02 June 2008

Christianity in Buddhism: Buddha on Christianity

References to Christianity in the earliest Buddhist teachings or "a Buddhist Catechism for Christians"
You may wonder how this can be? Buddha lived 500 years before Jesus was even born. How can we find references in the earliest Buddhist scriptures about Christianity. Well, according to Buddha the belief in an eternal creator God and eternal afterlife is a view which comes into being quite naturally. Mankind observed the sun going up and down and inferred that the sun circled the earth. Now, we know this not to be true. However, in a certain sense it isn't wrong either. Our ancient view was based on a limited amount of information. Likewise appears Christianity to a Buddhist: Or should we say at least to Buddhists versed in the original teachings of the Buddha, Christianity appears like small child: with very good intentions and a pure heart (the gospel) but without the knowledge of the bigger picture. To give you a better understanding what this means, let's hear some interesting remarks directly from the Buddha:

Buddha on God
There comes a time, monks, sooner or later after a long period, when this world contracts. At a time of contraction, beings are mostly reborn in the Abhassara Brahma world. And there they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through space, glorious - and they stay like that for a very long time."

"But the time comes, sooner or later after a long period, when this world begins to expand again [Com: known as 'Big Bang' in Western Science]. In this expanding world an empty palace of Brahma [Com: the Indian name for the highest God] appears. And then one being, from exhaustion of his life-span or of his merits, falls from the Abhassara world and arises in the empty Brahma-palace. And there he dwells, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through space, glorious - and he stays like that for a very long time."

"Then in this being who has been alone for so long there arises unrest, discontent and worry, and he thinks: ‘Oh, if only some other beings would come here!’ And other beings, from exhaustion of their life-span or of their merits, fall from the Abhassara world and arise in the Brahma palace as companions for this being. And there they dwell, mind-made, … and they stay like that for a very long time."

"And then, monks, that being who first arose there thinks: "I am God, the Great God, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. These beings were created by me. How so? Because I first had this thought: ‘Oh, if only some other beings would come here!’ That was my wish, and then these beings came into this existence!" But those beings who arose subsequently think: "This, friends, is God, Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. How so? We have seen that he was here first, and that we arose after him." [Brahmajala Sutta, Dighanikaya]


Buddha on Jesus
And this being that arose first is longer-lived, more beautiful and more powerful than they are. And it may happen that some being falls from that realm and arises in this human world. Having arisen in this world, he goes forth from the household life into homelessness. Having gone forth, he by means of effort, exertion, application, earnestness and right attention attains to such a degree of mental concentration that he thereby recalls his last existence, but recalls none before that. And he thinks: ‘That Brahma, … he made us, and he is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, the same for ever and ever. But we who were created by that Brahma, we are impermanent, unstable, short-lived, fated to fall away, and we have come to this world.’ [Brahmajala Sutta, Digha Nikaya]

Buddha on the Prophets
“Once, monks, there lived a master and a faith founder named Sunetta, who was free from greed for sensual pleasures. And there lived once a master and a faith founder named Mūgapakkha - Aranemi - Kuddālaka - Hatthipāla - Jotipāla - Araka, who was free from greed for sensual pleasures. This master however had many hundreds of disciples. And he showed the way to rebirth under the Gods of Brahma to his disciples [Comm: as "Angels in the vicinity of God" - an alternative translation closer to the understanding of the Western culture]. Those now, which did not show confidence, when the master pointed out the way to rebirth in heaven, all those arrived with the decay of the body, after death, into lower existence, on a suffering track, into the abysses, to hell. Those however, who showed confidence, all those arrived after the decay of the body, after death, on the lucky track, into heaven.

What do you think, o monks? If someone insulted with malicious thought these seven masters and faith founders, who had turned away from sensual pleasures and who had hundreds of disciples, wouldn't such a one load a debt on himself? “ - “Certainly, o Blessed One.” - “Who insults however, monks, only one human being, who has realized Nirvana with malicious intention or defames him, loads a still larger debt on himself. [Anguttara Nikaya.VII. 69 Defamation of the noble ones]

And another mentioning of Jesus like prophets of love and believers in a Creator in the Pali Canon:

Bhikkhus, in the past, there was a Teacher called Sunetta, one free of greed who helped to cross the ford. The Teacher Sunetta had innumerable hundreds of disciples .Bhikkhus, this Teacher taught, to be born in the world of Brahma. Those who completely knew the dispensation of Sunetta, after death, were born in a good state in the world of Brahma. Some of those who did not know the complete dispensation of Sunetta, after death, were born with those attached to the creation of others. Some attached to creation, some with the happy ones, some with the Titan gods, some with the gods of the thirty three and with the guardian gods. Others were born with high clans of warriors, Brahmins and householders.

Then it occurred to the Teacher Sunetta. `It is not suitable for me to be born in the same plane as my disciples, after death, what if I develop loving kindness further.'

Then the Teacher Sunetta developed loving kindness for seven years. Having developed loving kindness for seven years, he did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles. During the forward world cycles he was born a radiant god and during the backward world cycles was born in an empty Brahma paradise. There he was Brahma the supreme Lord, not conquered with sure insight wielding authority

There, he was Brahma, Brahma the great, the unconquered lord and master with sure insight, holding authority for seven times. Thirty six times he was Sakka the king of gods. Innumerable hundreds of times he was the righteous universal monarch, winning the four directions and establishing states. Bhikkhus, he was endowed with these seven jewels, such as the jewel of the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the woman, the householder and the advisor. Bhikkhus, he had over a thousand courageous sons with valiant figures, for crushing foreign armies. They lived ruling over the earth righteously, without weapons as far as the limit of the ocean. Bhikkhus, that Teacher Sunetta with long life and long standing was not released from birth, decay, death, grief, lament, unpleasantness and displeasure, I say not released from unpleasantness.

What is the reason? For not realizing and experiencing four things. What four?

Not realizing and experiencing the virtues, concentration, wisdom and release of the noble ones. Now he has realized and experienced the virtues, concentration, wisdom and release of the noble ones. The craving to be is uprooted, the leader of being is destroyed. Now he has no more birth. [Anguttara Nikaya, VII 66]

Buddha on the Path to God
Once two young brahmin students had an argument about which teacher shows the best way to God. In order to settle their argument they came to the Buddha and inquired from him, how to reach God. His full answer is recorded in the Tevijja Sutta, which you can read here. Below some excerpts, especially interesting for Christians, I find:

Not Knowing the Beauty of God
...'Just, Vasettha, as if a man should say, "How I long for, how I love the most beautiful woman in this land!"

'And people should ask him, "Well! good friend! this most beautiful woman in the land, whom you thus love and long for, do you know whether that beautiful woman is a noble lady or a Brahman woman, or of the trader class, or a Sudra?
'But when so asked, he should answer: "No."

'And when people should ask him, " Well! good friend! this most beautiful woman in all the land, whom you so love and long for, do you know what the name of that most beautiful woman is, or what is her family name, whether she be tall or short or of medium height, dark or brunette or golden in colour, or in what village or town or city she dwells?

'But when so asked, he should answer: No."

'And then people should say to him, So then, good friend, whom you know not, neither have seen, her do you love and long for?

'And then when so asked, he should answer: "Yes."

'Now what think you, Vasettha? Would it not turn out, that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk?'

In sooth, Gotama, it would turn out, that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk!'...

Not Knowing the Whereabouts of God
21. 'Just, Vasettha, as if a man should make a staircase in the place where four roads cross, to mount up into a mansion. And people should say to him, "Well, good friend, this mansion, to mount up into which you are making this staircase, do you know whether it is in the east, or in the south, or in the west, or in the north? whether it is high or low or of medium size?
'And when so asked, he should answer: "No."

'And people should say to him, "But then, good friend, you are making a staircase to mount up into something -- taking it for a mansion -- which, all the while, you know not, neither have seen!"

'And when so asked, he should answer: "Yes."

'Now what think you, Vasettha? Would it not turn out. that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk?'

'In sooth, Gotama, it would turn out, that being so, that the talk of that man was foolish talk!'


The uselessness of mere prayer for ultimate re-union with God

24. 'Again, Vasettha, if this river Aciravati were full of water even to the brim, and over flowing. And a man with business on the other side, bound for the other side, making, for the other side, should come up, and want to cross over. And he, standing on this bank, should invoke the further bank, and say, "Come hither, O further bank! come over to this side!"

' Now what think you, Vasettha? Would the further bank of the river Aciravati, by reason of that man's invoking and praying and hoping and praising, come over to this side?'
'Certainly not, Gotama!'

25. 'In just the same way, Vasettha, do the priests versed in the Vedas, -- omitting the practice of those qualities which really make a man a holy man, and adopting the practice of those qualities which really make men unholy -- say thus: "Indra we call upon, Soma we call upon, Varuna we call upon, Sana we call upon, Pajapati we call upon, God we call upon" Verily, Vasettha, that those priests versed in the Vedas, but omitting the practice of those qualities which really make a man holy, and adopting the practice of those qualities which really make men unholy-- that they, by reason of their invoking and praying and hoping and praising, should, after death and when the body is dissolved, become united with God verily such a condition of things can in no wise be!'

The necessity to overcome sensual attachments to attain company with God

26. 'Just, Vasettha, as if this river Aciravati were full, even to the brim, and overflowing. And a man with business on the other side, making for the other side, bound for the other side, should come up, and want to cross over. And he, on this bank, were to be bound tightly, with his arms behind his back, by a strong chain. Now what think you, Vasettha, would that man be able to get over from this bank of the river Aciravati to the further bank.

'Certainly not, Gotama!'

27. 'In the same way, Vasettha, there are five things leading to lust, which are called, in the Discipline of the Holy Ones, a "chain" and a "bond."'

'What are the five?'

'Forms perceptible to the eye; desirable, agreeable, pleasant, attractive forms, that are accompanied by lust and cause delight. Sounds of the same kind perceptible to the ear. Odors of the same kind perceptible to the nose. Tastes of the same kind perceptible to the tongue. Substances of the same kind perceptible to the body by touch. These five things predisposing to passion are called, in the Discipline of the Holy Ones, a "chain" and a "bond." And these five things predisposing to lust, Vasettha, do the priests versed in the Vedas cling to, they are infatuated by them, attached to them, see not the danger of them, know not how unreliable they are, and so enjoy them'.

28. 'And verily, Vasettha, that priests versed in the Vedas, but omitting the practice of those qualities which really make a man holy, and adopting the practice of those qualities which really make men unholy-clinging to these five things predisposing to passion, infatuated by them, attached to them, see not their danger, knowing not their unreliability, and so enjoying them -- that these priests should after death, on the dissolution of the body, become united to God, -- such a condition of things can in no wise be!'

Not even close to God they are and still believe they will meet him

31. 'Now what think you, Vasettha, and what have you heard from the priests aged and well-stricken in years, when the learners and teachers are talking together? Is God, in possession of wives and wealth, or is he not?'
'He is not, Gotama.'

'Is his mind full of anger, or free from anger?'
'Free from anger, Gotama.'

Is his mind full of malice, or free from malice?'
'Free from malice, Gotama.'

'Is his mind tarnished, or, is it pure?'
'It is pure, Gotama.'

Has he self-mastery, or has he not?
'He has, Gotama.'

32. 'Now what think you, Vasettha, are the priests versed in the Vedas in the possession of wives and wealth, or are they not?'
'They are, Gotama.'

'Have they anger in their hearts, or have they not?
'They have, Gotama.'

'Do they bear malice, or do they not?'
'They do, Gotama.'

'Are they pure in heart, or are they not?'
'They are not, Gotama.'

'Have they self-mastery, or have they not?'
'They have not, Gotama.'

33. 'Then you say, Vasettha, that the priests are in possession of wives and wealth, and that God is not. Can there, then, be agreement and likeness between the priests with their wives and property, and God, who has none of these things?'

'Certainly not, Gotama!'

34. 'Very good, Vasettha. But, verily, that these priests versed in the Vedas, who live married and wealthy, should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with God, who has none of these things -- such a condition of things can in no wise be!'

35. 'Then you say, too, Vasettha, that the priests bear anger and malice in their hearts, and are tarnished in heart and uncontrolled, whilst Brahma is free from anger and malice, pure in heart, and has self-mastery. Now can there, then, be concord and likeness between the priests and God?'

'Certainly not, Gotama!'

36. 'Very good, Vasettha. That these priests versed in the Vedas and yet bearing anger and malice in their hearts, sinful, and uncontrolled, should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united to God, who is free from anger and malice, pure in heart, and has self-mastery -- such a condition of things can in no wise be!

'So that thus then, Vasettha, the priests, versed though they be in the Vedas, while they sit down (in confidence), are sinking down (in the mire); and so sinking they are arriving only at despair, thinking the while that they are crossing over into some happier land.

'Therefore is it that the threefold wisdom of the priests, wise in their Vedas, is called a waterless desert, their wisdom is called a pathless jungle, their wisdom is called perdition!

Being asked, the Buddha teaches the path to re-union with God

37. When he had thus spoken, the young Brahman Vasettha said to the Blessed One:
'It has been told me, Gotama, that the Samana Gotama knows the way to the state of union with Brahma.'

'What do you think, Vasettha, is not Manasakata near to this spot, not distant from this spot
'Just so, Gotama. ManasakaTa is near to, is not far from here.'

'Now what think you, Vasettha, suppose there were a man born in Manasakata , and people should ask him, who never till that time had left ManasakaTa, which was the way to Manasakata . Would that man, born and brought up in Manasakata , be in any doubt or difficulty?'

' Certainly not, Gotama! And why? If the man had been born and brought up in Manasakata , every road that leads to Manasakata would be perfectly familiar to him.'

38. 'That man, Vasettha, born and brought up at Manasakata might, if he were asked the way to Manasakata , fall into doubt and difficulty, but to the Tathagata [Comm: the Thus-Gone, an epithet of the Buddha relating to his realization of Nibbana], when asked touching the path which leads to the world of God, there can be neither doubt nor difficulty. For God, I know, Vasettha, and heaven, and the path which leadeth unto it. Yea, I know it even as one who has entered the Heaven, and has been born within it!'

39. When he had thus spoken, Vasettha, the young Brahman, said to the Blessed One:

'Just so has it been told me, Gotama, even that the Samana Gotama knows the way to a state of union with God. It is well! Let the venerable Gotama be pleased to show us the way to a state of union with God, let the venerable Gotama save the Brahman race'!

'Listen then, Vasettha, and give ear attentively, and I will speak!'
'So be it, Lord!' said the young Brahman Vasettha, in assent, to the Blessed One.

40. Then the Blessed One spake, and said:

Know, Vasettha, that (from time to time) a Tathágata is born into the world, an Arahat, a fully awakened one, abounding, in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher of gods and men, a Blessed One, a Buddha. He, by himself, thoroughly understands, and sees, as it were, face to face this universe -- including the worlds above with the gods, the Maras, and the Brahmas; and the world below with its Samanas and Brahmans, its princes and peoples; -- and he then makes his knowledge known to others. The truth doth he proclaim both in the letter and in the spirit, lovely in its origin, lovely in its progress, lovely in its consummation: the higher life doth he make known, in all its purity and in all its perfect-ness.

41. 'A householder (gahapati), or one of his children, or a man of inferior birth in any class, listens to that truth. On hearing the truth he has faith in the Tathágata, and when he has acquired that faith he thus considers with himself:

"Full of hindrances is household life, a path defiled by passion : free as the air is the life of him who has renounced all worldly things. How difficult it is for the man who dwells at home to live the higher life in all its fullness, in all its purity, in all its bright perfection! Let me then cut off my hair and beard, let me clothe myself in the orange-colored robes, and let me go forth from a household life into the homeless state.

'Then before long, forsaking his portion of wealth, be it great or be it small; forsaking his circle of relatives, be they many or be they few, he cuts off his hair and beard, he clothes himself in the orange -- colored robes. and he goes forth from the household life into the homeless state.

42. 'When he has thus become a recluse he passes a life self-restrained by that restraint which should be binding on a recluse. Uprightness is his delight, and he sees danger in the least of those things he should avoid. He adopts and trains himself in the precepts. He encompasses himself with goodness in word and deed. He sustains his life by means that are quite pure; good is his conduct, guarded the door of his senses; mindful and self-possessed, he is altogether happy!'

43-75. 'And how, Vasettha, is his conduct good?'

[1. The confidence of heart that results from the sense of goodness.
2. The way in which he guards the doors of his senses.
3. The way in which he is mindful and self-possessed.
4. His habit of being content with little, of adopting simplicity of life.
5. His conquest of the Five Hindrances, each with the explanatory simile.
6. The joy and peace which, as a result of this conquest, fills his whole being.]

76. 'And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of Love, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of Love, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.

77. 'Just, Vasettha, as a mighty trumpeter makes himself heard-and that without difficulty-in all the four directions; even so of all things that have shape or life, there is not one that he passes by or leaves aside, but regards them all with mind set free, and deep-felt love.

'Verily this, Vasettha, is the way to a state of union with God.

78. 'And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of pity [29], ... sympathy [30], equanimity [31], and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of pity. . . . sympathy, . . . equanimity, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.

79. 'Just, Vasettha, as a mighty trumpeter makes himself heard -- and that without difficulty -- in all the four directions ; even so of all things that have shape or life, there is not one that he passes by or leaves aside, but regards them all with mind set free, and deep-felt pity, ... sympathy, ... equanimity.

'Verily this, Vasettha, is the way to a state of union with God.'

80. 'Now what think you, Vasettha, will the Bhikkhu who lives thus be in possession of women and of wealth, or will he not?'
'He will not, Gotama!'

'Will he be full of anger, or free from anger?'
'He will be free from anger, Gotama!'

'Will his mind be full of malice, or free from malice?'
'Free from malice, Gotama!'

'Will his mind be tarnished, or pure?'
'It will be pure, Gotama!'

'Will he have self-mastery, or will he not?'
'Surely he will, Gotama!'

81 'Then you say, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu is free from household and worldly cares, and that Brahma is free from household and worldly cares. Is there then agreement and likeness between the Bhikkhu and Brahma?'

'There is, Gotama!

Very good, Vasettha. Then in sooth, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from household cares should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same -- such a condition of things is every way possible!

'And so you say, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself; and that Brahma is free from anger, and free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself. Then in sooth, Vasettha, that the Bhikkhu who is free from anger, free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same-such a condition of things is every way possible!'

82. When he hid thus spoken, the young. Brahmans Vasettha and Bharadvaja addressed the Blessed One, and said:

'Most excellent, Lord, are the words of thy mouth, Most excellent! Just as if a man were to set up that which is thrown down, or were to reveal that which is hidden away, or were to point out the right road to him who has gone astray, or were to bring a lamp into the darkness, so that those who have eyes can see external forms; -- just even so, Lord, has the truth been made known to us, in many a figure, by the Exalted One. And we, even we, betake ourselves, Lord, to the Blessed One as our guide, to the Truth, and to the Brotherhood. May the Blessed One accept us as disciples, as true believers, from this day forth, as long as life endures!'

[Excerpts from the Tevijja Sutta, Digha Nikaya]

To God through Selfless Love
Monks, do not fear to do good. Pleasantness is a synonym for good. Monks, I know of enjoying the results of pleasing and agreeable good, done long ago. I developed the thought of loving kindness for seven years and did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles. During the forward world cycles I was a god of radiance and during the backward world cycles I was born in an empty paradise of God

There, I was God, Brahma the great, the unconquered lord and master with sure insight, holding authority for seven times. Thirty six times I was Sakka the king of gods. Innumerable hundreds of times I was the righteous universal monarch, winning the four directions and establishing states. Monks, I was endowed with these seven jewels, such as the jewel of the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the jewel, the woman, the householder and the advisor. Monks, I had over a thousand courageous sons with valiant figures, for crushing foreign armies. They lived ruling over the earth righteously, without weapons as far as the limit of the ocean.

Look at the results of good, how merits bring pleasantness.
Developing the thought of loving kindness for seven years
I did not come to this world for seven forward and backward world cycles
During the forward world cycles I was a radiant god
And during the backward world cycles was born in an empty paradise of God
There I was Great Brahma for seven times, wielding authority.
Thirty six times I was king of gods, ruling over the gods.
Innumerable hundreds of times I became universal monarch in Jambudipa
Head anointed warriors were the leaders of the people
They ruled without punishments and weapons. I advised them,
To rule this earth without force and impartially.
Thus I earned for the clan much wealth and resources.
I was endowed with the five strands of sense pleasures and the seven jewels
By the enlightened ones showing compassion for the world
It was told was the cause for my greatness and success in the world.
With much resources and means I became a powerful, famous king in India.
Who would not be pleased to hear this other than those born in darkness
Therefore desiring your own good, honour the Teaching recollecting the dispensation.

[Anguttara Nikaya, VII 62]

Final Word
Amazing, isn't it? After reading these passages from the Pali Canon which itself handed and written down in 80 BC you may really wonder how the Buddha could describe the quintessence of Jesus teachings in these few lines? Well, that is you might wonder if you never heard or read about the Buddha's thorough teachings before. Not in vain is one of the epithets of the Buddha "sattha deva manussanam" - the "Teacher of God and Men". This being said, Christians and other followers of (mono)theistic religions might be considered in effect pupils of the Buddha (from a Buddhist perspective, of course) - simply due to the fact that God (as Mahabrahma) himself has taken refuge in the Law (Dhamma) which the Buddhas (Awakened Ones) time and again will realize and share with all who are intent to understand the universe, the world and their minds. Therefore, though they might fight with him, he never will fight with them!
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