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Did Buddhism Influence Early Chrisianity?

To: alt.religion.buddhism,talk.religion.buddhism,talk.religion.misc,alt.christnet,alt.religion.christian,alt.magick.tyagi
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: Did Buddhism Influence Early Chrisianity? (by NSChandramouli)
Date: 6 May 1997 14:24:59 -0700

[from alt.buddha.short.fat.guy: atanu@are.Berkeley.EDU (Atanu Dey)]

 I came across this one in another newsgroup. Thought it was marginally
 interesting. (Damn, I *am* an economist! I have just used a 'marginal'
 concept :)


Title : Did Buddhism influence early Christianity?
Author : N. S. Chandramouli
Publication : The Times of India
Date : May 1, 1997

Long before the word 'missionary' came to be synonymous with
Christianity, Buddhist monks were travelling across Asia, spreading
their master's teachings along the Silk Route from Khotan in the
east to Antioch in the west.

Indeed, many scholars hold that the religious traditions of the
Silk Route regions, including the Levant, were significantly
influenced by the Buddha's philosophy of compassion, his vision of
Dhamma, the eternal law that sustains the cosmos and manifests
itself among humans as the moral law.

Against this historical backdrop. some scholars have posed an
interesting question: Were the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene a
continuation, in Palestine, of the philosophy that Siddhartha
Gautama had taught beside the Ganga 500 years earlier?  In their
book The Original Jesus (Element Books, Shaftesbury, 1995), Elmar R
Gruber, an eminent psychologist, and Holger Kersten, a specialist
in religious history and author of the best-selling Jesus Lived in
India, offer compelling evidence of extensive Buddhist influence on
the life and teachings of Jesus.

Arguing that 2,000 years of Church history have hidden the real
historical Jesus, the authors promise to peel away the varnish and
uncover him. Very little is known about Jesus' early years -in
those years, Gruber and Kersten claim, Jesus was brought up by the
Therapeutae, teachers of the Buddhist Theravada school then living
in the Bible lands. The Therapeutae had been sent by the Mauryan
emperor Ashoka on an embassy to Ptolemy II, king of Egypt, in 250

On arriving in Alexandria, Egypt's Hellenistic capital and a
flourishing intellectual centre, the Therapeutae established
themselves as a community. In his tract 'De Vita Contemplativa',
Philo Judaeus, a contemporary of Jesus, described the Therapeutae
as recluses devoted to poverty, celibacy, good deeds and
compassion: such a religious brotherhood had no precedent in the
Jewish world. The eminent linguist Zacharias P. Thundy observes
that the word 'Therapeuta' is itself of Buddhist origin, being a
Hellenisation of the Pali 'Theravada'.

Clearly, these Alexandrian Buddhists practised the Buddha's precept
that his bhikshus should minister both to soul and body: Buddhist
thought does not divorce physical balance from the quest for
enlightenment. Gruber and Kersten suggest that Jesus's spiritual
development, begun under the Therapeutae, was continued by the
Essenes. The Dutch researcher Ernest de Bunsen theorised that
Buddhist ideas were introduced to the Essenes by Jews living
abroad, and that they later influenced the shaping of Christian

The word 'Essene' may derive from the Aramaic 'Yssyn', healer: like
the Therapeutae, the Essenes believed that holy conduct and the
powers of healing belonged together.  Close, striking parallels
exist between the early Buddhist texts and what Bible scholars term
the 'Q' material -the sayings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels
of Matthew and Luke. 'Q' is shorthand for Quelle, the German for
'source': Matthew and Luke are believed to nave taken this material
from the oldest corpus of Jesus' aphorisms in circulation among his

The Buddha's most celebrated dictum is: "Hostility is never
conquered by hostility in this world; hostility is conquered by
love.  That is the eternal law." Again, he says: "Surmount hatred
by not hating, surmount evil with good; surmount greed through
generosity, surmount lies with truth; speak what is true, do not
succumb to anger, give when you are asked." Compare this with
Jesus's advice in the New Testament: "... love your enemies, do
good and without expecting anything in return.  Your reward will be
great, and you will be children of God."

Again, Jesus's aphorism about how one ignores the beam in one's own
eye while carping about the mote in another's is in concord with
the Buddha's observation, in the Dhammapada, that "the faults of
others are more easily seen than one's own, but seeing one's own
failings is difficult.  The failings of others are winnowed like
chaff in the wind, but one conceals one's own faults, like a
cheating gambler." Jesus's call to his disciples to break all ties
expressed in such injunctions as "Leave the dead to bury their
dead" and "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is
fit for the kingdom of God" accords with the Buddha's prescription
to the bhikshus: "Those who aspire are ever striving; they do not
stay in one place.  Like swans leaving a lake, they move from house
to house.  The only source of refuge for those who do not
accumulate possessions and are careful about what they cat is
unconditional freedom, knowing as they do the void of transience.
Their way is difficult to follow like that of birds in the sky."

Jesus's statement, "He who wishes to follow me must know himself
and bear my yoke," has a parallel in the Dhammapada: "When a
mendicant, though still young, yokes himself to the Buddha's
teachings, the world is illuminated like the moon freed of clouds."

Gruber and Kersten assert that the Church emphasised the duty of
self-denial so as to consolidate its position of power by depriving
the mass of believers of spiritual responsibility.  The authors
feel that such a Church, founded on power, had no use for those who
took personal responsibility for their spiritual advancement.

By contrast, Jesus had valued the acceptance of self-knowledge as a
means to promote responsibility for one's own life, actions and
thinking. Like the Buddha, Jesus opposed the priests and
theologians who barred the way to true self-knowledge, to maintain
their influence: "The Pharisees and the Scribes took the keys of
knowledge and they hid them.  Neither did they enter, nor did they
allow those who wished to enter.  But you become prudent as
serpents, and innocent as doves."

Gerber and Kersten have made a valiant effort to prove that the
historical Jesus lived the life of a Buddhist and taught Buddhist
ideals to his disciples; their work follows in the footsteps of the
Oxford New Testament scholar' Barnett Hillman Streeter, who
established as early as the 1930s that the ,moral teaching of the
Buddha has 4 remarkable resemblance to the Sermon on the Mount."

And although it has not produced sufficient proof to clinch the
issue, The Original Jesus may stimulate people towards fresh
exploration.  Whatever the Pauline theologians may contend, the
possible Buddhist influence on early Christianity can no longer he

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