Wednesday, August 12, 2009


A Miscellaneous Anthology with Occasional Comment
Compiled and Commented on by Michael Lockwood

*Note: This document is a work in progress –
as of April 2, 2008; and now in book form.
Buddhism's Relation to Christianity

Section Page

1 Bibliographic Prolegomena
2 Buddhist Parallels in Sculpture
3 Buddhist Parallels in Inscriptions
4 The Buddha Becomes a Christian Saint
5 Further Parable Parallels
6 Parallel Sayings
7 Firsts Established by Buddhism

Bibliographic Prolegomena

For over one hundred and fifty years, distinguished scholars have observed in their writings that there is a remarkable parallelism between the messages and lives of the Buddha and Jesus. As a brief – and by no means exhaustive – introduction to this book’s illustration and examination of some of those parallelisms, a select, annotated bibliography is presented in this opening section. Though it is safe to say that most Christians, including clergy, have not read these books, various lists of them can be found cited again and again on the internet (the source seems to be a list in Michael Drazin’s 1990 publication, Their Hollow Inheritance). Some added insight concerning these books is given in the annotations on the following pages – brief quotations from two outstanding recent books which deal with the influence of Buddhism (and other Indian sources) on Christianity:

1. Buddha and Christ: Nativity Stories and Indian Traditions (BC), by Zacharias P. Thundy (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993).

2. The Original Jesus: The Buddhist Sources of Christianity (OJ), by Elmar R. Gruber & Holger Kersten (Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books Ltd., 1995), being the English translation of Der Ur-Jesus (Munich: F.A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, 1995).

A Select, Annotated, Roughly Chronological Bibliography (1828 to 1932) of Works Suggesting that the Christian Gospels Have Borrowed Much from Buddhism 

Isaak Jakob Schmidt (1779-1847).

Schmidt’s work referenced in The Original Jesus [OJ] (1995), by Gruber and Kersten: Über die Verwandtschaft der Gnostisch-Theosophischen Lehren mit den Religionssystemen des Orients, vorzüglich dem Buddhismus (Leipzig, 1828).

Comment in OJ, pp. 26-27:

 “[A] Russian diplomat, [Schmidt] arrived in Sarepta among the Kalmucks of Central Asia. . . . [H]e wrote a very scholarly study that has remained a trail-blazer up to the present day, demonstrating that the Christian and Gnostic concepts that emerged everywhere between Alexandria and Syria at the beginning of the first century AD were closely related to Buddhism. His Buddhist-influenced writings about Schopenhauer also made a considerable contribution towards Western philosophy taking such ideas seriously.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). 

Schopenhauer as quoted in Buddha and Christ [BC] (1993), by Zacharias P. Thundy, pp. 1-2 [from The Essential Schopenhauer (London, 1962), p. 24]:

The New Testament . . . must be in some way traceable to an Indian source: its ethical system, its ascetic view of morality, its pessimism, and its Avatar, are all thoroughly Indian. It is its morality which places it in a position of such emphatic and essential antagonism to the Old Testament, so that the story of the Fall is the only possible point of connection between the two. For when the Indian doctrine was imported into the land of promise, two very different things had to be combined: on the one hand the consciousness of the corruption and misery of the world, its need of deliverance and salvation through an Avatar, together with a morality based on self-denial and repentance, on the other hand the Jewish doctrine of Monotheism, with its corollary. . . that “all things are very good.” . . . And the task succeeded as far as it could, as far, that is, as it was possible to combine two such heterogeneous and antagonistic creeds. . . . The Christian faith [is] . . . sprung from the wisdom of India.

Comment in OJ, p. 26: 

Schopenhauer made no secret of his view that the New Testament had to derive from an Indian, and particularly a Buddhist, source. All the important elements of the New Testament were said to entail amazing correspondences with Indian precursors. The ascetic attitude to life, the ethical system, the pessimistic undertone, and even the idea that divine consciousness incarnates itself in earthly form, were claimed to be characteristically Indian. In addition Schopenhauer maintained that Brahminism, Buddhism and the New Testament were essentially similar. 1857 – L’Abbe M. Huc, Missionary Apostolic (1813-1860):

“The miraculous births of Buddha, his life and instructions, contain a great number of the moral and dogmatic truths professed in Christianity.” [Huc, Christianity in China, Tartary, and Thibet (London, 1857), p. 327.]

1873 – Max Müller, Professor (1823-1900):

“Between the language of The Buddha and his disciples, and the language of Christ and his apostles, there are strange coincidences. Even some Buddhist legends and parables sound as if taken from the New Testament, though we know that many of them existed before the beginning of the Christian era.” [Müller, Introduction to the Science of Religion [ISR] (London, 1873), p. 243.] 

1882 – Max Müller, in a letter reprinted in his book, India: What Can It Teach Us? (London, 1899), p. 284, wrote[(1)]:

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. I have been looking for such channels all my life, but hitherto I have found none. What I have found is that for some of the most startling coincidences there are historical antecedents on both sides, and if we once know those antecedents, the coincidences become far less startling. If I do find in certain Buddhist works doctrines identically the same as in Christianity, so far from being frightened, I feel delighted, for surely truth is not the less true because it is believed by the majority of the human race.

[(1) Christian Lindtner, “Comparative Gospel Studies in Review”]

1875 – Samuel Beal, Professor (1825-1889):

“We know that the Fo-pen-hing [Legends of Buddha] was translated into Chinese from Sanskrit (the ancient language of Hinduism) as early as the eleventh year of the reign of Wing-ping (Ming-ti) of the Hans Dynasty, i.e., 69 or 70 A.D. We may, therefore, safely suppose that the original work was in circulation in India for some time before this date.” [Beal, The Romantic Legends of Sakya Buddha from the Chinese Sanskrit (London, 1875), p. vi.] “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 goes to prove the contrary. . . .” (Ibid., pp. viii-ix.) 1880 – Ernest de Bunsen (1819-1903):

“With the remarkable exception of the death of Jesus on the cross, and of the doctrine of atonement by vicarious suffering, which is absolutely excluded by Buddhism, the most ancient of the Buddhistic records known to us contain statements about the life and the doctrines of Gautama Buddha which correspond in a remarkable manner, and impossibly by mere chance, with the traditions recorded in the Gospels about the life and doctrines of Jesus Christ. . . .” [De Bunsen, The Angel Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes and Christians (London, 1880), p. 50.] Rudolf Seydel (1835-1892). Seydel’s works referenced in BC, p. 2: Das Evangelium von Jesu in seinen Verhältnissen zu Buddha-Sage und Buddha-Lehre (Leipzig, 1882).

The above work and the following are referenced in OJ, p. 28:
Die Buddha-Legende und das Leben Jesu nach den Evangelien: Emeute Prüfung ihres gegenseitigen Verhältnisses (Leipzig, 1884).

Comment in BC, p. 2: 

“In 1882 Rudolf Seydel argued for Buddhist influence in the New Testament from the Lalitavistara, especially in the infancy gospels. Seydel believed that he was able to establish a Buddhist literary source for the gospels from fifty-one parallels, for which he was praised by admirers and damned by detractors.”

Comment in OJ, pp. 28-29: 

“Seydel . . . , Professor of Philosophy at Leipzig University, . . . made a name for himself with an outstanding presentation and evaluation of Schopenhauer’s work. In two highly scholarly studies, he succeeded in showing that the Gospels are full of borrowings from Buddhist texts. This meticulous work led Seydel to conclude that a text he characterized as a Christian working of a Buddhist gospel must have served as the basis of the writings of the New Testament. That would mean that even before the Christian Gospels were written down a Buddhist text was in circulation in Syria and Palestine, which was then adapted by followers of Jesus to accord with their views.” Arthur Lillie (b. 1831). Lillie’s works referenced in BC, pp. 2-3: Buddhism in Christianity (London, 1887).India in Primitive Christianity (London, 1909).

BC, pp. 2-3: 

“Arthur Lillie, while a civil servant in India, became fascinated by the Indian religions and wrote two books on the relationship between Buddhism and early Christianity; Lillie was so convinced by the parallels of virginal conception by Mary and Maya, the annunciation by the angels, the star in the east, the tree that bends down to aid the mother, and the old sage who predicts the child’s future that he argued that early Christianity was heavily influenced by Buddhism.”


The second book, India in Primitive Christianity (1909), is really an update of an earlier edition of the same title, published in 1893, which, in turn was an enlarged version based on his 1887 publication, Buddhism in Christianity. Lillie added, in 1909, a discussion of the increasing influence of Saivite “Left-handed Tântrika” rites on Buddhism. 

1894 – T.W. Rhys Davids (1843-1922), Professor:

“There is every reason to believe that the Pitakas [sacred books recording the teachings of, and legends about, the Buddha] now present in Ceylon [Srï Lankä] are substantially identical with the books of the Southern [Buddhist] Canon, as settled at the Council of Patna about the year 250 B.C. As no works would have been received into the Canon which were not then believed to be very old, the Pitakas may be approximately placed in the fourth century B.C., and parts of them possibly reach back very nearly, if not quite, to the time of Gautama (Buddha) himself.”

[Rhys Davids, Buddhism: Being a Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha (London, 1894), p. 10.] 

Albert J. Edmunds (1857-1941). 

Edmunds’ work referenced in BC and OJ: Buddhist and Christian Gospels Now First Compared from the Originals [BCGNFCO] (Philadelphia, 1902).

Comment in BC, p. 3: 

“In the first decade of this century, the American scholar Albert J. Edmunds published his two-volume work in comparative religion, in which he brought together a large number of parallels from Buddhist scriptures and the New Testament with the purpose of fostering mutual understanding between both religions, after repeatedly asserting that the loan problem was only incidental. He wrote: I believe myself that Buddhism and Christianity, whether historically connected or not, are two parts of one great spiritual movement – one cosmic upheaval of the human soul, which burst open a crater in India five hundred years before Christ and a second and greater one in Palestine at the Christian Advent. Whether the lava which the twain ejected ever met in early times or not is of little moment: it came from the same fount of fire. And now, over the whole planet, the two have assuredly met, and the shaping of the religion of the future lies largely in their hands. [BCGNFCO, II, pp. 71-72.]

“Edmunds’ continued research gradually convinced him that the Buddhist-Christian parallels were more than coincidental. In later articles he made a case for the influence of Buddhism on Christianity in several parts of Luke’s infancy narrative, in the story of the Good Thief, in the story of the temptation of Jesus and in John 7:38 and John 12:34 (II:97). 

Edmunds suggested in a study: 

‘My general attitude toward the Buddhist-Christian problem is this: Each religion is independent in the main, but the younger one arose in such a hotbed of eclecticism that it probably borrowed a few legends and ideas from the older, which was quite accessible to it.’”

Comment in OJ, p. 29: 

“The comparative material assembled by . . . Edmunds is a real treasure trove. Without clarifying the question of dependences, he simply selected texts from the great wealth of Buddhist writings and compared them with passages from the New Testament. He left to other scholars the analysis of the frequently amazing correspondences.”

G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga (1874-1957). 

Van Eysinga’s work, Indische Einflüsse auf evangelische Erzählungen (Göttingen, 1904), commented on in OJ, pp. 105-6:

“The theologian . . . van Eysinga thought that the following eleven correspondences were particularly convincing, and six additional ones worthy of consideration:

1. the story of Simeon

2. the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple

3. Jesus’s hesitation about being baptized (according to Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews)

4. the temptation

5. Mary’s beatitude

6. the widow’s mite

7. Jesus walking on the water

8. the Samaritan woman at the we

9. ‘out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38)

10. the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27)

11. the world on fire in the Second Epistle of Peter (3:8-11).

The lesser parallels he suggests are:

12. the Annunciation (Luke 1:29-33)

13. the selection of the disciples (John 1:35-43)

14. the statement about Nathanael

15. the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)

16. the man born blind

17. the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36).”

Richard Garbe (1857-1927).

Garbe’s work referenced in OJ, p. 29. Indien und das Christentum: Eine Untersuchung der religionsgeschichtlichen Zusammenhänge (Tübingen, 1914). 

Garbe, as quoted in BC, p. 4:

Whereas a direct Buddhist influence is unmistakable in the apocryphal gospels, only an indirect reflection glimmers through the canonical writings, and then merely in a few stories that are of Buddhist origin but [which] lost their specifically Buddhist character in passing from mouth to mouth outside the realm of Buddhist expansion and finally became assimilated to the Christian genius

[Garbe, India and Christendom (La Salle, 1959 [translation]), pp. 21-22 – original German, Indien und das Christentum (1914).] Hilko Wiardo Schomerus (1879-1945). Schomerus’ work referenced in OJ, p. 29: Ist die Bibel von Indien abhängig? (Munich, 1932).

Buddhist Parallels in Sculpture

A number of examples of Buddhist sculptures are presented in the following pages – some created in the centuries B.C. – which illustrate themes paralleled in the narratives of the New Testament and in Christian apocryphal works.

All of the illustrations in this section are from the book, The Way of the Buddha (Delhi:

Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1956). Each illustration is explained in the present work by its original caption, above it. The numbers preceding each caption locate the illustration: the Roman numeral indicates the section in the original book where it is found; the Arabic numeral, its ordinal position within that section. (For example, III.42 indicate the 42nd illustration in Section Three.)

II.4. Buddha’s Life in Epitome. Stone, Särnäth, 5th century A.D., National Museum, New Delhi This sculpture depicts a large number of scenes from Buddha’s life. [The Way of the Buddha, p. 289] Read from the bottom panel up! The topmost portion which probably represented the Buddha’s Parinirvä∫a (death) has broken off.
Upper panel:

(1) Mära’s attack, Bodhisattva’s enlightenment, and
(2) Buddha’s First Sermon
Middle panel:
(1) The Great Departure
(2) Chandaka receiving the royal robes and ornaments
from his Master
(3) The Bodhisattva cutting off his hair
(4) Sujätä’s Offering
(5) Bodhisattva in conversation with Näga Kälika
(6) Bodhisattva’s Meditation

Bottom panel:

(1) Mäyä’s Dream (the descent of a white elephant into the womb of Mäyä and the Birth of Buddha)
(2) The infant Buddha being bathed by the Näga kings, Nanda and Upananda


In Indian literary and artistic works, the image of an elephant often signifies a cloud – a form of water, the fructifying, feminine element in the world. It is also a regal symbol, often pictured on coins and royal seals. Indian art (both literary and visual) relishes the paradoxical. A Westerner, not familiar with Eastern ways, may be excused for viewing this imagery of an elephant entering the womb of a woman with puzzled surprise. The ancient Indian viewer, however, would have enjoyed this visual paradox and would have understood its resolution by realizing that it is only Mäyä’s dream telling us that the Bödhisattva came down to earth enveloped in a white cloud (his heavenly amniotic environment) and entered forthwith into her womb. Thus, the image of an elephant has significance, here, at these two levels: 1) as a white cloud, an amniotic envelopment of the Bödhisattva descending from heaven into the womb of Queen Mäyä, and 2) as a symbol of a supreme (spiritual) leader. 
Zacharias P. Thundy, in his book Buddha and Christ, p. 88, draws attention to the symbol of the Holy Spirit in the form of a white elephant or a white dove descending from heaven and impregnating women (Queen Mäyä, in Buddhist accounts, and Hannah, the mother of Mary, in Christian apocrypha):

In the Buddhist tradition, it is in the form of a white elephant that the Bodhisattva enters the womb of his mother. Interestingly, this idea is preserved in a Christian apocryphal work where the metaphor of the white elephant is changed into that of a white dove. The Ethiopic History of Hanna describes the birth of Mary as follows:

[The Holy Spirit] appeared unto her that day in a vision of the night, in the form of a White Bird which came down from heaven. . . . Now this was the Spirit of Life, in the form of a White Bird, and it took up its abode in the Person of Hanna, and became incarnate in her womb . . . [as] the Body of our Lady Mary. We may safely conclude that the metaphoric mechanism of the Buddha’s conception was well known to early Christian writers. To be Physically Born, and then to be ‘Born Again’ (‘Twice Born’):

From time immemorial, in India, there has been the concept of being ‘twice born’, involving a ceremony in which a person renounces the ‘worldly life’ and takes up the life of an ascetic. John C. Oman, in 1903, has given us the following description of just such a ceremony:

Initiation – The shagrid (postulant) who wishes to become a chela is first obliged to fast for three days, living only on milk. On the fourth day there is a grand hawan. . . . After this he is shaved, head and all, with the exception of a few hairs on the crown. Then the candidate has to stand waist-deep in water. . . . With his own hands the postulant then plucks out the few hairs which had been allowed to remain on top of his head. His sacred thread is removed and burnt, the ashes thereof being eaten by the neophyte. When he steps out of the water he is handed a staff and a gourd, and is robed in five bits of salmon-coloured cotton cloth, one piece being wrapped round the head. Rules for his guidance in life are explained to him: for example, that he must not touch fire, may take but one meal a day, . . . and so on. He is admonished not to possess any property at all, to use either a gourd or an earthen vessel for his [begging] water and food. This ceremony is both a funeral service (the burning of the sacred thread symbolizing the destruction of all family and other ties of his earlier life) and a ‘new birth’ ceremony (symbolized by being immersed in water – the ‘amniotic fluid’ of his ‘second birth’). From now on, the neophyte will take up the celibate life of a wandering mendicant, accepting food only offered by others, never settling down at any one place, with no place to call home, and with no family ties. (Compare: Matthew 8:19-22.)

Jesus’ baptism is very much in this spirit: he now turns away from family ties to a ‘homeless, wandering’ life, typical of a layperson becoming a Buddhist monk. Roman Catholicism has tended to retain the essence of this rite of passage in the vows of poverty and celibacy taken by its monks and nuns. However, the baptism generally practiced by John the Baptist – unlike his baptism of Jesus – does not seem to have marked the giving up of earthly ties and the embracing of a life of asceticism, but rather, it was a ringing call to people to become lay-followers of a life of righteousness (the Kingdom of Heaven, as later preached by Jesus). Ever since John’s time, Christian baptism, in all of its various manifestations, has followed the layperson’s attenuated form of ‘rebirth’. (Within this attenuated form, the denominational Baptists certainly have one of the most ample representations of this act of rebirth, with its adult participation and its full immersion in the ‘amniotic fluid’.)
1Quoted from E.A. Wallis Budge, The Legends of Our Lady Mary the Perpetual Virgin and Her Mother Hanna (London, 1933), p. 19.
2The Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India, by John C. Oman, first published in 1903 (reprinted by Cosmo Publications, Delhi, 1984), pp. 160-62.

Water Baptism and Spiritual Baptism

Mark I. 7, 8:

There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy [Spirit].

John IV. 2: 

[I]n fact, it was only the disciples who were baptizing [with water] and not Jesus himself.

* * * * * * * * *

Albert J. Edmunds, in his Buddhist and Christian Gospels Now First Compared from the Originals, pp. 231 & 230, quotes the above two passages from the New Testament and then translates passages from the Buddhist scriptures which reveal the basis of the emphatic break that Jesus is to make with John the Baptist – in John’s own words: “I baptized you [people] with water, but he [Jesus] shall baptize you with the Holy [Spirit].” Nowhere in the New Testament do we find Jesus baptizing anyone with water. If the disciples were sent out to baptize the world, it was with the Spirit (Logos, Dharma) essentially – and with water only symbolically!

Edmund’s translation (pp. 230-233) of the relevant passages of the Buddhist scripture is taken from the “Classified Collection”, VII. 2. 11: Place: Sävatthi.

On this occasion there was a Brahmin named Sa≥gäravo living at Sävatthi, and he was a Baptist (literally, a water-purity-man), and believed in purity by means of water. He continued devoted to the practise of descent into the water, evening and morning. Now St. Änando, having drest betimes, took bowl in robe and entered Sävatthi for alms. And having traverst the city and returned from the quest of alms, in the afternoon he called on the Lord, saluted him and sat on one side. And so sitting, St. Änando said unto the Lord: “Master, there is living here in Sävatthi a Brahmin named Sa≥gäravo, who is a Baptist and believes in purity by water: he continues devoted to the practise of descent into the water evening and morning. Good Master, may the Lord, out of compassion, call at the abode of Sa≥gäravo the Brahmin.”

The Lord consented by being silent. Then the Lord having drest betimes took bowl in robe and called at the abode of Sa≥gäravo the Brahmin, and sat on a seat prepared for him. And the Brahmin, approaching the Lord, exchanged civilities with him, and then sat on one side. While he so sat, the Lord asked him: “Brahmin, is it true that you are a Baptist and believe in purity by water? Do you continue devoted to the practise of descent into the water evening and morning?”

“Yes, Gotamo.”

“What significance do you see, Brahmin, in being a Baptist and in water-purity? Why do you continue this practise evening and morning?”

“Well, Gotamo, the fact is that whatever bad deed I have done during the day I wash away at evening by ablution; and whatever bad deed I have done in the night I wash away at morning by ablution. This is the significance, Gotamo, that I see in being a Baptist and why I believe in purity by water. And so I continue devoted to the practise of descent into the water evening and morning.”

[The Buddha said:]

“Religion is a lake, O Brahmin, and ethics is the baptistry thereof, 

Untroubled, esteemed by the wisest of the wise,
Where indeed Vedic scholars their ablutions make:
As those who cross with limbs unwet unto the farther shore!”

[Whereupon the Brahmin is converted on the spot.]


To paraphrase the Buddha’s closing stanza: Religion is like a lake, and ethics is like a sacred bathing-place on the lake’s shore, a place untroubled, esteemed by the wisest of the wise, where indeed those who truly come to understand the Vedic scriptures “carry out their ablutions”. Thus, as these expressions are merely metaphorical, the limbs of those who truly understand need not actually be made wet by any physical water, as they “cross over” that metaphorical “water” representing Saμsära (the innumerable rebirths that an individual must experience) before reaching the “farther shore” (the metaphoric goal, standing for Parinirvä∫a, the final Bliss in the freedom from rebirth!)

What the Buddha is saying is that physical water has nothing to do with cleansing a person spiritually. To claim that it does, is to mistake the metaphor for reality – it is only by moral insight and training that one is “cleansed”! And that is the significance of the words put in the mouth of John the Baptist by the gospel writer, Mark. Setting metaphor aside, what are the details of the Buddha’s ‘Way’ to attaining moral insight and training? The answer is found in learning the Four Noble Truths and following the Noble Eightfold Path (Way). This was the Dharma (Logos/Gospel) which the Buddha preached. He could also claim to be (metaphorically) the ‘Life’, as he had found the ‘Way’ (through the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path) to conquer death. He is often hailed as ‘Conqueror of Death’. The Buddha, at times, identified himself with the Dharma he preached. 

He therefore could also declare (metaphorically), “I am the Way; am the Truth and the Life” :

[As the Buddha’s earthly life was coming to a close, he] said: 

‘It may be that you will think, “The Teacher’s instruction has ceased, now we will have no teacher!” It should not be seen like this, for what I have taught and explained to you will, at my passing, be your teacher.’ – Dïgha Nikäya 16:6:1

‘He who sees the Dharma, he sees me; he who sees me, sees the Dharma.’ – Kindred Sayings, III, Khanda-Vagga Middle Fifty, Ch. 4, 67 

Compare John 14:9&10: 

‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . . Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me.’ – The New English Bible

* * * * * * * * *


1 Buddhist and Christian Gospels Now First Compared from the Originals: Being “Gospel Parallels from Päli Texts,” Reprinted with Additions, 4th edition, vol. 1 of 2 (Philadelphia: Innes & Sons, 1908).

2Edmunds’ use of a ‘modern’ reformed type of English spelling – ‘drest’ for ‘dressed’, etc. – is only following a practice which was popular in America during the early 20th century.

3‘Baptistry’, from Päli tittho, Sanskrit tïrtha, a sacred bathing-place.

4For specific passages of Buddhist scriptures which were recommended by King Asoka (mid-3rd century B.C.) to Buddhist monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen, as representing the very essence of the ‘Buddha’s Gospel’, see his ‘Calcutta-Bhairät Rock Inscription’, illustrated and discussed on p. 48.

II.8. The Bodhisattva in the Tußita Heaven. Limestone, Nägärjunako∫∂a, 3rd century A.D. the panel shows the Bodhisattva seated on a throne in the Tußita heaven, while the gods around him beseech him to appear on earth to preach the Dharma to mankind.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 290]
* * * * * * * * *

John 1:1-2:

When all things began, the Word [i.e., Jesus, being identified with his Message of Salvation, his Dharma’] already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was.

John 1:15:

Here is John’s [the Baptist’s] testimony to him: he cried aloud, ‘This is the man I meant when I said, “He [Jesus] comes after me, but takes rank before me”; for before I was born, he already was.’

– The New English Bible

II.9. The Bodhisattva in the Tußita Heaven. Stone, Borobudur, 8th century A.D.

The Bodhisattva is shown here in a pavilion seated on a throne with apsaras [angelic maidens] on either side. The musical instruments in the hands of the gods are indicative of the türya-dhvani [‘sounds of music’] amidst which he was requested to descend to earth for the salvation of mankind. Buddhist legends recount that, before his advent in this world, Gautama Buddha was a Bodhisattva or Buddha potentia in the Tußita heaven. It was at the request of the Tußita gods that he agreed to descend to earth to preach the Dharma for the salvation of mankind. He considered the time, continent, country and family in which he would choose to be born for the last time and decided that his mother should be queen Mäyä and his [putative] father Åuddhodana, the chief of the Åäkya clan of Kapilavastu in Jambudvïpa [i.e., in India].

According to the story in the Nidäna-kathä, it was the time of the festival of the full moon in the month of Äßä∂ha (June-July). For seven days preceding the full moon, queen Mäyä watched the festival, avoiding all intoxicants and spending her time in giving alms and listening to scriptures. On the seventh night she dreamt that four divine kings carried her in her bed to the Himälayas. Their queens then bathed her there with the water of the lake Anotattä to free her from human stain, clothed her in heavenly raiment and anointed her with celestial perfumes. The Bodhisattva then appeared in the form of a white elephant and entered her right flank.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 290]
John 3:16-17:

‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him may not die but have eternal life. It was not to judge the world that God sent his Son into the world, but that through him the world might be saved.’

– The New English Bible


II.11. Mäyä’s Dream: the queens of the four guardian kings of the quarters [East, South, West, and North] bathing her with the water of lake Anotattä. Limestone, Amarävatï, 2nd century A.D.,
Government Museum, Madras [Chennai].
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 290]

The Virginal Conception – Virginal Before the Birth of the Future Buddha. 

As Thundy explains in Buddha and Christ (pp. 84ff.), the conception of the future Buddha was considered to be a ‘virginal conception’ in the sense that his mother, Queen Mäyä, was believed to have conceived him without sexual intercourse with any man: . . .

Änanda, the favorite disciple, recites . . . the events of conception and birth . . . that he heard from the Lord: 

Änanda, when the future Buddha is descending into his mother’s womb, she is pure from sexuality, has abstained from taking life, from theft, from evil conduct in lusts, from lying, and from all kinds of wine and strong drink, which are a cause of irreligion. She abided in penances like a hermit, always performing penances along with her consort. Having obtained the sanction of the king, he had not entertained carnal wishes for thirty-two months. In whatever place she sat . . . there dazzled her celestial nature, resplendent by her attachment to virtuous actions. There was not a god, nor a demon, nor a mortal, who could cast his glance on her with carnal desire. All of them, throwing aside all evil motive, and endowed with honorable sentiments, looked on her as a mother, or a daughter. . . . Like unto her, there was none to be seen worthy of the venerable being, or one more fully endowed with good qualities, or compassion – that mother is Mäyä (Lalitavistara, iii).

The Virginal Conception of Jesus As narrated in Luke 1:26-35:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, with a message for a girl betrothed to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David; the girl’s name was Mary. 

The angel went in and said to her, ‘Greetings, most favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was troubled by what he said and wondered what this greeting might mean. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for God has been gracious to you; you shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall give him the name Jesus. He will be great; he will bear the title “Son of the Most High”; the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will be king over Israel for ever; his reign shall never end.’ 

‘How can this be?’ said Mary; ‘I am still a virgin.’ 

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy child to be born will be called “Son of God”.’

– The New English Bible
1Passage in the Majjhimanikäya, cited by Albert. J. Edmunds in Buddhist and Christian Gospels:
Being Gospel Parallels from Pali Texts, ed. M. Anesaki, 3rd ed. (Tokyo, 1905), p. 173.
II.14. Mäyä’s Dream: the descent of a white elephant (Bodhisattva) into her womb. Stone, Bhärhut, 2nd century B.C.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 290]

II.15. Mäyä’s Dream: the descent of a white elephant (Bodhisattva) into her womb. Stone, East Gate, Stüpa I, Säñcï, 1st century B.C.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 290]


The Annunciation to King Suddhodana. Thundy writes, in Buddha and Christ, pp. 89:

Immediately after the miraculous conception, Mäyä Devï sent messengers to [her husband, King Åuddhodana] expressing her desire to see him. According to the Lalitavistara (vi):

The king was agitated with delight by the message, and, rising from his noble seat, proceeded . . . to the Asoka grove. . . . Now, the Devas [angels, godlings] of the class Åuddhaväsakäyika (pure in body and dwelling) . . . came under the sky, and addressed the king Åuddhodana in a Gäthä [verse]: 

“O king, the noble Bodhisattva, full of the merits of religious observances and penances, and adored of the three thousand regions, the possessor of friendliness and benevolence, the sanctified in pure knowledge, renouncing the mansion of Tushita [the Tußita heaven], has acknowledged sonship to you by entering the womb of Mäyä. . . .” (Mitra, 95)

The Annunciation to Joseph As narrated in Matthew 1:18-21 & 24-25:

Mary his mother was betrothed to Joseph; before their marriage she found that she was with child by the Holy Spirit. Being a man of principle, and at the same time wanting to save her from exposure, Joseph desired to have the marriage contract set aside quietly. He had resolved on this, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph son of David,’ said the angel, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary home with you as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. She will bear a son; and you shall give him the name Jesus (Saviour), for he will save his people from their sins.’ . . . Rising from sleep Joseph did as the angel had directed him; he took Mary home to be his wife, but had no intercourse with her until her son was born. And he named the child Jesus.

– The New English Bible


In both the above narratives, heavenly beings (‘dëvas’ [godlings or angels] in the Buddhist account and ‘angel’ in the gospel) announce to the husbands that their wives have conceived holy children independently of them. Both King Åuddhödana and Joseph are portrayed as having abstained from sexual intercourse with their wives during the time periods relevant to their children’s conception and birth.


II.21. The Interpretation of the Dream. Limestone, Amarävatï, 2nd century A.D., British Museum, London. 
The panel shows the Brähma∫as (who were called to interpret the dream) seated close to King Åuddhodana. Queen Mäyä is seated on a stool by the king’s side. The Brähma∫as interpreted the dream to them thus: 

“A great son shall be born unto you. Two paths lie before the child to be. If he stays at home, he will be a universal monarch. If he leaves his home, he will be a Buddha.”
[The Way of the Buddha, pp. 290-91]

II.22. Mäyä proceeding to the Lumbinï Garden. Stone, Borobudur, 8th century A.D.
Towards the end of the 10th lunar month when the time of her confinement drew near, Queen Mäyä set out on her journey in a [bullock drawn carriage] accompanied by a number of women, including her sister Mahäprajäpatï Gautamï. The present relief shows a detailed treatment of this theme.
Queen Mahämäyä on the way to her father’s house wished to stop at the Lumbinï Grove which, according to the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hein, was 50 li (some ten miles) to the east of Kapilavastu. As the queen stood, with her right hand on a bough of säla tree, the throes of birth came upon her. The Bodhisattva appeared from the right side of his mother and was received at once by the gods of the quarters and later by men. He then came down from their hands and took seven steps, exclaiming triumphantly: “I am the foremost of the world, I will reach the highest heaven. This is my last birth, I will cross the ocean of existence.”

[The Way of the Buddha, p. 291]

* * * * * * * * * ***


These sculpted and painted panels, like art throughout the ages, from earliest cave and rock paintings, statically portray important scenes (brief instants) in their lives. In the Great Temple at Tañjävür, South India, there is a series of carved panels demonstrating various poses struck by classical Bharatanä†ya dancers. These thousand-year-old panels statically portray brief instants in the fluid artistry of the dancers. Today, the performing artist, while dancing, will often strike one of these fixed poses and hold it for a few seconds. This is a case of the performing artist mimicking the static graphic arts in order to emphasize the meaning of a particular pose! I suggest that a similar narrative freezing of movement gives emphasis in the story of the birth of the Buddha-to-be. (See next page and pp. 24 & 26.) At this most glorious moment when the Buddha-to-be is born, the whole universe is described as coming to a ‘breath-holding’ stop.

It is my suggestion that this ‘World Stood Still’ device in Buddhist narratives arose in the minds of Buddhist narrators who had – as all other devotees had – been circumambulating the stüpas decorated all the way around with a frieze of painted or painted and sculpted images portraying important events in the life of the Buddha, his parents and other characters. Though the images were, of course, static, the graphic artists had infused them with a sense of movement.

The onlooker’s world of experience still flows on, but the world portrayed in the images has been frozen. Like the South Indian Bharatanä†ya dancers, the Buddhist narrators have inserted this ‘World Stood Still’ device into their flowing narrative to give emphasis to the moment!

Christianity had no comparable background to give rise to this device, and the Christian apocrypha’s use of it is therefore clearly indebted to Buddhism.


II.23. The Birth of Buddha and the Seven Steps. Limestone, Nägärjunako∫∂a, 3rd century A.D.

On the left of the panel stands Mäyä, holding the branch of a säla tree. A royal umbrella with two fly-whisks indicates the presence of the Bodhisattva while the water-pot at the bottom shows the bathing of the child. The right side of the panel denotes the four Mahäräjas [of the four quarters] holding a long piece of cloth with tiny foot marks indicating the seven steps of the Bodhisattva.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 291]


There are two remarkable incidents in the Lalitavistara’s account of the birth of the Bödhisattva (the future Buddha) which are echoed in apocryphal Christian texts. The first one is that, after the Bödhisattva passes miraculously out of his mother’s womb from her right flank, he immediately is able, unaided, to take a series of seven steps. These precocious seven steps are, similarly, found in the Christian Protoevangelium, where it is Jesus’ mother who, at the age of six months, takes seven steps. Her feet don’t touch the ground, being slightly elevated above the earth. 

And the child grew strong day by day; and when she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to try whether she could stand, and she walked seven steps and came into her bosom; and she snatched her up, saying: As the Lord my God liveth, thou shall not walk on this earth until I bring thee into the temple of the Lord. 

This only follows the ancient Indian belief that divinities, when disguising themselves as mortals on earth, are nevertheless betrayed by the fact that their feet do not touch the ground and their eyes remain always unblinking.

The second remarkable incident (when the world stood still) in the Lalitavistara’s account of the birth of the Bödhisattva is truly astonishing. It foreshadows a peculiar trick of a few contemporary commercials on TV, where an active, lively scene is suddenly frozen, though the camera continues to freely change its perspective of this frozen scene, and one of the characters in the scene may continue to move within this static framework. Just such a frozen world is described in the Buddhist Lalitavistara! And, surprisingly, this type of incident is repeated in the Christian apocryphal work, the Protoevangelium. The fact that these two types of incidents in the Lalitavistara are echoed in a Christian apocryphal work, and not in a canonical text, does not lessen the remarkable conclusion which still may be drawn:

Within the early Christian communities in Egypt, there was an intimate knowledge of Buddhist writings.


II.24. The Birth of Buddha and the Seven Steps. Schist, Gandhära, 3rd-4th century A.D. Indian Museum,

The Bodhisattva emerges from the right side of his mother as she stands holding the branch of a säla tree. Åakra [Indra, the king of the gods] receives him on a golden cloth. Behind Åakra is the god Brahmä. The child is seen in the foreground taking seven steps.

[The Way of the Buddha, p. 291]

The birth of the Bödhisattva (the Buddha-to-be)
From Zacharias P. Thundy’s book, Buddha and Christ, p. 105:

According to the Lalitavistara (vii), all movement in the world of nature and humanity ceases [momentarily] at the birth of Buddha. The half-opened flowers cease to bloom; birds pause in their flight; the wind stops blowing; the rivers no longer flow when Buddha’s holy feet touch the earth; sun, moon, and stars stand still; all human activity is paralyzed:

When the Bodhisattva [the Buddha-to-be], immediately after his birth, advanced seven steps, innumerable millions then stood firm on the adamantine spot. . . . The adamantine earth, possessed of vigor and might, stood still, when the great preceptor [the Buddha-to-be], the destroyer of decay and death, the noblest of physicians, the giver of the best medicine, standing [preternaturally] on his two feet marked with a beautifully colored lotus and a wheel, advanced seven steps. [Rajendralala Mitra, The Lalitavistara (Calcutta, 1987), p. 131 – emphasis added]


II.25. The Birth of Buddha and the Seven Steps. Schist, Gandhära, 3rd-4th century A.D. Patna Museum, Patna.

The treatment is similar to the preceding one. The musical instruments at the top of the panel indicate the rejoicing of the gods at the birth of the Bodhisattva.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 291]

The passages below are based on the translation of The Lalitavistara as found on the internet at the following site: <>, as retrieved in Nov., 2006:

The Bodhisattva, appearing at the end of ten full months, emerging from the right side of his mother’s body, fully formed, in full possession of both memory and knowledge and unsullied by the impurity of the mother’s womb. Filled with profound reverence, the gods Brahmä and Åakra [Indra] received the Bodhisattva and wrapped him in a silk garment of gold and silver threads [the Indian prototype of Jesus’ swaddling clothes? - ML]. . . . When the Bodhisattva descended to the ground, the earth split open and a great lotus rose to receive him. . . . Without any man’s help, the Bodhisattva took seven steps to the east and said: “Behold I shall be the first of all dharmas that are the virtuous roots of salvation.” . . . And at every spot where the Bodhisattva was setting his foot, a lotus sprang up to support it. Taking seven steps to the south, he said: “I shall be worthy of the offerings of both gods and men.” Then taking seven steps to the west, he exclaimed: “I am the finest in the World, for this is my final birth.” Taking seven steps to the north, the Great Being said: “I shall be unequaled among all beings.” The Bodhisattva looking downward, took seven additional steps and proclaimed: “I will extinguish the fires of hell with the rain of the Great Cloud of Dharma, filling the inhabitants of hell’s realms with great joy.”

Taking seven more steps, facing the zenith, he said: “It is on high that I shall be visible to all beings.”

Contrary to the usual Christian view of ‘eternal’ hell-fire, for Buddhists, hell is only one of the possible temporary and potentially recurrent links in the long chain of re-births. This series of seven-step movements marks out symbolically the entire universe as the ‘theater of operation’ for the future reach of the Dharma to be preached by the mature Buddha. As the Lalitavistara is a work of Mahäyäna Buddhism, this series of seven steps may be viewed as an answer to the Vaiß∫ava legend of Lord Viß∫u’s ‘Three Strides’ (‘Trivikrama’) – the Vaiß∫ava assertion that the god Viß∫u pervades the entire universe (the three realms: Earth, the Heavens (seven of them!), and the Underworlds (seven of them!). The last two sets of seven steps taken by the newborn Bödhisattva are first, down into hell, where the Dharma will bring great joy and relief to the sufferers there, and then upward into the heavens (symbolizing the future ascension of the Buddha and his return to the highest heaven at the end of his life: his ‘parinirvä∫a’). This would seem to be the prototype of the Christian creed’s claim of Jesus’ Descent into Hell and his following Ascension.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she was a toddler

The following passage – which we have edited – is from the Christian apocryphal work, the Protoevangelium (6:1-3), a work dated c. 150 A.D., translated by A. Bernhard from the Greek text in Ronald Hock’s 1996 edition of The Infancy Gospels of James [The Protoevangelium] – emphasis added:

Day by day, the child grew stronger. When she was six months old, her mother went to set her on the ground to test whether she could stand. And after walking seven steps, she came to her mother’s breast. And her mother picked her up, saying, “As the Lord my God lives, you will not walk on this earth again until I take you to the temple of the Lord.”


The following passage, describing the moment when the ‘world stood still’ at the time of Jesus’ birth, is also from The Protoevangelium (18:1-11) – emphasis added:

And he [Joseph] found a cave and led her [Mary] there and stationed his sons to look after her, while he went to find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem. But as I was going [said Joseph] I looked up into the air, and I saw the clouds standing still. With utter astonishment I saw that even the birds of the sky were not moving. And I looked at the ground and saw a bowl lying there and workers reclining. And their hands were in the bowl, and they appeared as though in the act of chewing, but they were not chewing. And as though picking up food, but they were not picking it up. And as though putting food in their mouths, but they were not moving. Rather, all their faces were looking up. And I saw sheep in the act of being driven, but the sheep were motionless. And the shepherd lifted up his hand as if to strike them, but his hand remained motionless above them. And I saw the rushing current of the river motionless, and I saw goats with their mouths in the water, but they were not drinking. And suddenly everything was changed back into the ordinary movement of events.


Zacharias P. Thundy has pointed out parallelism between the following Buddhist and Gospel traditions:

1 There are two points where the Buddhist and gospel traditions converge: one, in the visibility and recognition of the Master in the womb of the mother; two, the praise of the mother by the visitor. . . . As for Elizabeth’s salutation: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42), there are the expressions: “most blessed” (Judges 5:24) and “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth” (Judith 13:23). Granting that these phrases were in the mind of the evangelist, let me point out that these utterances were not made in the context of a birth. However, I do not find a better parallel than the one in the Buddhist version, where heavenly men and women come to see and address the pregnant mother of Buddha.

The Mahävastu reports:

All these immortals ecstatically bowing their heads and raising their joined hands, lauded the virtuous Maya, the Conqueror’s mother, and alighted on the terrace. Then in great excitement a large throng of deva-maidens carrying fair garlands came, eager to see the Conqueror’s mother, as she lay on the bed. . . . They said . . . “She will bear a great man. . . . You are a worthy woman, supreme among women. And your son will be the Pre-eminent of Men, who has abandoned lust and is rid of passion. What more can you want, O queen?”
1The passages quoted are from Thundy’s book, Buddha and Christ, p. 141; the passage excerpted from The Mahävastu is from J.J. Jones’ translation of the work, in The Mahävastu, Vol. II (London: 1973), 7.



Zacharias P. Thundy (in BC, p. 81) compares the genealogies of Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ: 

Several versions of the life of Buddha, like the Chinese version of the Abhinishkramanasütra, contain a genealogy of kings related to Buddha belonging to the present æon (bhadra kalpa). The Dïghanikäya (I:113) speaks of Buddha’s lineage on his father’s side and mother’s side for seven generations. In most traditions, Gautama Buddha is the son of King Åudhodana and Queen Mäyä. Rudolph Seydel has a chapter on the genealogies of Buddha and Christ. The portion he cites has a strong analogy with the Christian lists: King Mahasammata had a son name Roja, whose son was Vararoja, whose son was Kalyana, whose son was Varakalyana, whose son was Mandhatar, whose son was Varamandhatar, whose son was Uposatha, whose son was Kara, whose son was Upakara, whose son was Maghadeva.1

Thundy continues (p. 82):

Obviously, the purpose of Matthew is to connect Jesus not only with the royal Davidic family but also with Israel, not only as children of Jacob but also as children of Abraham. Luke, on the other hand, traces the genealogy of Jesus all the way to Adam. Luke’s purpose probably is to indicate that Jesus is the savior not only of the children of Israel but also of all mankind. Another purpose of Matthew in the genealogy section is to refute the slanderous accusation that Jesus was of illegitimate birth. Apparently the slander was very old since it is alluded to in John: “We are not born of fornication” (8:41). . . . Of course, a . . . comparison of the Buddhist-Christian texts could suggest that the Christian writer Judaized the Buddhist idea of the royal genealogy of Buddha and applied it to the case of Jesus, especially since the Davidic origins of Jesus is historically unreliable.
1R. Seydel, Das Evangelium von Jesu (Leipzig, 1882), 106; cited by Arthur Lillie, Buddhism in Christendom (London, 1887), p. 10
2Thundy, pp. 82-83
* * * * * * * * *


There is a curious aspect of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy. Attempting to follow Jewish tradition, and with the aim of establishing Jesus as the Messiah, he traces Jesus’ ancestry through the male line of descent, but, in passing, he only mentions collaterally five wives of five of Jesus’ male ancestors: 1) Judah’s wife, Tamar, who was accused of harlotry; 2) Salma’s wife, Rahab, a former harlot; 3) Boaz’s wife, Ruth, a non-Jew (Moabite); 4) Bathsheba, first, the wife of Uriah, seduced by King David (committing adultery), and then, after Uriah was killed, she became wife of King David; and 5) Jesus’ mother, Mary, a suspected adulteress. By mentioning the first four women, is Matthew actually trying to deflect
criticism from Mary?


II.29. The visit of Asita. Limestone, Amarävatï, 2nd century A.D., British Museum, London.
 The sculpture shows Asita holding the infant Buddha (represented by a piece of cloth with footmarks) in the palace of Suddhodana. His nephew, Naradatta, is also present in the scene. 

Asita’s visit was a popular theme with artists both in India and abroad. As stated in the Nälaka Sutta of the Sutta-nipäta, Asita was a sage dwelling in the Himälayas. When he found that there was rejoicing in the heaven of the thirty-three gods, he asked what the occasion was. Upon being told that the Bodhisattva had been born in the Lumbinï Garden for the salvation of the world, he hastened to Kapilavastu and asked Suddhodana to show him the child. When it was presented to him, he predicted the child would be a perfectly accomplished Buddha. At the same time, he wept at the thought that he himself would not live long enough to hear his doctrine [i.e., the Dharma which he would preach], and advised his nephew, Naradatta, to become a disciple of Buddha. He paid homage to the child, before departing. 
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 291]


II.30. The Visit of Asita. Limestone, Nägärjunako∫∂a, 3rd century A.D. The treatment is similar to the preceding one.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 292]

* * * * * * * * *

Compare Luke 2:25-33:

There was at that time in Jerusalem a man called Simeon. This man was upright and devout, one who watched and waited for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been disclosed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary under the Law, he took him in his arms, praised God, and said: ‘This day, Master, thou givest thy servant his discharge in peace; now thy promise is fulfilled. For I have seen with my own eyes the deliverance which thou has made ready in full view of all the nations; a light that will be a revelation to the heathen, and glory to thy people Israel.’ The child’s father and mother were full of wonder at what was being said about him. – The New English Bible


II.36. The Bodhisattva going to school. Schist, Gandhära, c. 4th century A.D., Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Bodhisattva is on his way to school in a ram cart, while his companions follow on foot with inkpot and other writing materials.

[The Way of the Buddha, p. 292]

II.38. The Bodhisattva at school. Stone, Borobudur, 8th century A.D. The Bodhisattva is seen here seated like a prince with his knee in a sling.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 292] From the Buddhist Lalitavistara, describing the above relief: The Bodhisattva’s first day at school. On the first day that the Bodhisattva attended school, the schoolmaster fell forward and buried his face in the ground because he was so overwhelmed by the Great Being’s shining radiance. After picking up a writing tablet, the Bodhisattva asked the schoolmaster the following question. “Well, schoolmaster, which of the 64 writing scripts will you teach me today?” The prince then recited the names of the 64 scripts, many of which the schoolmaster himself did not know. “How could I instruct one who has attained an unsurpassed knowledge of scripts, who through his power shall instruct even the wise?” exclaimed the schoolmaster. As the school children began to sound the first syllable of the alphabet “ah,” through the Bodhisattva’s blessing, the sound was transformed into a phrase that expounded one of the teachings of the Dharma. Then as the children sounded each of the alphabet’s other eleven vowels and the thirty-three consonants, each of the sounds was transformed into another Dharma phrase. 

* * * * * * * * *

Compare with the apocryphal Christian Infancy Gospel of Thomas 20:1 ff.:

There was also at Jerusalem one named Zacheus, who was a schoolmaster. And he said to Joseph: ‘Joseph, Joseph, why dost thou not send Jesus to me, that he may learn his letters.’ Joseph agreed. . . . So they brought him to that master, who, as soon as he saw him, wrote out an alphabet for him. And he bade him say Aleph; and when he had said it, the master bade him pronounce Beth. . . . Then the Lord Jesus . . . said to his master, ‘Take notice how I say to thee’; then he began clearly and distinctly to say Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, and so on to the end of the alphabet. At this the master was so surprised,
that he said, ‘Thou hast brought a boy to me to be taught, who is more learned than any master’. . . .


II.70. Mära’s Attack and Temptation. Stone, North Gate, Stüpa I, Säñchï, 1st century B.C. Mära is seen seated [just to the left of] the middle of the panel as a god of the sixth heaven with an umbrella over his head. The Bodhi tree at the left represents the would-be Buddha symbolically. Sujätä [the small figure, to the extreme left] appears with an offering of food for him. The figure opposite [standing, immediately to the right of the tree] also represents Mära [worshipping the Buddha-to-be, post-conflict] with one of his sons and daughters. On the extreme right are the grimacing figures of his army. The panel portrays the contest between Mära, the lord of the world of desire, and the Bodhisattva, the annihilator of lusts and desires. 

[The Way of the Buddha, p. 295]
* * * * * * * * *


Mära, the ‘Great Tempter’, appearing to the left of center, is portrayed as the handsome god, Kämadëva (the Indian ‘God of Love’). He is seated, with the royal parasol held above his head by an attendant. Just to the right of this, Mära, again seated on a throne, is portrayed for the third time in the panel. Now, however, his frightening and grotesque aspects, and those of his wife, sons, daughters, and his army are shown in all of their repulsiveness. Kämadëva leads the way to procreation, but with Birth comes Death! The alter ego of Kämadëva is thus the disturbing aspect of Yama (Death). This portrayed transformation in the panel echoes dramatically the transformation in the Bödhisattva’s mind when, earlier in his life as Prince Siddhärtha, he gazed on his sleeping harem, dishevelled and in disarray, late one night, and felt repulsion. The goal of all his efforts, then, was to break the chain of rebirth and achieve mökßa (nirvä∫a) – free at last from rebirth!

Luke 4:1-13:

Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan, and for forty days was led by the Spirit up and down the wilderness and tempted by the devil. All that time he had nothing to eat, and at the end of it he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread’; Jesus answered, ‘Scripture says, “Man cannot live on bread alone.”’ Next the devil led him up and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. ‘All this dominion will I give to you,’ he said, ‘and the glory that goes with it; for it has been put in my hands and I can give it to anyone I choose. You have only to do homage to me and it shall all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Scripture says, “You shall do homage to the Lord your God and worship him alone.”’ The devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the parapet of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down; for Scripture says, “He will give his angels orders to take care of you”, and again, “They will support you in their arms for fear you should strike your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It has been said, “You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.”’ So, having come to the end of all his temptations, the devil departed, biding his time. – The New English Bible


Further Comment:

The earliest Buddhist biographical materials in the canonical texts – for instance, in the Mahäsaccaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikäya – don’t mention the temptation of the Bödhisattva. Only in later works do the presumed doubts and temptations of Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, become personified in the figures of Mära, his daughters, sons, and hosts. This is a process of progressive allegorization, well understood in India.

The Gospel of John makes no mention of the temptation of Jesus by the devil. In fact, this gospel rules this episode out as a possibility, as Jesus is said, in this account, to proceed, immediately after his baptism, to enlisting five men as his first disciples, and then on to performing miracles and preaching. (The Buddha also had five disciples at the beginning of his preaching the Dharma.)

All three synoptic gospels, however, introduce the temptation of Jesus by the devil/Satan, immediately after his baptism: Mark, just in passing, but Matthew and Luke, in some detail.

The Luke passage just quoted ends on a note suggesting some further impending struggle between Jesus and the devil: “So, having come to the end of all his temptations, the devil departed, biding his time.”

In regard to the temptations of the Buddha, Ananda W.P. Guruge has observed:

As the biography of the Buddha came to be presented systematically, temptations by Mära began to figure as a major element in relation to several decisive steps taken by the Buddha. A number of such occasions representing critical points in [his] career before and immediately after the Enlightenment had been identified by the time the introduction to the Jätaka Commentary was composed. This introduction, which contains perhaps the oldest continuous life story of the Buddha, mentions six such occasions [the first four of which

(i) At the time of the renunciation, when Mära is represented as trying to persuade the future Buddha to return home on the ground that he would, in seven days, become a universal monarch . . .

(ii) During the period of austerity, when the future Buddha was in a very weak condition and Mära approached urging him to give up the struggle.

(iii) On the eve of the attainment of Buddhahood, when Mära is said to have come with his hosts and challenged the future Buddha’s right to his seat. This is the occasion of the great victory over Mära symbolizing the Enlightenment.

(iv) During the fourth week after the Enlightenment, when Mära is presented discouraging the Buddha from preaching: “If you have realized the safe path to immortality, go your way alone by yourself. Why do you want to admonish others?” The recurring idea behind all these episodes is that doubts, anxieties, and longings which arise in the lonely mind of the Buddha or a disciple are personified as Mära. With a firm resolve, they vanish, and that
is what Mära’s disappearance signifies. Thus, we see from the many Buddhist temptation episodes that, at each failure, the Tempter, ‘biding his time’, awaits his next chance to attack the Buddha.
1“The Buddha’s Encounters with Mära the Tempter”, The Wheel, Publication No. 419 (Kandy: Buddhist
Publication Society, 1997), p. 11.
2Ibid., p. 9.


II.63. The Austerities of the Bodhisattva. Schist, Gandhära, 2nd-3rd century A.D., Central Museum, Lahore. The sculpture gives a vivid idea of the severity of the Bodhisattva’s austerities and their effect upon him.

Resolved to undertake the Great Effort (Mahäpadhänam), he came to Uruvelä near Gayä. There he selected a delightful spot near the river Nerañjarä for his meditation. He practised rigid austerities and was reduced to a skeleton. Yet real knowledge eluded him. He then realized that the practice of austerities was not the way to achieve enlightenment. He, therefore, began to partake of food again for the sustenance of his body.

The first offering of food was made by Sujätä, daughter of a rich householder.

[The Way of the Buddha, pp. 294-95]
The Austerities of the Bodhisattva


Luke’s account holds that Jesus fasted for forty days and that “all that time he had nothing to eat, and at the end of it he was famished.” The devil, therefore, first tempted Jesus to turn a stone into bread to end his hunger.

In the Buddhist scriptures, the fasting of the Buddha-to-be is described at length and in great detail, emphasizing its final extreme degree, as the above sculpture dramatically illustrates. When the Bödhisattva is near death by starvation, Mära approaches and urges him to give up his struggle for enlightenment. The Buddha-to-be, realizing that extreme austerities were not bringing him enlightenment, does give up his fasting – but not his pursuit of enlightenment, which he finally achieves through meditation (dhyäna).


III.42. Buddha receiving Homage from the Animals of the Forest. Stone, middle architrave, back, East Gate, Stüpa I, Säñchï, 1st century B.C.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 302]
* * * * * * * * *


According to all three of the synoptic gospels, after Jesus’ baptism, he immediately began a period of fasting for forty days and was tempted by the devil. But Mark’s gospel has just this brief statement on that period:

Mark 1:12-13:

Thereupon the Spirit sent him away into the wilderness, and there he remained for forty days tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

– The New English Bible

* * * * *

The Christian apocryphal work, Pseudo-Matthew, has a fuller account of the relation of wild beasts to Jesus. During the holy family’s journey, along with a group of travelers, to Egypt, they took rest near a cave. A number of wild monsters rushed out of the cave frightening the group. But the child Jesus said to them:

“Fear not, neither conceive that I am [only] a child, for I always was and am a perfect man, and it is necessary that all the beasts of the forest should grow tame before me.” In like manner lions and leopards adored him, and accompan[ying the group], showed them the way and bowed their heads to Jesus.

– Pseudo-Matthew (16 & 17), quoted by Thundy in Buddha and Jesus, p. 110


III.14. [The Buddha Walks on Water:] The Conversion of the Käåyapas. Stone, East Gateway, Stüpa I, Säñchï, 1st century B.C.

Buddha had to perform a series of . . . miracles before he could fully convince the Käåyapas [followers of Käåyapa] of his superiority and convert them. Once a heavy rain fell . . . and there was a flood in all the land. The Käåyapas thought that Buddha had been carried away by the water and hastened in a boat to rescue him.

This panel shows the elder Käåyapa and . . . his disciples, hastening in a boat over the river Nerañjarä in flood, presumably to the rescue of the Master. In the lower part of the picture, the Buddha (represented by his promenade [the horizontal beam-like slab just above the heads of the four figures at the bottom of the panel]) is [indicated as] walking on the surface of the waters [by his footprints on it – just as in later, early-Christian art, Jesus’ presence is indicated only indirectly (throne, etc.)]. In the foreground, the figures of Käåyapa and his disciples are twice repeated, on dry ground, and doing homage to the Master (represented by the throne at the right hand bottom corner of the panel). 

[The Way of the Buddha, p. 298]
The Buddha Walks on Water


In India, accounts of the paranormal ability of walking on water are as old as the ancient epic, Mahäbhärata – long before the time of the Buddha. In the Dïghanikäya and Majjhimanikäya, this ability is claimed for the Buddha, and in the Mahävagga and Mahävaμåa, there are stories about this.

Gruber and Kersten (OJ, pp. 98-99) have given a wonderfully informative account of the story in the Mahävagga which is illustrated in the Säñchï panel, above: Let us . . . consider the story of Buddha walking on water as handed down in the Mahavagga. This narrative is linked with the conversion of Kassapa [Skt., Käåyapa], the leader of a group of religious ascetics. The incident occurred during the rainy season when water was falling so violently from the skies that it was soon no longer possible to walk around dry-footed. Gautama was not interested in going for a walk but rather in meditating while walking. Special paths were established in monasteries for this important Buddhist practice. Gautama used his extraordinary abilities to keep [this] area free of water so that he could meditate. Kassapa was much concerned about the revered teacher. Fearful that the Awakened One [the Buddha] could be swept away by the raging waters, he jumped into a boat to seek
him. Then he saw . . . Gautama . . . walking on the water [to meet him] without getting wet. Kassapa was so surprised that he first disbelievingly asked: ‘Are you there, great mendicant monk?’ With the words ‘It is I, Kassapa’ the Buddha calmed the fearful man and came to the boat. Kassapa and the Buddha then started talking, and the ascetic had no choice but to accept the Enlightened One’s spiritual superiority and to convert to his faith.


The Buddha’s Disciple Walks on Water

From “The Internet Sacred Text Archives”: South of Sävatthi is a great river, on the banks of which lay a hamlet of five hundred houses. Thinking of the salvation of the people, the ‘World-honored One’ [the Buddha] resolved to go to the village and preach the doctrine. Having come to the riverside he sat down beneath a tree, and the villagers seeing the glory of his appearance approached him with reverence; but when he began to preach, they believed him not. When the world-honored Buddha had left Sävatthi, Säriputta [who was to become one of his foremost disciples] felt a desire to see the Lord and to hear him preach. Coming to the river where the water was deep and the current strong, he said to himself: “This stream shall not prevent me. I shall go and see the Blessed One”, and he stepped upon the water which was as firm under his feet as a slab of granite. When he arrived at a place in the middle of the stream where the waves were high, Säriputta's heart gave way, and he began to sink. But rousing his faith and renewing his mental effort, he proceeded as before and reached the other bank.

The people of the village were astonished to see Säriputta, and they asked how he could cross the stream where there was neither a bridge nor a ferry. Säriputta replied: “I lived in ignorance until I heard the voice of the Buddha. As I was anxious to hear the doctrine of salvation, I crossed the river and I walked over its troubled waters because I had faith. Faith, nothing else, enabled me to do so, and now I am here in the bliss of the Master’s presence.” The World-honored One added: “Säriputta, thou hast spoken well. Faith like thine alone can save the world from the yawning gulf of migration and enable men to walk dryshod to the other shore.” And the Blessed One urged to the villagers the necessity of ever advancing in the conquest of sorrow and of casting off all shackles so as to cross the river of worldliness and attain deliverance from death. Hearing the words of the Tathägata, the
villagers were filled with joy, and believing in the doctrines of the Blessed One, embraced the five rules and took refuge in his name.


Zacharias P. Thundy has noted that W. Norman Brown “made a careful and comparative study of the Indian and Christian miracles of walking on the water and has addressed the theory of [their] independent origin. . . .”

He [Brown] finds that both traditions illustrate the miraculous idea of walking on the water and the efficacy of faith; both have two main characters: the disciple who has faith and the Master on whom the faith rests; both show faith functioning and disfunctioning; the main difference is that in the Christian tradition the disciple does not renew the faith in the same episode, whereas in the Buddhist tradition the disciple renews faith and restores the
miracle. There is no question on the issue of which tradition is older; the Buddhist story is represented on the Sanchi stüpa built c. 250 B.C., while the Christian stories date only from the first century [A.D.] even in [their] oral form. (BC, p. 153.)

Matthew 14:22-27:

Then [Jesus] made the disciples embark and go on ahead to the other side, while he sent the people away; after doing that, he went up the hill-side to pray alone. It grew late, and he was there by himself. The boat was already some furlongs from the shore, battling with a head-wind and a rough sea. Between three and six in the morning he came to them, walking over the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were so shaken that
they cried out in terror: ‘It is a ghost!’ But at once he spoke to them: ‘Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter called to him: ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you over the water.’ ‘Come’, said Jesus. Peter stepped down from the boat, and walked over the water towards Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the gale he was seized with fear; and beginning to sink, he cried, ‘Save me, Lord.’ Jesus at once reached out and caught hold of him, and said, ‘Why did you hesitate? How little faith you have!’ They then climbed into the boat. . . .

– The New English Bible

Further Comment:

William Norman Brown (1892-1975), one of the world’s great Sanskrit scholars, majored in Greek at Johns Hopkins University, and then received his Ph.D. in 1916 for his work on Sanskrit. His book, The Indian and Christian Miracles of Walking on the Water (Chicago, 1928) is devoted to the problem of the relation between these two traditions:

[A]lthough a single idea of fiction might arise spontaneously in different quarters of the world, it is wholly unlikely that parallel stories containing a number of similar ideas woven together into a coherent whole should so originate. If we regard the incidents and psychic motifs of stories as units, we may say that similar units may exist independently
in widely separated communities, but similar groupings of incidents are not likely to exist independently. . . .

Thus it is barely possible that in India and Palestine there should have arisen in each without reference to the other the notion that human beings may miraculously walk on the water. More, each might independently have got the...


purpose of illustrating some religious notion by means of a miracle based upon that belief. But that they should separately have combined this notion and this purpose in a story, have used them in connection with the same doctrine, faith, and have developed stories closely similar in incident is so improbable as to be almost impossible.

Finally that both should carry their story to the same most unusual conclusion, namely the cessation of the miracle on the diminution of faith, is completely incredible. For in that a coincidence between the experiences of Peter when his faith grew weak and of the Buddhist lay disciple in the same circumstances lies the most cogent reason for considering the two legends connected. . . . To find this sort of most recondite handling of miraculous material at all in two separate bodies of religious literature should arouse suspicion, but to find it . . . attached to similar stories seems to me compelling testimony that the two stories are genetically connected.
[Brown, 59-60, as quoted by Thundy, 153-54.]

* * * * *

End Note

1N. Klatt, Literakritische Beiträge zum Problem christlich-buddhistischer Parallelen (Cologne, 1982).

III.70. Buddha’s Body as preserved by the Mallas before Cremation. Schist, Gandhära, 2nd-4th century A.D.,
Archæological Section, Indian Museum, Calcutta.
The arrangements for the cremation of Buddha’s body were left to the Mallas. According to the Tibetan
tradition, the body was wrapped in five hundred layers of cotton cloth and deposited in an iron case (filled with
oil) inside iron covers.
The . . . relief [below] shows this receptacle between two säla trees, attended by Vajrapä∫i [i.e., Indra, the
king of the gods] and grief-stricken monks.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 305]
* * * * * * * * *


Following the death of the Buddha there was a meeting (Council) of the monks to determine how best to preserve his teaching. During the deliberations, there was an incident in which the Buddha’s close attendant, Änanda, was, at first, being excluded from the Council because he had, together with several other wrongful acts, allowed women to be the first to salute the body of the Master. This ‘salute’, as we shall see, involved wailing, beating of breasts, and shedding of tears on the feet of the Buddha!

B. Jinananda has given the following account of this incident in the First Council:

Mahä-Kassapa [Skt. Mahä-Käåyapa] took the initiative and chose four hundred and ninety-nine bhikkhus to form the Council. It is stated in the Çullavagga and confirmed in the Dïpavaμåa that the number of monks was chosen in pursuance of a vote by the general congregation of monks assembled on the occasion and at the place of the parinibbä∫a [i.e., death] of the Master. There is general agreement that the [final] number of the monks selected was five hundred. [This addition of one more member of the Council was
due to the] protest regarding the omission of Änanda from the number chosen. . . .
Änanda was eventually accepted by Mahä-Kassapa as a result of the motion on the part of the monks.

The procedure followed regarding Änanda [had], however, given rise to a controversy. It will be observed that Änanda was brought to trial in the course of the proceedings. . . .
Jinananda reports that one of the five charges brought against Änanda was this: “He permitted women to salute first the body of the Master, because he did not want to detain them. He also did this for their edification.”

We now quote passages in the New Testament which give accounts of how women anointed Jesus’ feet with tears and costly oil in preparation, Jesus himself says, for his burial:


Matthew 26:6-13

Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, when a woman came to him with a small bottle of fragrant oil, very costly; and as he sat at table she began to pour it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw it. ‘Why this waste?’ they said; ‘it could have been sold for a good sum and the money given to the poor.’ Jesus was aware of this, and said to them, ‘Why must you make trouble for the woman? It is a fine thing she has done for me. You have the poor among you always; but you will not always have me. When she poured this oil on my body it was her way of preparing me for burial. I tell you
this: wherever in all the world this gospel is proclaimed, what she has done will be told as her memorial.’

[Bolding added to indicate duplication with bolded passages, below, in Mark. All four quotations on this page are from The New English Bible. ML]

Mark 14:3-9

Jesus was at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper. As he sat at table, a woman came in carrying a small bottle of very costly perfume, pure oil of nard. She broke it open and poured the oil over his head.

Some of those present said to one another angrily, ‘Why this waste? The perfume might have been sold for thirty pounds (literally 300 denarii) and the money given to the poor’; and they turned upon her with fury.

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why must you make trouble for her? It is a fine thing she has done for me. 
You have the poor among you always, and you can help them whenever you like; but you will not always have me. She has done what lay in her power; she is beforehand with anointing my body for burial. I tell you this: wherever in all the world the Gospel is proclaimed, what she has done will be told as her memorial.’

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees invited him to eat with him; he went to the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table. A woman who was living an immoral life in the town had learned that Jesus was at table in the Pharisee’s house and had brought oil of myrrh in a small flask. She took her place behind him, by his feet, weeping. His feet were wetted with her tears and she wiped them with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the myrrh. 

When his host the Pharisee saw this he said to himself, ‘If this fellow were a real prophet, he would know who this woman is that touches him and what sort of woman she is, a sinner.’ 

Jesus took him up and said, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ 

‘Speak on, Master’, said he. 

“Two men were in debt to a money-lender: one owed him five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. As neither had anything to pay with he let them both off. Now, which will love him most?’ Simon replied, ‘I should think the one that was let off most.’ ‘You are right’, said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, he said to Simon, ‘You see this woman? I came to your house: you provided no water for my feet; but this woman has made my feet wet with
her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but she has been kissing my feet ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil; but she has anointed my feet with myrrh. And so, I tell you, her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven; where little has been forgiven, little love is shown.’

Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to ask themselves, ‘Who is this, that he can forgive sins?’ But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover festival Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived whom he had raised from the dead. There a supper was given in his honor, at which Martha served, and Lazarus sat among the guests with Jesus. Then Mary brought a pound of very costly perfume, pure oil of nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair, till the house was filled with the fragrance. At this, Judas Iscariot, a disciple of his – the one who was to betray him – said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for thirty pounds [300 dinarii] and given to the poor?’ He said this, not out of any care for the poor, but because he was a thief;
he used to pilfer the money put into the common purse, which was in his charge. ‘Leave her alone’, said Jesus. ‘Let her keep it till the day when she prepares me for my burial; for you have the poor among you always, but you will not always have me.’



Arthur Lillie, a century ago, in 1909, in his India in Primitive Christianity, p. 216, pointed out that the then newly discovered fragments of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter revealed an intriguing connection between the foregoing passages in the New Testament’s four gospels and earlier Buddhist narratives:

The newly-discovered fragments of the Gospel of Peter give us a curious fact. They record that Mary Magdalene, “taking with her her friends,” went to the sepulchre of Jesus to “place themselves beside him and perform the rites” of wailing, beating breasts, etc.” Amrapälï and other courtesans did the same rites to Buddha, and the [male] disciples were afterwards indignant that impure women should have “washed his dead body with their tears.” [Quotes from Rockhill, “Tibetan Life,” p. 154]*

In the Christian records are three passages, all due, I think, to the Buddhist narrative. In one, “a woman” anoints Jesus; in John (xii. 7), “Mary” anoints him; in Luke, a “sinner,” who kisses and washes His feet with her hair. Plainly these last passages are quite irrational. No woman could have performed the washing and other burial rites on a man alive and in health.

As the passages in Matthew and Mark are almost identical, Lillie must have been counting their duplicated narrative as ‘one’ passage, which is then added to the passages in Luke and John to total ‘three’!

In the passage from the Gospel of Peter about Mary Magdalene and her women companions, Mary is called a disciple of Jesus:

Now at the dawn of the Lord’s Day, Mary Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord (who, afraid because of the Jews since they were inflamed with anger, had not done at the tomb of the Lord what women were accustomed to do for the dead beloved by them), having taken her women friends with her, came to the tomb where he had been laid. And they were afraid lest the Jews should see them and were saying, ‘If indeed on that day on which he was crucified we could not weep and beat ourselves, yet now at his tomb we may do these things.’

Luke 23:50-54 & 24:1-2

Now there was a man called Joseph, . . . from Arimathæa. . . . This man now approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. . . . It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had accompanied him from Galilee followed; they took note of the tomb and observed how his body was laid. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes; and on the Sabbath they rested in obedience to the commandment. But on the Sunday morning very early they came to the tomb bringing the spices they had prepared.
*W. Woodville Rockhill (trans.), The Life of the Buddha and the Early History of His Order: Derived
from Tibetan Works in the Bkah-Hgyur and Bstan-Hgyur: Followed by Notices on the Early History of Tibet
and Khoten (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1907), p. 154:

[Käåyapa said: “T]hou didst show to corrupt women the golden body of the Blessed One [i.e., the

Buddha’s], which was then sullied by their tears.”**

“I thought,” replied Änanda, “that if they then but saw the Blessed One, many of them would conceive

a longing to become like him.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

**[Rockhill’s footnote:] This alludes to the woman who, worshipping the body of the Buddha after his

death, let her tears fall on his feet. See Beal, Four Lectures, p. 75.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

[Checked by ML, from Samuel Beal’s Four Lectures on Buddhist Literature in China (London, 1882), p. 75]:

Käåyapa said again, “Because you did not prevent the woman polluting the feet of Buddha you were
guilty of a dukkata (offence), and you should now confess and repent of it.”

Änanda replied, “A woman with a tender heart worshipping at Buddha’s feet, her tears falling fast

upon her hands, soiled the (sacred) feet as she held them to her. In this I am conscious of no crime;
nevertheless, venerable sir! in submission to your judgment, I now confess and repent.”


End Notes

1“Four Buddhist Councils”, by B. Jinananda, in 2500 Years of Buddhism, ed. by P.V. Bapat (Delhi: Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1956), pp. 31-33.

2Ibid., p. 33.

3‘Spikenard’ (Nardostachys grandiflora; also called ‘nard’, ‘nardin’, and ‘muskroot’) is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of India and Nepal. The plant grows to about 1 meter in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers. Spikenard rhizomes (underground stems) can be crushed and distilled into an intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, which is very thick in consistency. Nard oil is used as a perfume, an incense, a sedative, and an herbal medicine said to fight insomnia, birth difficulties, and
other minor ailments.

The oil was known in ancient times and was part of the Ayurvedic herbal tradition of India. It was obtained as a luxury in ancient Egypt, the Near East, and Rome, where it was the main ingredient of the perfume nardinium.

Bibliography: Andrew Dalby, “Spikenard”, in Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, 2nd ed. by Tom Jaine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). Retrieved, in brief, from Wikipedia <>

4Gospel of Peter (12:50-52), after Raymond Brown’s translation, accessed on the internet at:


III.71. The Cremation of Buddha. Schist, Gandhära, 2nd-4th century A.D., Peshawar Museum. Two Malla chieftains are extinguishing the blazing pyre after the cremation of Buddha’s body.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 305]
* * * * *


The Division of the Buddha’s Relics

The Sharing of the Relics. Gandhära, 2nd-3rd century A.D., ZenYouMitsu Temple, Tokyo.

The Brahmin, Drö∫a, is dividing the Buddha’s relics after the cremation of his body.
[Photo, in the public domain, from Wikipedia’s article on ‘Gautama Buddha’]

III.74. The War of the Relics. Stone, back, middle architrave, Stüpa I, Säñchï, 1st century B.C.

The panel represents the seven rival claimants advancing for the siege of the City of Kusinärä to have a share of the Buddha’s relics.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 306]The sharing of the relics. Gandhara, 2nd-3rd century A.D., ZenYouMitsu Temple, Tokyo. The Brahmin, Drona, is dividing the Buddha's relics after the cremation of his body. [Photo, in the public domain, from Wikipedia's article on 'Gautama Buddha.']
III.75. The War of the Relics. Stone, South Gate, Stüpa I, Säñchï, 1st century B.C.
The centre of the panel depicts the siege of Kusinärä by the chiefs of seven other clans. To the right
and left are shown the victorious chiefs departing with their share of the relics.
[The Way of the Buddha, p. 306]


Buddhist Parallels in Inscriptions

King Asoka's Royal Edicts, engraved in stone, in mid-3rd century, B.C., give
expression to Buddhist ideals remarkably similar to those which were later preached
by Jesus.


King Asoka Turns Away from Military Conquest to Conquest through Dharma
Third century B.C. Rock Edict XIII – at E∞∞agu∂i, Ändhra Pradësh

From Asokan Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 34-36:

(I) [The country of] the Kali≥gas was conquered for King ‘Priyadaråin’, ‘Beloved of the Gods’ [favorite titles of King Asoka†], eight years after his coronation.

(II) [In this war in Kali≥ga], men and animals numbering one hundred and fifty thousands were carried away [captive] from that [country], [as many as] one hundred thousands were killed there [in action], and many times that number perished.

(III) After that, now that [the country of] the Kali≥gas has been conquered, the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ is devoted to a zealous discussion of Dharma, to a longing for Dharma and to the inculcation of Dharma [among the people].

(IV) Now, this is [due to] the repentance of the ‘Beloved of the Gods’, on having conquered [the country of] the Kali≥gas.

(V) Verily, the slaughter, death and deportation of men, which [did†] take place there in the course of the conquest of an unconquered country, are now considered extremely painful and deplorable by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’.

(VI) But what is considered even more deplorable by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ is [the fact that] injury to or slaughter or deportation of the beloved ones falls to the lot of the Brähma∫as, the Årama∫as, the adherents of other sects and the householders, who live in that country [and] among whom are established such [virtues] as obedience to superior personages, obedience to mother and father, obedience to elders and proper courtesy and firm devotion to friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives as well as to slaves
and servants.

(VII) And, if misfortune befalls the friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives of persons who are full of affection [towards the former], even though they are themselves well provided for, [the said misfortune] as well becomes an injury to their own selves.

(VIII) [In war], this fate is shared by all [classes of] men and is considered deplorable by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’.

(IX) Excepting the country of the Yavanas [Greeks†], there is no country where these two classes, [viz.] the Brähma∫as and the Årama∫as, do not exist.

(X) And there is no place in any country where men are not indeed [sincerely] devoted to one sect [or other].

(XI) There, [the slaughter, death or deportation] of even a hundredth or thousandth part of all those people who were either slain or died or were carried away [captive] at that time in Kali≥ga, is now considered very deplorable by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’.

(XII) Now the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ thinks that, even if [a person] should wrong him, that [offence] would be forgiven if it [were†] possible to forgive it.

(XIII) And the forest-[folk] [who live] in the dominions of the ‘Beloved of the Gods’, even them he entreats and exhorts [in regard to their duty].

(XIV) [It is hereby] explained [to them] that, in spite of his repentance, the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ possesses power [enough to punish them for the crimes], so that they should turn [from evil ways] and would not be killed [for their crimes].

†D.C. Sircar has used square brackets liberally throughout all of his translations of Asoka's edicts.
Therefore, the present writer has marked his own bracketed interpolations with this sign: [†].


(XV) Verily the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ desires [the following] in respect of all creatures, [viz.] non-injury [to them], restraint [in dealing with them], impartiality [in the cases of crimes committed by them, and] mild behaviour [towards them].

(XVI) So what is conquest through Dharma is now considered to be the best conquest by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’.

(XVII) And such a conquest has been achieved by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ not only here [in his own dominions] but also in the territories bordering [on his dominions], as far away as [at the distance of] six hundred Yojanas, [where] the Yavana king named Antiyoka [is ruling and where], beyond [the kingdom of] the said Antiyoka, four other kings named Tulamäya, Antikeni, Maka and Alikasundara [are also ruling], [and] towards the south, where the Cö∂as and Pä∫∂yas [are living], as far as Tämrapar∫ï.

(XVIII) Likewise here in the dominions of His Majesty, [the ‘Beloved of the Gods’], – in [the countries of] the Yavanas and Kambojas, of the Näbhakas and Näbhapa≥ktis, of the Bhoja-paitrya∫ikas (i.e., hereditary or tribal Bhojas) and of the Ändhras and Paulindas, everywhere [people] are conforming to the instructions in Dharma [imparted] by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’.

(XIX) Even where the envoys of the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ have not penetrated, there too [men] have heard of the practices of Dharma and the ordinances [issued and] the instructions in Dharma [imparted] by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’, [and] are conforming to Dharma [and] will continue to conform to it.

(XX) So, [whatever] conquest is achieved in this way, verily that conquest [creates an atmosphere of] satisfaction everywhere [both among the victors and the vanquished].

(XXI) In the conquest through Dharma, satisfaction is derived [by both the parties].

(XXII) But that satisfaction is indeed of little consequence.

(XXIII) Only happiness [of the people] in the next world is what is regarded by the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ as a great thing [resulting from such a conquest].

(XXIV) And this record relating to Dharma has been written [on stone] for the following purpose, [viz.] that my sons and great-grandsons [who may flourish after me] should not think of any fresh conquest [by arms] as worth achieving, that they should adopt [the policy of] forbearance and light punishment [towards the vanquished, even if they] themselves achieve the conquest [of a people by arms], and that they should regard the conquest through Dharma as the [true] conquest.

(XXV) Such [a conquest] brings happiness [to all concerned both] in this world and in the next.

(XXVI) And let all their intense joys be what is pleasure associated with Dharma.

(XXVII) For this brings happiness in this world as well as in the next.


IV.20. The Calcutta-Bairät Rock Inscription of Asoka, where he recommends the study of the Buddhist texts, namely, Vinayasamukasa, Aliyavaμåas, Anägatabhayas, Muni-gäthäs, Mönëya-suta, Upatisapasina and the Sermon to Rähula as essential for the monks as well as the laymen. Stone, 3rd century B.C.

This inscription proves beyond doubt Asoka's personal allegiance to the religion of Buddha.†
[The Way of the Buddha, pp. 308-309] ‘Piyadasi’ [Asoka], King of Magadha, saluting the Sa≥gha and wishing them good health and happiness, speaks thus: “You know, reverend sirs, how great my faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sa≥gha is. 

Whatever, reverend sirs, has been spoken by Lord Buddha, all that is well-spoken.”

These Dhamma texts – Extracts from The Discipline, The Noble Way of Life, The Fears to Come, The Poem on the Silent Sage, The Discourse on the Pure Life, Upatisa’s Questions, and The Advice to Rahula which was spoken by the Buddha concerning false speech – these Dhamma texts, reverend sirs, I desire that all the monks and nuns may constantly listen to and remember. Likewise the laymen and laywomen.

– Minor Rock Edict Nb3 (trans. S. Dhammika)
†Thanissaro Bhikkhu has provided a full English translation of these seven extracts from Buddhist
works referred to by King Asoka, together with an enlightening commentary, all freely available on the
internet [second (revised) electronic edition, 1996]:
The title of Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s paper is: That the True Dhamma Might Last a Long Time: 

Readings Selected by King Asoka.


Dharma, the Gospel of Buddhism, is Spread to Biblical Lands
by King Asoka's Missionaries in the 3rd Century, B.C.

King Asoka's 13th Edict (Boulder B-1, lines 21-25) – at E∞∞agu∂i, Ändhra Pradësh
From Asokan Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 31-32, & 35:
Text (pp. 31-32):

21 (XVI) Iyaμ [cu mokhya]-mu[te] vija[y]e Devänaμpiyasa e dhaμ-

22 ma-vijaye (*) (XVII) Se mana ladhe Devänaμpiyasa hida [va] bä(ca) [save]sü ca aμ[tësu] ä [sasu yo-]

23 [jana-satesu] Aμtiyoke näma Y[o]na-[lä]ja [palaμ] [p]i t[e]nä Aμtiyokenä catä[li] [lä]j[i]me

24 [Tula]maye [näma] Aμt[i]k[e]ni n[äma]

25 [Maka näma] Alika[sunda]le näma nitiyaμ Co[∂ä] Paμ∂iyä ä Ta[μ]bapaniye (*)

Translation (p. 35):

(XVI) So, what is conquest through Dharma is now considered to be the best conquest by ‘The Beloved of the Gods’ [i.e., Asoka†].

(XVII) And such a conquest has been achieved by ‘The Beloved of the Gods’ [by Asoka†] not only here [in his own dominions] but also in the territories bordering [on his dominions], and as far away as six hundred Yojanas, [where] the Yavana king named Antiyoka[1] [is ruling and], beyond [the kingdom of] the said Antiyoka, [where] four other kings named Tulamäya,[2] Antikeni,[3] Maka[4] and Alikasundara[5] [are also ruling]. . . .

[1]Antiyoka = Antiochus-II Theos (regnal years 261-246 B.C.), Greek ruler of the Seleucid Empire
(stretching from Syria to Bactria, in the east), and who was therefore a direct neighbor of Asoka. His capital
city was Antioch, future arena of dramatic incidents in St. Paul’s life, and, arguably, the birthplace of
[2]Tulamäya = Ptolemy-II Philadelphus (r.y. 285-247 B.C.), the Greek ruler of Egypt.
[3]Antikeni = Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia (r.y. 276-239 B.C.).
[4]Maka = Magus of Cyrene (r.y. ca. 288-258 B.C.).
[5]Alikasundara = Alexander-II of Epirus (r.y. 272-255 B.C.).
[These identifications are cited in the article, “Christianity and Buddhism”, in the free online encyclopedia,


Medical Missionaries are Sent to the Biblical Lands

by King Asoka, in the 3rd Century, B.C.

IV.22. Asoka Rock Edict No. II, Gir∫är, recording his benevolent measures, such as the establishment of medical treatment for men and cattle and also the plantation of trees and digging of wells, etc., 3rd century B.C.

[The Way of the Buddha, p. 309]

King Asoka's Second Rock Edict – Its Version Found at E∞∞agu∂i, Ändhra Pradësh
From Asoka's Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 15-16:

Text [please note that this version is slightly different from that which is illustrated above] (p. 15):

1. (I) Savatä vijitasi Devänaμpiyasa Piyadasin[e] läjine e ca aμtä athä [C]o∂ä Paμ∂iyä Satïka-[pute Taμbapaμni Aμtiyo]-

2. ge [näma Yona-läjä] e ca aμne tasa [sämaμta] Aμtiyogasa läjäno savatä Devänaμpiya[sä]
Piyadasine [läjine du][ve*] [cikisä]

3. ka†a munisa-cikis[ä] ca pasu-cikis[ä] ca (*) (II) O[sa]dhäni [ca munis-o]pakä [ca] pasu-opakä ca ata atä nathi savata [häläpitä ca lopäpi]-

4. tä ca (*) (III) [Hem=e]va [müläni ca] phaläni [ca savata] ata ata nathi [hä]läpit[ä] ca lopäpitä ca (*)

(IV) Ma[ge]su lukhäni lopäpitäni udupänän[i] ca

5. khä[nä]pitäni pa†ibhogäye pasu-munisänaμ (*)

Translation (pp. 15-16):

(I) Everywhere in the dominions of king ‘Priyadaråin’ [i.e., Asoka†], ‘Beloved of the Gods’, and likewise [in] the bordering territories such as [those of] the Co∂as [and] Pä∫∂iyas [as well as of] the Satïyäputras [and in] Tämrapar∫ï [and in the territories of] the Yavana king named Antiyoka and also [of] the kings who are the neighbours of the said Antiyoka – everywhere King ‘Priyadaråin’, ‘Beloved of the Gods’, has arranged for two kinds of medical treatment, [viz.], medical treatment for men and medical treatment for animals.

(II) And, wherever there were no medicinal herbs beneficial to men and beneficial to animals, everywhere they have been caused to be imported and planted.

(III) In the same way wherever there were no roots and fruits, everywhere they have been caused to be imported and planted.

(IV) On the roads, trees have been caused to be planted and wells have been caused to be dug for the enjoyment of animals and men.

* * * * * * * * *


King Asoka Extols Ecumenical Harmony
Third century B.C. Rock Edict XII – at E∞∞agu∂i, Ändhra Pradësh
From Asoka Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 37-38:


(I) King ‘Priyadaråin’ [i.e., Asoka†], ‘Beloved of the Gods’, honours men of all religious communities with gifts and with honours of various kinds, [irrespective of whether they are] ascetics or householders.

(II) But the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ does not value either the [offering of] gifts or the honouring [of people] so [highly] as the following, viz. that there should be a growth of the essentials [of Dharma] among [men of] all sects.

(III) And the growth of the essentials [of Dharma is possible in] many ways.

(IV) But its root [lies] in restraint in regard to speech, [which means] that there should be no extolment of one’s own sect or disparagement of other sects on inappropriate occasions and that it should be moderate in every case even on appropriate occasions.

(V) On the contrary, other sects should be duly honoured in every way [on all occasions].

(VI) If [a person] acts in this way, [he] not only promotes his own sect, but also benefits other sects. (VII) But, if [a person] acts otherwise, [he] not only injures his own sect but also harms other sects.

(VIII) Truly, [a person who†] extols his own sect and disparages other sects with a view to glorifying his own sect owing merely to his attachment [to it, he] injures his own sect very severely by acting in that way.

(IX) Therefore restrained speech is commendable, because people should learn and respect [the fundamentals of] one another’s Dharma.

(X) This indeed is the desire of the ‘Beloved of the Gods’ that persons of all sects become well informed [about the doctrines of different religions] and acquire pure knowledge.

(XI) And those who are attached to their respective [sects] should be informed as follows:

(XII) “The ‘Beloved of the Gods’ does not value either the [offering of] gifts or the honouring [of people] so [highly] as the following, viz. that there should be a growth of the essentials [of Dharma] among [men of] all sects.

(XIII) Indeed, many of my officers are engaged for the [realization of] the [said] end, [such as] the Mahämätras in charge of [the affairs relating to] Dharma, the Mahämätras who are superintendents [of matters relating to] the ladies [of the royal household], the officers in charge of [my cattle and] pasture lands and other classes [of officials].

(XIV) And the result [of their activities, as expected by me], is the promotion of one’s own sect and the glorification of Dharma.

* * * * * * * * *

IV.23. Asoka's Rock Edict No. XII, Girnär, commending the restraint of speech and religious tolerance, 3rd century B.C. [The Way of the Buddha, p. 309]


Difficulty for the Rich to Enter the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’
King Asoka's Remarks in the 3rd Century, B.C.
King Asoka's Rock Edict X – at E∞∞agu∂i, Ändhra Pradësh

From Asokan Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 29-30.
Text (p. 29):

1. (I) Devänaμpite piyadasi läja yaso va ki†i vä no maha†ha-vahaμ manati aμnata tadätäye äyatiyä ca jane dhaμma-s[u] süsaμ

2. sususatu me dhaμma-yu(vu)taμ ca anuvidhiyatü [ti] (*) (II) Ryskäye Devänaμpi[ye] Piyadasi läja yaso vä ki†i vä ichati (*)

3. (III) [Yaμ] cu kichi palakamati Devänaμpiye Piyadas läja savaμ taμ palatikä[ye vä] kïti sakale apa-palisave [siyä]ti

4. [ti] (*) (IV) Esa cu palisave e apune (*) (V) Dukale [cu kho] esa khudakena va vagenä usa†ena va aμna[ta] agena palakamenä

5. savaμ palitijitu (*) (VI) Heta cu kho usa†en=eva dukale (*)

Translation (pp. 29-30):

(I) King Priyadaråin [i.e., Asoka†], ‘Beloved of the Gods’, does not consider either glory [in this life] or fame [after death] as of great consequence, except [in regard to] the following, [viz.] that, at present as well as in future, the people [of his dominions] would practice obedience to Dharma [as instructed] by him and also that they would act in accordance with the principles of Dharma.

(II) On this account [alone], king Priyadaråin, ‘Beloved of the Gods’, desires glory and fame.

(III) Whatever endeavours are made by king Priyadaråin, ‘Beloved of the Gods’, all those are made only for the sake of [the people’s happiness in] the other world [and] in order that all men should have little [corruption†].

(IV) And what is sinful is [corruption†].

(V) This [freedom from corruption†] is indeed difficult to achieve both by the poor class and the rich if they do not make great efforts by renouncing all [other aims].

(VI) Between [the two classes], [this] is certainly [more] difficult for the rich [to achieve].

* * * * * * * * *

Mark 10:17-25:

As [Jesus] was starting out on a journey, a stranger ran up, and, kneeling before him, asked, ‘Good Master, what must I do to win eternal life?’ 

Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.”’ 

‘But, Master,’ he replied, ‘I have kept all these since I was a boy.’ 

Jesus looked straight at him; his heart warmed to him, and he said, ‘One thing you lack: go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me.’ 

At these words his face fell and he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked round at his disciples and said to them, ‘How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’ 

They were amazed that he should say this, but Jesus insisted, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

– The New English Bible


King Asoka Bids His Officers to Give Relief to Prisoners Third century B.C. Rock Edict V – at E∞∞agu∂i, Ändhra Pradësh

From Asokan Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 23-24:

(I) Thus saith king ‘Priyadaråin’ [i.e., Asoka†], ‘Beloved of the Gods’.

(II) It is difficult to do good [to others].

(III) He who starts doing good [to others] accomplishes what is difficult [indeed].

(IV) Many a good deed has, however, been performed by me.

(V) And, [among] my sons and grandsons and the generations coming after them till the destruction of the world, [those who] will follow [this course] in the said manner will do an act of merit.

(VI) But whosoever among them will abandon even a part of it will do an act of demerit.

(VII) It is indeed easy to commit sin.

(VIII) And formerly, in the ages gone by, there were no [officers] called Dharma-Mahämätras [i.e., Ministers of State concerned with religious sects and their adherence to Dharma†].

(IX) So indeed I created the [posts of] Dharma-Mahämätras thirteen years after my coronation.

(X) These [officers] are occupied with all the religious sects for the establishment of Dharma and for the promotion of Dharma as well as for the welfare and happiness of those who are devoted to Dharma [even] among the Yavanas [Greeks†], Kambojas and Gandhäras, and the Rä߆rika-paitrya∫ikas (i.e. hereditary or tribal Rä߆rikas) and other peoples dwelling [beyond†] the western borders [of my dominions].

(XI) They are occupied [not only] with the welfare and happiness of the servile class and the Äryas (i.e. the traders and agriculturists) as well as the Brähma∫as and the ruling class [i.e. Kßatriyas] and likewise of the destitute and the aged, [but also] with the release of the adherents of Dharma [amongst them] from fetters.

(XII) They are [similarly] engaged with the fettered persons [in the prisons, for working in] the following order: for the distribution of money to those amongst them who are encumbered with progeny, for the unfettering of those who have [committed crimes] under the instigation [of others] and for the release of those who are aged.

(XIII) They are engaged everywhere – here [at Pä†aliputra, Asoka's capital city†] and elsewhere in all the towns, in the households of my brothers and sisters and other relatives.

(XIV) These Dharma-Mahämätras are engaged everywhere in my dominions among the adherents of Dharma [to determine] whether a person is [only] inclined towards Dharma or is [fully] established in Dharma or is [merely] given to charity.

(XV) This record relating to Dharma has been written [on stone] for the [following] purpose, [viz.], that [it] may last for a long time and that my descendants may conform to it.

* * * * * * * * *

Matthew 25:34-36 & 40:

Then the king will say to those on his right hand, “You have my Father’s blessing; come, enter and possess the kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger you took me into you home, when naked you clothed me; when I was ill you came to my help, when in prison you visited me.” . . . “I tell you this: anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me.”


Concerning Greek and Aramaic Versions of Asoka's Minor Rock Edict IV
From Asokan Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 45-46:

In 1958, a rock edict of the Maurya emperor Asoka was discovered in Southern Afghanistan at a place called Shar-i-Kuna near Kandahär in the vicinity of the site of the ancient city of ‘Alexandria among the Arachosians’, founded by Alexander the Great. It is a bilingual record, one of the versions being Greek meant for the Greek or Yavana subjects of the Maurya emperor. The other version is in Aramaic which was the language of the Achæmenian administration and was apparently meant for the Kambojas who were Iranians settled in the north-western region of the Maurya empire and are mentioned in Asoka's edicts . . . as a subject people. The contents of the said edict, which we have called Minor Rock Edict IV, prove that the Kandahär region formed a part of the empire of Asoka. Its Greek version begins with the passage “Ten years having elapsed since his coronation, king Priyadaråin (Asoka) has been showing piety to the people. And since then, he has rendered the people more pious, and all people prosper on the whole earth.” It goes on to say, “And the king abstains from the slaughter of living beings, and other people including the king’s hunters and fishermen have given up hunting. And those who could not control themselves have now ceased not to control themselves as far as they can. And they have become obedient to their father and mother and to the old people, contrary to what was the case previously. And, henceforth, by so acting, they will live in an altogether better and more profitable way.” 

Likewise the Aramaic version, which mentions the Maurya emperor as ‘our lord’, and ‘our lord, the king’, has the following passage at the beginning: “Ten years having passed, it so happened that our lord, Priyadaråin (Asoka), became the Institutor of Truth. Since then, evil decreased among all men, and all misfortunes he caused to disappear, and here are now peace and joy in the whole earth.” It then speaks of Asoka's Dharma regulations and their results: “And, moreover, there is this to note in regard to food: for our lord, the king, only a few animals are killed; having seen this, all men have given up the slaughter of
animals; even the fishermen are now subject to prohibition. Similarly, those who were without restraint have now ceased to be without restraint. And obedience to mother and father and to the elders flourishes now in conformity with the obligations imposed by fate on each person.” In conclusion, it says, “And, for all the pious men, there is no final Judgment. This (i.e. the practice of Dharma) has been profitable to all men and will be more profitable in future.”

In the year 1964, another Greek inscription of Asoka, which substantiates the evidence of the Græco-Aramaic edict referred to above, was discovered near Kandahär which appears to have been the headquarters of a province in which the concentration of the Greek (Yavana) and Kamboja subjects of Asoka was the most conspicuous, even though both the peoples may have had other settlements in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This new Greek inscription corresponds to Rock Edicts XII and XIII, though the earlier part of RE XII and the latter part of RE XIII are lacking. The above fact suggests that the present record is a continuation of what was engraved elsewhere in the neighbourhood and was itself continued in another place. From this it may be legitimately concluded that a Greek version of the whole set of the fourteen major Rock Edicts of Asoka was engraved at the place concerned. It is also possible to conjecture further that, side by side with the said Greek version, an Aramaic version of the fourteen Rock Edicts was also engraved for the Kamboja people of the locality.

* * * * * * * * *

The image and written matter on the facing page are reproduced from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. The translation there of Asoka's bilingual inscription is by G.P. Carratelli. According to Wikipedia:

The image is in the public domain worldwide due to the date of death of its author (if it was published outside of the U.S. and the author has been dead for over 70 years), or due to its date of publication (if it was first made public in the U.S. before 1923). Therefore this photographical reproduction is also in the public domain, at least in the United States (see Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.), in Germany, and in many other countries.


Bilingual inscription (Greek & Aramaic) of King Asoka, from near Kandahär (Käbul Museum)
Greek text Aramaic text

English translation:


King Asoka's  “Living Water” (Dharma)
Third century B.C. Rock Edict IX – at E∞∞agu∂i, Ändhra Pradësh
From Asokan Studies, by D.C. Sircar (Calcutta: India Museum, 1979), pp. 40-41:


(I) Thus saith king ‘Priyadaråin’ [i.e., Asoka†], ‘Beloved of the Gods’.

(II) People perform various [kinds of] auspicious ceremonies on the occasion of illness, the wedding of a son, the wedding of a daughter, [and] the birth of children.

(III) On these and similar other occasions, people perform many [kinds of] auspicious ceremonies.

(IV) And on such [occasions], the womenfolk [in particular] perform many and diverse [kinds of] ceremonies which [are†] trivial and meaningless.

(V) An auspicious rite, however, [may†] certainly be performed.

(VI) But the said [kind of rites] in fact produces [limited†] results.

(VII) [On the other hand], such a ceremony as is associated with Dharma produces great results.

(VIII) In it are [comprised] the following, [viz.] proper courtesy to slaves and servants, reverence to elders, restraint in [one’s dealings with] living beings, [and] liberality to the Årama∫as and Brähma∫as.

(IX) These and similar other [virtues] are indeed the ceremonies of Dharma.

(X) Therefore, whether [one is a person’s] father, or son, or brother, or friend, or acquaintance, or [even a mere] neighbour, one ought to declare [to him as follows]:

(XI) “This [kind of rite associated with Dharma] is good.”

(XII) “One should observe this practice until one’s [desired] object is attained and [resolve that] this [practice] will be observed by him again [and again] even after the object is attained.”

(XIII) The auspicious ceremony [of kinds] other than this is indeed of dubious [value].

(XIV) Perchance a person may attain his object [by performing these ceremonies], perchance he may not.

(XV) Moreover, [performance of those ceremonies] may produce results in this world only.

(XVI) But the [said] rite of Dharma is not restricted to time.

(XVII) If [a person performs it but] does not attain his object in this world, even then endless merit [for him] is produced [by it] in the next world.

(XVIII) And, if [a person] attains his object in this world, both [the results] are obtained [by him, viz.], that the [desired] object [is attained] in this world as also endless merit is produced [for him] in the next world by that ceremony of Dharma.

* * * * * * * * *
John 4:7-15:

The disciples had gone away to the town to buy food. Meanwhile a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ 

The Samaritan woman said, ‘What! You, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?’ (Jews and Samaritans, it should be noted, do not use vessels in common.) 

Jesus answered her, ‘If only you knew what God gives, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ 

‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have no bucket and this well is deep. How can you give me “living water”? Are you a greater man than Jacob our ancestor, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, he and his sons, and his cattle too?’ 

Jesus said, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never suffer thirst any more. The water that I shall give him will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.’ 

‘Sir,’ said the woman, ‘give me that water, and then I shall not be thirsty, nor have to come all this way to draw.’
– The New English Bible


The Buddha Becomes a Christian Saint

Throughout the Middle Ages, the story of two saints, Barlaam and Josaphat, became
the most widely spread legend of Christian sainthood. By the 16th century, the
sanctity of these two was officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.
But, two centuries later, becoming thoroughly knowedgeable about the details of
the story of the life of the Buddha, European scholars realized that the details of the
life of this legendary Josaphat suspiciously paralleled those of the Buddha. The
Christian legend was, in actuality, a transmutation of the life of the Buddha! Barlaam
and Josaphat were then removed from the ranks of Christian saints by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches.


Barlaam and Josaphat
From the online Catholic Encyclopedia:

[Barlaam and Josaphat are t]he principal characters of a legend of Christian antiquity, which was a favourite subject of writers in the Middle Ages. The story is substantially as follows: Many inhabitants of India had been converted by the Apostle St. Thomas and were leading Christian lives. In the third or fourth century King Abenner (Avenier) persecuted the Church. The astrologers had foretold that his son Josaphat would one day become a Christian. To prevent this the prince was kept in close confinement. But, in spite of all
precautions, Barlaam, a hermit of Senaar, met him and brought him to the true Faith. Abenner tried his best to pervert Josaphat, but, not succeeding, he shared the government with him. Later Abenner himself became a Christian, and, abdicating the throne, became a hermit. Josaphat governed alone for a time, then resigned, went into the desert, found his former teacher Barlaam, and with him spent his remaining years in holiness. . . . Barlaam and Josaphat found their way into the Roman Martyrology (27 November), and into the Greek calendar (26 August). Vincent of Beauvais, in the thirteenth century, had given the
story in his “Speculum Historiale”. It is also found in an abbreviated form in the “Golden Legend” of Jacobus de Voragine. . . .

The story is a Christianized version of one of the legends of Buddha, as even the name Josaphat would seem to show. This is said to be a corruption of the original Joasaph, which is again corrupted from the middle Persian Budasif (Budsaif = Bodhisattva). . . .

The Greek text of the legend [was] written probably by a monk of the Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem at the beginning of the seventh century. . . . Latin translations (Minge, P.L., LXXIII), were made in the twelfth century and used for nearly all the European languages, in prose, verse and in miracle plays.

Among them is prominent the German epic by Rudolph of Ems in the thirteenth century (Königsberg, 1818, and somewhat later at Leipzig). From the German an Icelandic and Swedish version were made in the fifteenth century. At Manila the legend appeared in the Tagala language of the Philippines. In the East it exists in Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Hebrew.

* * * * * * * * *

The text (in translation) of an edition of this legend, based on that published as St. John Damascene: Barlaam and Ioasaph, said to be composed c. 676 - 749 A.D. (trans. & ed. by G.R. Woodward & H. Mattingly) – which is in the Public Domain in the United States – has been edited, proofed, and prepared by Douglas B. Killings, and is available as “Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #20” at: <>.

Killings’ Note:

Readers of this work will note some startling similarities between the story of Ioasaph and the traditional Tale of Buddha. The work seems to be a retelling of the Buddha Legend from within a Christian context, with the singular difference that the “Buddha” in this tale reaches enlightenment through the love of Jesus Christ.

The popularity of the Greek version of this story is attested to by the number of translations made of it throughout the Christian world, including versions in Latin, Old Slavonic, Armenian, Christian Arabic, English, Ethiopic, and French. Such was its popularity that both Barlaam and Josaphat (Ioasaph) were eventually recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as Saints, and churches were dedicated in their honor from Portugal to Constantinople. It was only after Europeans began to have increased contacts with India that scholars began to notice the similarities between the two sets of stories. Modern scholars  believe that the Buddha story came to Europe from Arabic, Caucasus, and/or Persian sources, all of which were active in trade between the European and Indian worlds. – DBK

Killings’ Selected Bibliography:

• Original Text – ed. & trans. by G.R. Woodward & H. Mattingly: St. John Damascene: Barlaam and Ioasaph (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1914). English translation with side-by-side Greek text.

• Recommended Reading – David Marshall Lang (trans.): The Balavariani: A Tale from the Christian East (California University Press, Los Angeles, 1966). Translation of the Georgian work that probably served as a basis for the Greek text.


Barlaam and Josaphat

Excerpt from Chapter 21 of Herbert Christian Merillat’s book, The Gnostic Apostle Thomas: “Twin” of Jesus (Xlibris, 1997) – on the internet: <>:

The story of the Buddha’s life underwent an extraordinary transmutation as it moved west and became what is one of the most widespread legends ever told – the story of Barlaam and Josaphat. More than sixty translations, versions, or paraphrases have been identified. It was altered to fit the religious climate of each language and culture. As it moved westward, the story was adopted and adapted by Manicheans in central Asia, and then it became Christianized.

In its new version, Barlaam was a Christian monk who had converted Josaphat (the name was a linguistic development from the word Bodhisattva – one capable of Buddhahood). It may be that Georgian Christians in the Caucasus were the first to give the story a Christian cast, in the sixth or seventh century.

A Christian version in Greek was known at least as early as the eighth century. A papal librarian translated it into Latin in the ninth century and it later gained wide popularity throughout the West. 

The Ethiopic version is found in one of the surviving texts. It opens with a reference to Thomas’s mission in India, and so do Greek and Syriac texts. There follows the story of Josaphat, the son of an Indian ruler whose priests were alarmed by the spread of Christianity. When he was born, all the sages and astrologers predicted a splendid future for him except one, who foretold that he would become a Christian.

To prevent such an outcome, the king brought up his son in secluded palaces and protected him from all contacts with the world. But a Christian sage, Barlaam, disguised himself as a merchant and inveigled his way into the youth’s presence. He taught the prince Christian doctrine and finally converted and baptized him. The king tried to win back his son by every means he could think of, including an offer of half his kingdom. All the king’s efforts failed. Josaphat abandoned his princely life and became an ascetic in the desert, joined there by his preceptor, Barlaam. The severely ascetic flavor of Barlaam and Josaphat and the story’s glorification of monastic life presumably made it useful to Manicheans. The tale became
a great favorite among Christian monks in the Middle Ages.

Barlaam and Josaphat were treated in Europe as Christian saints throughout the Middle Ages, and their story became part of the thirteenth-century Golden Legend, or Lives of the Saints. The Genoese bishop who collected and published the work wrote that “Barlaam fell asleep in peace about the year of the Lord 380.” Barlaam and Josaphat were not fully canonized until the sixteenth century. Their day was fixed as November 27. Thus the historic Buddha and his guru became Christian saints, although no one seems to have made the Buddhist connection until scholars pointed it out late in the nineteenth century.

The two have now been desanctified. . . .

For explorers of Thomas traditions, the Ethiopic version of Barlaam and Jehosaphat is of particular interest. It opens, as we have noted, with a description of the apostle’s missionary trip to India. As in the Acts of Judas Thomas, the Twelve are sent “unto all peoples.”

Thomas, great in holiness, . . . was sent to the country of India, and he preached unto the Indians the preachings of salvation. . . . And Thomas destroyed and made to be forsaken the country that had been wont to offer up sacrifices to graven images, and he converted the people thereof from their error.

The Ethiopic text goes on to say that after numerous companies of monks were established in Egypt, reports of their abstinence reached India, “and at length the Indians made themselves like unto [the Egyptian Christian monks†] in the beauty of their life and works.” 

As we now know, it is far more likely that the exact opposite happened, that the example moved the other way; Buddhist monastic establishments were set up in the land of Gundaphorus [i.e., India] long before their Christian counterparts came into
being in Egypt.


Christian Legend Transforms the Buddha into a Christian Saint

Excerpt from D.M. Lang’s Introduction to the Loeb Classic edition of St. John Damascene, Barlaam and Ioasaph, Harvard University Press, 1914:

There are few medieval Christian worthies whose renown exceeds that of Barlaam and Josaphat, who were credited with the second conversion of India to Christianity, after the country had relapsed into paganism following the mission of the Apostle Thomas. Barlaam and Josaphat were numbered in the roll of saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, their festival day being 27 November. In the Greek Church, Ioasaph (Josaphat) was commemorated on 26 August, while the Russians remember both Barlaam and Ioasaph, together with the latter’s father, King Abenner, on 19 November (2 December
Old Style). Sir Henry Yule once visited a church at Palermo dedicated to ‘Divo Josaphat.’ In 1571 the Doge Luigi Mocenigo presented to King Sebastian of Portugal a bone and part of the spine [supposedly] of St. Josaphat. When Spain seized Portugal in 1580, these sacred treasures were removed by Antonio, the Pretender to the Portuguese crown, and ultimately found their way to Antwerp, where they were preserved in the cloister of St. Salvator.

After the European settlement of India, and the arrival there of Roman Catholic missionaries, certain enquiring spirits were struck by similarities between features of the life of St. Josaphat, and corresponding episodes in the life of the Buddha. Early in the seventeenth century, the Portuguese writer Diogo do Conto remarked that Josaphat “is represented in his legend as the son of a great king in India, who had just the same upbringing, with all the same particulars that we have recounted in the life of the Buddha
. . . and as it informs us that he was the son of a great king in India, it may well be . . . that he was the Buddha of whom they relate such marvels.” Diogo do Conto was on the right track, though it was not until the 1850s that scholars in Western Europe embarked on a systematic comparison between the Christian legend of Barlaam and Ioasaph, and the traditional life of Gautama Buddha, and came to the startling conclusion that for almost a thousand years, the Buddha in the guise of the holy Josaphat, had been revered as a saint of the principal Churches of Christendom.


This legend of ‘Barlaam and Josaphat’ may serve as a paradigm, an epitome, a model of the relation of Buddhism to Christianity. Scholars, for over two hundred years, have been pointing out the influence of Buddhism on the origin of Christianity, but Christian theologians have, in the main, been indifferent to a serious study of this relationship. Such a study would require that they acquire a deep historical knowledge of Buddhism and a mastery of the languages of Päli, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese.

* * * * * * * * *
From G. MacQueen’s article, “Changing Master Narratives in Midstream: Barlaam and Josaphat and the Growth of Religious Intolerance in the Buddha Legend’s Westward Journey”, in the Journal of Buddhist

Ethics, Vol. 5 (1998), p. 144:


As the legend of the Buddha moved into Europe in the medieval period in the form of the story of the Christian saints Barlaam and Josaphat, it became marked for the first time by deep religious intolerance. The article finds this structural shift to have been accomplished through two separate but integrated moves: a master narrative of emancipation through enlightenment is replaced by a master narrative of salvation through faith, and a model of religions as linked and overlapping is replaced by a perception of religions as closed systems that compete with and endanger each other.

The full article, available on the internet, provides an in-depth study of this shifting aspect of the transmogrification of Buddhism into Christianity: <>.


Further Parable Parallels

The parallel parables in this section are presented without reference to datable sculptural
examples from Buddhist art. Therefore, the priority of the Buddhist versions must be
established on literary or other bases.


The Buddhist Parable of the Prodigal Son

(From the abridged rendering of The Saddharmapundarïka Sütra
produced for WBO Day 1999)

This rendering of The Saddharmapundarïka Sütra is an abridgement derived by using selected excerpts from The Lotus Sütra translated by Burton Watson (Columbia Press ’93), Soothill’s Lotus of the Wonderful Law (’30), The Threefold Lotus Sütra trans. Bunno Kato (Weatherhill, ’84), Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma trans. Leon Hurvitz (Columbia ’76), The Saddharmapundarïka H. Kearn (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xx1). Whilst intending to remain as faithful to the original texts as much as possible, the reader should bear in mind the inevitably interpretative means employed with such an extensive abridgement.

Cittapala – March 1999

“It is like a youth who, on attaining manhood, abandoned his father and ran away. For a long time he lived in another country, for perhaps ten, twenty or more years. As he grew older, he found himself increasingly poor and in need. He wandered from place to place in search of clothing and food, roaming farther and farther afield.

“The father meanwhile had been searching for his son without success and eventually had taken up residence in a certain city. And at this time the father became powerful and very wealthy, with immeasurable riches and treasures. Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, corals, amber, crystal and other gems all filled and overflowed from his storehouses. He had many grooms and menservants, clerks and attendants, and elephants, horses, carriages, oxen, and herds beyond number. His business ventures extended far and wide, and his traders and customers were constantly coming and going. He was held in high esteem and affection by the king, ministers and noble families. For all these reasons his guests were many.

“Meanwhile the impoverished son roamed from place to place, scraping his livelihood together, until at last he came by chance to the great city where his father had settled. Although they had been parted for a long time the father thought constantly of his son; but, he had never told anyone else about the matter. He merely pondered to himself, his heart filled with sadness, regret and longing. He thought to himself, ‘I’m old and worn; I have great wealth and possessions: gold, silver, and rare treasures; my granaries and storehouses are overflowing. But I do not have my son. One day I will die, and all my wealth and possessions will be scattered and lost, for I have no-one to entrust them to.’

“In this way he’d constantly reflect, and earnestly repeat to himself, ‘If only I could find my son and entrust my wealth and possessions to him, how contented and happy I would be!’
“World-honoured One, one day the son, drifting from one kind of employment to another, famished, weak and gaunt, covered with scab and itch, came by chance to his father’s mansion. As he stood at the outer gate, in the distance he was amazed to see a rich man (who he did not recognise as his father), seated on a lion throne, his legs supported by a jewelled foot-rest, while Brahmins, noblemen, and householders, uniformly deferential, surrounded him. Festoons of pearls worth thousands, or tens of thousands, adorned his body, and
clerks, grooms, and menservants holding white fly-whisks stood in attendance to left and right. A jewelled canopy covered him, with flowered banners hanging from it, perfumed water had been sprinkled over the ground, heaps of rare flowers were scattered about and precious objects were ranged here and there. Clerks came and went, some counting up gold, silver and precious things, some recording in ledgers incoming and outgoing goods, and noting down bonds. Such were the rich man’s many different types of adornments, the emblems of prerogative and marks of distinction.

“When the son saw how great was the rich man’s power and authority, he was filled with fear and awe and regretted he had ever come to such a place. In some alarm, he thought to himself: ‘This must be some king, or very powerful man. This is not the sort of place where I can hire out my labour and gain a living. It would be better to go to some poor village where, if I work hard, I will find a place and can easily earn food and clothing. If I stay here for long, I may be seized and pressed into service!’ With this in mind, he hurried away.


“But, his father, seated on his lion throne, had instantly spied his son recognising him immediately. His heart was filled with great joy and at once he thought: ‘My thoughts have constantly been with this son of mine, but I had no way of seeing him. But now quite unexpectedly he has come, and my longing is satisfied.

Though worn with years, I yearn for him as of old. Now at last I have someone to whom I can give my wealth!’

“Immediately he dispatched an attendant to go after the son as quickly as possible and bring him back.

When the attendant caught up with the son, he laid hold of him. The poor man, surprised and scared, cried out angrily, ‘I have done nothing wrong! Why am I being seized?’ But the attendant held on to him all the more tightly and forcibly started to drag him back.

“The son, thinking to himself, ‘I’m innocent! I have not committed any crime; why should I be arrested?

Surely I am going to be put to death!’, was so terrified that he sank to the ground and fainted with despair.

“His father, observing this from a distance, immediately sent a messenger, saying, ‘Leave the man alone; I have no need of him. Sprinkle cold water on his face so he will regain his senses. 
Then say nothing more to him!’

“Why did he do that? Because the father, seeing that his son’s disposition was now so humble, knew his own rich and eminent position could only cause his son more distress. 
Whilst knowing very well that this was his son, he tactfully refrained from saying to anyone, ‘This is my son.’

“When the son had revived, the messenger said to him, ‘You’re free to go now, wherever you wish.’

Delighted the son quickly left to look for food in some poor village.

“Then the father, hoping to entice his son back again, decided to resort to a device. So he sent two of his attendants, men who were lean, haggard and shabby in appearance, saying to them, ‘Go and find that poor man; approach him casually. Tell him you know a place where he can earn twice the regular wage. If he agrees, then bring him here and put him to work. If he wants to know what sort of work he will be put to, say that he is hired to move dung and filth, and that the two of you will be working with him.’

“The two men then set out at once to find the son, and when they had done so, put their proposition to him. The son, getting his wages in advance, decided to join them in their work.

“From that day the father secretly gazing out his window would constantly observe his son, his body, gaunt and emaciated, filthy with dust and sweat and from the dung and excrement he was clearing away.

When the father saw how happily his son engaged in this menial work, he was struck with both pity and amazement. From time to time the father would take off his necklaces, his soft fine garments and his other adornments, and disguising himself in clothes that were ragged and soiled, he would smear dirt on his body.

Carrying a dung-hod and acting as a foreman, he would gruffly order the labourers around saying, ‘Get on with your work! Don’t be lazy!’ By this device, he was able to approach his son. “After some time had passed, the rich man called his son to him and said, ‘Now then, young man! You stay and work here; you have no need to go elsewhere! I will increase your wages, and give you whatever you need, whether it is food, clothes or bedding; I also have an old servant I can lend you whenever you need him. Set your mind at ease: I will be like a father to you, so you need worry no further. Why do I say this? You are not like the other
workers: all the time you’ve been working here, you have never been deceitful, lazy, angry or grumbled. I am getting old, but you are still young and sturdy. From now on, I will treat you like my own son.’ And then the rich man gave his son a new name, treating him as if he were his own child, allowing him to come and go in his own house.

“Whilst the son was delighted at this turn of events, he nevertheless still thought of himself as a menial worker. Because of this, he continued in his original job, clearing away excrement for a long time, and continued to live in his grass hut outside the rich man’s gates. But during this time, the son’s self-confidence became stronger and, feeling that he was understood and trusted, he came and went at ease.

“World-honoured One, one day the father fell ill, and bearing in mind that he might soon die, he spoke to his son, saying, ‘I have great quantities of gold, silver, and rare treasures that fill and overflow from my storehouses. I want you to become my steward, to take complete charge of the accounting, the income and ...


expenditure. So you must keep your wits about you and see that there are no mistakes or losses. This is what I have in mind, and I want you to carry out my wishes.’

“So the son, taking up his new job, took over attending to all the rich man’s goods, gold, silver, rare treasures, and various storehouses. In spite of all this wealth he never once thought of appropriating for himself so much as the cost of a single meal. Indeed, he still continued to live where he had before, and at first was unable to abandon his sense of inferiority.

“Nevertheless as time passed, the father saw that his son was bit by bit becoming more self-assured and that with a changing view of himself he was become more ambitious and ashamed of his former low opinion of himself. Realising that his own end was fast approaching, the father ordered his son to arrange a meeting with his relatives, as well as the king’s representative, high ministers, and noblemen. When they were all gathered together, the father addressed this great assembly saying, ‘Gentlemen, know that this is my son,
who was born to me. It is over fifty years since from from a certain city he left me and ran away, and for long time he wandered about suffering hardship. But by chance, we met up again. This is in truth my son, and I in truth am his father. Now everything that belongs to me, all my wealth and possessions, shall belong entirely to this son of mine.’

“When the son heard his father speak, he was overjoyed at this unexpected news, and he thought to himself, ‘Although I have never thought to want or look for such wealth, now it has come of its own accord!’

Jesus’ ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’

Luke 15:11-32:

[Jesus] said:‘There was once a man who had two sons; and the younger said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the property.” So he divided his estate between them. A few days later the younger son turned the whole of his share into cash and left home for a distant country where he squandered it in reckless living. He had spent it all, when a severe famine fell upon that country and he began to feel the pinch. So he went and attached himself to one of the local landowners, who sent him on to his farm to mind the pigs. He would have been glad to fill his belly with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 
Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants
have more food than they can eat, and here am I, starving to death! I will set off and go to my father, and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned, against God and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants,’” So he set out for his father’s house. But while he was still a long way off his father saw him, and his heart went out to him. He ran to meet him, flung his arms round him, and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned, against God and against you; I am no longer fit to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! fetch a robe, my best one, and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us have a feast to
celebrate the day. For this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And the festivities began.

‘Now the elder son was out on the farm; and on his way back, as he approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it meant. The servant told him, “Your brother has come back home, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has him back safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him; but he retorted, “You know how I have slaved for you all these years; I never once disobeyed your orders and you never gave me so much as a kid, for a feast with my friends. But now that this son of yours turns up, after running through your money with his women, you kill the fatted calf for him.” “My boy,” said the father,
“you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. How could we help celebrating this happy day?

Your brother here was dead and has come back to life, was lost and is found.”’

– The New English Bible



Jesus’ version of the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ is very different from the Buddhist one. The younger son (representing the sinful ways of mankind) demands his inheritance prematurely from his father (representing the love and mercy of God), and proceeds to foreign lands where he spends it all in sinful living. Having then been forced to take up menial and degrading work to keep himself alive, he comes to his senses, and with heartfelt repentance returns to his father with the acknowledgement of his sins and the plea that he be employed at least as one of his father’s servants. His father rejoices greatly in his younger son’s return and treats him with such a celebration that the older son is, understandably, upset.

In the Buddhist ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’, the one and only son simply runs away from home. There is no talk of his asking for any inheritance. There is no older brother in this version, no jealous sibling who becomes angry over his father’s forgiving attitude and joyous celebration of the younger son’s return.

‘Belief and Understanding’ is the (translated) heading of Chapter IV of the Saddharma-Pundarïka-Sütra. The ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’, in this chapter, is told to illustrate the difference between the elevated stage, of ‘belief’ in the principles and teaching of the Buddha attained by monks who have become Arahats, on the one hand, and the higher stage, of ‘understanding’, on the other, which is ultimately to be attained by monks as Bödhisattvas. As a major work of later (Mahäyäna) Buddhism, the Saddharma-Pundarïka-Sütra, is suggesting that the earlier development of (Hïnayäna) Buddhism had only emphasized the stage of Belief, whereas the later stage of Mahäyäna Buddhism has disclosed the truly ultimate stage of Understanding. The son, leaving home for a self-indulgent life in another land, stands for the ordinary person with uncontrolled desires, eventually suffering their consequences. When such a person returns to his ‘father’ (the Buddha) and is gradually introduced by him to the early Buddhist disciplines of lay life and then of monastic life, he eventually reaches the stage of an arahat (believing in the teachings of the Buddha, but still lacking true understanding). It is only at the end of the parable, that the father reveals to the son that all of the father’s treasures are to be his son’s treasures. These treasures metaphorically stand for the resulting spiritual powers flowing from a full Understanding of the Dharma attained by a Bödhisattva. Is the Buddhist ‘Prodigal’ parable with its far more abstract and extended metaphorical structure a later version of the shorter, more vivid New Testament parable? Or is it the other way around? Or did each arise independently of the other? In reaching an answer to these questions, one should keep in mind the already well-established and well-documented reach of the Buddhist ‘Dharma’ to ‘all nations’ – westward from India, to the shores of the Mediterranean, in the third century B.C., through the efforts of King Asoka's missionary monks, and eastward to China, during the first century A.D. Whereas, during the first century, the early Christian churches were suffering severe persecution.


The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

This parable treats in greater detail the problem of jealousy and sense of unfairness which is illustrated in Jesus’ version of the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’. The underlying metaphorical structure is subtle!

Matthew 20:1-16:

‘The kingdom of Heaven is like this. There was once a landowner who sent out early one morning to hire labourers for his vineyard; and after agreeing to pay them the usual day’s wage he sent them off to work. Going out three hours later he saw some more men standing idle in the market-place, “Go and join the others in the vineyard,” he said, “and I will pay you a fair wage”; so off they went. At midday he went out again, and at three in the afternoon, and made the same arrangement as before. An hour before sunset he went out and found another group standing there; so he said to them, “Why are you standing about like this all day with nothing to do?” “Because no one has hired us”, they replied; so he told them, “Go and join the others in the vineyard.” When evening fell, the owner of the vineyard said
to his steward, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with those who came last and ending with the first.” Those who had started work an hour before sunset came forward, and were paid the full day’s wage. When it was the turn of the men who had come first, they expected something extra, but were paid the same amount as the others. As they took it, they grumbled at their employer:

“These late-comers have done only one hour’s work, yet you have put them on a level with us, who have sweated the whole day long in the blazing sun!” The owner turned to one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unfair to you. You agreed on the usual wage for the day, did you not? Take your pay and go home. I choose to pay the last man the same as you. Surely I am free to do what I like with my own money. Why be jealous because I am kind?” Thus will the last be first, and the first last.’

– The New English Bible

* * * * * * * * *


In his “Commentary on the Gospel of Thomas,”1 Swami Nirmalananda Giri has made the following enlightening remarks on Matthew’s ‘Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard’, revealing a possible interpretation with an unusually deep meaning:

The idea behind all [of the metaphor] is that the goal [the ‘Kingdom of God’, ‘liberation’, or ‘nirvä∫a’] is absolutely the same, and the attainment for each one of us is identical, whether we reach it early or [late]. It is often supposed that some people attain liberation very easily in a short time, but this does not take into account what may be hundreds of previous lives of spiritual effort. Conversely, someone who may seek for an entire lifetime before attaining any perceivable result may only have a comparatively few lifetimes of effort behind him. But at the end all are the same, for all spirits are identical in scope of consciousness. In the kingdom of heaven there are no greater and lesser citizens, only divine rays of the Divine Light.

Swami Nirmalananda Giri’s views are supported and illustrated in the Lotus Sütra of Mahäyäna

Buddhism, which we examine next.
1Available on the internet: <>.


The Lotus Sütra (Saddharma-Pundarïka-Sütra)

A fuller English translation of the Sanskrit title, Saddharma-Pundarïka-Sütra, would be: The Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Sütra. Passages from a commentary on this work which are quoted below have been taken from an article entitled, “The Lotus Sutra: Its Spiritual Significance”, by Alfred Bloom – freely available on the internet: <>. These passages, especially the fifth paragraph, have been selected to further clarify the significance of what Jesus was saying in the ‘Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard’:

The Lotus Sütra itself has sometimes been called the “New Testament of Asia” and comparisons have been made with the Gospel of John focussing on the issues of the universality of salvation and the hope of eternal life. However, the Lotus Sütra is an expression of Mahäyäna Buddhism which evolved out of the long history of Buddhism and it has had influence in the lives of hosts of people in China, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, [and] extending to the West where there are now several translations available.

The text began to take shape from about 100 BCE, and has been translated into many languages. In Buddhist devotions and rituals, it has been read faithfully for some 2,000 years. It is also a source of philosophy, as well as religious faith. Actually, it is a compilation of texts comprised of twenty eight chapters created by unknown authors. It offers many themes and parables which have contributed to its popularity. A major reason for the popularity of the Sütra lies in its emphasis on lay people. They are described as the good men and good women or as bödhisattvas or Buddhas-to-be. Together with its missionary perspective, the Sütra declares the principles of universal salvation and eternal life.

The teaching on universal salvation has as its background various divisions of early Buddhism. According to the principle of universality, all beings ultimately and equally attain the enlightenment of Buddhahood, despite the fact that individuals may follow paths suited to their own character and spiritual need. It is a way of proclaiming the ultimate unity of all religion in the face of diversity. The Sütra relates that even Dëvadatta, who is something on the order of Judas in the Christian tradition, as the symbol of a very evil person, will finally gain Buddhahood. According to the Sütra, Dëvadatta was a teacher of Säkyamuni in past lives, but as the cousin of Gautama Buddha in his lifetime, he suffered from envy and conspired either to kill Buddha or take over the Order. There are many legends surrounding him. But the Sütra indicates that ultimately, as a result of his good karma from that distant past, even he will be enlightened, giving hope to even the most evil person. Another interesting illustration of the universality of enlightenment is the account of the Buddhahood of the Näga or Dragon king’s daughter. On the occasion when Buddha taught at the home of her father, she instantly believed the Buddha’s message and was immediately transformed to a Buddha. Buddha’s disciples were amazed and questioned what happened on the ground that the instantaneous attainment of Buddhahood is impossible, seeing how long æons of time it had taken for Säkyamuni himself to attain it. They were also disturbed that a woman would be able to become Buddha, since in Indian and early Buddhist teachings, women were barred from enlightenment for many, many æons of time until they were reborn as men. To attain enlightenment instantaneously was simply unbelievable for them. With these vivid stories and teachings the Lotus Sütra brought hope into the lives of countless numbers of people in Asia who were destined for occupations considered low, menial or impure. Women held particularly low status in patriarchal Asian cultures.

Not only does the Sütra teach the universality of enlightenment, but it also proclaims the principle of faith. In chapter two, enlightenment and Buddhahood are assured to all those who aspire for it whether they express it in establishing great stüpas, images or monasteries or even so much as scratching an image of Buddha on a wall or at play making a stüpa of sand. It teaches that it is one’s aspiration and intention that is primary and not the form which may vary by skill or wealth. As a Mahäyäna Sütra, the text constantly contrasts its ideal with the earlier Hïnayäna (smaller vehicle) followers who aspired merely for Nirvä∫a and a passionless life of salvation for oneself. The...


Mahäyäna (the larger vehicle) is always presented as the way of compassion by which bödhisattvas strive for the enlightenment of all others besides themselves. Another prominent feature of the Sütra related to the principle of Universality of Salvation is its
educational theory. Mahäyäna Buddhism was a great missionary religion. The principles we have outlined were intended to be shared. It is the bödhisattva’s task to bring joy and release into the lives of people by revealing their true destiny. They attempt to abolish fear and anxiety, by revealing the truth of reality. They tell us who we are when we are blind to our own potential. This teaching also appears in other Mahäyäna Sütras. The principle is called hoben in Japanese or upäya in the Sanskrit.

It is a truly compassionate view of human relations and guidance.


The Samaritan Woman at the Well

John 4:7-15:

The disciples had gone away to the town to buy food. Meanwhile a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ The Samaritan woman said, ‘What! You, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?’ (Jews and Samaritans, it should be noted, do not use vessels in common.) Jesus answered her, ‘If only you knew what God gives, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have no bucket and this well is deep. How can you give me “living water”? Are you a greater man than Jacob our ancestor, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, he and his sons, and his cattle too?’ Jesus said, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never suffer thirst any more. The water that I shall give him will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.’ ‘Sir,’ said the woman, ‘give me that water, and then I shall not be thirsty, nor have to come all this way to draw.’

– The New English Bible

John 7:37-38:

On the last and greatest day of the festival Jesus stood and cried aloud, ‘If anyone is thirsty let him come to me; whoever believes in me, let him drink.’ As Scripture says, ‘Streams of living water shall flow out from within him.’
– N.E.B.

* * * * *

There is a Buddhist avadäna1 story which, astonishingly, parallels Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well – at least in its beginning. This Buddhist tale is found in a collections of avadänas in the Divyävadäna. It is called “Särdülakar∫a: Love of the Untouchable”. The main character of the story is the “untouchable”, outcaste (Cha∫∂äla/Mäta≥ga) maiden named Prak®itï.2 This story of Särdülakar∫a and Prak®itï was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in 265 A.D. Naturally, the tale must have originated earlier. I quote below two Buddhist passages which provide an epigrammatic introduction to the meaning of ‘living water’ in both the Buddhist and Christian stories:

Listen attentively with one heart. A man whose spirit shines brightly, a man whose mind is completely unified, a man whose virtue excels everyone – such a man will truly appear in this world. When he preaches precious laws, all the people will totally be satisfied just as the thirsty drink sweet drops of rain from heaven. And each and every one will attain the path of liberation from struggles. 

– Sütra of the Great Accomplishment of the Maitreya

During the short æons of maladies, they [the bödhisattvas] become the best holy medicine; they make beings well and happy, and bring about their liberation. During the short æons of famine, they become food and drink. Having first alleviated thirst and hunger, they teach the Dharma to living beings.”

– Vimalakïrtinirdesha, 8
1The avadänas are tales of how, through the Law of Karma, the past lives of the Buddha and/or his
disciples have affected their present lives in some instructive way. Two different root meanings are given
for the word avadäna in Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary. The second, ‘cutting or dividing into
pieces’, is the appropriate root meaning for the translation of ‘avadäna’ in the present context: the sense
of persons reaping rewards or punishments in their present life for their actions in some previous life.
2In the 19th and 20th centuries, two important works were inspired by this Buddhist tale of the
outcaste maiden Prak®itï. Richard Wagner, in 1856, after reading the French translation of the legend by
the oriental scholar, Eugène Burnouf, composed his operatic sketch, Die Sieger (The Victors). Some 82
years later, Rabindranath Tagore, in India, wrote an important play, Cha∫∂älikä, based on the legend.


The Outcaste Woman at the Well*

The Master was sojourning near Årävastï and Änanda used to enter the town daily on his begging round. Once as he was returning from the town, he became thirsty and saw a Cha∫∂äla maiden, named Prak®itï, fetching water from a well.

“Sister,” he said to her, “give me some water to drink.”

Prak®itï replied, “I am a Cha∫∂äla girl, revered Änanda.”

[The Cha∫∂älas of India were outcastes, untouchables of the lowest kind – their shadow, or even their sight, was polluting to those of caste – the Samaritan woman of the New Testament would be no match to such an extreme level of social degradation! – ML]

“Sister,” said Änanda, “I do not ask you about your family and your caste, but if you have any water left, give it to me and I will drink.”

(Note that so far the similarity with Jesus and the Samaritan woman is surprising [John 4:7 ff.], but the whole course of the narrative further down in the Gospel is so different that we can scarcely think of any connection between the Buddhist and Christian Scriptures.) [This note is by Nariman – not by ML!]

The maiden hands him the water to drink and falls deeply in love with him. She tells her mother that she will die or have Änanda for her husband. The mother, who is a sorceress, prepares a potent philtre and, chanting mantras, casts her spell on Änanda. The process is described in a way similar to the incantation in the Kaushikasütra of the Atharva-Veda. The charm is successful, Änanda is drawn by the spell into the house of the Cha∫∂älas where the joyful Prak®itï has prepared a bed. But in this moment of extreme [!!] danger, Änanda breaks into tears and prays to the Buddha in his distress. The Buddha hastens to protect him with his own counter mantras. Änanda is thus able to escape the Cha∫∂äla home and return to his monastery. The sorceress declares to her heartbroken daughter that the mantras of Gautama, the Buddha, are superior to her own. But Prak®itï, the Cha∫∂äla maiden, is not yet cured of her love. She goes into the town and follows Änanda day after day as he goes forth on his mendicant’s circuit. Once more Änanda in his consternation turns to the Buddha for help. The latter summons Prak®itï to himself and ostensibly consents to her desire that Änanda should be her husband. Soon, however, he brings her to a frame of mind in which she take the vow of chastity and turns a nun. She not only has her hair shaved and puts on the nun’s habit, but she dives into the profundity of the four Noble Truths and, in time, comes to understand the religion of the Buddha in its entirety. When, however, the Brahmans, Kshatriyas and other citizens of Årävastï hear that the Buddha has accepted a Cha∫∂äla daughter as a nun, they are greatly perturbed, and convey their concern to the king, Prasenajit. The latter immediately sets out to meet the Master and remonstrate with him. A crowd of Brahmans, Kshatriyas and other citizens of Årävastï also gather together there. Then the Buddha relates to them the story of Triåa≥ku, the Cha∫∂äla chieftain. The latter, ages ago, wished to have his learned son Särdülakar∫a marry the daughter of the proud Brahman Pushkarasärin. The Brahman rejected his overtures with disdain, and then there followed a most interesting dialogue in which Triåa≥ku subjects to searching criticism the caste system and the Brahmanic code of morality. He demonstrates that between members of the various castes there exists no such natural difference as between diverse species of animals and plants. Moreover there could be no fixed caste according to the doctrines of transmigration and the theory of karma inasmuch as each individual is reborn in accordance with his own deeds. Finally, Pushkarasärin is convinced of the erudition of Triåa≥ku and consents to the marriage. And, concludes the Buddha, the Brahman’s daughter was in a former birth none other than the Cha∫∂äla maiden Prak®itï. The Buddha himself was, in that age, Triåa≥ku; and who else could be Särdülakar∫a, but Änanda.

* * * * *
*Excerpted from Literary History of Sanskrit Buddhism, by J.K. Nariman (Bombay: Motilal
Banarsidass, 1st edition, 1919, 2nd edition 1923, reprinted, Delhi, 1973, 1992), pp. 55-57. I have modified
much of the Victorianisms in Nariman’s language (ML).



Let me now take issue with J.K. Nariman’s claim, already quoted on the previous page:
Note that so far the similarity with Jesus and the Samaritan woman is surprising (John 4:7 ff.), but the whole course of the narrative further down in the Gospel is so different that we can scarcely think of any connection between the Buddhist and Christian Scriptures.

The ‘connection’ certainly has been blurred by the different cultural environment in which the Gospel was written – compared with that of Buddhist India – and by any redactions of the Gospel which may have occurred in the following centuries. But, as Zacharias P. Thundy has indicated in the proposal for his book, The Trial and Death of Jesus: Gospel Narratives and Their Indian Sources, p. 8, there are some signs of such a connection in John’s Gospel:

[T]he author of the Fourth Gospel, deeply immersed in Buddhist thought, [could not] totally disguise his Buddhist sources, as can be seen in the following case: Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (7:37-38). Of course, no Hebrew Scripture makes that statement, but only the Buddhist Scriptures!1 Nor could John resist the temptation of reproducing the story of Prak®tï, the Mäta≥ga [/Cha∫∂äla] Woman, offering Änanda water to drink at the well; however, the evangelist transformed the Mäta≥ga Woman into the Samaritan Woman and Änanda into Jesus! So, scholars familiar with the Buddhist and Greek sources do find fault lines or evidence for the presence of the absent so-called Q-source for the gospels. At this juncture we can probably suggest that the expunging of possibly almost all “pagan” references from the books of the New Testament and the inclusion of a large number of proof texts from the Old Testament was most likely due to the editorial work of redactors of the books of the New Testament rather than that of the original authors. In retrospect we can say that the Jerusalem Council’s decision was a
spectacular success with far-reaching consequences down through the centuries for the development of Christian thinking and practice, even to the extent that all the Christian churches accept the Old Testament as the revealed word of God.

There are two major themes in the Buddhist tale about Prak®itï. The first is the advocacy of the leveling of caste distinctions. The second theme is the illustration of how the Law of Karma can mix up the caste or sex of any individual when he/she is reborn. (Of course, the Law can also transform a human into an animal in his/her next birth.)

The first theme is expressed in the Dïgha Nikäya in the following way: 

It is mere empty words to give it out among the people that the Brahmans are the best caste and every other caste is inferior, that the Brahmans are the white caste, every other caste is black, that only the Brahmans are pure, not the non-Brahmans, [and] that the Brahmans are the legitimate sons of Brahmä.2

And again from the Päli Canon:

Whether kindled by a priest, a warrior, a trader or a serf, from whatsoever type of fuel, a fire will emit light and heat; even so, all men, regardless of caste, are equally capable of the highest spiritual attainment.3

The second theme is illustrated in the concluding part of the avadäna story, after the Buddha accepts Prak®itï, an outcaste woman, as his disciple. The people of Årävastï are outraged. In justifying his action, the Buddha describes how he himself was, in a previous life, a Cha∫∂äla chieftain named Triåa≥ku – how many lives earlier is left unspecified. At that earlier time, Änanda was his learned, outcaste son, named Särdülakar∫a, and Prak®itï was the daughter of a Brahmin priest, named Pushkarasärin. As illustrated in the diagram below, I suggest that Pushkarasärin was fated to be reborn as an outcaste woman! – socially, the lowest of the low. 


PRESENT LIVES: Buddha (cousins) Änanda
“married” “dharma vadhu” Prak®itï (daughter) mother Kshatriya Kshatriya “agapeic wife” Cha∫∂älï Cha∫∂älï ruling caste ruling caste outcaste outcaste
PREVIOUS LIVES: Triåa≥ku Åärdülakar∫a
married vadhu daughter Pushkarasärin Cha∫∂äla chief Cha∫∂äla (son) wife Brahmin Brahmin outcaste outcaste priestly caste priestly caste


Now, I admit that the Sanskrit avadäna story only specifies that the Buddha was, in an earlier incarnation, an outcaste chieftain, and that at that time Änanda was his outcaste son, and that Prak®itï was at that same time a maiden of the highest, Brahmin caste – it does not say anything about the transmigratory identity of her Brahmin father and Prak®itï’s outcaste mother. However, having researched the topic of ‘metatheater and Sanskrit drama’ in some depth,4 it seems obvious to me that that is how the original story went. P
ushkarasärin, as a Brahmin, has been vain and unsympathetic toward lower-caste/outcaste people (and all women) for most of his life, and now he has been reborn as the mother of his reborn daughter, Prak®itï – both outcastes! (Poetic justice.) Perhaps, the idea that a learned but misguided Brahmin priest could, because of the Law of Karma, be reborn as a Cha∫∂äla sorceress, was too over the top, and redactors ended up softening the ignominy for him by not specifically mentioning it at the end of the story.

In any case, Triåa≥ku and his son, Särdülakar∫a, followed a different route, allaying their ‘thirst’ (t®ish∫a) – controlling those desires which lead persons astray from the straight and narrow ‘Eight-fold Path’ to be preached by the future Buddha – and consequently they were able to mount up the ladder of transmigration to their present (and final!) illustrious lives, before achieving parinirvä∫a. What, then, in this Buddhist tale, is the ‘living water’ which, if anyone were to drink it, one would thirst no more? Of course, it is the Dharma, one of the ‘Three Gems’ of Buddhism.5 What, then, in Christianity, is the ‘living water’ which if anyone
were to drink it, that person would thirst no more? It is the ‘Logos’ – in the terminology of the Fourth Gospel: the teachings of Jesus (a meta-version of the Buddha’s ‘Dharma’).

We have learned that the Buddha personally instructed his outcaste disciple, Prak®itï, thus:
He brings her to a frame of mind in which she takes the vow of chastity and turns a nun. She not only has her hair shaved and puts on the nun’s habit, but she dives into the profundity of the four Noble Truths and, in time, comes to understand the religion of the Buddha in its entirety.

A parallel development is missing in the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. But we understand that such an outcome should be assumed.

Nariman, has failed to notice a further subtlety in the development of Prak®itï’s story. As we have maintained, ‘thirst’ (t®ish∫a) stands for all the self-centered desires that burn in our hearts. Prak®itï is overcome with an infatuation for this kindly, young monk. Remember that, in an earlier life as a Brahman woman, she was the wife (Skt. vadhu) of that learned outcaste, Särdülakar∫a (alter ego of Änanda). The word ‘vadhu’ has various meanings. ‘Bride’ and ‘wife’ are perhaps the most common. But ‘vadhu’ can also mean a young
woman who is not married. This ambiguity of ‘vadhu’ is central to the further development of our story. The Buddha, when he first converses with the young Prak®itï, agrees – on certain conditions – to a “marriage” between Änanda and herself, using the word ‘vadhu’, intending the meaning that she could become Änanda’s ‘dharma vadhu’ (‘dharmic bride/wife’), but knowing full well that Prak®itï will understand him to be granting
her permission to marry (in the ordinary sense) Änanda. She, of course, enthusiastically accepts the conditions to be laid down by the Buddha – which, at this point, she knows not what they may be. 

The conditions which the Buddha subsequently lays down are those involved in her becoming a Buddhist nun: studying the Buddhist Dharma thoroughly, having her hair shaved off, wearing a nun’s habit, and – most challenging! – taking a vow of chastity (a shock to her). Though, as Nariman puts it: “in time, she comes to understand the religion of the Buddha in its entirety” – and, thus, to prize her “dharmic” marriage to Änanda above the ‘ordinary’ marriage with him for which she had originally so passionately ‘thirsted’.

In the diagram on the previous page, I have used the expression ‘agapeic’ to connote the sense of ‘platonic’, a loving relationship which is not erotic – the kind which the Buddha wishes to inculcate in Prak®itï. Here, I would like to suggest that this whole aspect of the little avadäna story can be considered a paradigm for the Catholic ritual of a woman taking the vows of a nun and becoming a ‘bride of Christ’ – which, in the eyes of the Church, is the best of all marriages!

The Catholic Catechism says:

923 “Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.” By this solemn rite (Consecratio virginum), the virgin is “constituted . . . a sacred person, a transcendent sign of the Church’s love for Christ, and an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ and of the life to come.”


In the avadäna story of Prak®itï, the Buddha intentionally uses ambiguity to lead the young Cha∫∂äla woman down the path of ‘salvation’. This is a kind of skillful leading by – in the beginning – misleading.

There is a technical Sanskrit term for this type of guidance: ‘upäya-kauåalya’. The word ‘upäya’ has several meanings: ‘come near, approach’; ‘that by which one reaches one’s aim’; ‘stratagem’; and the word ‘kauåalya’ = ‘skill’. That contemporary ‘arch-heretic’, Christian Lindtner, whose books generated, in Denmark, a demand that they be burned (!), has accused Mahäyäna Buddhism and Christianity of fraud in employing upäyakauåalya as a propagandistic tool: 

The best example of a typical SDP [Sad-Dharma-Pundarïka-sütra] pious fraud is to be found in 1 Cor 15[:6-7], as I have pointed out long ago in my essay “Who was Kleophas?”. The “more than 500 brethren”, “most of whom are still alive”, who are among those cited as eyewitnesses to Christ as raised from the dead, were originally the 500 Buddhist monks present at the death of the Buddha as related in the MPS [Mahä-Parinirvä∫a-Sütra] (part of the MSV [Müla-Sarvästiväda-Vinaya]). So, here Paul reveals himself, if we know the original source, as being guilty of a pious fraud, indeed.6

[I]n the SDP the Tathägata [Buddha] often tells ‘white lies.’ The reason is, so it is claimed that his listeners would not understand him were he to speak the plain truth. Jesus also makes this distinction between insiders and outsiders: ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.’ Matthew 13:11.7

What we have here is a most extreme example of New Testament revisionism. But, whatever the truth may be which lies behind the creation of these stories, it seems to me that in the Buddhist parable of the ‘Outcaste Woman at the Well’, the intentional equivocation by the Buddha does not merit the accusation of fraud. Nor does the deception, practised by the loving father in the Buddhist version of the ‘Prodigal Son’.

1I agree with the main thrust of Thundy’s argument, but I would suggest that Isaiah 55:1-3 is a worthy
Old Testament source of Jesus’ declaration, here. The fact is that the evangelist is a master of taking the
Buddhist source and fitting it in with Old Testament scripture and 1st century Jerusalem.
2Quoted in S.V. Viswanatha’s Racial Synthesis in Hindu Culture (London: Kegan Paul, Trench,
Trübner, 1928), p. 153.
3Quoted in Sangharakshita’s The Eternal Legacy: An Introduction to the Canonical Literature of
Buddhism (London: Tharpa Publications, 1985), p. 35.
4Lockwood and Bhat, Metatheater and Sanskrit Drama: Second, Revised and Enlarged Edition
(Madras: Tambaram Research Associates, 2005).
5If the ‘Logos’ of John’s Gospel corresponds to the Buddha’s ‘Dharma’, one of the ‘Three Gems’ of
Buddhism, what, in the New Testament, would correspond with the ‘Buddha’ and the ‘Sa≥gha’, the other two
‘Gems’? Here is a suggestion:
Buddha (Father) = Dharma
The 500 monks, coming together in the First Council, form the Sa≥gha,
preserving the teachings of the Buddha – who is thus ‘resurrected’.
Logos = Christ (Son)
The 500 Apostles and followers, coming together at Pentecost, form the
h when they are filled with the Holy Spirit, thus resurrecting
Christ in their midst.

The ‘Buddha’, here, should not be confused with the historical Gautama Buddha, but rather understood
as the transcendent god-like being of the Mahäyänists, which, in Jewish minds, could be equated with the
four-lettered (tetra-grammata) Y Ó V Ó, with which the mystics experience an inexpressible union.
6Lindtner, “A New Buddhist-Christian Parable”, in Exactitude: Festschrift for Robert Faurisson to
his 75th Birthday, eds. Countess, Lindtner, Rudolf (Chicago: Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), p. 53.
7Lindtner’s “Response to Dr. Burkhard Scherer”, on the following internet site:


The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37:

On one occasion a lawyer came forward to put this test question to [Jesus]: ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said, ‘What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?’ He replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘That is the right answer,’ said Jesus; ‘do that and you will live.’

But he wanted to vindicate himself, so he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was on his way down to Jericho when he fell in with robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down by the same road; but when he saw him, he went past on the other side. So too a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him went past on the other side. But a Samaritan who was making the journey came upon him, and when he saw him was moved to pity. He went up and bandaged his wounds, bathing them with oil and wine. Then he lifted him on to his own beast, brought him to an inn, and looked after him there. Next day he produced
two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Look after him; and if you spend any more, I will repay you on my way back.” Which of these three do you think was neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He answered, ‘The one who showed him kindness.’ Jesus said, ‘Go and do as he did.’ (NEB)

Compare Jesus’ Parable with the following account of two Buddhist ‘Good Samaritans’:

Although the whole topic has received little attention, it appears that Buddhist monastic communities of the sort envisioned in the Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya, were ideally suited to provide care to the old and infirm and to the sick and dying. There was, moreover, a distinct social need for such services, or at least the redactors of our Vinaya seem to have thought so. They seem to have thought that because of taboos concerning purity and pollution, brahmanical groups at least were not willing to provide services of this sort, even for their own. This much it seems can be deduced, for example, from texts like one that is
found in the Åayanäsanavastu (Gnoli) 13.24-33. Here it is said that a young brahmin was staying in a hostel for young brahmins (mä∫avakaåäla), but he fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea. Rather than attend to him, however, the other brahmins, “from fear of pollution” (aåucibhayäd), threw him out and abandoned him. It is only the Buddhist monks Åäriputra and Maudgalyäyana who, when they chanced upon him “cleaned him with a bamboo brush, rubbed him with white earth and bathed him.” Because they also “taught” the Dharma for him – and here this almost certainly can refer only to a kind of deathbed recitation [‘Last Rites’? ML] – he died in a good state of mind and was reborn in heaven. The function of
Buddhist monks here is hard to miss – they, not one’s fellow brahmins, care for the sick and dying.1

The scholar Gregory Schopen, who wrote the above lines, has shown that archæological (architectural and epigraphical) evidence does indeed support the kind of ‘good Samaritanism’ portrayed in the Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya story about the Buddhist monks Åäriputra and Maudgalyäyana:

Buddhist monasteries . . . at least those envisioned by the Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya, were – unlike brahmanical hostels – ideologically, organizationally, and even architecturally suited to provide such services. Such monasteries not only would have had “infirmaries” but also would have had the manpower and organization to provide nurses and care to those who would otherwise not have them. The Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya, moreover, put a great deal of emphasis on just such services. We have already seen a rule that was designed to provide funding for such services for poor monks who could not themselves afford it, and this is not the only rule of this kind. Elsewhere (GMs iii 2, 128.1-131.15), when the Buddha himself finds another poor monk sick and “lying in his own urine and excrement,” he does exactly what Åäriputra and Maudgalyäyana had done for the young Brahmin – with his own hands
he cleans and bathes the sick monk. He then gives orders to the monks:

“Monks, apart from you, their fellow-monks, those who are sick have no mother, nor father, nor other relative. As a consequence, fellow-monks must attend to one another (tasmät sabrahmacärib˙ parasparam upasthänaμ kara∫ïyam)! A preceptor (upädhyäya) must do so for his co-residential pupil (särdhaμvihärin); a co-residential pupil for his preceptor; a teacher (äcärya) for his disciple (anteväsin);


a disciple for his teacher . . . etc., etc. One who is bereft of an assembly and little known (alpajñäta), to him the community must give an attendant monk after determining the state of his illness – one or two or many, even to the extent that the entire community must attend to him!”

This is a remarkable passage. If, for example, the roles of preceptor (upädhyäya) and teacher (äcärya) were ever conceived of primarily in terms of teaching functions, they certainly are not here. Here both roles are defined exclusively in terms of caregiving functions, and they are also so defined elsewhere in the Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya.2
This Buddhist organizational model of compassionate and equalitarian medical and social service to one and all was actively continued by Christians during the days of Julian the Apostate. It was the one thing he admired about the otherwise detested Christians. And he was determined to imitate the Christians in this:

[L]etters show specifically the issues Julian wanted to address by structuring pagan leadership on the Christian model. . . . In 362 [A.D.] Julian sent this missive to Arsacius, high priest of Galatia. He complained that while the traditional [pagan] rituals had been restored, the Christians continued to gain converts. This angered Julian because he considered Christians atheists. Julian went on to demand that the [pagan] priests in Galatia put their beliefs into positive social action, such as copying Christian charity, care for the dead, and a holy lifestyle. He then proceeded to lay down a series of prohibitions.

No priest was to go to a tavern, frequent the theatre, or engage in a base profession. Julian then commanded that Arsacius set up hostels for charity in every city in Galatia. Furthermore, 1/5 of 30,000 modii of wheat and 60,000 pints of wine allocated to Galatia were to be used for charity distribution. Julian told Arsacius that the helping of the community by the priests was the way of the forefathers, with such practices dating back to the time of Homer.3
1Gregory Schopen, Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers on Monastic Buddhism
in India (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), pp, 7-8.
2Ibid., p. 8.
3Walter E. Roberts and Michael DiMaio, Jr., in the “Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors”, the
section on Emperor Julian Augustus (the ‘Apostate’) – 360 to 363, A.D.

Parallel Sayings

There are innumerable collections of sayings of Jesus paralleling the sayings of the
Buddha. These collections are available on the internet and in various publications. The
parallelism isn’t word-for-word, because different original languages are involved: the
Päli, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese of Buddhism. and the Greek of the New Testament.
And the contexts can be quite different, too. Some parallels, however, are truly striking.
Consider the Buddha’s words (from the Majjhima Nikäya – ‘Middling Collection’ –
Dialog 21):

Monks, if robbers or murderers should cut you asunder, limb from limb, with a
two-handled saw, then whosoever should fall into a rage would not be following
my instruction. In such case, O monks, you should train yourselves to think: “Our
heart shall not be altered; we will not let an evil speech escape, but continue kind
and compassionate, with loving hearts instead of hateful ones; and we will continue
to suffuse that individual with thoughts of love; we will continue to suffuse
that object and the whole wide world with thoughts of love, widespread, grown
great, measureless, without anger or malice.”

Phagguno, if any one in the presence of the nuns were to give thee a blow with
hand, clod, staff or sword, thou shouldst renounce all common feelings and reflections,
and train thyself in the thought: “My heart shall not be altered; I will not let
an evil speech escape, but continue kind and compassionate, with a loving heart
instead of a hateful one.”1

And then note Jesus’ admonition in his ‘Sermon on the Mount/Plain’:
‘You have learned that they were told, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” But what I
tell you is this: Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If someone
slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. If a man wants to sue you
for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. If a man in authority makes you go
one mile, go with him two. Give when you are asked to give; and do not turn your
back on a man who wants to borrow.’ – Matthew 5:38-42 (NEB)

‘But to you who hear me I say: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate
you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who treat you spitefully. When a
man hits you on the cheek, offer him the other cheek too; when a man takes your
coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who asks you; when a man
takes what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others as you would like them to
treat you.”’ – Luke 6:27-31 (NEB)


Even Christian leaders have found it difficult to take these words of Jesus literally. A number of ingenious arguments have been advanced in order to avoid taking them at face value – even by some literalists, fleeing from literalism! Check this out, in Wikipedia, under the topic of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’: a list is there of eleven of these arguments (from H.K. MacArthur’s Understanding the Sermon on the Mount, 1978).

There would have been no such difficulty for Indians, during the time of the Buddha or of Jesus, to take the Buddha’s words literally. You won’t find, among the Buddhists, any arguments to the contrary. Over a span of some three thousand years there have been religious practitioners in India who have aimed at the extreme observance of not being swayed either by pleasures or by pains. And there is the famous example of Zarmanochegas (Skt., ‘årama∫ächärya’), the Indian ‘gymnosophist’ (‘naked sage’ – probably of the digambara sect of the Jains, as Buddhists are against taking one’s own life) who immolated himself at Athens. Strabo (in Geographer, XV, 1.73) states, on the authority of Nikolaos of Damascus, that this Indian came to Syria in the train of the ambassadors who were sent to Augustus Cæsar by the great Indian King called Poros. These ambassadors, he says, “were accompanied by the person who burnt himself to death at Athens”. This act probably prompted St. Paul’s (Buddhistic?) cry, in First Corinthians 13:3:

I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better. (The editors of The New English Bible mention, in a footnote: “Some witnesses read even seek glory by selfsacrifice.”)

In this regard, it should be noted that the Buddha’s words, on the previous page, are addressed to his monks. He might not have been expecting most of his lay followers to be capable of heeding his advice in the extreme cases which he mentions – being assaulted or torn apart limb from limb. In the Indian context of the almost universal belief in the immensely long cycle of innumerable rebirths that each individual endures, there is no need of a zealous urge for salvation (mökßa, nirvä∫a) in the span of a single life-time. Neither the
gods nor fate condemn anyone to eternal damnation. Punishment is time measured and, where due, is meted out by the inescapable Law of Karma – ironically, a kind of ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ retribution brought about by the presumed impersonal action of this law – a law capable of spanning multiple lives of an individual.

So, when a person commits a violent act against another, he will be punished for it, if not in this life, in some future life. And if the person who is wronged returns violence for violence, even that person will be creating bonds which will entail rebirth. But for one who aims at freeing oneself totally from the cycle of rebirths, one would need to follow the path of the Buddha:

Let one conquer wrath by [non-violence],
Let one conquer wrong by goodness,
Let one conquer the mean man by [generosity],
And a liar by the truth.2

(An important side issue: Question – Did Jesus’ disciples believe in rebirth? Reply – How else can one explain their question [John 9:1-2] addressed to him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?” A number of ingenious solutions, again, have been advanced by Christian leaders to explain away the obvious inference. The belief in rebirth was, in fact, to be found among early Christians before it was eventually stamped out as a heresy.)

To conclude: ‘turning the other cheek’, which would have been taken quite literally by monks in Buddha’s time, has become ‘hyperbole’, etc., in the minds of many contemporary Christians. On the other hand, think of such contemporary heroes of ‘Peace’ as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., who have taken quite literally the words of the Buddha and Jesus.

1Translated by Albert J. Edmunds, in Buddhist and Christian Gospels: Now First Compared from
the Originals: Being Gospel Parallels from Päli Texts, 1914, p. 612.
2Quoted from the Sacred Books of the East, Vol. X, Part 1, p. 58, in Edmunds’ book, Buddhist and
Christian Gospels, p. 215. I have interpolated the expression ‘non-violence’ for the original translation,
‘meekness’ – an English translation which is totally inadequate for conveying the kind of courageous behavior
recommended by the Buddha – behavior demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Assorted Parallel Sayings
The Buddha and Jesus were both asked, “Are you the Promised One?”
Pökkharasati said to Aμbattha, “Gautama is staying in the dense jungle. And concerning that Blessed
Lord a good report has been spread about: ‘This Blessed Lord is a fully enlightened Buddha.’ Now
you go see the ascetic Gautama and find out whether this report is correct or not, and whether the
Reverend Gautama is as they say or not.” – Dïgha Nikäya 3:1:4
Deep awe fell upon them all, and they praised God. ‘A great prophet [Jesus] has arisen among us’,
they said, and again, ‘God has shown his care for his people.’ The story of what he had done ran
through all parts of Judæa and the whole neighbourhood. John [the Baptist] too was informed of all
this by his disciples. Summoning two of their number he sent them to the Lord with this message:
‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect some other?’ – Luke 7:16-19
* * * * *
Both reborn in Spirit:
[The Buddha said:] “There are these two gifts, the carnal and the spiritual. Of these two gifts the
spiritual is preëminent. He who has made the spiritual offering – such a one, the best of mankind, is
honored by all beings as one who has gone beyond.” – Itivuttaka 4:1
[Jesus said:] ‘In truth, in very truth I tell you, unless a man has been born over again he cannot see the
kingdom of God.’ ‘But how is it possible’, said Nicodemus, ‘for a man to be born when he is old?
Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘In truth I tell you, no
one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from water and spirit. Flesh can give birth only
to flesh; it is spirit that gives birth to spirit. You ought not to be astonished, then, when I tell you that
you must be born over again. – John 3:5-7
* * * * *
Both consorted with sinners:
“The Bödhisattva [the Buddha-to-be] made his appearance at the fields of sports and in the casinos,
but his aim was always to mature those people who were attached to games and gambling. To train
living beings, he would appear at crossroads and on street corners. To demonstrate the evils of desire,
he even entered the brothels. To establish drunkards in correct mindfulness, he entered all the
taverns.” – Vimalakïrti-nirdëåa Sütra 2
When Jesus was at table in the house, many bad characters – tax-gatherers and others – were seated
with him and his disciples. The Pharisees noticed this, and said to his disciples, ‘Why is it that your
master eats with tax-gatherers and sinners?’ Jesus heard it and said, ‘It is not the healthy that need a
doctor, but the sick. Go and learn what that text means, “I require mercy, not sacrifice.” I did not
come to invite virtuous people but sinners.’ – Matthew 9:10-13
* * * * *
Both promoted freedom from worldly attachments:
“Then the Lord [Buddha] addressed the monks, saying: ‘I am freed from all snares. And you, monks,
are free from all snares.’” – Vinaya, Mahävagga 1:11:1
[Jesus] said to them, ‘When I sent you out barefoot without purse or pack, were you ever short of
anything?’ ‘No’, they answered. ” – Luke 22:35
* * * * *


Both had similar ideas about what defiled a person:
“Stealing, deceiving, adultery; this is defilement. Not the eating of meat.” – Sutta Nipäta 242
[‘N]othing that goes into a man from outside can defile him; no, it is the things that come out of him that defile a man’. . . . Thus he declared all foods clean. He went on, ‘It is what comes out of a man that defiles him. For from inside, out of a man’s heart, come evil thoughts, acts of fornication, of theft, murder, and adultery, ruthless greed, and malice; fraud, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly; these evil things all come from inside, and they defile the man.’ – Mark 7:15, 21-23
* * * * *

Both stressed compassion and care for the poor and sick:
[The Buddha said:] “If you do not tend one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick.” – Vinaya, Mahävagga 8:26:3
[Jesus said:] “I tell you this: anything you did not do for one of these, however humble, you did not do for me.” – Matthew 25:45
* * * * *

Both laid down similar commandments:
[The Buddha said:] “Abstain from killing and from taking what is not given. Abstain from unchastity and from speaking falsely. Do not accept gold and silver.” – Khuddakapatha 2
[Jesus said:] ‘You know the commandments: “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not give false evidence; do not defraud; honour your father and mother.”’ – Mark 10:19
* * * * *

Both preached freedom from worldly corruption:
[The Buddha said:] “Just as, brethren, a dark blue lotus or a white lotus, born in [muddy] water, comes to full growth in the water, rises to the surface and stands unspotted by the water, even so, brethren, the Buddha, having come to full growth in the world, passing beyond the world, abides unspotted by the world.” – Saμyutta Nikäya 22:94
[Jesus prayed:] ‘I have delivered thy word to them, and the world hates them because they are strangers in the world, as I am. I pray thee, not to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are strangers in the world, as I am.’ – John 17:14-16
* * * * *

Both are credited with similar miracles:

“As soon as the Bödhisattva was born, the sick were cured; the hungry and thirsty were no longer oppressed by hunger and thirst. Those maddened by drink lost their obsession. The mad recovered their senses, the blind regained their sight, and the deaf could once more hear. The halt and the lame obtained perfect limbs, the poor gained riches, and prisoners were delivered of their bonds.”

Lalitavistara Sütra 7
There and then [Jesus] cured many sufferers from diseases, plagues, and evil spirits; and on many 
blind people he bestowed sight. Then he gave them his answer: ‘Go’, he said, ‘and tell John what you have seen and heard: how the blind recover their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor are hearing the good news. . . .’ Luke 7:21-22
* * * * *

Both spoke of mega-miracles possible by those with great faith or concentration:
[The Buddha said:] “A monk who is skilled in concentration can cut the Himälayas in two.”
– A≥guttara Nikäya 6:24
[Jesus said,] ‘Your faith is too small. I tell you this: if you have faith no bigger even than a mustardseed, you will say to the mountain, “Move from here to there!”, and it will move; nothing will prove impossible for you.’ – Matthew 17:20
* * * * *
Both criticized opposing religious leaders as the blind leading the blind:
[The Buddha said:] “When these Brahmins teach a path that they do not know or see, saying, ‘This is the only straight path,’ this cannot possibly be right. Just as a file of blind men go on, clinging to each other, and the first one sees nothing, the middle one sees nothing, and the last one sees nothing – so it is with the talk of these Brahmins.” – Tëvijja-sutta, Dïgha Nikäya 13:15
[Jesus] told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?’
– Luke 6:39-40
* * * * *
Both are portrayed as though establishing a line of succession after their departure:13
[The Buddha said:] “Were it to be said of anyone: ‘He is the son of the Blessed One, born of his breast, an heir in the dharma, not an heir in material things,’ it is of my follower Säriputta that this should be said. The matchless wheel of dharma is to be kept rolling by Säriputta.”
– Majjhima Nikäya 111:22-23
Then Jesus said: ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are favoured indeed! You did not learn that from mortal man; it was revealed to you by my heavenly Father. And I say this to you: You are Peter, the Rock; and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall never conquer it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; what you forbid on earth shall be forbidden in heaven, and what you allow on earth shall be allowed in heaven.’ – Matthew 16:17-19
* * * * *
Both advocated the forsaking of family ties in order to become their followers:
[The Buddha said:] “Just as the great rivers, on reaching the great ocean, lose their former names and identities and are reckoned simply as the great ocean, so do followers lose their former names and clans and become sons of the Buddha’s clan.” – Vinaya, Çullavagga 9:1:4
And looking round at those who were sitting in the circle about him [Jesus] said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother.’ – Mark 3:34-35
* * * * *
Both live on in their ‘Word’: ‘Logos’/‘Dharma’:
“And the Lord [Buddha] said: ‘It may be that you will think: The Teacher’s instruction has ceased, now we will have no teacher!’ It should not be seen like this, for what I have taught and explained to you will, at my passing, be your teacher.” – Dïgha Nikäya 16:6:1
[Jesus said:] “In a little while the world will no longer be able to see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” – John 14:19
* * * * *


Both warn of the Karmic ‘Wages of Sin’:

[The Buddha said: “S]ome man is of an angry and irritable character; when criticized even a little, he is offended, becomes angry, hostile, and resentful, and displays anger, hate, and bitterness. Because of performing and undertaking such action, after death, he reappears in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, or even in hell.” – Majjhima Nikäya 135:9
“I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.’” – Matthew 5:22
* * * * *
And both warn of future degeneration setting in because of misguiding leaders and false prophets: 

“Monks who are untrained will give guidance to others, and they will not be able to lead them in the way of higher virtue. And those in turn who have not been trained will give guidance to others and will not be able to lead them.” – A≥guttara Nikäya 5:79 18
“Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” – Matthew 24:11-12
* * * * *
But both hold out the promise of the return of the ‘Holy One’:

“There will arise in the world a Lord, a fully enlightened Buddha endowed with wisdom and conduct, enlightened and blessed, just as I am now. He will teach the dharma and proclaim the holy life in its fullness and purity.” – Dïgha Nikäya 26:25 19
Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ – Mark 14:61-62
[Jesus, speaking to his disciples:] ‘[Y]our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will call to mind all that I have said to you.’ – John 14:26
* * * * *

1 The parallel sayings in this section are adaptations of a number of parallel sayings appearing in
the on-line publication of a “Comparative Religion Compilation” (Chp. 11: ‘Buddhist Faith’), 1st ed.,
2000; see: <>. The notes following below (except the 13th) are
derived from the same publication. The New Testament quotations are from The New English Bible.
2 Maurice Walshe (trans.), Thus Have I Heard: The Long Discourses of the Buddha (London:
Wisdom Publications, 1987), p. 112.
3 F.L. Woodward (trans.), The Minor Anthologies of the Päli Canon, Part 2: Udäna: Verses of
Uplift, and Itivuttaka: As It Was Said (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), pp. 188-89.
4 Robert A.F. Thurman (trans.), The Holy Teaching of Vimalakïrti: A Mahäyäna Scripture (University
Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976), p. 21.
5 I.B. Horner (trans.), The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-Pi†aka): Volume IV (Mahävagga)
(London: Luzac & Company, 1951), p. 28.
6 H. Saddhatissa (trans.), The Sutta Nipäta (London: Curzon Press, 1985), p. 27.
7 Horner, The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-Pi†aka): Volume IV (Mahävagga), p. 432.
8 Albert J. Edmunds and Masaharu Anesaki (trans. and eds.), Buddhist and Christian Gospels:
Now First Compared from the Originals: Being Gospel Parallels from Päli Texts, Reprinted with
Additions, in 2 Vols., 4th edition (Philadelphia, PA: Innes & Sons, 1914), pp. 1-2.
9 F.L. Woodward (trans.), The Book of the Kindred Sayings (Saμyutta Nikäya) or Grouped Suttas:
Part 3, Päli Text Society Translation Series, Nr. 13, ed. by Mrs. C.A.F. Rhys-Davis (London: Luzac &
Company, 1954), p. 118.
10 Gwendolyn Bays (trans.), The Lalitavistara Sütra: The Voice of the Buddha: The Beauty of
Compassion (Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing, 1983), p. 133.
11 E.M. Hare (trans.), The Book of the Gradual Sayings (A≥guttara Nikäya), Or More Numbered
Suttas: Volume 3 (Also known as the Book of the Fives and Sixes) (Päli Text Society Translation Series,
Nr. 25) (London: Luzac & Company, 1952), p. 222.
12 Walshe, p. 189.
13Although this passage indicates a special regard for his disciple, Säriputta (Skt. Åäriputra), by the
Buddha, which is somewhat similar to the passages in the the New Testament where Jesus shows special
favor to Peter, Buddhist tradition holds that Åäriputra predeceased the Buddha, and it was left to the
Buddha’s disciple, Mahä-Käåyapa, to become Buddhism’s first ‘Patriarch’. Buddhist sects have claimed
unbroken lineages of ‘Patriarchs’ traced back through Mahä-Käåyapa to the Buddha, himself (see, later in
the present work, pp. 90 ff.). Christianity, several centuries afterward, has followed this same Buddhist
practice. (ML)
14 Bhikkhu Nyanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (trans.), The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha:
A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikäya (Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995), p. 902.
15 I.B. Horner (trans.), The Book of Discipline (Vinaya-Pi†aka): Volume V (Çullavagga) (London:
Luzac and Company, Ltd., 1952), p. 334.
16 Walshe, pp. 269-270.
17 Bhikkhu Nyanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, pp. 1054-1055.
18 E.M. Hare, pp. 84-85.
19 Walshe, pp. 403-404.

Firsts Established by Buddhism
1. Disciples sent out as Missionaries to All Nations ................................................... 84
2. Monasteries ............................................................................................................. 86
3. Nuns’ Subjection to Monks .................................................................................... 87
4. Lineages of Patriarchs ............................................................................................ 90
5. Buddhist Bödhisattvas / Christian Saints ............................................................... 95
6. Veneration of the Relics of the Buddha, Bödhisattvas, and Christian Saints ......... 97
7. Confession and Absolution .................................................................................... 105
8. Buddhist Councils / Christian Councils ................................................................. 110
9. Buddhism Gives Birth to the Printing of Scripture ............................................... 114


1. Disciples sent out as Missionaries to All Nations
Albert J. Edmunds wrote:(1)

At that time there were sixty-one Arahats [fully enlightened monks] in the world.(2)
And the Lord said unto the monks: “I am delivered, O monks, from all fetters, human and divine. Ye, O monks, are also delivered therefrom. Go forth, O monks, on your journey, for the weal and the welfare of much people, out of compassion for the world, and for the wealth and the weal and the welfare of angels and mortals.

Go no two* of you the same [way].(3) Preach, O monks, the Doctrine which is glorious in its origin, glorious at the climax, glorious at the end, in the spirit and letter. Proclaim a religious life wholly perfect and thoroly pure.

There are beings whose mental eyes are darkened by hardly any dust, but unless they hear the Doctrine they will perish. They will understand it.”

Paul Carus has pointed out to me the significant fact that the preaching of the Gospel to the nations is a later addition to the New Testament. This is borne out by the archaic oracle in Matthew:

Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. . . . Ye shall not have gone thru the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come.

(The Missionary Charge in Matthew 10:5-6 and 23)
It is Luke alone who invents the mission of the Seventy (i.e. to the seventy nations of the world according to Jewish geography). As I pointed out in April, 1900, there is a parallel here with the sixty-one Arahats sent forth by Gotamo [Skt. ‘Gautama’, the Buddha]. That Luke invented the story of the Seventy is betrayed by himself, for, in 22:35, he agrees with the Petrine and Matthean tradition, in ascribing the prohibition of shoes to the Charge to the Twelve from which he has wrested them to make up his ideal Charge to the Seventy:

When I sent you forth without purse and wallet and shoes, lackt ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. 

Luke puts the words,– no purse, no wallet, no shoes, in the Charge to the Seventy (10:4), while in the Charge to the Twelve he reads: nor wallet, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats. But there is no mention of shoes. (Luke 9:3)

In the Gospel tradition generally the great Missionary Charge is the one given after the resurrection: 

Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 28:19)
The Trinitarian formula betrays the lateness of the redaction, but the passage is older than the redaction, for the substance of it is found in the Fourth Gospel: Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. (John 20:21) I have little doubt that the Matthean charge read originally: baptizing them into my name, simply; to which Rendel Harris assented when, in 1900, I pointed this out to him. After reading the present
statement (Open Court, September, 1902), he wrote to me as follows:

[I]n regard to the last verse of Matthew, we are now in a position to speak more positively. As the result of Conybeare’s examination of the manner in which Eusebius quotes the closing passage, it may be taken as proved that the Old Cesarean form was as follows:

Go and make disciples of all nations in my name, and teach them everything that I have commanded you. (See Preuschen’s Zeitschrift II. p. 275.) So there was not even a baptismal command, any more than a mention of Trinity.
*The Buddhist rule (of which there is a record belonging to the early Common Era) was that a monk must have
a traveling companion with whom there is a reciprocal ‘dependent’ relationship:

The Kßudrakavastu, for example, says that a monk can be without a recitation teacher (klog pa’i slob dpon), but not without a monk on whom he is dependent (Derge Tha 214a.6); in the same Vastu, monks are forbidden to travel without a monk in regard to whom they have entered into dependence; and numerous monasteries were said to have passed ordinances denying traveling monks who lacked such a supporting monk the right to accommodations for even one night (Derge Tha 71b.7-72b.4). [Derge = The Tibetan Tripi†aka: Taipei Edition, ed. A.W. Barber (Taipei:
Quoted from Gregory Schopen’s book, Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers on Monastic Buddhism in India (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), p. 9.

Should Edmunds’ translation, therefore, be modified to mean: ‘No twosome should go the same way (that any
other pair goes)’? No ‘duplication’ of the missionary effort! See Romans 15:20-22.
Christian Missionary Apostles:
Matthew 10:10
[The] twelve [Apostles] Jesus sent out with the following instructions: . . . ‘Provide no gold, silver, or copper
to fill your purse, no pack for the road, no second coat, no shoes, no stick. . . .’ [These five New Testament passages are taken from The New English Bible]
Mark 6:7-9
[Jesus] summoned the Twelve and sent them out in pairs on a mission. He . . . instructed them to take
nothing for the journey beyond a stick: no bread, no pack, no money in their belts. They might wear sandals, but not
a second coat.
Luke 9:1-3
[Jesus] now called the Twelve together and gave them power . . . to proclaim the kingdom of God and to
heal. ‘Take nothing for the journey,’ he told them, ‘neither stick nor pack, neither bread nor money; nor are you each
to have a second coat.’
Luke 10:1, 5
After this the Lord [Jesus] appointed a further seventy-two [‘Some witnesses read seventy’] and sent them
on ahead in pairs to every town and place he was going to visit himself. He said to them: ‘. . . . Carry no purse or
pack, and travel barefoot.’
Luke 22:35-38
[Jesus] said to them, ‘When I sent you out barefoot without purse or pack, were you ever short of anything?’
‘No’, they answered. ‘It is different now,’ he said; ‘whoever has a purse had better take it with him, and his
pack too. . . .’
* * * * *
Edmunds’ Notes
(1) [The text on the previous page is taken from the book by Albert J. Edmunds and Anesaki Masaharu (trans.
and eds.), Buddhist and Christian Gospels: Now First Compared from the Originals: Being Gospel Parallels from Päli
Texts, Reprinted with Additions, in 2 Vols., 4th edition (Philadelphia, PA: Innes & Sons, 1914), pp. 225-228. The two
authors note the following:] Two Chinese Vinaya texts (N.C. Nos. 1117 and 1122) preserve the passage in simpler
manner [cf. Major Section on Discipline, I. 10, 11, translated in Sacred Books of the East, XIII, p. 112; S.P. (N.C. No.
680)]. Here we [Edmunds and Masaharu] take the correspondence from the Chinese Mahävastu (N.C. No. 680) which
in this respect agrees best with the Päli. Further compare my [Masaharu’s] book on Buddhism, pp. 50-51. (AM)
(2) Rendel Harris suggests a parallel, if not a connection with Luke’s Seventy who went to the Gentiles, the 70
nations of Hebrew tradition. “As the hammer that strikes emits a multitude of sparks, so is every word emanating from
the Holy One – Blessed be He – heralded in seventy different languages.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tract Sabbath, chap. 9.)
(3) In Mära und Buddha, p. 91, Windisch translates into German: Let not two go at once.
2. Monasteries
This short account of the ‘Buddhist vihära’ follows the version found in the online encyclopædia Wikipedia:
Buddhist Monastery (in Sanskrit and Päli, ‘vihära’). Originally, this word may have meant a simple
‘dwelling’ or ‘refuge’, such as those used by wandering monks during the rainy season.
In the early decades of Buddhism, the wandering monks of the Sa≥gha had no fixed abode, but during
the rainy season (vassa – for three months) they began to be allowed to stay in temporary shelters. These
dwellings were simple wooden constructions or thatched bamboo huts. However, as it was considered an
act of merit not only to feed monks but also to shelter them, sumptuous monasteries began to be created
by rich lay-devotees.1 These monasteries were located near settlements, close enough for the monks to
beg alms from the population, but with enough seclusion so as not to have their times of meditation
Life in the ‘vihäras’ was codified early on. This was the object of that part of the Päli canon called the
Vinaya Pi†aka or “Basket of Monastic Discipline”.
In the second century BCE a standard plan for a vihära was established. It could be either structural,
which was common in the south of India, or rock-cut like the chaitya-g®ihas of the Deccan. These latter
consisted of a walled, quadrangular court, flanked by small cells. The front wall was pierced by a door,
the side facing it, in later periods, often incorporated a shrine for the image of the Buddha. The cells were
fitted with rock-cut platforms for beds and pillows.2 This basic layout was still similar to that of the
communal space of an äårama [äshram] ringed with huts in the early decades of Buddhism.3
Ideal locations for vihäras were near trade routes, where donations from wealthy traders would increase
their economic strength. By the first century of the Common Era, some vihäras, due to the increasing
demand for teaching in Mahäyäna Buddhism,3 had developed into important educational institutions.
And as these institutions became established, a few of them evolved into major Buddhist universities,
with thousands of students – such as Nälandä.
The northern India state of Bihar derives its name from the word ‘vihära’, probably due to the abundance
of Buddhist monasteries which were built in the past in that region. The Uzbek city of Bukhära also
probably takes its name from ‘vihära’.
In Buddhist canonical texts, there are references to five different kinds of dwelling (pañcha lënäni)
which are found to be fit for monks, namely, vihära, addayöga, pasäda, hammiya, and guha. Of these
five, only two, the vihära (monastery) and guha (cave),[4] have survived through the ages.
The earliest vihäras were a development out of the äshrams which had existed in India for centuries
before Buddhism. But the Buddha introduced the far more elaborate system of monasticism, with its monks
and nuns, who lived in quiet remove from village, town, or city, but in active relation with laymen and
laywomen living in those villages, towns, or cities – receiving alms, property, housing, and other material and
monetary support from them, offering in return compassionate spiritual and medical care, and general education.
The earliest, pre-Christian monasteries in Egypt and the Holy Land, therefore, almost certainly were
institutions introduced by Emperor Asoka's missionary monks. Can the archæologists establish otherwise?
The early Christian Fathers, themselves, considered the Essenes and Therapeuts Christian – they had no idea
that these movements existed long before the birth of Jesus. If Christianity was an outgrowth of these Buddhist
movements, then the Christian Fathers were partly correct.
1Chakrabarti, D.K. (1995). “Buddhist sites across South Asia as influenced by political and economic
forces.” World Archæology 27 (2): 185-202.
2Mitra, D. (1971). Buddhist Monuments. Sahitya Samsad: Calcutta.
3Tadgell, C. (1990). The History of Architecture in India. Phaidon: London.
[4It should be noted that a guha (cave) is not just any natural cavern, but rather, it is an elaborate
reproduction “underground” of the internal spaces – the cells and hall – of a regular vihära by skillful
artisans excavating solid rock! (ML)]
3. Nuns’ Subjection to Monks
The Buddha’s mother is said to have died seven days after giving birth to him. Her sister, Mahâ-Pajâpatî brought him up
and cared for him as a child. Earlier in the account below, the ageing Mahâ-Pajâpatî had personally asked the Buddha
three times to allow her and other women to join the Buddhist Order. Three times the Buddha had turned her down. The
Buddha then traveled some distance away to another location. Mahâ-Pajâpatî decided to follow him and demonstrate
her determination.
The Buddha, in the following passages, is addressed by his honorific titles, ‘The Blessed One’ and ‘The Tathâgata’:
‘The Admission of Women to the Order’
From Buddhism in Translations (1896), by Henry Clarke Warren1
Translated from the Çullavagga (X.12-16), a canonical work predating the Christian era.
Then Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî [Mahâ-Prajâpatî Gautamî (Skt.), belonging to the Gautama royal lineage] had her hair
cut off, put on yellow garments, and with a number of Sakka [Åâkya clan] women departed towards Vesâlî and
going from place to place, she drew near to Vesâlî, and to the Pagoda Hall in the Great Wood. And Mahâ-Pajâpatî
Gotamî with swollen feet, and covered with dust, sorrowful, sad, and tearful, stood weeping outside in the entrance
Now the venerable Ânanda saw Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî with swollen feet, and covered with dust, sorrowful,
sad, and tearful, stand weeping outside in the entrance porch. And he spoke to Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî as follows:
“Wherefore dost thou, O Gotamî, with swollen feet, and covered with dust, sorrowful, sad, and tearful, stand
weeping outside in the entrance porch?”
“Because, alas! O Ânanda, reverend sir, The Blessed One permitteth not that women retire from household
life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata.”
“In that case, O Gotamî, stay thou here a moment, and I will beseech The Blessed One that women retire from
household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata.”
Then the venerable Ânanda drew near to where The Blessed One was; and having drawn near and greeted The
Blessed One, he sat down respectfully at one side. And seated respectfully at one side, the venerable Ânanda spoke
to The Blessed One as follows:
“Reverend Sir, here this Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî with swollen feet, and covered with dust, sorrowful, sad, and
tearful, stands weeping outside in the entrance porch, and says that The Blessed One permitteth not that women
retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata.
Pray, Reverend Sir, let women retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline
announced by The Tathâgata.”
“Enough, Ânanda, do not ask that women retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine
and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata.”
And a second time the venerable Ânanda spoke to The Blessed One as follows:
“Pray, Reverend Sir, let women retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline
announced by The Tathâgata.”
“Enough, Ânanda, do not ask that women retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine
and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata.”
And a third time the venerable Ânanda spoke to The Blessed One as follows:
“Pray, Reverend Sir, let women retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline
announced by The Tathâgata.”
“Enough, Ânanda, do not ask that women retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine
and Discipline announced by The Tathägata.”
Then thought the venerable Ânanda, “The Blessed One permitteth not that women retire from household life
to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata; what if now, by another
route, I beseech The Blessed One that women retire from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine
and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata?”
Then the venerable Ânanda spoke to The Blessed One as follows:
“Would women be competent, Reverend Sir, if they were to retire from household life to the homeless one,
under the Doctrine and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata, to attain to the fruit of conversion, to attain to the
fruit of once returning, to attain to the fruit of never returning, to attain to saintship?”
“Women would be competent, Ânanda, if they were to retire from household life to the homeless one, under the
Doctrine and Discipline announced by the Tathâgata, to attain to the fruit of conversion, to attain to the fruit of once
returning, to attain to the fruit of never returning, to attain to saintship.”
“Since, then, Reverend Sir, women are competent, if they were to retire from household life to the homeless one,
under the Doctrine and Discipline announced by the Tathâgata, to attain to the fruit of conversion, to attain to the fruit
of once returning, to attain to the fruit of never returning, to attain to saintship, consider, Reverend Sir, how great a
benefactress Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî has been. She is the sister of the mother of The Blessed One, and as foster-mother,
nurse, and giver of milk, she suckled The Blessed One on the death of his mother. Pray, Reverend Sir, let women retire
from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata.”
“If, Ânanda, Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî will accept eight weighty regulations, let it be reckoned to her as her ordination:

[1] “A nun of even a hundred years’ standing shall salute, rise to meet, entreat humbly, and perform all respectful
offices for a monk, even if he be but that day ordained. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and
worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[2] “A nun shall not keep residence in a district where there are no monks. This regulation shall be honored,
esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[3] “On each half-month a nun shall await from the congregation of the monks the appointing of fast-day, and
someone to come and administer the admonition. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped,
and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[4] “At the end of residence a nun shall invite criticism in both congregations in regard to what has been seen, or
heard, or suspected. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as
long as life shall last.
[5] “If a nun be guilty of serious sin, she shall undergo penance of half a month toward both the congregations. This
regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[6] “When a female novice has spent her two years in the practice of the six rules, she shall seek ordination from
both the congregations. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed
as long as life shall last.
[7] “A nun shall not revile or abuse a monk in any manner. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and
worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[8] “From this day on the nun shall not be allowed to reprove the monks officially, but the monks shall be allowed
to reprove the nuns officially. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be
transgressed as long as life shall last.
“If, Ânanda, Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî will accept these eight weighty regulations, let it be reckoned to her as her
Then the venerable Ânanda, when he had received from The Blessed One these eight weighty regulations, drew
near to Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî; and having drawn near, he spoke to Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî as follows:
“If now, O Gotamî, you will accept eight weighty regulations, it shall be reckoned to you as your ordination: –
[1] “A nun of even a hundred years’ standing shall salute, rise to meet, entreat humbly, and perform all respectful
offices for a monk, even if he be but that day ordained. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and
worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[2] “A nun shall not keep residence in a district where there are no monks. This regulation shall be honored,
esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[3] “On each half-month a nun shall await from the congregation of the monks the appointing of fast-day, and
someone to come and administer the admonition. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped,
and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[4] “At the end of residence a nun shall invite criticism in both congregations in regard to what has been seen, or
heard, or suspected. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as
long as life shall last.
[5] “If a nun be guilty of serious sin, she shall undergo penance of half a month toward both the congregations. This
regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[6] “When a female novice has spent her two years in the practice of the six rules, she shall seek ordination from
both the congregations. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed
as long as life shall last.
[7] “A nun shall not revile or abuse a monk in any manner. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed,
revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
[8] “From this day on the nun shall not be allowed to reprove the monks officially, but the monks shall be
allowed to reprove the nuns officially. This regulation shall be honored, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is
not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.
“If now, O Gotamî, you will accept these eight weighty regulations, it shall be reckoned to you as your
“Just as, O Ânanda, reverend sir, a woman or a man, youthful, young, and fond of ornament, having bathed
the head, and obtained a wreath of blue lotuses, or a wreath of jasmine flowers, or a wreath of atimuttaka flowers,
would take it up with both hands, and place it on the head, the noblest part of the body; in exactly the same way do
I, O Ânanda, reverend sir, take up these eight weighty regulations, not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.”
Then the venerable Ânanda drew near to where The Blessed One was; and having drawn near and greeted The
Blessed One, he sat down respectfully at one side. And seated respectfully at one side, the venerable Ânanda spoke
to The Blessed One as follows:
“Mahâ-Pajâpatî Gotamî, Reverend Sir, has accepted the eight weighty regulations; the sister of the mother of
The Blessed One has become ordained.”
“If, Ânanda, women had not retired from household life to the homeless one, under the Doctrine and Discipline
announced by The Tathâgata, religion, Ânanda, would long endure; a thousand years would the Good Doctrine
abide. But since, Ânanda, women have now retired from household life to the homeless one, under the
Doctrine and Discipline announced by The Tathâgata, not long, Ânanda, will religion endure; but five hundred
years, Ânanda, will the Good Doctrine abide. Just as, Ânanda, those families which consist of many women and
few men are easily overcome by burglars, in exactly the same way, Ânanda, when women retire from household
life to the homeless one, under a doctrine and discipline, that religion does not long endure. Just as, Ânanda, when
the disease called mildew falls upon a flourishing field of rice, that field of rice does not long endure, in exactly the
same way, Ânanda, when women retire from household life to the homeless one, under a doctrine and discipline,
that religion does not long endure. Even as, Ânanda, when the disease called rust falls upon a flourishing field of
sugar-cane, that field of sugar-cane does not long endure, in exactly the same way, Ânanda, when women retire
from household life to the homeless one, under a doctrine and discipline, that religion does not long endure. And
just as, Ânanda, to a large pond a man would prudently build a dike, in order that the water might not transgress its
bounds, in exactly the same way, Ânanda, have I prudently laid down eight weighty regulations, not to be transgressed
as long as life shall last.”
* * * * *
With what historical value are we to credit this highly patriarchical account? In answer, it would be helpful, perhaps, to
take note of Gregory Schopen’s words of caution regarding such passages in the vinayas – in these works which deal
with the rules and regulations of Buddhist monastic life:
Although we do not know anything definite about any hypothetical earlier versions of these vinayas, we do know
that all of the vinayas as we have them fall squarely into what might unimaginatively be called the Middle Period of
Indian Buddhism, the period between the beginning of the Common Era and the the year 500 C.E. As we have them,
then, they do not – and probably cannot – tell us what monastic Buddhism “originally” was, but they do provide an
almost overwhelming amount of detail about what it had become by this time.
– Buddhist Monks and Business Matters, p. 94.
I do not wish to be accused of over-emphasizing the patriarchal direction which Buddhism was taking in its
treatment of nuns during the early centuries of the new millennium. Therefore, let me suggest for further reading two
articles by women authors who establish that there are many positive things to be said about Buddhism’s effect on the
status of women in such mainly Buddhist countries as Srï Lankä, Thailand, Burma, and Tibet when compared to non-
Buddhist societies in Asia:
1) “Women in Early Buddhist Literature”, The Wheel Publication No. 30, by Isaline Blew Horner (Kandy: Buddhist Publication
Society, 1961 [1982]), freely available on the internet in PDF form.
2) “The Position of Women in Buddhism”, The Wheel Publication No. 280, by Lorna Srimathie Dewaraja (Kandy:
Buddhist Publication Society, 1981), also freely available on the internet.
1The passages in this section are excerpted from the book, Buddhism in Translations (pp. 442-447), by Henry Clarke
Warren (1854-1899), published in 1896 as Vol. III of the Harvard Oriental Series. This book was accessed on the internet
<> from the text reduced to HTML by Christopher M. Weimer, Feb.
’02, rev. Jul. ’02, and made available freely for any noncommercial use. I have taken the liberty of making some changes
to Warren’s ‘Victorian’ translation (ML).
4. Lineage of Patriarchs
As quoted earlier, in Chapter 6 on ‘Parallel Sayings’, the following statement of the Buddha, from the
Majjhima Nikäya, might be interpreted as establishing, in the person of Säriputta (Skt. Åäriputra), the foundation
of a lineage of future patriarchs. If so, such an establishment could be viewed as a prototype of the
later, Christian example, as recorded in Matthew. The Buddha said:
“Were it to be said of anyone: ‘He is the son of the Blessed One, born of his breast, an heir in the dharma,
not an heir in material things,’ it is of my follower Säriputta that this should be said. The matchless
wheel of dharma is to be kept rolling by Säriputta.” – Majjhima Nikäya 111:22-23
Then Jesus said: ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are favoured indeed! You did not learn that from mortal man;
it was revealed to you by my heavenly Father. And I say this to you: You are Peter, the Rock; and on this
rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall never conquer it. I will give you the keys of the
kingdom of Heaven; what you forbid on earth shall be forbidden in heaven, and what you allow on earth
shall be allowed in heaven.’ – Matthew 16:17-19
However, Säriputta (Åäriputra) never became the founding Patriarch of Buddhism, as he predeceased
the Buddha. The honor of being “Founding Father” of Buddhism went to Kassapa (Skt. Käåyapa), who was
chosen by fellow monks to preside at the First Council, a few months after the death of the Buddha.
It is a historical fact that Buddhist sects have, over the centuries, recorded lineages of patriarchs. For
example, consider the following edited quotation from the Wikipedia’s article on ‘Bödhidharma’:
the idea of a lineage of Chan [Zen] Buddhism in China dates back to the epitaph for Faru (Common Era
638-689), a disciple of the 5th patriarch Hongren (C.E. 601–674), which gives a line of descent identifying
Bödhidharma as the first patriarch [in China]. But Bödhidharma, was considered the 28th patriarch of
Chan/Zen [taking into consideration the prior patriarchs in India], and he is said to have been a disciple of
Prajñätära, thus establishing the latter as the 27th patriarch in India.
In the Song of Enlightenment of Yongjia Xuanjue (665-713) – one of the chief disciples of Huineng, the
6th patriarch [in China] of Chan [Zen] Buddhism – it is written that Bödhidharma was the 28th patriarch
in a line of descent [in India] from Mahä-Käåyapa, a disciple of Åäkyamuni Buddha, and the first patriarch
of Chan [Zen] Buddhism:
Mahä-Käåyapa was the first, leading the line of transmission;
Twenty-eight Fathers followed him in the West [i.e., in India];
The Lamp was then brought over the sea to this country;
And Bödhidharma became the First Father here:
His mantle, as we all know, passed over six Fathers,
And by them many minds came to see the Light.
The idea of a line of descent from Åäkyamuni Buddha became an important part of the lineage tradition
of the Chan/Zen school.
Now, consider some of the Patriarchal claims of various Christian churches (gathered from
Wikipedia, under the topic of ‘Patriarch’ – note: this is not an exhaustive list, by any means):
1. The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of ALEXANDRIA belongs to a lineage of patriarchs
going back to the ‘Apostolic Throne of St. MARK’.
2. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, ROME, belongs to a lineage of patriarchs going back to
the ‘Apostolic Throne of St. PETER’.
3. The Greek Patriarch of ANTIOCH, presiding over the Bishops of Antioch, also belongs to a
patriarchal lineage claiming to go back to the ‘Apostolic Throne of St. PETER’.
4. The Catholicus of the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, a.k.a. the Metropolitan of the KERALA
(INDIA) St. Thomas Christians, belongs to a Patriarchal lineage going back to the Apostle,
5. The Greek Orthodox can trace their JERUSALEM Patriarchy back in a direct and uninterrupted
line to St. JAMES, the Just, brother of Jesus.
As with most parallels between Buddhism and Christianity, the question arises whether or not the
Christian practice has been influenced by the earlier Buddhist practice. We have already seen how some
Buddhist practices have arisen out of previous centuries of Indian culture: vihäras (monasteries) out of äåramas
(äshrams) and the ‘turn the other cheek’ precept out of one of the core goals of the Indian ascetic life: to
remain internally undisturbed by either pleasurable temptations or pains. What the Buddha, himself, appeared
to have uniquely added to this goal was to urge an attitude of pacifistic compassionate love toward even those
who may persecute you. Christianity had no such ancient Middle East antecedents in these matters – only
missionary Buddhism from South Asia. Thus, over the centuries, Christianity’s reaction to Jesus’ command to
‘turn the other cheek’ has often become the view that it is only hyperbolic, etc. The compelling inference,
from these examples, therefore, is that Christianity was, indeed, originally influenced by Buddhism, though
the various cultural environments of the Middle East would soon greatly transform those influences.
The same direction of influence can be perceived with respect to the Christian system of Patriarchy. In
India, this system is called ‘Guru Parampara’ and existed in India centuries before the Buddha’s time. The
on-line ‘Hinduism Dictionary on Guru Parampara’ gives this definition:
‘guru-parampara’ (Sanskrit) ‘Preceptorial succession’ (literally, ‘from one teacher to another’). A line of
spiritual gurus in authentic succession of initiation; the chain of mystical power and authorized continuity
passed from guru to guru.
Another similarity between the Buddhist and Christian systems of Patriarchy must be mentioned. Both
systems have used elections to choose the person who should carry on the tradition. In Buddhism, the monks
of the order would elect its Patriarch’s successor. In Roman Catholicism, it is the long-standing practice that
the Cardinals elect a Pope’s successor.
However, there is a difference between Buddhism and Roman Catholicism when it comes to the nature
and limit of the authority which is passed on in the Patriarchal succession. There is nothing in Buddhist
tradition to equal the New Testament passage already quoted, where Jesus seems to be passing on an unlimited
authority to Peter:
‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; what you forbid on earth shall be forbidden in
heaven, and what you allow on earth shall be allowed in heaven.’
Buddhist ‘Guru Parampara’
A.J. Bahm’s passage, in his book, Philosophy of the Buddha (p. 123), quotes some of the Buddha’s
last words of advice before he died – words which are totally different in import from the sweeping authority
granted by Jesus to Peter in John’s Gospel:
Evidence that Gotama himself had no intention of imposing a specific set of regulations upon his followers
may be seen in the following report. When Gotama was getting old, ill, and about to die, Ananda
expressed the hope that Gotama ‘would not pass away until at least he had left instructions as touching
the Order’. “What, then, Ananda? Does the Order expect that of me? I have preached the truth without
making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine; for in respect of the truths, Ananda, the
Tathagata [i.e., the Buddha] has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher, who keeps some things back.
Surely, Ananda, should there be any one who harbours the thought, “It is I who will lead the brotherhood,”
or, “The Order is dependent upon me,” it is he who should lay down instructions in any matter
concerning the Order. Now the Tathagata, Ananda, thinks not that it is he who should lead the brotherhood,
or that the Order is dependent upon him. Why then should he leave instructions in any matter
concerning the Order? . . . Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves,’
(Dialogues of the Buddha, Pt. II, pp. 107, 108; also The Book of the Kindred Sayings, Vol. V, p. 132.
Christian ‘Guru Parampara’
In passages from <>, the writer makes it clear
how, in the early churches, the question of religious authority depended on establishing a convincing Patriarchal
lineage with which one could attempt to overcome one’s opponents, turning them into heretics:
In their battle with heretics during the second century C.E., the early church fathers heavily relied on the
concept of apostolic succession. To these proto-orthodox Christians, theirs was the true faith because
their theologies came from the apostles themselves, guaranteed by the succession of bishops who were
themselves appointed by the apostles. Two prominent examples are given below from the works of
Irenæus (c.120-c. 200) (Against Heresies) and Tertullian (c.160-c. 225) (Prescription Against Heretics):
Irenæus – Against Heresies 3:3:1
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate
clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to
reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the
succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what
these [heretics] rave about.
Tertullian – Prescription Against Heretics 21
Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received
as preachers than those whom Christ appointed. . . . If, then, these things are so, it is in the same
degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches – those moulds and original
sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches
received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be
prejudged as false which savors of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and
God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours . . . has its origin in the
tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We
hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from
theirs. This is our witness of truth.
Two contemporary commentaries on the Buddhist ‘Lineage of Patriarchs’
1) English version of Buddhapia [on-line encylopædia of subjects relating to Buddhism = ‘Buddhapædia’]
<> Copyright 2005 © Hyundae Bulkyo Media Center
“Dharma Lineages (or Buddhist Genealogy) of the Great Buddhist Masters”
Dharma lineages are the “family tree” of the Buddhist tradition. These genealogical charts show how the
Buddhist Dharma or true teachings have been passed down through the ages. Dharma lineages usually
begin with Åäkyamuni Buddha and extend down through a line of Buddhist Masters up to the present
day. In the Seon (Zen) Buddhist tradition, the Buddhist lamp – that is the “mind of Åäkyamuni” – is said
to be directly transmitted from master to disciple. The Japanese Seon (Zen) Master Dogen once wrote he
received the Dharma transmission from his master “finger to finger, face to face.” While this emphasis on
direct transmission is particularly characteristic of Seon (Zen), the passing on of the Buddhist teachings
from teacher to student has played an important role in all Buddhist schools. By investigating the Dharma
Lineages of the Great Buddhist Masters, we catch a glimpse of how Buddhist schools have evolved
through the ages.
2) And, again, another passage from an on-line source, the Korean Conference of Buddhist Professors 2004:
Karl Werner’s article, “Buddhism and Peace: The Theory and the Reality in Historical Perspective”:
Sectarian divisions [in La≥kä] were [ended] by royal decree under Parakräma Bähu the Great (1153-1186)
who ruled from Polonnaruva. He ordered unification of sects under the authority of Mahävihära. Thëraväda
tradition has remained dominant on the island ever since despite some temporary clandestine Tantric
practices. Its [the Thëraväda tradition’s] reputation brought, in 1476, to La≥kä a delegation from Pegu in
Burma seeking the renewal of unbroken ordination succession for its Sa≥gha. Burma reciprocated in
1597 when ordination succession on La≥kä was lost due to wars after the arrival of the Portuguese.
The lineage of family heritage (via transmission of DNA) is, here, replaced by the lineage of transmission
of the Buddha’s knowledge (Dharma and other doctrine). Among the Brahmins, different clans traced
their (DNA) lines (götras) back to various legendary sages, and their sacred knowledge, the Vëdas, back
through a system of guru parampara which was severely restricted to caste members only. Among the
ruling caste (Kßatriyas), there were those who traced their (DNA) line back to the legendary progenitor of
the Solar dynasty, and others, to the progenitor of the Lunar dynasty. The Buddha adopted, from the Brahmins,
the tradition of transmission of spiritual wisdom, but without any caste restriction!:
[The Buddha said:] “Just as the great rivers, on reaching the great ocean, lose their former names and
identities and are reckoned simply as the great ocean, so do followers lose their former names and clans
and become sons of the Buddha’s clan.” – Vinaya, Çullavagga 9:1:4
The Buddha’s knowledge, then, was to be passed down by generation after generation of leading
Elders, (‘mahä-thëras’) who had attained a thorough knowledge of the doctrine. It is in this sense that the
term ‘thëraputta’ came to be applied to Buddhist monks in a monastery under the leadership of a Mahä-
Thëra (‘Great Elder’). ‘Thëraputta’ is a compound of the two words: thëra = elder, and putta = son(s).
Emperor Asoka's medical missionary monks who arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 3rd century B.C.E.,
were to be known by this name, which in the Greek language, became ‘therapeutæ’. Here are the linguistic
Sanskrit: sthavira-putra > Päli: thëra-putta > Greek: therapeutæ (masc. pl.)
Scholars have, long ago, pointed out that our English words ‘therapeutic’ and ‘therapy’ derive,
originally, from the Päli term ‘thëraputta’, the name of these Buddhist medical missionary monks.
And here is a comparison of the linguistic equivalences (Sanskrit and Greek) for the masculine and
feminine gender (‘elder’ [f.] = (Skt.) sthavirï or sthavirä, and ‘daughter’ = putrï):
Sanskrit: sthavira-putra (masc. sing.) > Päli: thëra-putta > Greek: therapeutæ (masc. pl.)
Sanskrit: sthavira-putrï (fem. sing.)
Greek: therapeutrides (fem. pl.)
The Therapeutæ in Egypt
By the middle of the 1st century C.
E. – some three hundred years after Asoka's Buddhist medical
missionary monks first arrived in Egypt – the number of converts of the Therapeutæ seems to have gradually
expanded and morphed into, largely, groups of Jewish proto- or quasi-Christians. In his book, Coptic Egypt:
The Christians of the Nile,1 Christian Cannuyer writes:
The first Christians of Egypt
There is little doubt that the first Egyptian Christians were Jews. Indeed, the largest community of the
Jewish diaspora was in Alexandria, the great Greco-Egyptian trading city on the Mediterranean coast.
Alexandria was the cosmopolitan metropolis par excellence – a melting pot in which the tradition of
Greek thought, ancient Eastern religions, and new mystery cults all intermingled. . . . Around the year 50
[C.E.,] Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish philosopher, . . . described a community of
Jewish ascetics, the Therapeutæ, who lived some distance away from the metropolis in the semidesert
district of Lake Mareotis. His narrative sheds some light on the lifestyle of these earliest Christian monks.
According to the Acts of the Apostles (2:10), Jewish pilgrims from Egypt had taken part in the Pentecost
in Jerusalem, going forth to preach the Christian Gospel after the first Easter. The apostle Paul, who died
c. 65, had . . . debated an Alexandrian Jewish preacher named Apollos, described in the Acts of the
Apostles (18:24-28) as “knowing only the baptism of John,” who had become a Christian “in his country.”
Below are three passages from Philo’s work, On the Contemplative Life,2 in which he describes the
Therapeutæ in ways which are very reminiscent of the words of Jesus:
(2) [T]he purpose and will of [these] lovers of wisdom is discovered in their very name and title; for
they are most fitly called Therapeutæ (healers, male gender) and Therapeutridæ (healers, female gender).
(13) But then, out of their yearning after the immortal and blessed life, they esteem their mortal life to
have already ended, and so leave their possessions to their sons or daughters, or, in default of them, to
other kinsmen, of their own free will leaving to these their heritage in advance; but, if they have no
kinsmen, to their comrades and friends. . . .
(18) So soon, then, as they have divested themselves of their properties, without allowing anything to
further ensnare them, they flee without turning back, having abandoned brethren, children, wives, parents,
all the throng of their kindred, all their friendships with companions, yes, their countries in which they
were born and bred.
[Jesus said:] ‘No man is worthy of me who cares more for father or mother than for me; no man is
worthy of me who cares more for son or daughter; no man is worthy of me who does not take up his cross
and walk in my footsteps.’ – Matthew 10:37-38
[A man said to Jesus:] ‘I will follow you, sir; but let me first say good-bye to my people at home.’ To
him Jesus said, ‘No one who sets his hand to the plough and then keeps looking back is fit for the
kingdom of God.’ – Luke 9:61-62
Though the Therapeutæ and Jesus were Jewish, these forceful views of theirs go against Jewish culture
and the laws of Moses (Jesus: “Let the dead bury the dead” vs. “Honor your father and mother”) – views,
however, far more compatible with Buddhist monasticism!3
* * * * *
1Translated from the French (Egypte copte) by Sophie Hawkes (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001), p. 18.
2Geza Vermes and Martin D. Goodman, eds., The Essenes according to the Classical Sources (Sheffield:
Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and JSOT Press, 1989). Copyright © 2007 Catherine M.
Murphy, all rights reserved.
3G. Schopen, however, in Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press,
1997) and in Buddhist Monks and Business Matters (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), has
shown that Indian Buddhist monks and nuns, early in the Common Era, were not quite ready to disassociate
themselves as absolutely from their parents, other relatives, and friends as their religious precepts might
The Book of Kindred Sayings, Vol. V, tr. F.L. Woodward, Luzac & Co., Ltd., London, 1930 [1956].
Dialogues of the Buddha, Part II, tr. T.W. & C.A.F. Rhys Davids, Oxford University Press, London, 1910.
Philosophy of the Buddha, by A.J. Bahm, Collier Books, New York, 1962 [1958]).
5. Buddhist Bödhisattvas / Christian Saints
Har Dayal, in his book, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature, points out that at the beginning
of the Christian Era, the Mahäyäna Buddhists had already begun the process of deifying the Buddha:
The devas [the gods, demigods /‘angels’ of the Indian pantheon] were regarded by the Buddhists as
glorified super-men, who enjoyed bliss and power, but who were subject to the law of death and rebirth
and needed wisdom and liberation as much as the human beings on earth. They were far inferior to the
Buddha in character and knowledge. They visited him as disciples and suppliants, and even rendered
menial service to him. . . . As the Buddhists despised the devas, they put the Buddha in their place. . . .
As a matter of fact, Viß∫u and Åiva (Päli: Ve∫hu and Isäna) are mentioned only as secondary deities in the
list of devas in the Dïgha-Nikäya. They are not regarded as the equals of the old devas, Brahmä and
Åakra [Indra].1
Phases of Development of the Doctrine:
The bodhisattva [Päli bodhisatta] doctrine probably originated in the second century B.C. The word
bodhisatta is very old and occurs in the Päli Nikäyas. Gautama Buddha speaks of himself as a bodhisatta,
when he refers to the time before [his] attainment of Enlightenment. This seems to be the earliest
signification of the word. It was applied to Gautama Buddha as he was in his last earthly life before the
night of Enlightenment. The following clause recurs frequently in the Majjhima-Nikäya: “In the days
before my Enlightenment, when as yet I was only a bodhisatta, etc.” The word also seems to be used only
in connection with a Buddha’s last life in the Mahäpadänasutta (Dïgha-Nikäya ii, 13) and the Acchariyabbhuta-
dhamma-sutta (Majjhima-Nikäya iii, 119). In the Kathä-vatthu, certain questions are raised with
regard to the bodhisatta’s actions; the signs on his body, his rebirth in a state of woe, and the possibility
of his harbouring heretical opinions or practising asceticism are discussed. It is clear that the previous
lives of Gautama Buddha and other saints have now begun to excite interest and speculation. But there
was no new systematic doctrine in the middle of the third century B.C., when the Kathä-vatthu was
composed. The idea of a bodhisattva’s renunciation of personal nirvä∫a is stated clearly and unequivocally
in the Pr. Pä A߆a.; and bodhi is set up as the new ideal in the Sad. Pu. These treatises belong mainly to
the first century B.C. We may infer that the Mahäyäna doctrine in its earliest form was definitely formulated
in the second century B.C. This was also the period of the Hindu revival under the Åu≥ga dynasty. Most
scholars are of opinion that the Mahäyäna doctrine originated in the centuries immediately preceding the
Christian era.2
We see, then, that in the 2nd or 1st centuries B.C., the Mahäyänists began to raise the Buddha to the
superhuman, abstract status of a god. The common folk began to direct their devotion to intermediaries:
The bodhisattvas were thus chosen for worship and adoration in order to satisfy the needs of the devout
and pious Buddhists. The bodhisattva doctrine may be said to have been the inevitable outcome of the
tendency towards bhakti and the new conception of Buddhahood. This view seems to be confirmed by
the fact that the Hïnayänists, who did not de-humanise and universalise the Buddha, did not feel the
necessity of inventing and adoring the bodhisattvas. The analogy of other religious movements also
proves that uneducated men and women require some attributes of human personality in the superhuman
beings, whom they are willing to worship. They feel more at home with such helpers. They shrink from
the measureless immensity and unapproachable sublimity of the universal Spirit, whether it is called
Brahman, Dharma-käya, Allah or God. The development of saint-worship in Islam and Christianity was
due to the same causes as led [earlier] to the cult of the bodhisattvas in Buddhism. Both Islam and
Christianity teach that God has personality and love and answers prayers; but millions of Moslems and
Christians have found solace in the worship of the saints. They have felt the need of these human intercessors
as intermediate objects of worship. They have placed them between God and Man. Saint-worship was
firmly established in the Christian Church as early as the fourth century A.D., as P. Dörfier and H. Thurston
have pointed out.3
1Har Dayal, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature (London: Routledge & Kegan
Paul Ltd.,1932), p, 33. 2Ibid., p. 43-44. 3Ibid., p. 35.
Earliest Images of Buddha
Buddhism gave rise to a great movement of art. But during the first four centuries, the Buddha’s image is not
to be seen. His presence is only indicated by symbols, as you will have noticed, in the various panels already
illustrated in this book.
(l.-r.) Brahmä; Åäkyamuni; Indra
Swat, ca. 50 BCE (J.C. Huntington)
(l.-r.) Maitrëya; Brähma∫a; Buddha; Ruler; Avalökitëåvara
Gandhära, ca. 123 CE (J.C. Huntington)
(l.-r.) Devotee; Maitrëya; Buddha; Avalökitëåvara; Monk
Gandhära, 2nd - 3rd CE (Wikipedia)
(l.-r.) Brähma∫a; Brahmä; Åäkyamuni; Indra; Ruler
Swat, ca. 0 CE (J.C. Huntington)
(l.-r.) Brahmä; Åäkyamuni; Indra
Swat, ca. 100 BCE (J.C. Huntington)
(l.-r.) Indra; Åäkyamuni; Brahmä
Bajur, ca. 100 BCE (J.C. Huntington)
6. Veneration of the Relics of the Buddha, Bödhisattvas, and Christian Saints
A relic is an object, especially a piece of the body or a personal item of someone of religious significance, carefully
preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial. Relics are an important aspect of Buddhism, some
denominations of Christianity, Hinduism, shamanism, and many other personal belief systems. – Wikipedia
This topic deserves a heading separate from the previous one because of the remarkable fact that the Christian
veneration of the relics of saints and martyrs was viewed by many non-Christians in the Western world as a
repugnant practice, even after Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. This fact is revealed in the writings
of Julian “the Apostate”, who ruled briefly as emperor, from C.E. 360 to the 26th of June 363. Julian was
certainly the most well-educated of all the rulers of the Roman Empire. Given a grounding in Christianity
during his youth, he later became strongly critical of that religion, as the following selections from Book I of
his work, Against the Galilæans, bear witness. The Julian passages, here, are quoted in Cyril of Alexandria’s
work, Contra Julianum, ed. and trans. by Wilmer Cave Wright, in vol. 1 of The Works of the Emperor Julian,
3 vols. (London, 1923), pp. 413-418. Julian writes scathingly of the Christian practice of “worshipping” the
relics of their saints and martyrs:
But you [Christians] are so misguided that you have not even remained faithful to the teachings that were
handed down to you by the apostles. And these also have been altered, so as to be worse and more
impious, by those who came after. At any rate neither Paul nor Matthew nor Luke nor Mark ventured to
call Jesus God. But the worthy John, since he perceived that a great number of people in many of the
towns of Greece and Italy had already been infected by this disease, and because he heard, I suppose, that
even the tombs of Peter and Paul were being worshipped – secretly, it is true, but still he did hear this, –
he, I say, was the first to venture to call Jesus God. And after he had spoken briefly about John the Baptist
he referred again to the Word which he was proclaiming, and said, “And the Word was made flesh, and
dwelt among us.” [John 1:14] . . .
[Y]ou keep adding many corpses newly dead to the corpse [of Jesus!] of long ago?* You have filled
the whole world with tombs and sepulchres, and yet in your scriptures it is nowhere said that you must
grovel among tombs and pay them honour. But you have gone so far in iniquity that you think you need
not listen even to the words of Jesus of Nazareth on this matter. Listen then to what he says about
sepulchres: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres;
outward the tomb appears beautiful, but within it is full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
[Matthew 23:27] If, then, Jesus said that sepulchres are full of uncleanness, how can you invoke God at
them? . . .
Therefore, since this is so, why do you grovel among tombs? Do you wish to hear the reason? It is not
I who will tell you, but the prophet Isaiah: “They lodge among tombs and in caves for the sake of dream
visions.Ӡ You observe, then, how ancient among the Jews was this work of witchcraft, namely, sleeping
among tombs for the sake of dream visions. And indeed it is likely that your apostles, after their teacher’s
death, practised this and handed it down to you from the beginning, I mean to those who first adopted
your faith, and that they themselves performed their spells more skilfully than you do, and displayed
openly to those who came after them the places in which they performed this witchcraft and abomination.
Julian’s explanation, here, which traces the Christian practice of venerating relics back to the type of
witchcraft condemned by the prophet Isaiah, is of course totally mistaken! What strikes me as remarkable is
*For the collection of the “bones and skulls of criminals,” and the apotheosis of the martyrs as it
struck a contemporary pagan, see Eunapius, Lives p. 424 (Loeb edition). Julian, in Letter 22. 429d, commends
the Christian care of graves; here he ridicules the veneration of the relics of the martyrs, which was
peculiarly Christian and offensive to pagans. [These two footnotes are W.C. Wright’s.]
†In part from Isaiah 65:4; the literal meaning of the Hebrew is “[they] that sit in graves and pass the
night in secret places,” a reference to incubation [i.e., visitation by spirits] for the sake of dream oracles, a
Hellenic custom. Julian professes to believe that this practice, which Isaiah abhorred, was kept up by the
that Julian is so completely clueless about Christianity’s debt to Buddhism in this matter! The Emperor
Asoka had spread the memorial relic tumuli (stüpas) all over India, across to Srï Lankä, and westward into
the land which is, today, called Afghanistan. And there is the historical document in Srï Lankä, the Mahävaμåa,
which records that thirty thousand Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) traveled from the Greek city of Alexandria to
this island, around 140 B.C.E., to attend the dedication of the Buddha’s relics and the laying of the foundation
stone of the Great Stüpa, in Anurädhapura. The presiding patron at this ceremony was the illustrious Årï
La≥kan king, Du††hagäma∫i. The monks who had come there formed the largest gathering of religious devotees
on record, in ancient times. Here is the role call of the groups of monks and their leaders coming from
outside the island of Srï Lankä (most of them from India):
80,000 monks from the Räjagaha region in India, lead by Thëra Indugutta (Skt. Indu-gupta)
12,000 monks from Isipatäna, near Benares, lead by Mahä-Thëra Dhammasëna (Dharma-sëna)
60,000 monks from the Jëtaräma monastery, India, lead by Mahä-Thëra Piyadassi (Priya-daråi)
18,000 monks fr. the Mahävana monastery, Vaiåälï, lead by Thëra Urubuddharakkhita (Uru-buddha-rakßita)
30,000 monks from the Ghößitaräma monastery, Köåambi, lead by Thëra Uru-dhamma-rakkhita
40,000 monks from the Dakkhinägiri monastery, Ujjëni, India. lead by Thëra Uru-saμgha-rakkhita
160,000 monks from the Asokaräma monastery, Pupphapura (Pußpapura/Pä†alipura) lead by Thëra Mittinna
280,000 monks from the Kaåmïr country, lead by Thëra Uttinna
460,000 monks from the Pallavabhögga (N. Kar∫ataka-Andhra-TamiΩnä∂u area), lead by the ‘wise’ Mahädëva
30,000 monks from Alasandara (Alexandria), lead by the Yöna (Greek) Thera Mahä-Dhamma-rakkhita
60,000 monks from the Viñjhia (Vindhya) forest mountains, Central India, lead by Thëra Uttara
30,000 monks from the Bödhimanda monastery, located ??, lead by Mahä-Thëra Cittagutta (Chitra-gupta)
80,000 monks from the Vanaväsa country, S. Kar∫ataka, lead by Mahä-Thëra Candagutta (Chandra-gupta)
96,000 monks from the Mahä-Këläsa monastery, Himälyas, lead by Mahä-Thëra Süriyagutta (Sürya-gupta)
1,436,000 monks, TOTAL, from outside of Srï Lankä
The great number of monks gathering from within the island of Srï Lankä was not recorded in the
If the total number of foreign monks mentioned above (1,436,000) seems excessive, keep in mind the
much bigger numbers of religious devotees (Indian and foreign) attending the Mahä Kumbh Mëlä, held in
India every 12 years. This is a report of the Mëlä in 2001:
The world’s largest congregation of religious devotees in history – 100 million people at Mahä Kumbh
Mëlä in Allahabad, India, celebrated a powerful planetary alignment – January, 2001. . . . Himälayan
saints, sages, seers, sädhus, and yogis . . . make their rare appearance at Kumbh Mëla in Prayäg, the
confluence of the Ganges, Jamunä, and mythical Saraswatï Rivers. Kumbh Mëlä takes place during an
auspicious planetary position that is believed to medicate the Ganges waters and turn the river into nectar.
Millions arrive to purify their inner self through holy bathing rituals.
– From the internet: <>
The number 100 million (1/10th the population of present day India and 1/3rd the population of the
U.S.A.!) may seem to be a great exaggeration, but all observers would agree that the number, in 2001, was
far greater than 1.5 million.
To get back to the Greek connection with the mammoth rally at the Great Stüpa in Anurädhapura, Årï
La≥kä, the passage in the Mahävaμåa which mentions ‘Alexandria’, has been translated as follows:
From Alasandara [Alexandria], the city of the Yonas [Greeks], came the Thera [Elder] Yona [the Greek]
Mahä-Dhammarakkhita [Skt. Mahä-Dharmarakßita] with thirty thousand bhikkhus [monks].
Which may be rephrased as:
From Alexandria, the city of the Greeks, came thirty thousand monks lead by the Greek Elder, the Great-
The first problem the historian faces is to decide which Greek city called Alexandria is being referred
to in the Mahävaμåa.
The second problem will be to decide which of the several Maha-Dhammarakkhitas (Great-
Dharmarakßitas) on record is meant?
First let me give a list (after Wikipedia’s) of the many cities called ‘Alexandria’ that sprang up in the
wake of the military conquests of Alexander the Great:
1. Alexandria in Egypt: the site was chosen in Jan., 330 B.C.E.; and the city was founded on April 7th.
This was a largely Greek city, although it had a native quarter and a Jewish quarter.
2. Alexandria in Susiana, not far from the mouth of the Tigris
3. Alexandria in Troas (a town near Troy)
4. Alexandria by the Latmus
5. Alexandria near Issus (modern Iskenderun in Turkey)
6. Alexandria in Aria (modern Herät, Afghanistan)
7. Alexandria in Arachosia (modern Kandahär, Afghanistan)
8. Alexandria in the Caucasus
9. Alexandria Eschat
10. Alexandria on the Oxus
11. Alexandria in Margiana
12. Alexandria on the Indus
At this point let me suggest that determining which Greek city ‘Alexandria’ or which Greek Buddhist
elder by the name of ‘Mahä-Darmarakßita’ is being referred to in the Mahävaμåa is not all that crucial for
the purpose of establishing the profound cultural intercourse between the Hellenic world and Buddhist lands.
The most natural interpretation of the expression ‘Alexandria, the city of the Greeks’, in the context
of the existence of twelve cities of that same name, is to take it as the greatest of those Greek cities. Each of
the eleven satellite Alexandrias would hardly boast a population of 30,000 Buddhist monks. Would it not be
reasonable to assume that the 30,000 monks came from all areas of the Hellenic world, with the bulk coming
from Egypt with its capital city, Alexandria? And the Greek Mahä-Dharmarakßita who led them could have
come from any one of the twelve Alexandrias – but, again, most probably, from Egypt’s.
That Egypt had a considerable population of ‘Greek’ Jewish and Gentile Buddhist converts, at the
very beginning of the Common Era, some 140 years after the enshrining of the Buddha’s relic in Srï Lankä,
is made clear by the ‘Greek’ Jew, Philo of Alexandria, in his work, On Ascetics, where he wrote (c. 30 C.E.)
of the Therapeutæ, a Buddhist, proto-Christian sect:
Now this class of persons may be met with in many places, for it was fitting that both Greece and the
country of the barbarians [India!] should partake of whatever is perfectly good; and there is the greatest
number of such men in Egypt, in every one of the districts, or nomi as they are called, and especially
around Alexandria; and from all quarters those who are the best of these Therapeutæ proceed on their
pilgrimage to some most suitable place as if it were their country, which is beyond the Mareotic lake,
lying in a somewhat level plain a little raised above the rest, being suitable for their purpose by reason of
its safety and also of the fine temperature of the air.*
Philo, himself, does not seem to be aware of the Buddhist/Indian derivation of the name Therapeutæ,
but his interpretation of it (as “Healers”) indicates to us that their forebears were the “medical” missionaries
of the Indian emperor, Asoka.
*From On Ascetics (c. 30 C.E.), by Philo Judæus of Alexandria, in Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library
of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp.
355-369 (Section III). Scanned by: J.S. Arkenberg, who has modernized the text. This text is part of the
Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted
texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
The Efficacy of Relics
The following four paragraphs are from the Wikipedia article on “Relic”:
Many tales of miracles and other marvels were attributed to relics beginning in the early centuries of the
church; many of these became especially popular during the Middle Ages. These tales are collected in
books of hagiography such as the Golden Legend or the works of Cæsar of Heisterbach. These miracle
tales made relics much sought after during the Middle Ages.
There are also many relics attributed to Jesus, perhaps most famously the Shroud of Turin, which is
claimed to be the burial shroud of Jesus, although this is disputed.
[T]he “virtue” of relics
In his introduction to Gregory of Tours, Ernest Brehaut analyzed the [6th century] Romano-Christian
concepts that gave relics such a powerful draw. He distinguished Gregory’s constant usage of “sanctus”
and “virtus”, the first with its familiar meaning of “sacred” or “holy”, and the second, the mystic potency
emanating from the person or thing that is sacred. . . .
The transmissibility of this potency, this virtus, is still reflected in the Roman Catholic classifications
of relics in degrees, as mentioned above. By transmission, the “virtus” might be transmitted to the city.
When St. Martin died, November 8, 397, at a village halfway between Tours and Poitiers, the inhabitants
of these cities were well ready to fight for his body, which the people of Tours managed to secure by
Incredibly, this bellicose incident over the bodily relics of a Christian saint has a very famous forerunner
in Buddhism. Kevin Trainor, in his book, Relics, Ritual, and Representation in Buddhism (1997), p. 119,
recounts the following occasion, after the death of the Buddha. The ceremonies were being
conducted by the Malla people of Kusinara, in whose region the Buddha [had] died. [W]ord spreads of
the Buddha’s death; seven of the clans from the surrounding territories send emissaries, each proclaiming
his clan’s right to a share of the relics. The Mallas of Kusinara, in response, announce their intention to
keep all the relics for themselves, on the ground that the Buddha died in their territory. Though the text
does not actually describe the various groups drawing up their armies in preparation for the battle, this
image of an imminent armed conflict became deeply etched in the imagination of later Buddhists, as we
know from the bas-reliefs at Säñcï depicting this scene. [See the illustrations of these two pre-Christian
Era panels on p. 44.] A major blood-bath is averted only by the intervention of a Brahmin named Dö∫a
(Drö∫a, in Sanskrit), who proposes that the relics be divided into eight equal portions and distributed to
the eight claimants. Calling to mind the Buddha’s great forbearance, he points to the incongruity between
the Buddha’s teaching and the aggressive behavior of his followers.
The Sharing of the Relics. Gandhära, 2nd-3rd century C.E., ZenYouMitsu Temple, Tokyo.
The Division of the Buddha’s Relics by the Brahmin Drö∫a
History of Christian relics (from <>)
One of the earliest sources cited to support the efficacy of relics is found in 2 Kings 13:20-21:
20 Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. 21 Once while some
Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s
tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. (NIV)
These verses are cited to claim that [the very fact of] the Holy Spirit’s indwelling [within a physical
body] also affects the physical body, that God can do miracles through the bodies of His servants, or
both. Also cited is the veneration of Polycarp’s relics recorded in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written
150–160 A.D.). With regards to relics that are objects, an often cited passage is Acts 19:11–12, which says
that Paul’s handkerchiefs were imbued by God with healing power:
[And through Paul God worked singular miracles: when handkerchiefs and scarves which had been in contact
with his skin were carried to the sick, they were rid of their diseases and the evil spirits came out of them. (NEB)]
Roman Catholic classification and prohibitions
Saint Jerome declared, “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to
the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to
adore him whose martyrs they are” (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).
First-Class Relics
Items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains
of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics
of other saints. Also, some saints’ relics are known for their extraordinary incorruptibility and so would
have high regard. It is important to note that parts of the saint that were significant to that saint’s life are
more prized relics. For instance, King St. Stephen of Hungary’s right forearm is especially important
because of his status as a ruler. A famous theologian’s head may be his most important relic. (The head of
St. Thomas Aquinas was removed by the monks at the Cistercian abbey at Fossanova where he died.)
Logically, if a saint did a lot of travelling then the bones of his feet may be prized. Current Catholic
teaching prohibits relics to be divided up into small, unrecognizable parts if they are to be used in liturgy
(i.e., as in an altar; see the rubrics listed in ‘Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar’).
Second-Class Relics
An item that the saint wore (a sock, a shirt, a glove, etc.). Also included is an item that the saint owned
or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc. Again, an item more important in the saint’s life is
thus a more important relic. The Chains of Saint Peter, preserved in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, [are] a
second-class relic.
Third-Class Relics
Anything which has touched a first or second class relic of a saint.
Importance of Relics in Medieval Christianity
Since the beginning of Christianity, patrons have seen relics as a way to come closer to a person who
was deemed divine and thus form a closer bond with God. Since Christians during the Middle Ages often
took pilgrimages to shrines of holy people, relics became a large business. The pilgrims saw the purchasing
of a relic as a means to bring the shrine back with him or her upon returning home in a small way, since
during the Middle Ages the concept of physical proximity to the “holy” (tombs of saints or their personal
objects) was considered extremely important (Brown, 89). [The sale of relics has since been strictly
forbidden by the Church.]
Buddhist relics
In Buddhism, relics of the Buddha and various saints are venerated. Originally, after the Buddha’s
death, his body was divided for the purpose of relics, and there was an armed conflict between factions
for possession of the relics. Afterward, these relics were taken to wherever Buddhism was spread.
Some relics believed to be original relics of Buddha still survive including the much revered Sacred
Relic of the tooth of the Buddha in Sri Lanka.
In chapter IV, entitled ‘Deaths, Funerals, and the Division of Property’, of Gregory Schopen’s Buddhist
Monks and Business Matters, he writes (p. 98) the following about the origins of the Buddhist ‘relic cult’:
Section IV [of the Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya, known to have been translated into Chinese, 405-406 C.E.]
. . . describes the origins of what we call the “relic cult” in Monastic Buddhism. Like section III, it deals
with questions of access and control and shows the monks and the laity jockeying for position; the monks
win, of course, for they wrote the account. Like several other of our selections, its denouement deals not
so much with devotion as with “dollars.”
And, continuing on pp. 100-101:
Access and control, however, are not the only issues here. Relics gave rise to festivals; festivals gave rise
to trade; trade gave rise to gifts and donations. It is this, in the end, that our text may be about. But to
appreciate this particular monastic interest in monastic relics, an established principle of vinaya law must
be kept in mind. Virtually all the vinayas contain rules stipulating that any donation made to the stüpa of
a Buddha belongs to that stüpa, that is, to the Buddha himself, and could not, except under special
circumstances . . ., be transferred to, or used by, either the monastic community or an individual monk.
. . . [Our text] acknowledges that a token part (the “first fruit” offerings) of the donations in question is
to be given to the Buddha in the form of the “Image that Sits in the Shade of the Jambu Tree.” This was,
apparently, an image of the Buddha that represented him in his first youthful experience of meditation.
There are several references to it in the Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya . . ., and an inscribed second-century
image of this sort has been found at Säñcï. A small part of the donations is also to be used to maintain the
stüpa of Åäriputra. But the rest – and in this case that is a goodly amount – is to be divided among the
monks. Our text hastens to add that in this instance there is no offense, because the donations were not to
a stüpa of the Buddha but to a stüpa of a specific disciple. . . . Gu∫aprabha’s Vinayasütra, a fifth- to
seventh-century monastic handbook . . ., paraphrases our passage as “that which is given to the stüpa of
a disciple belongs indeed to his fellow monks.” Such stüpas could, then, come to be a legitimate source
of revenue for the monks, and such a possibility may explain what Faxian, a fifth-century Chinese monk,
said he saw in India: “wherever monks live they build up stüpas in honor of the saints Åäriputra,
Maudgalyäyana, and Änanda.”
We have no idea, of course, if any of the things narrated in our account actually occurred. If, as seems
very likely, this account was compiled in the Middle Period [in this case, in the 1st to 4th centuries, C.E.],
then it was written hundreds of years after the events it is supposed to be describing and has, in one sense,
no historical value at all. But in another sense it is an extremely important historical document: it shows
us how Mülasarvästivädin vinaya masters in the Middle Period chose to construct and to present their
past to their fellow monks; it shows us how the issue of who controlled sacred relics had – at least for this
period – been settled; more generally it shows us vinaya masters in the Middle Period seriously engaged
with questions of power, access, relics, and money. These monks almost look like real people.
In chapter X of the same book, Gregory Schopen discusses what the Mülasarvästiväda-vinaya has to
say about the efficacy of Buddhist relics – or as Gregory of Tours puts it, their “virtus”:
On the death of the Buddha’s peerless disciple, Åäriputra, while he was away on a journey, Åäriputra’s
attending novice, Cunda (Chunda), carried out the cremation of his guru’s body, along with the required
[O]nly after that were his remains (ring bsrel), bowl, and robe taken back to Räjag®ha. . . . Cunda hands
the remains of Åäriputra over to Änanda – and here we can begin to use our word “relic”. . . . [p. 298]
Änanda is disconsolate, and the Buddha speaks to him at length to assuage his grief. As Schopen puts it:
[T]he narrative says, in effect, that first of all what remains are “relics” . . .; but the homily says that the
“accumulation, heap, substratum, or material form” . . . of morality, concentration, wisdom, release, and
knowledge and vision of release [also] remains. [Ibid.]
Schopen goes on to suggest that some early inscriptions from the Northwest, the great Buddhist author
Aåvaghößa, and a late book of the Milindapañha, all “seem to dissolve the distinction between the two and
to suggest that one – the “relic” – is permeated, saturated, infused, and enlivened by the other.” [p. 299]
This article published on the internet by ‘Mountain Butorac’ gives a modern day tourist/pilgrim’s thoughts on European
Christian relics:
Hanging [Out?] with the Dead — Relics and the Incorruptibles
October 31, 2007
One of the more fascinating and dare I say haunting encounters one has while traveling is with the relics and
incorruptible bodies found in churches throughout the world. Some are hard to find, such as the incorruptible body
of St. Antoninus of Florence. He’s in the far back corner of the Church of San Marco, which is not found in many
guidebooks. Others are prominently displayed, like St. John Vianney. With his head tilted slightly as if waiting to
hear a confession, he’s above the main altar in the Sanctuaire d’Ars, in Ars, France.
As many are celebrating Halloween and we are approaching All Saints Day, I would like to present to you
some of the strangest relics and incorruptible bodies one can find. I mean, really, why pay to be chased around a
haunted house by some guy wielding a chain-saw when you can visit these places that are both peculiar and holy?
One of the most curious examples of the dead on display is in the Cappuccin Crypt of Santa Maria
dell’Immacolata Concezione in Rome. The crypt contains six chapels, five of which are decorated in the bones of
the deceased friars. And by decorated I do not mean a few bones placed in reliquaries. No, they went all out. Just
look at the names of these chapels: Crypt of the Skulls, Crypt of the Pelvises, Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh
Bones, and the Crypt of the Three Skeletons. The bones of over 4000 monks who died between 1528 and 1870
artistically line the walls and ceilings. They have chandeliers made of bones, arches, floral arrangements and even
a clock, all made from bones. Some of the monks are still intact. These are in various poses. Some resting in niches,
some mounted on the wall and a few are hanging from the ceiling.
While some, perhaps most, may find this display macabre, the message is simple, if a little eerie:
Noi eravamo quello che voi siete, e quello che noi siamo voi sarete. That is, “We were what you are; and what
we are, you will be.”
This inscription is written in, you guessed it, bones.
Let’s move from one of the most curious to one of the most mysterious: St. Rita of Cascia, patron saint of lost
causes. A wife, a mother, a widow and a nun, she lived a devout life and is one of our incorruptible saints.
An incorruptible is one who is unpreserved and yet, be it deliberate, accidental or natural, has not shown the
decay typical of someone who has died. In most all cases not only are the incorruptibles, well, incorrupt, but they
are also still quite flexible and moist.
Now St. Rita being an incorruptible is not scary; it’s amazing! Of course, being face to face with someone
who has been dead for over 500 years can make even the most devout feel a bit uneasy. The spookiness with St.
Rita comes from a few events that have taken place after she died. Her body rests in a glass sarcophagus located
about eye level to most visitors. For hundreds of years pilgrims have come to pray at her tomb. On several occasions
there are reported cases of St. Rita opening her eyes, changing position, and even elevating. All of these
events were recorded by multiple eyewitnesses. Imagine praying at her tomb, looking up and seeing her open eyes
looking back at you.
St. Rita’s body is, for the most part, whole. Let’s visit another saint whose body is not, Saint Catherine of
Saint Catherine died in Rome and was buried just outside of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Knowing how much
it would please the people of Siena to have the remains of their great fellow citizen among them, her confessor sent
her head to Siena. Don’t worry, it’s been said that her tomb was not very tightly sealed and her body was exposed
to dampness, so she was not forcefully decapitated. Her head just popped right off. The Church of San Domenico
in Siena has her head as well as one of her fingers. Other parts of her can be found in Venice and England.
When one thinks relic, often one thinks of a piece of cloth, hair, perhaps a piece of skin, or even a small bone
But, throughout the world, Europe in particular, it’s not hard to find heads, hands, arms, feet, fingers, shoulder
blades, brains even hearts of our holy men and women.
And for me that beats a haunted house any day. Not only can I get the chilling feeling one gets in the presence
of the dead, but I also feel a sense of peace. For being with these saints I am truly in the presence of holiness.
* * * * *
How would Emperor Julian the Apostate react to the above views?
As Buddhists monks usually cremated their dead, this meant that they would not be able to appeal to
incorruptibility of their bodies as a mark of holiness. Instead, there is an interesting twist in the bodily
glorification story – the origin of which certainly predates the Christian Era by decades, if not by centuries.
Toward the end of Chapter X (p. 318) of Buddhist Monks and Business Matters, Schopen notes that a
startling display of bodies occurs in the account of the funeral of Mahäprajäpatï. After the bodies of
Mahäprajäpatï and the five hundred nuns who died with her are set down at the place for cremation, the
text says:
The Blessed One [i.e., the Buddha] then, having laid aside the upper robes from the bodies of
Mahäprajäpatï Gautamï and those five hundred nuns, spoke to the monks: “Look, monks! Although
Mahäprajäpatï Gautamï and these five hundred nuns have lived for a hundred and twenty years, there
are no wrinkles or white hair on their bodies – they look like girls of sixteen.”
de nas bcom ldan ’das kyis skye dgu’i bdag mo chen mo go’u ta mi dang dge slong ma lnga brgya
po dag gi lus las bla gos phud nas dge slong rnams la bka’ stsal pa dge slong dag skye dgu’i bdag
mo chen mo go’u ta mi dang dge slong ma lnga brga brgya po ’di dag lo brgya nyi shu long yang
lus la gnyer ma dang skra dkar med cing bu mo lo bcu drug lon pa lta bu la ltos ([Kßudrakavastu]
Ta 172a.3)
Schopen goes on to indicate that this exhibition is “intended for and explicitly directed toward the monks.”
It is “apparently meant”, he says, “for their edification, not for that of a group of admiring lay devotees”;
and, moreover, it reflects “a strong positive value placed on holy bodies.” (p. 319)
This incident, recounted in the Kßudrakavastu, is certainly not historical, but, nevertheless, it is a
memorable expression of what was considered holiness overcoming the corruptibility of the ageing process.
Incorruptible corpses are only an extension of this same idea, but long after death.
There is one point, perhaps, which I should clarify for the reader: in ancient India, well into the
Common Era, topless attire for women was not considered in any way unusual. So the Buddha, in “laying
aside the upper robes” of the women’s bodies, in no way would have been considered doing anything indecent.
Mahäprajäpatï was the sister of the Buddha’s mother, and had become the infant Buddha’s foster
mother when his own mother had died suddenly, seven days after giving birth to him.
One further point of clarification, which Schopen is quick to make, is that the above bodily glorification
story goes quite against the general Buddhist attitude toward the body. This negative view, Schopen
writes (p. 319),
can be documented within this Vinaya itself. In one of the infrequent passages in the Mülasarvästa-vinaya
that refers to “mental cultivation” we find the following:
The Blessed One [the Buddha] said: “The practice of sitting is called yoga (nißadyä ucyate yoga˙).
Monks, you should observe that this body (käya), from the soles of the feet upward, from the hair of
the head downward, is bounded by skin, and as it stands, as it obtains, is full of various sorts of
impurity. There are in this body hairs of the head, body hairs, nails, teeth, dirt, filth, skin, flesh, bone,
sinew, veins, kidneys, spleen, lung, intestines, mesentery, stomach, abdomen, bladder, liver, shit,
tears, sweat, phlegm, grease, lymph, marrow, fat, bile, mucus, pus, blood, and piss. The body thus is
to be observed.*
*Poßadhavastu, N. Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts, Vol. III, Pt. 4 (Calcutta: 1950), 72.16ff.
Brown, Peter. Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. U. of Chicago Press, 1982.
Cruz, Joan Carroll. Relics. OCDS, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, 1984.
Reliques et sainteté dans l’espace médiéval.
Schopen, Gregory. Buddhist Monks and Business Matters. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
Vauchez, Andre. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. 1997.
7. Confession and Absolution
The Buddhist Confession and Absolution of Monks
Translated from the Mahâvagga (ii.11): [pp. 404-410:]
Then The Blessed One, in the evening of the day, rose from his meditation, and on this occasion and
in this connection, after he had delivered a doctrinal discourse, addressed the monks:
“O monks, it happened to me, as I was just now seated in seclusion and plunged in meditation,
that a consideration presented itself to my mind, as follows: ‘What if now I prescribe that the monks
recite a confession of all those precepts which have been laid down by me; and this shall be for them
a fast-day duty?’ I prescribe, O monks, that ye recite a confession. And after this manner, O monks, is
it to be recited:
“Let a learned and competent monk make announcement to the congregation, saying, ‘Let the
reverend congregation hear me. Today is the fast-day of the fifteenth day of the half-month. If the
congregation be ready, let the congregation keep fast-day, and recite the confession. What is the first
business before the congregation? Venerable sirs, the proclaiming of your innocency. I will recite the
confession, and let as many of us as are here present listen carefully and pay strict attention. If anyone
has sinned, let him reveal the fact; if he has not sinned, let him remain silent; by your silence I
shall know that your reverences are innocent. But now, in assemblages like this, proclamation is made
up to the third time, and each one must make confession as if individually asked. But if, when
proclamation up to the third time has been made, any monk shall remember a sin and not reveal it,
it will be a conscious falsehood. But a conscious falsehood, reverend sirs, has been declared by The
Blessed One to be a deadly sin. Therefore, if a monk remember having committed a sin, and desire
again to be pure, let him reveal the sin he committed, and when it has been revealed, it shall be well
for him.’”
A 19th Century Eyewitness Account of the Buddhist Ritual in Srï Lankä
Reprinted from a paper, by J.F. Dickson, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1875:
On the 2nd of January, 1874, being the full-moon day of the month Phussa, I was permitted, by the
kindness of my friend Kaewitiyâgala Unnânsê, to be present at a chapter of monks assembled for the
recitation of the Pâtimokkha or office of the confession of monks. The chapter was held in the Sîmâ
or consecrated space in the ancient Lohapâsâda, or Brazen Palace, in the city of Anurâdhapura, and
under the shadow of the sacred Bo-tree, grown from a branch of the tree at Buddha Gayâ, under
which, as tradition relates, the prince Siddhârtha attained to supreme Buddhahood. The branch was
sent to Devânampiyatissa, King of Ceylon [Srï Lankä], by the Emperor Asoka, in the year 288 B.C.,
now upwards of two thousand years ago. It was in this remarkable spot, under the shadow of the
oldest historical tree, and in probably the oldest chapter-house in the world, that it was my good
fortune to be present at this service. The building has none of its original magnificence. The colossal
stone pillars alone remain as a memorial of the devotion of the kings and people of Ceylon to the
religion which was taught them by Mahendra [Asoka's son], the great apostle of Buddhism. In place
of the nine storeys which these pillars once supported, a few in the centre are now made to carry a
poor thatched roof no larger than that of a cotter’s hut, and hardly sufficient to protect the chapter
from the inclemencies of the weather. Still there was a simple and imposing grandeur in the scene.
At the back of some dozen or more of these gigantic pillars were stretched pieces of white calico, to
form the sides of the room: the ceiling in like manner was formed by stretching white calico above
the pillars to conceal the shabby roof, the bare ground was covered with clean mats, two lamps gave
a dim light, the huge columns, grey with age, stood out against the white calico. At the top of the long
room thus formed was hung a curtain of bright colors, and through a space left for the entrance were
visible, row after row, the pillars of the ancient palace, their broad shadows contrasting with the
silvery brightness of the tropical moon.
Accompanied by a friend, I went to the chapter-house about seven o’clock in the evening; we were
met at the door by the monks, who showed us to the places prepared for us – two cushions on the floor at
the bottom of the room, at a distance of about two fathoms from the place reserved for the monks. The
ordinances of Buddha require that all persons who are not ordained monks, free at the time from all
liability to ecclesiastical censure, shall keep at a distance of two and a half cubits from the assembled
chapter. It was on my pointing out that this was the only direction of Buddha on the subject that the
monks consented to make an exception in my favor, and to break their rule of meeting in secret conclave.
After we were seated the monks retired two and two together, each pair knelt down face to face and
made confession of their faults, one to another, in whispers. Their confessions being ended, they took their
seats on mats covered with white calico, in two rows facing each other. The senior monk, the seniority
being reckoned from the date of ordination, sat at the head of one row, the next in order at the head of the
opposite row, the third next to the senior monk, and so on right and left down the room. The senior monk
remained sitting, the others knelt and made obeisance to him, saying –
Permit me. Lord, give me absolution from all my faults committed in deed, or word, or thought.
The senior then says –
I absolve you, brother. It is good to grant me absolution. All reply – Permit me. Lord, I absolve you.
The second in order of seniority now resumes his seat, and all his juniors kneel and receive and give
absolution, saying, Permit me, etc., as above; he then takes his seat, and the others kneel to him, and so
on, till no one has a junior present, that is to say, if there are thirty monks present, the senior will receive
obeisance from the twenty-nine others together, the second from the twenty-eight, and so on down to the
twenty-ninth, who will receive obeisance from one. After all are seated, they fall together on their knees
and say –
Praise be to the Blessed one, the holy one, the author of all truth. (This is said three times.)
We believe in the Blessed one, the holy one, the author of all truth, who has fully accomplished the
eight kinds of supernatural knowledge and the fifteen holy practices, who came the good journey which
led to the Buddhahood, who knows the universe, the unrivalled, who has made subject to him all mortal
beings, whether in heaven or in earth, the Teacher of Gods and men, the blessed Buddha. Through life till
I reach Nirvâ∫a I will put my trust in Buddha.
I worship continually
The Buddhas of the ages that are past,
And the Buddhas of the ages that are yet to come,
And the Buddhas of this present age. [p. 408, JRAS.viii.671]
I have no other Refuge,
Buddha is the best Refuge;
By the truth of these words
May I conquer and win the victory.
I bow my head to the ground, and worship
The sacred dust of his holy feet.
If in aught I have sinned against Buddha,
May Buddha forgive me my sin.
The Dharma [‘Logos’, the ‘Word’] was graciously preached by Buddha, its effects are immediate, it
is unlimited by time, it is conducive to salvation, it invites all comers, it is a fitting object of contemplation,
the wise ponder it in their hearts. Through life till I reach Nirvâ∫a I will put my trust in the Dharma.
The Dharma as it has been in the ages that are past,
The Dharma that will be in the ages that are yet to come,
The Dharma as it is in this present age,
I worship continually.
I have no other Refuge,
The Dharma is my best Refuge;
By the truth of these words
May I conquer and win the victory.
I bow my head to the ground and worship
The Dharma, the noble doctrine of the Three Baskets.
If in aught I have sinned against the Dharma,
May the Dharma forgive me my sin.
Buddha’s holy Church [Sa≥gha], the congregation of righteous men that lead a godly life, that walk in
the straight way, in the way of wisdom, that walk faithfully in the four paths of holiness, the eight orders
of the elect, worthy of offerings from afar, worthy of fresh offerings, worthy of offerings of the daily
necessaries of life, entitled to receive the respectful salutation of joined hands raised in homage to the
forehead, this holy Sa≥gha produces merit which, like unto a rich field, yields its increase for the benefit
of this world of men.
Through life till I reach Nirvâ∫a I will put my trust in the Sa≥gha.
The Sa≥gha as it has been in the ages that are past,
The Sa≥gha as it will be in the ages that are yet to come,
The Sa≥gha as it is in this present age,
I worship continually.
I have no other Refuge,
The Sa≥gha is my noble Refuge.
By the truth of these words
May I worship and win the victory.
I bow my head to the ground and worship
The Sa≥gha, threefold and best.
If in aught I have sinned against the Sa≥gha,
May the Sa≥gha forgive me my sin.
Buddha and the Dharma, the Pacceka-buddhas,
And the Sa≥gha are my lords.
I am their slave.
May their virtues ever rest on my head.
The three refuges, the three symbols and equanimity,
And lastly, Nirvâ∫a,
Will I worship with bowed head, unceasingly.
Thus shall I receive the benefit of that threefold power.
May the three refuges rest on my head,
On my head may there rest the three symbols.
May peace rest on my head,
May Nirvâ∫a rest on my head.
I worship the Buddhas, the all-merciful,
The Dharma, the Pacceka-buddhas;
The Sa≥gha and the three sages
I worship with bowed head.
I worship every saying
And every word of the Great Teacher.
I worship every shrine,
My spiritual superior and my tutor.
By virtue of these feelings of reverence
May my thoughts be freed from sin. [p. 410, JRAS.viii.697]
The monks here rise from their knees and resume their seats. The senior, or some other deputed
in his stead to officiate, then takes a seat at the top between the two rows. The interrogatories are then
proceeded with as will be found explained in the following translation of the Pâtimokkha. The
interrogatories being ended, the Pâtimokkha is intoned after the manner followed to this day by the
Roman Church.
The office for nuns . . . has been omitted in the present edition, because the order of nuns is not
now recognized by the orthodox Buddhists [in Ceylon/Srï Lankä].
The text of this edition is derived from MSS. in use at the Malwattê Monastery in Kandy, and it
will be found divided into ten chapters, as follows: –
I. Interrogatories relating to the requisites for forming a chapter.
II. The Introduction.
III. The four deadly sins.
IV. The thirteen faults involving temporary separation from the priesthood.
V. The two undetermined offences.
VI. The thirty faults requiring confession and absolution, and involving forfeiture of the article in
reference to which the offence has been committed.
VII. The ninety-two faults requiring confession and absolution.
VIII. Four offences requiring confession.
IX. The seventy-five rules of conduct.
X. The seven rules for settling cases.
The whole is sometimes known as the two hundred and twenty-seven precepts.
What we have here (as we have seen with other topics) is a very detailed and developed ritual which
certainly had arisen first, over the centuries, in south Asia independently of any Christian influence.
* * * * *
Christian Rituals of Confession and Absolution
Below are brief excerpts from the article in Wikipedia which cover the topics of Confession and
Absolution within some Christian traditions:
In Roman Catholic teaching, the sacrament of Penance (commonly called confession but more recently
referred to as Reconciliation, or more fully the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is the method given by
Christ to the Church by which individual men and women may confess sins committed after baptism
and have them absolved by a priest. This sacrament is known by many names, including penance,
reconciliation and confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 1423-1442). While official
Church publications always refer to the sacrament as “Penance”, “Reconciliation” or “Penance and
Reconciliation”, many laypeople continue to use the term “confession” in reference to the sacrament.
Roman Catholics believe that priests have been given the authority by Jesus and God to exercise
the forgiveness of sins here on earth, through His authority. This is to say that the priest during the
Sacrament of Penance is a stand-in for Jesus whose authority it is to forgive sins. This power belongs
to Jesus alone; however, God can and does exercise it through the Roman Catholic priesthood.
The basic form of confession has not changed for centuries, although at one time confessions
were made publicly. In theological terms, the priest acts in persona Christi and receives from the
Church the power of jurisdiction over the penitent. The penitent must confess mortal sins in order to
restore his/her connection to God’s grace and not to merit Hell. The sinner may confess venial sins.
The intent of this sacrament is to provide healing for the soul as well as to regain the grace of God, lost
by sin. The Council of Trent (Session Fourteen, Chapter I) quoted John 20:22-23 as the primary
Scriptural proof for the doctrine concerning this sacrament, but Catholics also consider Matthew 9:2-8,
1 Corinthians 11:27, and Matthew 16:17-20 to be among the Scriptural bases for the sacrament.
Absolution in the Roman rite takes this form (with the essential words in bold):
God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to
himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the
Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
. . . . . . . . .
The penitent must make an act of contrition, a prayer acknowledging his/her faults before God. It
typically commences: O my God, I am heartily sorry. . . . The reception of sacramental absolution is
considered necessary before receiving the Eucharist if one has guilt for a mortal sin. The Roman
Catholic Church teaches that the Sacrament of Penance is the only ordinary way in which a person can
receive forgiveness for mortal sins committed after baptism. However, perfect contrition (a sorrow
motivated by love of God rather than of fear of punishment) is an extraordinary way of removing the
guilt of mortal sin before or without confession (if there is no opportunity of confessing to a priest).
Such contrition would include the intention of confessing and receiving sacramental absolution. For
the absolution to be valid, contrition must be had. Imperfect contrition (sorrow arising from a less pure
motive, such as fear of Hell), is sufficient for a valid confession, but is not, by itself, sufficient to
remove the guilt of sin.
. . . . . . . . .
It is a widely held belief of the faith that if a person guilty of mortal sin dies without either receiving
the sacrament or experiencing perfect contrition with the intention of confessing to a priest, he will
receive eternal damnation.
. . . . . . . . .
In the Eastern Churches, clergy often make their confession in the sanctuary. A bishop, priest, or
deacon will confess at the Holy Table (Altar) where the Gospel Book and blessing cross are normally
kept. He confesses in the same manner as a layman, except that when a priest hears a bishop’s
confession, the priest kneels.
It is required of all that they go to confession before receiving any of the Sacred Mysteries
(Sacraments), including not just Holy Communion, but Unction, Marriage, and the rest. Orthodox
Christians should go to confession at least four times a year; often during one of the four fasting
periods (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles’ Fast and Dormition Fast). Many pastors encourage
frequent confession and communion. In some of the monasteries on Mount Athos, the monks will
confess their sins daily.
. . . . . . . . .
Among the most famous subterranean confessions of Rome are those in the churches of S. Martino al
Monti; S. Lorenzo fuori le Mure, containing the bodies of St. Laurence and St. Stephen; S. Prassede
containing the bodies of the two sisters Saints Praxedes and Pudentiana. The most celebrated
confession is that of St. Peter. Over the tomb of the Apostle Pope St. Anacletus built a memoria, which
Constantine when building his basilica replaced with the Confession of St. Peter. Behind the brass
statues of Sts. Peter and Paul is the niche over the grated floor which covers the tomb. In this niche is
the gold coffer, the work of Benvenuto Cellini, which contains the palliums, generally to be sent to
Metropolitan archbishops. All through the Middle Ages the palliums after being blessed were let down
through the grating on to the tomb of the Apostle, where they remained for a whole night (Phillips,
Kirchenrecht, V, 624, n. 61). During the restoration of the present basilica in 1594 the floor gave way,
revealing the tomb of St. Peter and on it the golden cross weighing 150 pounds placed there by
Emperor Constantine I, and inscribed with his own and his mother St. Helen’s names.
* * * * *
8. Buddhist Councils / Christian Councils
A. Four Early Buddhist Councils*
The First Council [c. 483 BCE]
According to Päli tradition recorded in canonical and non-canonical literature, three Sa≥gïtis (recitals)
or Councils were held to draw up the canonical texts and the creed in their pure form. The First
Council was held at Räjag®ha immediately after the parinirvä∫a of the Buddha. It is accepted by critical
scholarship that the First Council settled the Dharma and the Vinaya and there is no ground for the
view that the Abhidharma formed part of the canon adopted at the First Council. It is held that Mahä-
Käåyapa presided over the assembly in which Upäli and Änanda took important parts. [T]he Council
was necessitated by the pious determination of the disciples of the Lord to preserve the purity of his
teaching. . . .
It is stated in the Päli Chronicle that the Saptapar∫i Cave [venue of the First Council] was situated
on the side of Mount Bëbhara and that a pandal was erected at the instance of King Ajätashatru outside
of this cave. . . . It was evidently selected because accommodation was plentiful and there was no
difficulty about supplies. It is also said in the Dulva that Räjag®ha was selected because King
Ajätashatru was a firm believer in the Buddhist faith and that he would, therefore, make ample
provision for food and lodging. . . .
The meeting actually took place in the second month of the rainy season. . . . Mahä-Käåyapa took
the initiative and chose four hundred and ninety-nine bhikkhus to form the Council. It is stated in the
Çullavagga and confirmed in the Dïpavaμåa that the number of monks was chosen in pursuance of a
vote by the general congregation of monks assembled on the occasion and at the place of the
parinirvä∫a of the Master. There is general agreement that the number of the monks selected was five
hundred. There was, however, some protest regarding the omission of Änanda from the number
chosen. . . .
Änanda was eventually accepted by Mahä-Käåyapa as a result of the motion on the part of the
monks. The procedure followed regarding Änanda has, however, given rise to a controversy: It will
be observed that Änanda was brought to trial in the course of the proceedings. The Dulva, however,
places the trial before the meeting of the Council.
Charges against Änanda
(1) He could not formulate the lesser and minor precepts, as he had been overwhelmed with grief
at the imminent death of the Master.
(2) He had to tread upon the garment of the Master while sewing it, as there was no one to help
(3) He permitted women to salute first the body of the Master, because he did not want to detain
them. He also did this for their edification.
(4) He was under the influence of the evil one when he forgot to request the Master to enable him
to continue his study for a kalpa.
(5) He had to plead for the admission of women into the Order out of consideration for Mahä-
Prajäpatï Gautamï, who nursed the Master in his infancy. . . .
Briefly, the proceedings of the First Council achieved four results: (1) the settlement of the Vinaya
under the leadership of Upäli, (2) the settlement of the texts of the Dharma under the leadership of
Änanda, (3) the trial of Änanda, and (4) the punishment of Channa [the erstwhile charioteer of Prince
*Excerpted from Chapter IV, written by B. Jinananda, in 2500 Years of Buddhism, general editor,
P.V. Bapat (Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1956),
pp. 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39-40.
The Second Council
The Second Council was held at Vaiåälï (Päli Vësälï) a century after the passing of the Master. The
time recorded should be taken as a round number. It is recorded in the Çullavagga that the monks of
the Vajji country were in the habit of practising the Ten Points (dasa vatthuni) which were regarded as
unorthodox by Yasa, the son of Käka∫∂aka. . . . Seven hundred monks met in a Council, but there
was much rambling talk and fruitless discussion. In order to avoid further waste of time and irrelevant
discussion, the matter was referred to a committee consisting of four monks from the East and four
from the West. Bhikkhu Ajita was appointed the seat-regulator [moderator]. The Venerable Sabbakämi
was elected president. . . . The unanimous verdict of the [committee and the] assembly declared the
conduct of the Vajjian monks to be unlawful.
The Third Council [c. 247 BCE]
The Third Council was held at Pä†aliputra under the ægis of the celebrated Buddhist monarch,
Priyadaråi Asoka. 
Asoka was won over to the Buddhist faith within a few years of his accession to
the throne. The occasion for the Third Council was supplied by the need to establish the purity of the
Canon which had been imperilled by the rise of different sects and their rival claims, teachings and
practices. According to Kern, the Third Council was not a general Council but a party meeting of the
Sthaviravädins or Vibhajjavädins. Tissa Mögaliputta, who is reputed to have converted the Emperor to
the Buddhist faith, was pained to observe the corrupt practices that had crept into the Brotherhood and
the heretical doctrines preached by sectarians of various description. . . . The most significant outcome
of the Council was that he restored the true faith and propounded the Abhidharma treatise, the Kathävasthu,
during the session of the Council. . . .
An intervening Wikipedia note on two rival claimants to the title of ‘Fourth Buddhist Council’:
“By the time of the Fourth Buddhist councils, Buddhism had long since splintered into different
schools. The Thëraväda had a Fourth Buddhist Council in the last century BCE in Tämbapa∫∫i, i.e. in Årï
La≥kä, under the patronage of King Va††agäma∫i. It is said to have been devoted to committing the entire
Päli Canon to writing, which had previously been preserved [only] by memory.
“Another Fourth Buddhist Council [this one in India] was held in the Sarvästiväda tradition, said
to have been convened by the Kushän emperor Kanishka, around 100 CE at Jalandhär or in Kashmir. It is
said that Kanishka gathered five hundred Bhikkhus in Kashmir, headed by Vasumitra, to systematize the
Sarvästivädin Abhidharma texts, which were translated from earlier Prakrit vernacular languages (such as
Gandhärï in Kharö߆hï script) into the classical language of Sanskrit. . . . Although the Sarvästiväda is no
longer extant as an independent school, its traditions were inherited by the Mahäyäna tradition.”
The Fourth Council (in India)
The Fourth Council was held under the auspices of Kanishka, who was a powerful Kushän king of the
Åaka or Turushka race. He held sway over a wide tract of country including Käbul, Gandhära, Sindh,
North-West India, Kashmir and part of Madhyadësha. He was esteemed as highly by the Northern
Buddhists as was Asoka. From numismatic evidence it appears that originally he was an adherent of
some form of Iranian religion and was later converted to the Buddhist faith. Though we have no
indisputable evidence of the date of his conversion, it is almost certain that the date of the Council held
under his inspiration and patronage was about 100 CE [or, more likely, c. 140 CE (ML)]. . . . The
Southern Buddhists do not recognize this Council and there is no reference to it in the Chronicles of
Ceylon [Srï Lankä]. According to a Tibetan record, one of the results of the Council was the settling of
the dissensions in the Brotherhood. [Kanishka] was anxious to put an end to the dissensions in the
Church. The King built a monastery for the accommodation of 500 monks who were called upon to
write commentaries on the Pi†akas. . . . And it appears that the doctrines which enlisted the greatest
common measure of agreement were the most strongly stressed.
B. Early Christian Councils†
The period of Christianity from the First Council of Nicæa (325 Common Era) to the Second Council of
Nicæa (787 CE) is called the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
* 325 CE (1) First Council of Nicæa; convened by the Emperor Constantine; repudiated Arianism and
Quartodecimanism, adopted the original Nicene Creed. This and all subsequent councils are not
recognized by non-trinitarian churches – e.g. Arians, Unitarians, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
* 381 CE (2) First Council of Constantinople; convened by Theodosius-I, then emperor of the East and a
recent convert, to confirm the victory over Arianism; revised the Nicene Creed into present form
used in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches and prohibited any further alteration of the
Creed without the assent of an Ecumenical Council.
* 431 CE (3) First Council of Ephesus; repudiated Nestorianism (which argued that Christ had completely
separate human and divine natures), and proclaimed the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos, “God-bearer”
or more commonly “Mother of God”. This and all following councils are not recognized by the
Assyrian Church of the East.
* Each of the two following councils has been claimed by its supporters to be the 4th Ecumenical
Council (the supporters of each council did not recognize the other council [Buddhist echo?]):
* 449 CE (4) Second Council of Ephesus; rejected Nestorianism. Pope Dioscorus found Eutyches to
be Orthodox. Dioscorus, however, declared anathema to Eutyches shortly after the Council of
Chalcedon. This council is not recognized by the Chalcedonians (Catholics and Byzantine Orthodox)
* 451 CE (4) Council of Chalcedon; repudiated the Eutychian doctrine of monophysitism, described
and delineated the two natures of Christ, human and divine; adopted the Chalcedonian Creed. A little
known statement of the Council was Canon #15 (1): No woman under 40 years of age is to be
ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny. This appears to have been the last time in
church history [up to the modern era] that the ordination of women was mentioned as a routine
practice in any form, and certainly establishes that women did hold, at one time, important church
offices. For those who accept it, it is the Fourth Ecumenical Council (calling the previous council
[of 449 CE], which was rejected by this council, the “Robber Synod”). This and all following
councils are not recognized by the Oriental Orthodox Communion. This council was not accepted by
Catholics till the Second Council of Lyon of 1274.
* 553 CE (5) Second Council of Constantinople; convened by Byzantine emperor Justinian-I; reaffirmed
decisions and doctrines explicated by previous Councils, condemned new Arian, Nestorian, and
Monophysite writings, and decreed the Theopaschite Formula.
* 680-81 (6) Third Council of Constantinople; convoked by Byzantine Emperor Constantine-IV;
repudiated Monothelitism, affirmed that Christ had both human and divine wills.
* 787 CE (7) Second Council of Nicæa; this was the last of the seven church councils commonly accepted
as authoritative by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Council voted
to end the period of iconoclasm and allow the veneration but not the worship of icons. This Council
is rejected by some Protestant denominations, who instead prefer the Council of Hieria (754 CE),
which had also described itself as the “Seventh Ecumenical Council” and had condemned the
veneration of icons.
†Excerpted from the Wikipedia article on the term, ‘Ecumenical council’. It is noted in this article that
the New Testament’s

Acts of the Apostles records the Council of Jerusalem, which addressed the tension between maintaining
Jewish practices in the early Christian community with Gentile converts. Although its decisions are accepted
by all Christians[1] and later definitions of an ecumenical council appear to conform to this sole biblical
Council, no Christian church includes it when numbering the ecumenical councils.
[1]Karl Josef von Hefele’s commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: “We further see that, at the
time of the Synod of Gangra [mid-4th century, in Turkey], the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to
blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their
Euchologies [books of instructions for various rituals] still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator
on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly
blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however,
thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he
states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens [gentiles] and Jews in the one
ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command
concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late
as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third, [in] 731, forbade the eating of blood or things strangled, under
threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even
though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the
decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been
obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and
may be repealed by disuse, like other laws.”
9. Buddhism Gives Birth to the Printing of Scriptures
Emperor Asoka spread the gospel of Buddhism (the Dharma) all over India and Afghanistan, and abroad to
the Near East, and Egypt. This evangelism was accomplished by special officers of his administration,
within his empire, and by Buddhist missionary monks, sent abroad. Asoka also ordered his efforts to
propagate the Dharma of Buddhism to be recorded in a series of edicts, engraved in stone, all over his
empire, from North to South, in what is present day India and Pakistan, and Westward to what is present
day Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, some of these edicts were recorded in Greek and Aramaic. These records
remain today as an invaluable historical record of the spread of Buddhism in the mid-third century, B.C.
These edicts of Asoka were engraved centuries earlier than the 2nd century A.D. inscriptions of the
Chinese emperor, as mentioned in the eArticle below.
A Short History of Printing
[From < historyid="ab78"> as retrieved on Nov. 13, 2006]
Engraved texts: 2nd - 8th century AD
The emperor of China commands, in AD 175, that the six main classics of Confucianism be
carved in stone. His purpose is to preserve them for posterity in what is held to be authentic version of
the text. But his enterprise has an unexpected result.
Confucian scholars are eager to own these important texts. Now, instead of having them expensively
written out, they can make their own copies. Simply by laying sheets of paper on the engraved
slabs and rubbing all over with charcoal or graphite, they can take away a text in white letters on a
black ground – a technique more familiar in recent centuries in the form of brass-rubbing.
Subsequent emperors engrave other texts, until quite an extensive white-on-black library can be
acquired. It is a natural next step to carve the letters in a raised form (and in mirror writing) and then to
apply ink to the surface of the letters. When this ink is transferred to paper, the letters appear in black
(or in a colour) against the white of the paper – much more pleasant to the eye than white on black.
This process is printing. But it is the Buddhists, rather than the Confucians, who make the breakthrough.
Printed Buddhist texts in Korea and Japan: AD 750-768
The invention of printing is a striking achievement of Buddhists in east Asia. Korea takes the lead.
The world’s earliest known printed document is a sütra printed on a single sheet of paper in Korea in
AD 750.
This is closely followed in Japan by a bold experiment in mass circulation (precisely the area in
which printed material has the advantage over manuscript). In AD 768, in devoutly Buddhist Nara, the
empress commissions a huge edition of a lucky charm or prayer. It is said that the project takes six
years to complete and that the number of copies printed, for distribution to pilgrims, is a million. Many
have survived.
The first printed book: AD 868
The earliest known printed book is Chinese, from the end of the T’ang dynasty. Discovered in a
cave at Dunhuang in 1899, it is a precisely dated document which brings the circumstances of its
creation vividly to life.
It is a scroll, 16 feet long and a foot high, formed of sheets of paper glued together at their edges.
The text is that of the Diamond Sütra, and the first sheet in the scroll has an added distinction. It is the
world’s first printed illustration, depicting an enthroned Buddha surrounded by holy attendants. In a
tradition later familiar in religious art of the west, a small figure kneels and prays in the foreground. He
is presumably the donor who has paid for this holy book.
The name of the donor, Wang Chieh, is revealed in another device which later becomes traditional
in early printed books in the west. The details of publication are given in a colophon (Greek for
‘finishing stroke’) at the end of the text. This reveals that the scroll is a work of Buddhist piety,
combined with the filial obligations of good Confucian ideals: ‘Printed on 11 May 868 by Wang
Chieh, for free general distribution, in order in deep reverence to perpetuate the memory of his
The printing of Wang Chieh’s scroll is of a high standard, so it must have had many predecessors.
But the lucky accident of the cave at Dunhuang has given his parents a memorial more lasting than he
could have imagined possible.
Cutting round the characters: 9th - 11th century
The separate sheets making up the Diamond Sütra are what would now be called woodcuts. They
are printed from pieces of wood in which the white areas on the page have been carefully cut away,
until the remaining parts of the flat surface represent (in reverse) the shapes to be printed, regardless of
whether they are to be text or image. Printing is achieved by covering the flat surface with ink, placing
a piece of paper on it and rubbing the back of the paper.
Chinese publishing: 10th - 11th century
Printing from wood blocks, as in the Diamond Sütra, is a laborious process. Yet the Chinese
printers work wonders. In the 10th and 11th centuries all the Confucian classics are published for the
use of scholar officials, together with huge numbers of Buddhist and Daoist works (amounting to
around 5000 scrolls of each) and the complete Standard Histories since the time of Sima Qian.
The carving of so many characters in reverse on wood blocks is an enormous investment of
labour, but the task is unavoidable until the introduction of movable type. This innovation, once again,
seems to have been pioneered in China but achieved in Korea.
Movable type: from the 11th century
Movable type (separate ready-made characters or letters which can be arranged in the correct order
for a particular text and then reused) is a necessary step before printing can become an efficient
medium for disseminating information.
The concept is experimented with in China as early as the 11th century. But two considerations
make the experiment unpractical. One is that the Chinese script has so many characters that typecasting
and type-setting become too complex. The other is that the Chinese printers cast their characters
in clay and then fire them as pottery, a substance too fragile for the purpose.
Type foundry in Korea: c. 1380
In the late 14th century, several decades before the earliest printing in Europe, the Koreans
establish a foundry to cast movable type in bronze. Unlike earlier Chinese experiments with pottery,
bronze is sufficiently strong for repeated printing, dismantling and resetting for a new text.
The Koreans at this time are using the Chinese script, so they have the problem of an unwieldy
number of characters. They solve this in 1443 by inventing their own national alphabet, known as
han’gul. By one of the strange coincidences of history this is precisely the decade in which Gutenberg
is experimenting with movable type far away in Europe, which has enjoyed the advantage of an
alphabet for more than 2000 years.


  1. Lots of good info! You mentioned that Jesus telling Peter he will get the keys to heaven has no parallel in Buddhism but this is not so; Many many Mahayana texts promise the reader that they will, as regular persons, do wonders. "Even greater things..."

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