds expression in articulate sounds, but that of knowledge (gnosis) through which the secret mysteries of nature are perceived by the wise."

The Syrian gnostic theologian Bar Daisan describes in the 3rd century his exchanges with missions of holy men from India (Greek: Σαρμαναίοι, Sramanas), passing through Syria on their way to Elagabalus or another Severan dynasty Roman Emperor. His accounts are quoted by Porphyry (De abstin., iv, 17 [6]) and Stobaeus (Eccles., iii, 56, 141).

Barlaam and Josaphat

From a 12th century Greek manuscript: Saint Josaphat preaches the Gospel

The Greek legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph, sometimes mistakenly attributed to the 7th century John of Damascus but first recorded by the Georgian monk Euthymius of Athos in the 11th century, was ultimately derived, via Arabic and Georgian versions, from the life story of the Buddha. The king-turned-monk Ioasaph (Georgian Iodasaph, Arabic Yūdhasaf or Būdhasaf) also gets his name from the Sanskrit Bodhisattva, the term traditionally used to refer to Gautama before he becomes a buddha.[citation needed]

Barlaam and Ioasaph were placed in the Orthodox calendar of saints on 26 August, and in the Roman martyrology they were canonized (as "Barlaam and Josaphat") and assigned 27 November. The story was translated into Hebrew in the Middle Ages as "Ben-Hamelekh Vehanazir" ("The Prince and the Nazirite"). Thus the Buddhist story was turned into a Christian and Jewish legend.[35]

Possible Buddhist influence

Early depiction of Jesus on a sarcophagus: Hérault, France, 6th century. Louvre Museum

In 1883, Max Müller, the pioneering scholar of comparative religion and orientalist, asserted in his India: What it Can Teach Us: "That there are startling coincidences between Buddhism and Christianity cannot be denied, and it must likewise be admitted that Buddhism existed at least 400 years before Christianity. I go even further, and should feel extremely grateful if anybody would point out to me the historical channels through which Buddhism had influenced early Christianity." It is interesting to note that Muller himself, before examining the Buddhist/Christian copycat claims, stated that he intended to prove the priority of the Jesus gospels over the Buddhist texts, however, Müller is often criticized for his anti-Christian motives in his works and this may reflect his agenda rather than unbiased research.[36] In The Gospel of Jesus in relation to the Buddha Legend, and again, in 1897, in The Buddha Legend and the Life of Jesus, Professor Rudolf Seydel of the University of Leipzig noted around fifty similarities between Buddhist and Christian parables and teachings.

In 1918, in his History of Religions, Professor E. Washburn Hopkins of Yale goes so far as to say, "Finally, the life, temptation, miracles, parables, and even the disciples of Jesus have been derived directly from Buddhism." [37]

Canon Burnett Hillman Streeter's 1932 Bampton Lectures The Buddha and the Christ have as sub-title An Exploration of the Meaning of the Universe and of the Purpose of Human Life. He argued that the moral teaching of the Buddha has four remarkable resemblances to the Sermon on the Mount."[38]

Much more recently, the historian Jerry H. Bentley (1993) notes "the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity" and that scholars "have drawn attention to many parallels concerning the births, lives, doctrines, and deaths of the Buddha and Jesus".[39]

In his Buddhism Omnibus Iqbal Singh similarly acknowledges the possibility of early interaction and, thus, influence of Buddhist teachings upon the Christian tradition in its formative period.[40]

In 2004 Burkhard Scherer, Reader in Religious Studies at England's Canterbury Christ Church University stated: "...it is very important to draw attention to the fact that there is [massive] Buddhist influence in the Gospels....Since more than a hundred years, Buddhist influence in the Gospels has been known and acknowledged by scholars from both sides." He further drew attention to J Duncan M Derrett's recent book The Bible and the Buddhist (Sardini, Bornato [Italy] 2001), and agreed with Derret, writing "I am convinced that there are many Buddhist narratives in the Gospels."[41]

Thomas Tweed, Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that between 1879 and 1907 there were a "number of impassioned discussions about parallels and possible historical influence between Buddhism and Christianity in ... a variety of periodicals". By 1906 interest waned somewhat. In the end, Albert Schweitzer's conclusion appears to have been favored: that, although some indirect influence through the wider culture was "not inherently impossible", the hypothesis that Jesus' novel ideas were borrowed directly from Buddhism was "unproved, unprovable and unthinkable." [42]

Buddhism and Gnosticism

Gnosticism is the name given by early Christian heresiologists to several heretical Christian sects which flourished in the 3rd-5th Centuries. Historical research on these sects has been put on a firmer basis since the discovery of some of their own writings, such as the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and the Nag Hammadi texts. Mainstream scholarship considers these texts within Jewish-Christian traditions and no evidence of a connection to Buddhism has yet been verified.[43]

Elaine Pagels in her widely noted The Gnostic Gospels (1979), and in Beyond Belief (2003), proposes such theories and has appealed to Buddhist scholars to find connections. Pagels suggested that gnosticism blends teachings like those attributed to Jesus Christ with teachings found in Eastern traditions.[44] Elaine Pagels notes that the similarities between Gnosticism and Buddhism have prompted some scholars to question their interdependence and to wonder whether "...if the names were changed, the 'living Buddha' appropriately could say what the Gospel of Thomas attributes to the living Jesus. " However, she concludes that, although intriguing, the evidence is inconclusive, and she further concludes that these parallels might be coincidental since parallel traditions may emerge in different cultures without direct influence.[45] Pagels has written that "one need only listen to the words of the Gospel of Thomas to hear how it resonates with the Buddhist tradition… these ancient gospels tend to point beyond faith toward a path of solitary searching to find understanding, or gnosis." She suggests that there is an explicitly Indian influence in the Gospel of Thomas, perhaps via the Christian communities in southern India, the so-called Thomas Christians.

Queen Maya with the infant Buddha. Gandhara, 2nd century CE.

Philip Jenkins (2002)[46] takes a critical view on attempts to contextualise the Christian and Jewish sources of Christian gnostic movements towards Buddhism, and notes that since the mid-19th century, new and fringe religious movements have often created images of Jesus, presenting him as a sage, philosopher and occult teacher, whose teachings are very similar to those of Asian religions. Jenkins argues that the images generated by these religious movements share much in common with the images that increasingly dominate the mainstream critical scholarship of the New Testament, especially following the rediscovery of the Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. In his view, in modern scholarly writing, Jesus has become more of a Gnostic, Cynic or even a crypto-Buddhist than the traditional notion of the reformist Jewish rabbi.[47]

Scholar of Buddhism Edward Conze suggested that Hindu or Buddhist tradition may well have influenced Gnosticism. He points out that Buddhists in India were in contact with the Thomas Christians of India.[48] and that of all of the Nag Hammadi texts, the Gospel of Thomas has the most similarities with Pure Land Buddhism within it.

Therapeutae influence

The Therapeutae were a Jewish community, with some mystical and ascetic tendencies, who lived especially in the area around Alexandria. No connection with either Christianity or Buddhism is recognised by mainstream scholarship.[49] Philo described the Therapeutae in the beginning of the 1st century CE in De vita contemplativa ("On the contemplative life"), written ca. 10 CE. By that time, the origins of the Therapeutae were already lost in the past, and Philo was even unsure about the etymology of their name.

The monasticism of the Jewish Therapeutae was seen as the forerunner of and the model for the Christian ascetic life by some early Christian interpreters. It has even been misread as the earliest description of Christian monasticism, as for example by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History.[50]

Asceticism can be seen as a common point between Buddhism and Christianity (although it has been argued by Henry Chadwick that "Ascetics are less prominent in Christian History than in other world religions ... the monastic movement of the fourth century had numerous critics"[51]), and is in contrast to the absence of asceticism in Judaism:

"Asceticism is indigenous to the religions which posit as fundamental the wickedness of this life and the corruption under sin of the flesh. Buddhism, therefore, as well as Christianity, leads to ascetic practices. Monasteries are institutions of Buddhism no less than of Catholic Christianity. The assumption, found in the views of the Montanists and others, that concessions made to the natural appetites may be pardoned in those that are of a lower degree of holiness, while the perfectly holy will refuse to yield in the least to carnal needs and desires, is easily detected also in some of the teachings of Gautama Buddha. The ideal of holiness of both the Buddhist and the Christian saint culminates in poverty and chastity; i.e., celibacy. Fasting and other disciplinary methods are resorted to curb the flesh"
—The Jewish Encyclopedia [52]

German author Holger Kersten, in Jesus lived in India, his unknown life before and after the crucifixion (2000), and with Elmar R. Gruber, a parapsychologist (1995), argues that Buddhism had a substantial influence on the life and teachings of Jesus.[53] Gruber and Kersten claim that Jesus was brought up by the Therapeutae, which they claim were teachers of the Buddhist Theravada school then living in the Bible lands. They assert that Jesus lived the life of a Buddhist and taught Buddhist ideals to his disciples.

"Jesus in Little Tibet" theories

Several authors have explored theories that Jesus traveled to Little Tibet during the putative "Lost years of Jesus" before the beginning of his public ministry.

Nicolas Notovitch, a Russian war correspondent, visited India and Tibet in 1887. He claimed that, at the lamasery or monastery of Hemis in Ladakh, he learned of the "Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men." His story, with a translated text of the "Life of Saint Issa", was published in French in 1894 as La vie inconnue de Jesus Christ. It was subsequently translated into English, German, Spanish, and Italian. The "Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men" purportedly recounts the travels of one known in the East as Saint Issa, whom Notovitch identified as Jesus. After initially doubting Notovitch, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Abhedananda, journeyed to Tibet, investigated his claim, helped translate part of the document, and later championed his views.[54] Notovitch's writings were immediately controversial. The German orientalist Max Müller corresponded with the Hemis monastery that Notovitch claimed to have visited and Archibald Douglas visited Hemis Monastery. Neither found any evidence that Notovich (much less Jesus) had even been there himself, so they rejected his claims. The head of the Hemis community signed a document that denounced Notovitch as a liar.[55]

Despite this contradictory evidence, a number of New Age or spiritualist authors have taken this information and have incorporated it into their own works. For example, in her book The Lost Years of Jesus: Documentary Evidence of Jesus' 17-Year Journey to the East, Elizabeth Clare Prophet asserts that Buddhist manuscripts provide evidence that Jesus traveled to India, Nepal, Ladakh and Tibet.[56]

Bart Ehrman (2011) notes that all scholars now consider Notovitch's book as a hoax.[57]

19th, 20th and 21st century writers

As far back as 1816 the historian George Faber in his book, The Origin of Pagan Idolatry Ascertained from Historical Testimony, stated, "There is so strong a resemblance between the characters of Jesus and of Buddha, that it cannot have been purely accidental.” [58]

In 1883, Max Müller, the pioneering scholar of comparative religion, asserted in his India: What it Can Teach Us: "That there are startling coincidences between Buddhism and Christianity cannot be denied, and it must likewise be admitted that Buddhism existed at least 400 years before Christianity. I go even further, and should feel extremely grateful if anybody would point out to me the historical channels through which Buddhism had influenced early Christianity." It is interesting to note that Muller himself, before examining the Buddhist/Christian copycat claims, stated that he intended to prove the priority of the Jesus gospels over the Buddhist texts.

In The Gospel of Jesus in relation to the Buddha Legend, and again, in 1897, in The Buddha Legend and the Life of Jesus, Professor Rudolf Seydel of the University of Leipzig noted around fifty similarities between Buddhist and Christian parables and teachings.

In 1918, in his History of Religions, Professor E. Washburn Hopkins of Yale goes so far as to say, "Finally, the life, temptation, miracles, parables, and even the disciples of Jesus have been derived directly from Buddhism." [37]

Much more recently, the historian Jerry H. Bentley notes "the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity" and that scholars "have drawn attention to many parallels concerning the births, lives, doctrines, and deaths of the Buddha and Jesus".[39]

In his Buddhism Omnibus Iqbal Singh similarly acknowledges the possibility of early interaction and, thus, influence of Buddhist teachings upon the Christian tradition in its formative period.[59]

In 1992 Zacharias P. Thundy, Professor of Literature, wrote a book titled, Buddha and Christ, Nativity stories from the Indian traditions in which Thundy concludes that there was a substantial amount of borrowing by Christianity from Buddhism. He prefers not to label Jesus either a Jew, Buddhist or a Buddhist-Jew, claiming that such distinctions are "fuzzy". Thundy further claims a long tradition of interchange between east and west and shows that western fables, such as those in Aesop's fables, and the story of Susans attached to the Book of Daniel, were originally Buddhist Jatakas.

In 2004, Burkhard Scherer, Reader in Religious Studies at England's Canterbury Christ Church University has stated: "...it is very important to draw attention to the fact that there is [massive] Buddhist influence in the Gospels....Since more than a hundred years, Buddhist influence in the Gospels has been known and acknowledged by scholars from both sides." He adds: "Just recently, Duncan McDerret published his excellent The Bible and the Buddhist (Sardini, Bornato [Italy] 2001). With McDerret, I am convinced that there are many Buddhist narratives in the Gospels."[41]

In 2007 Doctor of Asian Studies Christian Lindtner published a book titled Geheimnisse um Jesus Christus. Dr. Lindtner compares the Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist texts with the Greek gospels and determines that the four gospels were reformulated from older Buddhist texts based on gematria values, puns, and syllabic equivalences. Those who have scrutinized his work claim that his gematria values and syllabic equivalences are coincidental and that his puns exist because the Greek and Sanskrit are from the same language family. Those in support of his work claim that is findings are unique and that similar finds could not be made in regard to any other seemingly non-connected literature.

Also, in 2007 the author Daniel Hopkins wrote a book named Father and Son, East is West, the Buddhist sources to Christianity and their influence on medieval myths, in which he claims that the Jesus gospels were highly allegorical and mysterious in order to hide the name of Jesus' father, which he claims was the Buddha's name.[60]

Thomas Tweed, Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that between 1879 and 1907 there were a "number of impassioned discussions about parallels and possible historical influence between Buddhism and Christianity in ... a variety of periodicals". By 1906 interest waned somewhat. In the end, Albert Schweitzer's conclusion appears to have been favored: that, although some indirect influence through the wider culture was "not inherently impossible", the hypothesis that Jesus' novel ideas were borrowed directly from Buddhism was "unproved, unprovable and unthinkable." [42]

Parallels

According to Jerry Bentley, "Scholars have often considered the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity. They have drawn attention to many parallels concerning the births, lives, doctrines, and deaths of the Buddha and Jesus".[61]

Administrative structures

The administrative structures formed by Buddhism share the following similarities with those formed by Christianity:

  • monasticism and communal living for spiritual adherents which adhered to principles of practicing poverty and chastity.[62]
  • missionaries and missions which were first organized and established by Buddhists, all predate the early Christian organizations in the same areas where Christianity was first established (Antioch, etc.).[citation needed]

Buddha and Jesus

It has been asserted by Orientalist Samuel Beal that the story of the birth of the Buddha was well known in the West, and possibly influenced the story of the birth of Jesus.[63][64]

Saint Jerome (4th century CE) mentions that the Buddhist belief of Buddha's birth from a virgin as their "opinion [...] authoritatively handed down that Budda, the founder of their religion, had his birth through the side of a virgin."[65] (the Buddha was, according to Buddhist tradition, born from the hip of his mother).[66] The story of the birth of the Buddha was also known: a fragment of Archelaos of Carrha [67](278 CE) mentions the Buddha's virgin-birth.

In the 1893 book, Influence of Buddhism on Primitive Christianity, Arthur Lillie argues that the birth accounts of the Buddha were copied into the gospels listing the following infancy parallels:

  1. The palm-tree bends down to Mary as the Asoka tree to Yashodara.[citation needed]
  2. The story of Simeon, the accounts of the bright light being almost word for word the same.[citation needed]
  3. The idol bending down to the infant Jesus.[citation needed]
  4. The miracle of the sparrows restored to life.[citation needed]
  5. Judas Iscariot in early life attacked Jesus, just as Devadetta, the Judas of Buddhism, attacked Buddha. A violent blow that Jesus received in the left side made a mark that was destined to be the exact spot that received the mortal spear-thrust at the Crucifixion. [199][citation needed]
  6. The whole story of the disputation with the doctors seems copied servilely from the "Lalita Vistara".[citation needed]

P. Carus, in his comparison of Buddhism and Christianity, observes that both Jesus and the Buddha are said to have walked on water only because of their faith in their teacher.[citation needed] Furthermore, both a disciple of Buddha and a disciple of Jesus are reported to have walked on water. R. Stehly gives six examples of parallel themes between the story of Peter's walking on the water and the Buddhist Jataka 190. R. von Garbe also thinks that the number of parallels in the stories can only have resulted from Christian borrowing of the Indian legend.[68] In addition to the Jataka story, R.C. Amore recounts a miracle from the first chapter of Mahavagga(Book of the Discipline, IV) where Buddha himself displayed his power over nature. Amore thinks that Jesus himself was influenced by Buddhist teachings and that Buddhist material continued to influence Christianity as it developed.[69](see also Miracles of Gautama Buddha)

Queen Maya came to bear the Buddha after receiving a prophetic dream in which she saw the descent of the Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be) from the Tuṣita heaven into her womb, in the shape of a small white elephant. This story has some parallels with the story of Jesus being conceived in connection with the visitation of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary.[70]

The classical scene of the Virgin Mary being supported by two attendants at her side, may have been influenced by earlier iconography, such as the rather similar Buddhist theme of Queen Maya giving birth.[71]

The iconography of Mary breastfeeding the child Jesus, unknown in the West until the 5-6th century (probable date of a frieze excavated in Saqqara), has also been connected to the much more ancient iconography of the goddess Hariti, also breastfeeding her child, and wearing Hellenistic clothes in the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.[72]

Religious symbolism

An early Christian wheel-like ichthys symbol, created by combining the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ, Ephesus
Christian Chi Rho pendant of Maria, wife of Honorius (398-407 CE). Musée du Louvre

T.W. Rhys Davids, British scholar of the Pāli language, was the earliest most energetic promoter of the Theravada tradition in the West. In 1878 he wrote of its northern counterpart: "Lamaism with its shaven priests, its bells and rosaries, its images and holy water, its popes and bishops, its abbots and monks of many grades, its processions and feast days, its confessional and purgatory, and its worship of the double Virgin, so strongly resembles Romanism that the first Catholic missionaries thought it must be an imitation by the devil of the religion of Christ." [73]

It is believed use of rosaries spread from India to Western Europe during the Crusades via its Muslim version, the tasbih.[74] Some, however, suggest an alternative route. A form of prayer rope appears to have been used in Eastern Christendom much earlier; so, it is argued, the Muslim tasbih may originate from a Christian source.[citation needed] Both, it is pointed out, have 33 beads, corresponding to the years of Christ's life. In Buddhist tradition, rosaries commonly have 108 beads, corresponding to the number of the virtues of the Buddha, or the number of sins one has to overcome in order to attain enlightenment. (See Buddhist prayer beads.)

Prayer with the palms touching one another, the Añjali Mudrā, is a common form of greeting and prayer gesture in all Indian spiritual traditions, including the Buddhist. It is absent in Jewish traditions, whose scriptures specify raised or clasped hands.[75] Prayer with the palms touching one another is, however, depicted in Christian art from the Middle Ages onwards.[76] However it should be noted that the more historically proximate origin of this Christian prayer posture is assumed to have originated from medieval commendation ceremonies. These ritualized ceremonies were not in fact religious, but rather served to establish a social contract between a lord and his vassal.

In 1921 the Buddhist Scholar and diplomat Sir Charles Eliot, writing of apparent similarities between Christian practices and their counterparts in Buddhist tradition, expressed the view that: " When all allowance is made for similar causes and coincidences, it is hard to believe that a collection of such practices as clerical celibacy, confession, the veneration of relics, the use of the rosary and bells can have originated independently in both religions." [77]

During one of the modern-day interfaith dialogues, the great Theravada thinker Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, recalling the Buddhist core principle of anatta, or Non-self, used to note that he personnally liked the sign of the Cross, as he reinterpreted the Cross as the letter "I" (i.e. the first-person pronoun in English) being crossed out, meaning "no ego, or no self".

Criticism

Although Greek rulers as far as the Mediterranean are mentioned as having received Buddhist missionaries, only in Bactria and the Kabul valley did Buddhism really take root. Also, the statement in the late Buddhist chronicle of the Mahavamsa, that among the Buddhists who came to the dedication of a great Stupa in Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BCE, "were over thirty thousand monks from the vicinity of Alassada, the capital of the Yona country" is sometimes taken to suggest that long before the time of Christ, Alexandria in Egypt was the centre of flourishing Buddhist communities. Although it is true that Alassada is the Pali for Alexandria; but it is usually thought that the city meant here is not the ancient capital of Egypt, but as the text indicates, the chief city of the Yona country, the Yavana country of the rock-inscriptions: Bactria and vicinity. And so, the city referred to is most likely Alexandria of the Caucasus.

Also, there are various views on the origins of the oldest Buddhist teachings of the Pali Canon. The origin of the later teachings of Mahayana Buddhism are especially obscure.[78] It is believed that most of the Mahayana sutras only appear in writing after 100 BCE,[79] and most did not reach their final form until much later, just as the Gospels would not reach a standard form until the Nicene version.

The earlier teachings of the Pali Canon and the Agamas however, are clearly up to four centuries older than Christianity. Although Buddhism is older than Christianity, and some Buddhist influence, such as Barlaam and Josaphat, is clearly evident.

Buddhist views of Jesus

Buddhist views of Jesus differ, since Jesus is not mentioned in any Buddhist text. Some Buddhists, including Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama[80] regard Jesus as a bodhisattva who dedicated his life to the welfare of human beings. Both Jesus and Buddha advocated radical alterations in the common religious practices of the day. There are occasional similarities in language, such as the use of the common metaphor of a line of blind men to refer to religious authorities with whom they disagreed (DN 13.15, Matthew 15:14). Some believe there is a particularly close affinity between Buddhism (or Eastern spiritual thought generally) and the doctrine of Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Thomas[81]

The 14th century Zen master Gasan Joseki indicated that the Gospels were written by an enlightened being:

"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of 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." [82]

Guanyin and the Virgin Mary

The goddess Hariti holding a baby on her lap has been considered as an iconographical source for the Virgin Mary.[72] Gandhara, 2-3rd century.

The Sinologist Martin Palmer has commented on the similarity between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Guan Yin, noting a possible historical link; Guanyin is the Chinese name for a male bodhisattva in India and Tibet, Avalokitesvara, who underwent a gradual feminization process in China late in the first millennium CE, after a period of proselytization by Turkic Nestorian Christians.[83] The Tzu-Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese Buddhist organization, also noticing the similarity, commissioned a portrait of Guan Yin and a baby that resembles the typical Madonna and Child painting.

During the Edo Period in Japan, when Christianity was banned and punishable by death, some underground Christian groups venerated the Virgin Mary disguised as a statue of Kannon (the Japanese name for Guanyin); such statues are known as Maria Kannon. Many had a cross hidden in an inconspicuous location.

Christian conversion of Buddhists

In several Asian countries, Christian missionaries over the centuries have converted in many traditionally Buddhist communities. Buddhism in Sri Lanka was for several centuries heavily affected by Christian efforts to convert the population under subsequent Portuguese, Dutch and English colonizers. In the late 19th century a national Buddhist movement started, inspired by the American Buddhist Henry Steel Olcott, and empowered by the results of the Panadura debate between a Christian priest and the Buddhist monk Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera. In the early 20th century Irish-born U Dhammaloka played a controversial role in opposing Christian missionary efforts in Burma.

Significant Christian populations exist in South Korea. In countries like China, Thailand, Myanmar and Japan, Christianity is there a minority religion.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31
  2. ^ History of the Jews in India
  3. ^ Karetzky, Patricia. Early Buddhist Narrative Art. 2000. p. xxi
  4. ^ a b Maguire, Jack (2001). Essential Buddhism. Simon and Schuster. pp. 159–160. ISBN 0671041886. 
  5. ^ Brockman, John (2003-07-17). "The Politics of Christianity: A Talk with Elaine Pagels". The Third Culture. Edge Foundation, Inc.. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pagels03/pagels_index.html. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 160
  7. ^ Daniel Hopkins Father and Son, East is West, the Buddhist sources to Christianity and their influence on medieval Christianity self published 2007
  8. ^ http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200103u/int2001-03-21 Armstrong on Buddhism & Christianity
  9. ^ W.L. King, Buddhism and Christianity: Some Bridges of Understanding, Philadelphia, 1963.
  10. ^ Tinker, Hugh (1966). South Asia: A Short History. Frederick A. Praeger. p. 83. 
  11. ^ The Dalai Lama,The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus, ISBN 0-86171-138-6
  12. ^ Thich Nhat Hahn, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, 1999. ISBN 1573228303
  13. ^ Arthur Versluis, American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions, 1993.
  14. ^ Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Part I: Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963), 422.
  15. ^ 1 Kings 4:29-34 (NIV)
  16. ^ Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Part I: Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963), 479.
  17. ^ History of Jews in India
  18. ^ Proverbs 25:1
  19. ^ Hezekiah
  20. ^ Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Part I: Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963), 417-418.
  21. ^ 1 Chronicles 22:6-9
  22. ^ 1 Kings 11:4-8
  23. ^ Ecclesiastes 1:2
  24. ^ Ecclesiastes 4:1-2 & 5:15-17,
  25. ^ Proverbs 6:20-23 & 7:1-3
  26. ^ Proverbs 4:5-7
  27. ^ Proverbs 4:18
  28. ^ Latourette, Kenneth Scott (1975). A History of Christianity.  p. 274
  29. ^ 1. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, Part One (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), vol. 1, p. 449.
  30. ^ Pliny the Elder, "The Natural History", Chap. 21
  31. ^ "The Silk Road city of Marv (Grk. Margiana), situated in the eastern part of the Parthian Empire, became a major Buddhist center" Foltz, "Religions of the Silk Road", p47
  32. ^ Mackenzie, Donald A. (1928), Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain, p. 42
  33. ^ Cyril of Jerusalem, Sixth Catechetical Lecture Chapter 22-24
    "22. There was in Egypt one Scythianus, a Saracen by birth, having nothing in common either with Judaism or with Christianity. This man, who dwelt at Alexandria and imitated the life of Aristotle, composed four books, one called a Gospel which had not the acts of Christ, but the mere name only, and one other called the book of Chapters, and a third of Mysteries, and a fourth, which they circulate now, the Treasure. This man had a disciple, Terebinthus by name. But when Scythianus purposed to come into Judaea, and make havoc of the land, the Lord smote him with a deadly disease, and stayed the pestilence.
    23. But Terebinthus, his disciple in this wicked error, inherited his money and books and heresy, and came to Palestine, and becoming known and condemned in Judaea he resolved to pass into Persia: but lest he should be recognised there also by his name he changed it and called himself Buddas. However, he found adversaries there also in the priests of Mithras: and being confuted in the discussion of many arguments and controversies, and at last hard pressed, he took refuge with a certain widow. Then having gone up on the housetop, and summoned the daemons of the air, whom the Manichees to this day invoke over their abominable ceremony of the fig, he was smitten of God, and cast down from the housetop, and expired: and so the second beast was cut off.
    24. The books, however, which were the records of his impiety, remained; and both these and his money the widow inherited. And having neither kinsman nor any other friend, she determined to buy with the money a boy named Cubricus: him she adopted and educated as a son in the learning of the Persians, and thus sharpened an evil weapon against mankind. So Cubricus, the vile slave, grew up in the midst of philosophers, and on the death of the widow inherited both the books and the money. Then, lest the name of slavery might be a reproach, instead of Cubricus he called himself Manes, which in the language of the Persians signifies discourse. For as he thought himself something of a disputant, he surnamed himself Manes, as it were an excellent master of discourse. But though he contrived for himself an honourable title according to the language of the Persians, yet the providence of God caused him to become a self-accuser even against his will, that through thinking to honour himself in Persia, he might proclaim himself among the Greeks by name a maniac." Catholic Encyclopedia (Public Domain, quoted in [1])
  34. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia (Public Domain, quoted in [2])
  35. ^ Joseph Jacobs (ed. and inducer), Barlaam and Josaphat. English Lives of Buddha (David Nutt, London, 1896) xvi-xvii
  36. ^ http://faculty.deanza.edu/lesliewallis/stories/storyReader$158
  37. ^ a b History of Religions, 1918, E. Washburn Hopkins, Professor of Sanskrit and comparative Philology, p 552,556
  38. ^ Chandramouli, N. S. (1997-05-01). Did Buddhism influence early Christianity?. The Times of India. 
  39. ^ a b Bentley, Jerry H. (1993). Old World Encounters. Cross-cultural contacts and exchanges in pre-modern times. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507639-7. 
  40. ^ Iqbal Singh, S. Radhakrishnan, Arvind Sharma, (2004-06-24)). The Buddhism Omnibus: Comprising Gautama Buddha, The Dhammapada, and The Philosophy of Religion. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195668987. 
  41. ^ a b "The Secrets about Christian Lindtner-a preliminary response to the CLT". http://www.jesusisbuddha.com/scherer.html. 
  42. ^ a b Tweed, Thomas (2000). The American Encounter With Buddhism, 1844-1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent. University of North Carolina Press. p. 280. ISBN 0807849065. 
  43. ^ The Nag Hammadi library in English p7 Marvin W. Meyer, James McConkey Robinson - 1977 "Thus the history of Gnosticism, as documented in the Nag Hammadi library, takes up about where the history of the Essenes, as documented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, breaks off. Later Jewish mystical traditions, traced especially by Gershom .."
  44. ^ Elaine Pagels. "Extract from The Gnostic Gospels". pbs.org. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/pagels.html. Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  45. ^ Pagels, Elaine (1979, repr. 1989). The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House. 
  46. ^ Hidden Gospels:How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way Oxford University Press, 2002 Publishers description "This incisive critique thoroughly and convincingly debunks the claims that recently discovered texts such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and even the Dead Sea Scrolls undermine the historical validity of the New Testament. Jenkins places the recent controversies surrounding the hidden gospels in a broad historical context and argues that, far from being revolutionary, such attempts to find an alternative Christianity date back at least to the Enlightenment."
  47. ^ Jenkins, Philip. How Gnostic Jesus Became the Christ of Scholars.  "He attributes this bias to both a postmodern search for meaning and a lay audience hungry for religious truth, while noting that only new interpretations advance academic careers and attract media attention"
  48. ^ Conze, Edward. Buddhism and Gnosis. 
  49. ^ Nahum N. Glatzer The Judaic Tradition pp90 1982 The Sect of the Therapeutae
  50. ^ Scouteris, Constantine. "The Therapeutae of Philo and the Monks as Therapeutae according to Pseudo-Dionysius". http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/patrology/scouteris_theraputae.htm. 
  51. ^ Henry, Chadwick (2001). Christianity Two Thousand Years. Oxford University Press. 
  52. ^ JewishEncyclopedia.com - ASCETICISM:
  53. ^ Gruber, Elmar and Kersten, Holger. (1995). The Original Jesus. Shaftesbury: Element Books. 
  54. ^ Swami Abhedananda (1987). Journey into Kashmir and Tibet (the English translation of Kashmiri 0 Tibbate). Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Math. 
  55. ^ Goodspeed, Edgar J. (1956). Famous Biblical Hoaxes or, Modern Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. http://www.tentmaker.org/books/FamousBiblicalHoaxes.html. 
  56. ^ Prophet, Elizabeth Clare (1987). The Lost Years of Jesus: Documentary Evidence of Jesus' 17-Year Journey to the East. Livingston, Montana: Summit University Press. p. 468. ISBN 0-916766-87-X. 
  57. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (February 2011). "8. Forgeries, Lies, Deceptions, and the Writings of the New Testament. Modern Forgeries, Lies, and Deceptions" (EPUB). Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. (First Edition. EPub Edition. ed.). New York: HarperCollins e-books. pp. 282–283. ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. http://www.scribd.com/doc/55685655/Forged. Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  58. ^ Origin of Pagan Idolatry Ascertained from Historical Testimony, page 649
  59. ^ Iqbal Singh, S. Radhakrishnan, Arvind Sharma, (2004-06-24). The Buddhism Omnibus: Comprising Gautama Buddha, The Dhammapada, and The Philosophy of Religion. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195668987. 
  60. ^ [3]
  61. ^ Bentley, Jerry H. (1992). Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times. Oxford University Press. p. 240. ISBN 13: 9780195076400. 
  62. ^ Hinduism and Buddhism, An Historical Sketch, Vol 3. Charles Eliot 20 of 22: Egypt was a most religious country, but it does not appear that asceticism, celibacy or meditation formed part of its older religious life, and their appearance in Hellenistic times may be due to a wave of Asiatic influence starting originally from India. [4]
  63. ^ "In reading the particulars of the life of Buddha it is impossible not to feel reminded of many circumstances relating to our Savior's life as sketched by the evangelists. It may be said in favor of Buddhism that no philosophic-religious system has ever upheld to an equal degree the notions of a savior and deliverer, and the necessity of his mission for procuring the salvation of man." Catholic Bishop Bigandet
  64. ^ "These points of agreement with the Gospel narrative arouse curiosity and require explanation. If we could prove that they [the legends of Buddha] were unknown in the East for some centuries after Christ, the explanation would be easy. But all the evidence we have gone to prove the contrary...." (Samuel Beal, pp. viii-ix.)
  65. ^ Jerome-Against-Jovinianus, 815, Online Viewing: http://www.patriarchywebsite.com/bib-patriarchy/Jerome-Against-Jovinianus.txt
  66. ^ Andre Grabar "Christian iconography, a study of its origins", p129
  67. ^ Latin Sources: Archelaus (Bishop of Cascar in Mesopotamia, d. about 278): Acta Disputationis cum Manete Haeresiarcha; first written in Syriac, and so far belonging to the Oriental Christian Sources (Comp. Jerome, de Vir. Ill. 72), but extant only in a Latin translation, which seems to have been made from the Greek, edited by Zacagni (Rome, 1698), and Routh (in Reliquiae Sacrae, vol. V. 3-206); Eng. transl. in Clark's Ante-Nicene Library (vol. XX. 272-419). [Am. ed. vol. VI. p. 173 sq.].
  68. ^ R. von Garbe, Indien un dus Christentum (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1914), pp. 56-59
  69. ^ Jesus' walking on the sea: an investigation of the origin of the narrative
  70. ^ Andre Grabar mentions Buddhist iconography of the birth of the Buddha as a possible source for the Christian depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ. Andre Grabar, p129
  71. ^ Andre Grabar, p129
  72. ^ a b Foucher, "The beginnings of Buddhist art", p.271
  73. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 1878 edition, article Buddhism by T.W. Rhys Davids
  74. ^ Crooke, William (1904). Things Indian: Being Discursive Notes on Various Subjects Connected with India. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. http://books.google.com/?id=o6UCAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA5-PA407&lpg=RA5-PA407&dq=rosary+india+crusades#PPP12,M1. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  75. ^ Ciaravino, Helene. How to Pray. Garden City Park, New York: Square One. http://www.christiangateway.com/community/prayer/articles/f_lib_article_hc_christian.html. 
  76. ^ Ibid
  77. ^ Hinduism and Buddhism, An Historical Sketch, Vol 3, 1921
  78. ^ What is particularly disconcerting here is the disconnect between expectation and reality: We know from Chinese translations that large numbers of Mahayana sutras were being composed in the period between the beginning of the common era and the fifth century. But outside of texts, at least in India, at exactly the same period, very different — in fact seemingly older — ideas and aspirations appear to be motivating actual behavior, and old and established Hinayana groups appear to be the only ones that are patronized and supported., Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 494
  79. ^ Theravada - Mahayana Buddhism By Ven. Dr. W. Rahula http://www.buddhistinformation.com/theravada.htm
  80. ^ Beverley, James A., Hollywood's Idol, Christianity Today, "Jesus Christ also lived previous lives", he said. "So, you see, he reached a high state, either as a Bodhisattva, or an enlightened person, through Buddhist practice or something like that", Retrieved April 20, 2007
  81. ^ "Gospel of Thomas:The Buddhist Jesus?" Retrieved April 15, 2007.
  82. ^ 101 Zen Stories; #16
  83. ^ Palmer, Martin. The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity. New York: Ballantine, 2001. pp. 241-243

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