India and Western Religions Thought – Christendom – Radhakrishnan


Chapter V

India and Western Religions Thought

Christendom – I


ALEXANDER’S invasion of India in 327 b.c. starts a closer interchange of thought between India and the West. Buddhism must have been prevalent in India for over a century before Alexander’s time, and he made an effort to acquaint himself with Hindu and Buddhist thought. He sent a Greek officer named Onesicritus, a disciple of Diogenes the cynic philosopher, 1 to Taxila, the famous seat of learning, and the latter succeeded in getting an ascetic called Kalanos to join Alexander’s entourage. In the feast at Susa which he celebrated on his return from India his great dream of the marriage of Europe and Asia took practical shape. He had already married Roxana, a princess from Bactria, and now he took as a second consort Statira, the daughter of Darius. Nearly a hundred of his superior officers and ten thousand of his humbler followers followed the emperor’s example and took Asiatic brides.

Pyrrho is said to have taken part in Alexander’s expedition to India and acquired a knowledge of Indian thought. In the New Academy we find a blend of the two schools of Plato and Pyrrho and a leaning to negative conclusions. The highest condition of the soul is declared to be imperturbability. The joyousness of the Greek gives place to independence of external circumstances. The religion of the Epicureans, the contemplation of the nature of the gods with a mind at rest, that of the Stoics, who identified God with the living universe, with its reason, and looked upon man as having in him a particle of the divine reason, are in the same line of development. They are both parts of the new world which Alexander had made, produced by the feeling that a man was no longer merely a part of his city-State. Man, with Alexander, ceases to be a fraction of the polis or the city-State. He is an individual bound by relations to the other individuals of the world. Zeus and Athena had been good protectors of the citizens living side by side in a small area, but when this little world grew up into the Oikoumene, the inhabited world as known, they could not serve. It was one of the great moments of history when Alexander, at the famous banquet, prayed for a union of hearts (homonoia) and a joint commonwealth of Macedonians and Persians.


1 Strabo, xv, c. 715. 154


He envisaged a brotherhood of man in which there should be neither Greek nor barbarian, though his outlook was more political than spiritual. 1 Zeno responded with alacrity to the appeal of Alexander and in his Republic set forth the vision of a world which should no longer be separate States but one great city under one divine law, where all were citizens and members one of another, bound together not by human laws but by their own voluntary adhesion or by love, as he called it. 2 This great hope has never quite left us, though we seem to be as far away from it as in the third century b.c. The Stoic universe is one great city ruled by one supreme power envisaged under many aspects and names, Nature, Law, Destiny, Providence, Zeus. Everything was a derivative of God and so was God. Human minds were sparks of the divine fire, though human body was clay. Wealth and poverty, sickness and health are matters of indifference. The wise man would not worry about such things but attend to the things of the soul. In the realm of spirit men could be equal, whatever their earthly status may be. Both the Stoics and the Epicureans laid full stress on philosophy as a way of life and desired the avoid¬ ance of passions and emotions, which bring the unhappiness of unsatisfied desire. Already in the third century b.c. Cleanthes, who succeeded Zeno, identified the traditional deity Zeus with the world god of Stoicism. 3 The anthropomorphic tendency diminishes and Jupiter becomes, not one ‘Who hurls the thunderbolts with his own hands’, but ‘the ruler and guardian of the universe, the mind and spirit of the world’ (Seneca). 1 


1 See further, pp. 386-7. 2 Cf. Marcus Aurelius (iv. 23): ‘A famous one says Dear City of Cecrops and wilt not thou say Dear City of Zeus ?’

Most glorious of immortals, Zeus all powerful,

Author of Nature, named by many names, all hail.

Thy law rules all; and the voice of the world may cry to thee

For from thee we are born, and alone of living things

That move on earth are we created in God’s image.

The hymn closes with an apostrophe to omnipresent law’. (The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Traiislation (1938), pp. 533 and 535.)


The highest life of man is to live in accordance with the reason which is implanted in him as a part and pattern of the divine reason of the universe. The soul of the individual is not immortal, for it must perish at the general conflagration which is to destroy this sensible world. The fiery element in it will be taken over into the great central fire. The souls retain their individuality until the cycle of time is completed. Marcus Aurelius says: ‘You exist as a part of the whole, you will vanish into that which gave you birth or rather you will be taken up by a change into its generative reason.’ The Stoics did not reject the gods of the people; they were treated as parts of the world order, ‘veils mercifully granted to the common man to spare his eyes the too dazzling nakedness of truth’. 2 We can know God by the practice of introversion. The works of Alexander’s companions, Diognetus, Aristobulus, Nearchus, and others, have not come down to us.

Alexander left behind him Greek colonists and soldiers, 3 and in the north-west frontiers for some centuries Greek or semi-Greek principalities continued. In the political unsettlement after Alexander’s invasion Chandragupta came to power, overthrew the Macedonian supremacy, and gradually conquered the whole of Hindustan. The Greek prince Seleucus Nikator (third century b.c.) gave one of his daughters in marriage to the Indian sovereign and sent an ambassador to his court at Pataliputra (Patna), Megasthenes, who gives the West an interesting account of the social and cultural conditions of India during his time. ‘In many points’, he says, ‘their teaching agrees with that of the Greeks.’ 3 Megasthenes was succeeded by Daimachus of Plataea, who went on a series of missions from Antiochus I to Bindusara, the son of Chandragupta. Pliny tells us of a certain Dionysius who was sent to India from Alexandria by Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 b.c .). 4 


1 Cyril Bailey, Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome (1932), p. 233.

2 Tarn, Hellenistic Civilization , 2nd ed. (1930), pp. 304-5. 3 Cambridge History of India, vol. i (1922), pp. 419-20. 4 Nat. Hist. vi. 21. 156


Asoka, who ascended the throne of Magadha in 270 b.c., held a Council at Pataliputra, when it was resolved to send missionaries to proclaim the new teaching throughout the world. In accor¬ dance with this decision Asoka sent Buddhistic missions to the sovereigns of the West, Antiochus Theos of Syria, Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt, Antigonos Gonatas of Macedonia, Magas of Cyrene, and Alexander of Epirus. 1 From Asoka’s statements it may be inferred that his missions were favourably received in these five countries. Between 190 and 180 b.c. Demetrius extended the Bactrian Kingdom into India and conquered Sind and Kathiawar. The Greeks who settled in India gradually became Indianized. Of the monuments which survive of the Indo-Greek dynasties is a pillar discovered at Besnagar in the extreme south of the Gwalior State (140 b.c.). The inscription on it in Brahmi characters says: ‘This garuda column of Vasudeva [Visnu] was erected here by Heliodorus, son of Dion, a wor¬ shipper of Visnu and an inhabitant of Taxila, who came as a Greek ambassador from the great King Antialcidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the saviour, then reigning pros¬ perously in the fourteenth year of his kingship.’ 2 By the time of these inscriptions the Greeks born in India became com¬ pletely Indianized. The greatest of the Indo-Greek kings was Menander, who was converted to Buddhism by the Buddhist teacher Nagasena (180-160 b.c.). His conversion is recorded in the famous work Milindapanha . 3 About the year 160 b.c. the Scythians, driven from their ancestral homes in central Asia, swept down over the Jaxartes and the Oxus, subdued Kabul and the Panjab, and extended their conquests to and established themselves in the valley of the Ganges. With the conversion of one of their most powerful monarchs, Kaniska (first century a.d.), Buddhism entered on a second period of glory and enterprise. Alexander Poly-history of Asia Minor, according to Cyril of Alexandria, knew a good deal about Buddhism. Clement of Alexandria quotes the work of Polyhistor. 4 According to the Mahdvamsa , at the foundation of the great tope by the king Dutthagamini in the year 157 b.c. ‘the senior priest of Yona from the vicinity of Alasadda [Alexandria] the capital of the Yona country attended accompanied by thirty thousand priests’.


1 Thirteenth Rock Edict.

2 See further, p. 386.

3 Questions of Milinda , vol. xxv, Sacred Books of the East. See, however, Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India (1938), pp. 268-9. See further p. 386. 4 Stromata , iii. 7. He mentions an Indian order which includes both men and women, who lived in celibacy, devoted themselves to truth, and worshipped pyramids (stupa) which contained the bones of their god. The mass of people worshipped Herakles and Pan. The Brahmins abstained from animal food and wine.


The number is, of course, an exaggeration. Strabo states on the authority of Nicolaus of Damascus that an Indian embassy including a thinker who burnt himself to death at Athens in 20 b.c. was sent to Augustus by the Indian Poros. 1


1 Invasion of India by Alexander the Great, by M‘Crindle (1893), p. 389; Strabo, xv. 1. 73; see also Dion Cass. liv. 9. Plutarch refers to the self-immolation in Vit. Alex . 69. According to Plutarch, ‘the Tomb of the Indian’ is one of the sights shown to strangers at Athens. Lightfoot considers that this hero was alluded to by Paul in 1 Corinthians xiii. 3: ‘If I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing’ (St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (1875), p. 156 n.). Cassius Dio (liv. 9. 10) comments on this self-immolation.


During all this period India and the West had extensive trade relations. When Alexander chose in Egypt the site for a city which was destined to perpetuate his name, the preparation for the blending of Eastern and Western cultures started. For a thousand years Alexandria continued to be a centre of intellectual and commercial activity because it was the meeting-place of Jews, Syrians, and Greeks. Milindapanha mentions it as one of the places to which the Indians regularly resorted.


The facts of religious origin and growth are most important though most uncertain, and one’s views can be stated only with great reserve. Most probably Indian religious ideas and legends were well known in the circles in which the accounts of the Gospels originated. The Jewish religion can only be properly understood if its vast background is taken into account, if the non-Semitic influences on Palestine and Syria are considered. Indian or Indo-Iranian groups who worshipped the Vedic deities, Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and others, were found in and to the north of Syria in the middle of the second millennium b.c. These gods of the Rg Veda were known to the Hurrians of Mittani and the Hit- tites of Anatolia. Professor S. A. Cook writes :

‘In what may roughly be called the “Mosaic” age, viz, that illustrated by the Amarna letters and the “Hittite” tablets from Boghaz-Keui, Palestine was exposed to Iranian (Old Persian) or Indo-European influence. This was centuries before the days when it was part of the Persian Empire. … In the Mosaic Age, Varuna, the remarkable ethical God of ancient India, was known to North Syria, and round about the time of the second Isaiah, the Zoroastrian Ahura-Mazda, doubtless known to the Israelites, was a deity even more spiritual.’ 1

Any interpretation of the Jewish religion which ignores the total environment in which it grew up would be dangerously narrow. Two centuries before the Christian era Buddhism closed in on Palestine. 2 The Essenes, the Mandeans, 3 and the Nazarene sects are filled with its spirit. Philo, writing somewhere about a.d. 20 , and Josephus fifty years later relate that the Essenes, though Jews by birth, abjured marriage and practised a form of communism in the matter of worldly goods. They abstained from temple worship, as they objected to animal sacrifices. They were strict vegetarians and they drank no wine. 4 They refrained from trade, owned no slaves, and, according to Philo, there were not among them any makers of warlike weapons. While they shared in common with other Jews respect for Moses and the Mosaic Law, they adopted the worship of the Sun, probably as a symbol of the unseen power who gives light and life.


1 The Truth of the Bible (1938), p. 24.

2 Buddhism and Christianity in later years happen to be confused with each other. Manichaeism is a syncretism of Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Christian views. Mohammad mixes up the legends of Christ and Buddha. The Buddhist-Christian romance of Baarlam and Joasaph spread from the West from the sixth century onwards until at last in the sixteenth century Buddha was canonized as a Catholic saint. The name Joasaph is derived from Bodhi- sattva, the technical name for one destined to attain the dignity of a Buddha. See Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, Baralam and Tewasef\ being the Ethiopian version of a Christianised Rescension of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva , 1923. In the eighth century there was an imperial edict in China forbidding the mixture of the two religions. See Takakusu, I-Tsing (1896), p. 224.

3 The Mandeans flourished in Maisan, which was the gate of entry for Indian trade and commerce with Mesopotamia. Indian tribes colonized Maisan, whose port had an Indian temple. Mandean gnosis is full of Indian ideas.

4 ‘In the asceticism of the Essene we seem to see the germ of that Gnostic dualism which regards matter as the principle, or at least the abode of evil’ (Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (1875), p. 87).


They did not believe in the resurrection of the body, but held the view that the soul, now confined in the flesh as in a prison-house, would attain true freedom and immortality when disengaged from these fetters. They ac¬ cepted the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul. They also believed in intermediate beings between God and the world, in angels, and were interested in magical arts and occult sciences. They had their mysteries, which they looked upon as the exclusive possession of the privileged few. They held that by mental discipline and concentration we can heal the fissure in our minds. Admission into the sect was both long and difficult, with its careful rites of initiation and solemn oaths by which the members were bound to one another. The Essenes were famous for their powers of endurance, simple piety, and brotherly love. 1

John the Baptist was an Essene. His time of preparation was spent in the wilderness near the Dead Sea. He preached the Essene tenets of righteousness towards God and mercy towards fellow men. His insistence on baptism was in accord with the practice of the Essenes. 


1 Josephus suggests that the Essenes ‘practise the mode of life which among the Greeks was introduced by Pythagoras’ {Ant. xv. 10. 4). Lightfoot criticizes this view, which is supported by Zeller, and holds that the foreign element of Essenism is to be sought in the East, to which also Pythagoreanism may have been indebted. ‘The fact that in the legendary accounts, Pytha¬ goras is represented as taking lessons from the Chaldeans, Persians, Brahmins and others may be taken as an evidence that their own philosophy at all events was partially derived from Eastern sources’ {St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (1875), p. 148). He finds broad resemblances between Essenism and the religion of Zoroaster in the matter of dualism, Sun-worship, angelolatry, magic, and striving after purity. Hilgenfeld and Renan suggest Buddhist influence. ‘The doctrines of the remoter East had found a welcome reception with the Essene’ (Milman, The History of Christianity (1867), vol. ii, p. 41).

According to Dr. Moffatt, ‘Buddhistic tendencies helped to shape some of the Essenic characteristics’ {Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , vol. v, p. 401). It is claimed that the Book of Enoch states the Essene views. We have in it a complete cosmogony with references to the mundane egg, angels and their connexion with heavenly bodies, the rebellion of Satan and his host against God, and the fall of the watchers set over the earth.


Jesus was influenced greatly by the tenets of the Essenes. Before His appearance in Galilee Jesus worked as a disciple of John, and He practised baptism. He looked upon John as His master and forerunner, as the greatest among those born of women. Both preached salvation by the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ emphasis on non-resistance to evil may be due to the Essenes.

The Book of Enoch is a remarkable Hebrew work, written several years before the Christian era, full of non-Jewish speculations. 1 Some of the central features of Jesus’ consciousness and teaching may be traced to it. Enoch, the saint of antiquity mentioned in Genesis, 2 preaches the coming world judgement, and proclaims ‘the Son of Man’ who was to appear in order to rule with the righteous as their head in the time of the new age. The four titles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament—the Christ, 3 the Righteous One, 4 the Elect One, 5 and the Son of Man 6 —are all to be found in the Book of Enoch. Enoch speaks with great conviction and authority: ‘Up to the present time there has never been bestowed by the Lord of Spirits such wisdom as I with my insight have received according to the good pleasure of the Lord of Spirits.’ He exalts the conception of the Son of Man ‘who has righteousness, with whom righteousness dwells and who reveals all the treasures of what is hidden’. Professor Gtto is emphatic that this idea of a Son of God who was also a Son of Man is ‘certainly not from Israel. . . . The figure of a being who had to do with the world, and who was subordinate to the primary, ineffable, remote, and aboriginal deity is of high antiquity among the Aryans. … It may be regarded as indubitable that the phrase “this Son of Man” points back in some way to influences of the Aryan East.’ 7 The Son. of Man is also ‘the Elect One in whom dwells the spirit of those who have fallen asleep in righteousness’. 1


1 Dr. Charles thinks that the book was composed about 80 b.c. ‘It was completed at the latest about the middle of the last century before Christ’ (R. Otto, The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man (1938), p. 177). Otto finds in it ‘speculations (which clearly betray their origin in an Iranian and Chaldean source) about the world and the angels and visions of the supernatural world and its mysteries’ (p. 176). In the subsequent pages this indebtedness is worked out. 

2. v. 23.

3. xlviii. 10.

4 xxxviii.

5. xl. 5.

6. xlviii.

7. Otto, op. cit., p. 187.


When they rise up into all eternity, they will be clothed with the garment of glory; ‘your garments will not grow old and your glory will not pass away’. 2 The metaphor of garments recurs in Paul’s eschatology and reminds us of the radiant body made of the element of the pure {suddhasattva ) of the Hindu mythology. ‘The Elect One will sit upon my Throne.’ 3 He is the anointed one. 4 The Messianic idea of the Jews asserts itself here. The political fortunes of Israel and Jerusalem and the return of the scattered tribes are mixed up with the tran¬ scendent world catastrophe.

Enoch himself is proclaimed the Son of Man. ‘He was taken up on chariots of the Spirit’, 5 where he sees ‘the patriarchs and the righteous, who have dwelt in that place from time immemorial’. 6 ‘Thereafter my spirit was hidden and it ascended into heaven’, where he sees angels clothed with the garments of glory. 7 He himself is transformed into an angel: ‘And the Lord said unto Michael: Take Enoch and remove his earthly garments and anoint him with good oil and clothe him in glorious garments. I looked upon myself and I was like one of the glorious ones.’ Michael leads Enoch by the hand and shows him ‘all secrets of mercy and righteousness’. Thereupon ‘the spirit transported Enoch to the heaven of heavens’, 8 where he saw ‘the Aged One [God Himself]. His head was white and pure as wool and his raiment indescribable. . . . When I fell upon my face . . . my whole body melted away, my spirit was transformed. He came to me and greeted me with his voice You are the Son of Man’ The predicates which are attributed to Enoch’s God are those which are found in the Upanisads. 1 The Book of Enoch suggests that out of the illimitable and incomprehensible proceed the limited and comprehensible with its series of aeons, and this account of creation is gnostic in spirit.


1 ‘Few could think that anything of the kind could enter the mind of an Israelite. But on Aryan soil the conception that the soul after death enters into its istadevata goes far back into Vedic times’ (p. 189).

2 Ixii. 14.

3 li. 3. Jesus says the same of Himself. See Luke xxii. 29.

4 xlv. 3, 4.

5 lxx. 2 ff.

6 Cf. the Hindu conception of the pitrloka or the world of manes.

7 ‘Their garments were white and their clothing and countenance bright as snow.’ Cf. with this the Hindu conception of devaloka.

8 R. Otto asks: ‘Whence came these ideas, of which neither the prophets nor the Old Testament as a whole had the slightest notion?’ and answers: ‘Far off in the Indo-Aryan East, we find the clearest analogy to the process here described of spiritual ascent, of unclothing and reclothing’ (pp. 204-5). After a short statement of the Hindu view, he says: ‘These materials are found in India in more primitive form not merely at a late period but in the remote pre-Christian Kausltaki Upanisad That such ancient Aryan conceptions had analogues in Iran is not to be doubted. That they shine through in our Book of Enoch is just as certain’ (p. 206).


What is claimed by Jesus later may be compared with these words: ‘All who shall walk in thy ways, thou whom righteousness never forsakes, their dwelling and inheritance will be with thee, and they will never be separated from thee unto all eternity.’ We are called upon to walk in His ways, confess Him, and become personal followers of Him, and if we succeed each one of us can be the Son of Man; and now comes the vital conclusion in which God proclaims, ‘For I and my son will be united with them for ever in the ways of truth.’ 2 The Son of Man is the Son of God. He is the saviour: ‘He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves, and not fall. And he shall be the light of the Gentiles, and the hope of those that are troubled of heart.’ 3 He is pre-existent from the beginning, 4 He pos¬ sesses universal dominion, 5 and all judgement is committed to Him. 6 When Jesus manifests His spiritual insight by His suffering unto death He inherits the Kingdom. He is the Son of Man and the Son of God. It is the ancient Hindu tradition which Enoch illustrates and Jesus continues.

God together with His Son enters into personal fellowship with those who walk in the ways of truth and righteousness. The souls in the afterworld are separated into three divisions. 7 The first is made for the spirits of the righteous, the second ‘for sinners when they die and are buried in the earth and judgment has not been executed upon them in their lifetime’, and the last ‘for the spirits of those who . . . were slain in the days of the sinners. Nor shall they be raised from thence.’ The destiny of each soul is defined according to its character on earth. Though immortality is usually reserved for the righteous Jews only, on occasions it is extended to all men. This doctrine and that of rewards and punishments after death influenced considerably the New Testament writers.


1 ‘The atmosphere of the predicates which describe Enoch’s primitive deity is quite Indian’ (R. Otto, The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man 093 8 )yP- 39 8 )-

2 cv. 2.

3 xlviii.

4; R. H. Charles (1917), p. 66.

4 xlviii. 2. ‘The Son of Man was previously hidden and the Most High kept him before his power’ (lxii. 6). Perhaps he was pre-existent in the sense that he was foreseen and chosen.

5 lxjh 6.

6 lxix. 27.

7 xx ip 9-13. 7


Christ’s Messianic act in conducting the Lord’s Supper may have been suggested by the words: ‘The Lord of Spirits will dwell above them, and they will eat with that Son of Man, and lie down and rise up unto all eternity.’ 1

Different views are held in regard to the founder of Christianity, (i) Jesus was the Son of God who came down from heaven, played His assigned part, and then retired, (ii) He was a fanatic whose dominating idea was an early catastrophic last day and Judgement. 2 (iii) He was a great moral teacher who came into the world like other men and became the Son of God much as we become sons of God. He was one of ourselves despite His amazing personality. 3 (iv) He was a prophet like others. 4 (v) Some even deny that He existed at all. 5

Jesus left nothing written. For some years after His death, His disciples believed that His return as judge and the consummation of this age were imminent. This hope was found even about the end of the first century.* The need for compiling trustworthy records of Jesus’ life and sayings was felt late in the second generation, and it is difficult to assume that the accounts of the evangelists are historically accurate. They brought together the oral tradi¬ tions which in transmission were added to and altered. The similarity of the Synoptic Gospels is explained by the hypo¬ thesis that Matthew and Luke used Mark and a second source called Q, now lost. Latest criticism is of opinion that ‘the growth of a New Testament Canon is the result of a long development of which the most important stages lie in the second century although it was only concluded in the fifth century or perhaps in a still later period’. 1


1 lxii. 14.

2 » 3 > 4 > s See further, pp. 387-8.

6 2 Peter iii. 3-9.


The school of criticism which has come to be known as that of Form- Criticism argues that the accounts of Jesus transmitted to us by the Evangelists are historically quite untrustworthy. They have been moulded by the devotional needs and spiritual experiences of the early Christian communities. They tell us more of the faith of the Church than of what Jesus actually said and did. We find in the Gospels not so much facts of history as the fancies of the devout. 2 Origen suggests something similar about the method adopted by the Evangelists. It was their purpose, he says, ‘to give the truth where possible, at once spiritually and corporeally, but where this was not possible, to prefer the spiritual to the corporeal, the true spiritual meaning being often preserved, as one might say, in the corporeal falsehood’. 3 Naturally the Synoptic Gospels deal with problems which have largely lost their meaning for us. Scholars do not hesitate to say that ‘to such an extent are the Synoptic Gospels Jewish books, occupied with problems belonging originally to first century Judaism, that it makes large parts of them difficult to use as books of universal religion’. 4 It is obvious that we have to be very cautious in dealing with the Gospels as historical records. Even if they are the products of fervent devotion, there must have been an historical focus for the pious imaginings, and that, perhaps, was the conviction that those who lived with Jesus felt that they had been in contact with a personality so superior to them as to deserve divine honours. In what does the uniqueness of Jesus lie?


1 Martin Dibelius, A Fresh Approach to the New Testament and Early ■ Christian Literature , E.T. (1936), p. 20; see also R. H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels (1935), p. 1. See further, p. 388.

2 Cf. ‘It seems, then, that the form of the earthly no less than of the heavenly Christ is for the most part hidden from us. For all the inestimable value of the Gospels, they yield us little more than a whisper of his voice; we trace in them but the outskirts of his ways. Only when we see him here¬ after in his fulness shall we know him also as he was on earth. And perhaps the more we ponder the matter, the more clearly we shall understand the reason for it, and therefore shall not wish it otherwise. For, probably, we are at present as little prepared for the one as for the other’ (R. H. Lightfoot, op. cit., p. 225).

3 Commentary on St. John s Gospel , x. 4.

4 F. C. Burkitt, The Earliest Sources of the Life of Jesus (1910), p. 30.


Jesus gave form and substance to the dreams which had haunted His compatriots for generations, but in this He was greatly influenced by the non-Jewish currents of thought and aspiration which prevailed in His circle during His time. 1 The whole complex of ideas of the coming judgement, of a new age, of the Son of Man who will be transported at the end of His earthly career to God, of the Suffering Servant, of the futility of the earthly kingdom, of the need for self-criticism and discipline, of love and non- resistance filled the air, and in the life and activities of Jesus we find a struggle between the traditional Jewish concep¬ tions which He inherited and the new spiritual outlook to which He laid Himself open. At one period the former tendency predominated, but towards the end the latter pre¬ vailed. If we take the conception of the Kingdom of God, the Hindus, the Buddhists, and the Zoroastrians maintained that the Kingdom of God was not to be identified with an earthly paradise, but is a life which is not of this world. The Hebrews contended that man was to expect and see the Kingdom of God within the limits of this life. An intense nationalism was the dominating feature of the Jewish life, their monotheistic creed being an adjunct of the Nation-State. They employed it to defend themselves against the aggres¬ sion of foreign imperialists. They developed a catastrophic view of the universe by which history is a succession of crises, a series of supernatural interventions. They looked forward to a great final cataclysm by which they, the chosen people of God, would be restored to their proper place. The last event would close the history of the world and inaugurate a new age and a new society in which Israel would be all- powerful and her enemies nowhere. There was a period in Jesus’ life when this Messianic conception was the dominant one. There are some who think that it was the only impulse in Jesus’ life.


1 The New Testament gives us the story of Jesus till the age of thirteen and is silent about the next seventeen years till His appearance at the place of preaching of John the Baptist. Legends that he travelled in the East in the intervening period are sometimes mentioned for which there is no historical evidence. See Eitel, Three Lectures on Buddhism (1884), pp. 14 ff.; Jacolliot, The Bible in India (1870), p. 289.


For them Christianity started as a movement of political revolution against the Roman Empire and its senile supporters, the Jewish priesthood. Jesus does not. seem to be speaking of any spiritual change when He refers to the nearness of the impending catastrophe. He does not know when the Son of Man will come: only the Father knows it. He seems to assume a certain interval of time and anticipate wars with the Roman Empire. He observes, with reference to the Temple, that days are coming in which not one stone will be left upon the other. He limits His message at one stage of His career to the Jews only: ‘Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ ‘Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come.’ ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 1 Such passages clearly indicate the predominantly Jewish character of Jesus’ message. His task was to prepare the chosen people for the impending coming of the Kingdom. He was destined by God to proclaim to the Jews God’s summons to fulfil their vocation. When Jesus announced after His baptism by John the Baptist, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent’, His Jewish audience understood it to mean that the great catastrophe was at hand when the Messiah would intervene on behalf of the elect. His disciples suspect that He is the expected Messiah. ‘This is that prophet that should come into the world.’ 2 Others desired to force Him to assume the role of the King. When he claimed to be the Messiah, the mob understood its revolutionary significance and welcomed him enthusiastically. When He entered Jerusalem He received the homage of His believers. ‘Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the Kingdom that cometh, the Kingdom of our father David.’ 3 Jesus was to be the King of the Kingdom. This interpretation is supported by many passages. ‘There are those who stand here who shall not taste of death until they see the Kingdom of heaven coming in power’; or again: ‘This generation shall not pass away until all these things are fulfilled.’


1 Matthew x. 5-6, 23; xv. 24.

2 John vi. 14.

3 Mark ix. 9. 


It may be that somewhere about a.d. 30 Jesus marched on Jerusalem with a band of His Galilean followers, seized the Temple, and expelled its occupants by force. His tumultuous entry roused the suspicion of the Roman government, and His act of cleansing the Temple was an attack on the authority of the officials. When Jesus subsequently lost control of the city and retired with His followers to the Mount of Olives, they were surprised by an armed force, having been betrayed by Judas. The Roman opposition to Him could not be on religious grounds. Rome did not persecute other worships with their mysteries and initiations, though each also claimed to be the sole guardian of revealed truth and that its officials held divine commissions to explain their truths to the whole world. The masses who looked for the break-down of the Roman power and the establishment of the Kingdom of God were greatly excited by Jesus’ Messianic hopes and His revolutionary message, and He was tried as a political insurgent, a dangerous disturber of peace, a traitor to the Empire. Pilate questioned Him, ‘Art thou the King of the Jews?’ and He answered, ‘Thou sayest.’ The death to which He was condemned was that reserved for rebels and traitors. Before the Sanhedrin He adopted the conception of the Son of Man. At a point in His career, it became clear to Him that an attempt would be made to put Him to death. He claimed the right to interpret the law without reference to tradition. He dispensed men from Sabbath observances on His own authority. He held that obedience to His teaching was of more importance than normal obligations. 1 His claim to interpret the law was offensive to Pharisaic orthodoxy, which valued traditional interpretations, and Sadducee conservatism, which adhered to the letter of the law. This situation suggested to Him that His death was a part of God’s plan for the establishment of the Kingdom with power. ‘For indeed the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ 2 To ‘ransom’ Israel was a function generally assigned to the Messiah.


1 Matthew viii. 21; Luke ix. 59.

2 Mark x. 45. In the Beginnings of Christianity , edited by Professors Jackson and Lake, the editors were inclined to doubt whether Jesus claimed for Himself the titles of ‘Messiah’, ‘Lord’, and even ‘Son of Man’ (vol. i, pp. 285-94).


It may well be that Jesus expected that His death would be followed by His appearance in clouds of glory, by the overthrow of the forces of evil, and by the judgement of the world. ‘Ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power1 Jesus believed that all the early predictions are to be fulfilled in Himself. He had a consciousness of mission, as the inaugurator of a new Kingdom, and felt Himself to be the instrument of its victorious power. This consciousness assumed the form of Messiah—Son of Man—Suffering Servant. It is uncertain whether Jesus knew from the beginning about His suffering unto death. Possibly this knowledge came to Him later, with the failure of the political objective. 2 A crisis in His life put him in mind of the other tradition that the Son of Man must suffer, must be delivered up into men’s hands, and they will put Him to death. When Jesus tells His disciples for the first time that He must suffer, Peter reproaches Him: ‘Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee’, and Jesus repulses him with sharp words: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’ 3 The Gospel tradition shows clearly this change of emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, and the new note served to heighten the significance of His message. The intercessory and expiative power of suffering and martyrdom is emphasized in all religions. In Judaism we find that Moses and David are ready to give their lives for Israel. The lives of Jonah and Elijah and the Martyrs of Mac- cabean times illustrate it. If the Son of Man is to fulfil His vocation, He must be the redemptive suffering servant of God. In the light of His fate, this conception seemed inwardly akin to Him.



1 Mark xiv. 62.

2 It is doubtful whether Jesus incurred the suffering of the Cross voluntarily, with the pre-vision of the destiny to which His action was leading. If Jesus went up to Jerusalem convinced that He would be put to death and would rise again, there would not be the consternation among His disciples or the dreadful cry on the Cross which shows that crucifixion was an appalling sur¬ prise to Him. M. Loisy thinks that the journey was undertaken in the hope that the divine intervention to terminate the existing world order would take place on His arrival. 3 Matthew xvi. 21-3.


When He had this perception, Jesus was certain of His exaltation to God through His death.

His is the cause of God, and immediate and complete attachment to His person with the surrender of home, house, and possessions is true worship of God. In the style of Enoch, he says: ‘Everyone who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God.’ 1 The mystics are persuaded that their knowledge of God is unique and incomparable. 2 ‘All things have been delivered unto me of my Father. No one knoweth who the Son is save the Father 3 and who the Father is save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.’ In situations that test us, the depths of life are revealed. Tense moments of crisis are also the moments of grace. Are not the Temptations the impressions that Jesus retained of His interior struggles?

This view that Jesus started with a Jewish nationalist outlook and gradually changed over to a universalist position need not be regarded as derogatory to His greatness or the Church doctrine about Him. The Church insists on the divinity of Jesus as well as His complete and genuine humanity, and looks upon the views of the Arians and the Docetics, the Monophysites and the Nestorians as one-sided. If it is a heresy to look upon Him as ‘inferior to the Father*, it is equally a heresy to take away anything from His humanity. He was not exempt from feelings incidental to normal humanity—hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, tempta¬ tion. If it is not derogatory to His nature to think that He felt genuine pain, shed tears at the grave of a friend, or was insulted, beaten, and crucified, and felt the shame and pain of it all, it cannot be derogatory to think that He shared the political passions of His contemporaries and gradually shook them off. It would be to give full weight to Luke’s statement that ‘Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature’. 4 From the Synoptic Gospels it is clear that the two cur¬ rents, the Jewish and the Mystic, the materialistic and the spiritual, were not perfectly reconciled in Jesus’ mind. The Jewish view of the Kingdom is opposed to the conception underlying the words:


1 Luke xii. 8.

2 Enoch xxxvii. 4.

3 Harnack thinks that the words ‘No one knoweth who the Son is save the Father’ are a later addition.

4 ii. 52.


‘My Kingdom is not of this world.’ There is a difference between the traditional interpretation of the Kingdom of God as the continuation of earthly conditions even to the details of eating and drinking, and the mystic view that its nature cannot be indicated in the terms of our empirical existence. The negative descriptions of eternal life which we have in the Upanisads and the Buddhist scriptures find their echo in Jesus’ declaration that heaven and earth shall pass away, and later sayings: ‘It is not yet made manifest what we shall be’, and ‘Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ These negations and contrasts suggest the reality of a world which is other than the familiar world of earth. To attain it we have to be reborn, must become ‘as the angels in heaven’. It is not possible in an earthly form of existence to be born into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the wondrous new creation. This is the consummation of the earthly pro¬ cess, this eternal heaven. We can only describe it in words and feelings familiar to us, for we are still in and of the world. So we talk of sitting on thrones, feeding on banquets, and living as angels. All the time we are aware of the in¬ adequacy of these images to the coming of the Kingdom, which is not a mere correction of earthly existence, but a complete transformation of it. But His Jewish audience interpreted the symbolic descriptions as having a reference to the Messianic hope. The Kingdom was to come with flaming lightning, with the appearance of the Son of Man, His angels, and His judgement; starting in Jerusalem, it will go forth extending itself over all the world. The sons of Zebedee ask for the best places in the new Kingdom. The chief aim of the Jew was to save himself from the impending wrath of God. His hopes and prayers were that he belong to the Kingdom of God when it should come. Resurrection is the only way in which the dead could share in the King¬ dom. The mystic, however, has the assurance that he has attained security and freedom here and now. If life eternal can be had here and now, there is no point in a resurrection. ‘Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom contains elements’, says Professor Rudolph Otto in his last work, ‘which are certainly not of Palestinian origin, but point definitely to connections with the Aryan and Iranian East.’ 1 While the Messianic conception of the Kingdom belongs to the Palestinian tradition the mystic conception is the development of the Indian idea.

In Jesus’ mind universalism and passivism conflict with the exclusiveness and militarism of His Jewish ancestors. 2 He moved forward from the latter and so often came into opposition with the Jews. If some of our theologians explain away Jesus’ passivism and arrive at the comforting conclusion that He did not mean what He said or that He acquiesced in armed resistance to evil, as when He used a scourge of small cords in cleansing the Temple in the Johannine account, it is to no small extent due to the struggle in Jesus’ own mind. The Gospel according to St. John makes Jesus say, ‘I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.’ 3 It is, however, beyond doubt that there was a stage in Jesus’ life when He attained a vision of universality and love, and meant literally that ‘they that take the sword shall perish by the sword’.

Jesus challenged the Jewish claim to the exclusive right of entry into the Kingdom. While they limited admission to the Kingdom to the righteous, Jesus announced that He had come to call the sinners to repentance. To the question, Who is my neighbour? He answered: any man in trouble, whatever may be his race or nationality.


1 The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, E.T. (1938), p. 16.

2 Dr. Claude Montefiore asks whether as a figure calculated to inspire men to heroic acts of self-sacrifice, the figure of Jesus, detached from what Christians have believed about Him, is adequate. ‘What one would have wished to find in the life story of Jesus would be one single incident in which Jesus actually performed a loving deed to one of his Rabbinic antagonists or enemies. That would have been worth all the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount about the love of enemies put together. Even if such a deed were only reported, and it were of dubious authenticity, how valuable it would be. “Father, forgive them” is of dubious authenticity but it is little the less beauti¬ ful and inspiring. Even though it refers only to the Roman soldiers and not to the Jews, it is nevertheless of high ethical import. “The deed ! The deed !” as the poet has it. But no such deed is ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels. Towards his enemies, towards those who did not believe in him, whether individuals, groups or cities (Matthew xi. 20-4) only denunciation and bitter words! The injunctions are beautiful, but how much more beautiful would have been a ful¬ filment of those injunctions by Jesus himself’ ( Rabbinic Literature and Gospel Teachings (1930), p. 104).

3 xvii. 9.


Jesus protested vehemently against the Jew’s exaggerated devotion to ceremonial details. To the Jew the important question is, What am I to do? He insisted on a code of conduct. To the Eastern religions and the mystery cults, the more important question is, What am I to be ? The aim is to become something different and not to do something else. Jesus is concerned, not with the wrong we do, but with the corruption of being of which the wrong act is the out¬ come. We must become different, change our natures, be born again. To be born again is to be initiated into a new life which is not a ceremonial act but a spiritual experience. Rebirth to a higher life, superiority to the bondage of the law, is emphasized by Jesus. We are by birth children of nature, by rebirth sons of God. The pathway to this re¬ birth is by a life of self-control bordering on asceticism. So far as the Jewish tradition is concerned, there is little or nothing in it of an ascetic character. The Jews have no monks or nuns, people who live apart from the world. For them there is nothing vain and deceitful about the pleasures of the world. Ascetic practices are adopted only as a means for attaining trance conditions, as in the Martyrdom of Isaiah, where the prophet and his companions retire to the wilderness clothed with garments of hair and eat nothing but wild herbs. Similarly, Ezra was vouchsafed his vision on account of his continence. 1 To prepare for the vision was the object of asceticism. The main Jewish tradition accepted the un¬ interrupted continuance of the present world order, the doctrine of the goodness of all creation and the duty of peopling the world and reaping the fruits of the earth. 2


1 Athanasius in his first festal letter (a.d. 329) writes: ‘That great man Moses, when fasting, conversed with God and received the Law. The great and holy Elijah, when fasting was thought worthy of divine visions, and at last was taken up like him who ascended into heaven. And Daniel when fasting, although a very young man, was entrusted with the mystery’ (A. Robertson, Athanasius , p. 508).

2 Cf. the famous saying: ‘A man will have to give account on the Judgement Day of every good thing which he refused to enjoy when he might have done so’ (G. F. Moore, Judaism, in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (1927), vol. ii, p. 265.


Wealth is the natural concomitant of righteousness and poverty of sin. The Jewish doctrine of the resurrection of the body implies that the body is not a thing to be condemned. The righteous shall enjoy physical well-being in Paradise. If there would be neither buying nor selling, neither marrying nor giving in marriage, it is because when the day of the Lord comes, the number of the elect is made up and there can be no increase to it. When the goods of nature do not come to our hands unasked, trade and commerce have a place. In the Messianic Kingdom every one will have plenty of good things without labour or barter. The Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Kirk, writes:

‘The ascetic outlook of the Gospels is seen to stand out of any recognizable relation with contemporary Judaism. The passages about turning the other cheek, about taking no thought for the morrow, about laying up no treasure on earth, about forsaking parents and possessions, about bearing the Cross are foreign to the genius of the race. The spirit which pervades them constitutes an erratic block in the teaching of Jesus whose provenance—other than in his direct intuition of supernatural truth—must for the moment remain un¬ known .’ 1


In John the Baptist, in Jesus and Paul, the new current of other-worldliness emerges, and it cannot be accounted for by their Jewish background.

It is interesting to know that the moral teaching of Jesus with its ascetic and other-worldly emphasis has been anti¬ cipated several hundred years by the Upanisads and Buddha. The late Professor T. W. Rhys Davids observes:

‘It is not too much to say that almost the whole of the moral – teaching of the Gospels as distinct from the dogmatic teaching, will be found in Buddhist writings, several centuries older than the Gospels; that for instance, of all the moral doctrines collected to¬ gether in the so-called Sermon on the Mount, all those which can be separated from the theistic dogmas there maintained are found again in the Pitakas. In the one religion as in the other we find the same exhortations to boundless and indiscriminate giving, the same hatred of pretence, the same regard paid to the spirit as above the letter of the law, the same importance attached to purity, humility, meekness, gentleness, truth, and love. And the coincidence is not only in the matter; it extends to the manner also in which these doctrines are put forward. Like the Christ, the Buddha was wont to teach in parables, and to use homely figures of speech; and many of the sayings attributed to him are strangely like some of those found in the New Testament.’ 1


1 The Vision of God


It only shows that some of the noblest of the moral lessons usually supposed to be characteristic of Christianity are not characteristic of it alone. They are a necessary consequence of the spiritual life.

On the question of future life, the Christian view was not moulded by the Jewish or the popular Graeco-Roman con¬ ceptions. The Jews were satisfied with the conception of Sheol, which, according to the Book of Job, was ‘a land of darkness without any order, where the light is as dark¬ ness’. As the jurisdiction of Yahweh did not extend to it, all connexion between God and His worshippers ceased at death. In the most literal sense of the word, Yahweh is a ‘God not of the dead but of the living’. The earthly life is the most important. The hopes of the Hebrew were for his nation and not for himself. 2 If we leave aside the mystery cults and Pythagoras and Plato, the eschatology of the Greeks was singularly primitive. Homer’s faint and cheer¬ less Hades is well known. The Romans did not have a strong belief in immortality. The Di Manes were a vague collection and the word had no singular. Faint indications of a more mature view are to be found in the later books of the Old Testament, but there is a vast gulf between them and the elements of Christian eschatology, such as the con¬ sciousness of sin, division in the mind of man, the need of healing and redemption, rewards and punishments, both purgatorial and punitive after death. These ideas must have grown up in the little-known period between the Old and the New Testaments. Faith in the high destiny of the human soul is not to be found in the religions of Palestine, Greece, and Rome except in the unofficial and un-Greek mystic cults. The mind of Jesus and His immediate followers on this question must have been shaped in the atmosphere where East and West, mystical experience and intellectual speculation, acted and reacted on each other.


1 Journal of the Pali Text Society, 1923, pp. 43-4.

2 Job xix. 25-7; Psalms xlix. 50; lxxiii. 24; Isaiah xxvi. 19; Daniel xii. 2.


The mystery religions revealed things which lay behind the veil of sense and gave hints of the land beyond the grave about which official religions were silent. As geographical barriers broke down and horizons expanded, mystery cults which promised salvation to the soul, release from the burden of sin, and security against judgement, became popular. Even the common people were not insensitive to these cults. Jesus says: ‘Unto you is given the mystery of the Kingdom of God; but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables.’ 1 ‘And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it; and without a parable spake he not unto them: but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things.’ 2 He said to His disciples: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but ye cannot hear them now.’ 3 We have a reference to the spiritual birth after baptism: ‘And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth to Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the spirit as a dove descending into him: and a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved son, in thee I am well pleased.’ 4 The Christian Eucharist perpetuates the Sacred Meal of the cults of Eleusis and Mithra. 5

As a Jew, Jesus recognized a corporeal resurrection. At death Lazarus is taken up directly into Paradise and the rich man goes to hell. Jesus’ resurrection after three days is probably suggested by Matthew: ‘As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale: so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ 6 This view is in conflict with what Jesus is alleged to have said to the thief on the Cross: ‘To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ There is immediate entrance into blessed fellowship with God.


1 Mark iv. 11.

2 Mark iv. 33-4.

3 John xvi. 12.

4 Mark i. 9-11. Justin Martyr reads: ‘Thou art my beloved son: this day have I begotten Thee’ ( Trypho , 88); see also Luke iii. 22.

5 The early Christian Fathers Poly carp and Ignatius speak of the Christian mysteries. In the Stromata Clement has a chapter on ‘The Mysteries of the Faith not to be divulged to all’.

6 xii. 40.


The moment of death is the moment of exaltation. We need not confuse the spirit of man with his fleshly covering. Victory over death is the awakening of the spirit from the slumber, that which makes it capable of higher vision. Resurrection is not the revivification of a corpse. The Christian view, that this life is a period of education and testing and we are sojourners in a strange land where we must not expect to see full satisfaction for the deepest interests in life, is not accepted by the orthodox Jew or the normal Greek.

When the prediction of the Kingdom that we would live to see and know Jesus as the exalted Son of God was not fulfilled, the eschatological claim became prominent. The conviction of the exaltation to God through death was the basis of the possibility that Peter and the rest believed after Jesus’ death that they saw Him in spiritual vision as living with God. It does not seem to be a question of an empty grave or bodily resurrection. The simple story of the life and activity of Jesus was transformed into an epiphany of a heavenly being who had descended to earth and concealed Himself in robes of flesh. The picture of Jesus of the later Christology blurred the contours of the spiritual God. The Risen Lord takes the place of God and the Church replaces His Kingdom. Even as the Supreme is identified with an historical individual, the Kingdom of God is identified with a concrete empirical structure with its own specific form and organization.

Jesus, as we have seen, enlarges and transforms the Jewish conceptions in the light of His own personal experience. In this process He was helped considerably by His religious environment, which included Indian influences, as the tenets of the Essenes and the Book of Enoch show. In His teaching of the Kingdom of God, life eternal, ascetic em¬ phasis, and even future life, He breaks away from the Jewish tradition and approximates to Hindu and Buddhist thought. Though His teaching is historically continuous with Judaism, it did not develop from it in its essentials. The two tendencies, the Jewish and the mystic, were not perfectly reconciled in Jesus’ mind, and the tension has continued in Christian development. We shall now see how the Gospel story bears striking resemblance to the life and teaching of Gautama the Buddha. 1

Nearly five hundred years before Jesus, Buddha went round the Ganges valley proclaiming a way of life which would deliver men from the bondage of ignorance and sin. In a hundred and fifty years after his death, tradition of his life and passing away became systematized. He was miraculously conceived and wondrously born. 2 His father was informed by angels about it, and, according to Lalita- vistara , the queen was permitted to lead the life of a virgin for thirty-two months’. On the day of his birth a Brahmin priest predicts his future greatness. Asita is the Buddhist Simeon. 3 * He comes through air to visit the infant Gautama. Simeon came by the Spirit into the Temple’. When he asks the angels why they rejoice, they answer that they are ‘joyful and exceeding glad as the Buddha to be is born for the weal and welfare in the world of men’. 4 He steadily grew in wisdom and stature. In spite of great efforts to protect him from the sights of sorrow, Buddha found no satisfaction in the life by which he was surrounded. He resolved to flee from the joys of his home. When the tidings reached him that a son was born to him, he observed: ‘T his is a new and a strong tie that I shall have to break’,, and he left his home without delay. Early in his career, after a fast of forty-nine days, he was tempted by Mara to give up his quest for truth, with promises of world dominion. The Evil One said unto Buddha: ‘So, Lord, if the Lord desired, he could turn the Himalayas, the king of mountains, into very gold, and gold would the mountain be.’ Buddha replies: ‘He who hath seen pain and the source of pain, how could such a one bow to lusts ?’ The Evil One vanished unhappy and disconsolate. 5 Buddha overcomes the temptations, persists in his search, meditates for days, and wins enlightenment. Like his conception and birth, Buddha’s enlightenment is marked by the thirty-two great miracles.


1 See the writer’s Gautama the Buddha (1938).

2 Majjhima Nikdya, 123.’ The angels who received the babe held him before his mother, saying: ‘All joy be to thee, queen Maya, rejoice and be glad, for this child thou hast borne is holy.’

3 See Luke ii. 8-40; Sutta Nipata , 679-700.

4 Sutta Nipata , ‘manussaloke hitasukhataya’.

5 See Oldenberg, Buddha (1882), pp. 312 fF. 


The blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, and the lame walk freely. Buddha himself is transfigured, and his body shines with matchless brightness. With a tender compassion for all beings he sets forth ‘to establish the kingdom of righteousness, to give light to those enshrouded in darkness and open the gate of immortality to men’. 1 His mission begins. He has twelve disciples whom he sends forth, to carry his message among all classes of men. 2 Buddha heals the sick, is the incomparable physician. 3 In the striking story of the sick brother neglected by the other inmates of the monastery, whom the Buddha washed and tended with his own hands, saying afterwards to the careless monks, who would have been eager enough to serve him, ‘Whosoever would wait upon me, let him wait upon the sick’, 4 he claims his oneness with humanity so that services to the sick or the destitute are in reality rendered to him¬ self. We have the golden rule in the maxim: ‘Doing as one would be done by, kill not nor cause to kill.’ 5 ‘As a mother would guard the life of her own and only son at the risk of her own, even so let each one practise infinite sympathy toward all beings in all the world.’ 6 ‘Let goodwill with¬ out measure, impartial, unmixed, without enmity, prevail throughout the world, above, beneath, around.’ 7 Good con¬ duct and good belief are insisted on. 8 When once we accept Buddha’s teaching all other distinctions of caste and status are lost. 9 He converts the robber Angulimala, has dinner with Ambapali the harlot, 10 and is accused of living in abundance. 1


1 See Mahavagga, i. 6. 8.

2 ‘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]’ (Sacred Books of the East , vol. xiii, p. 112). Mark vi. 7 ff.; Luke x. 1.

3 Itivuttaka, 100; Sutta Nipata, 560.

4 Vinaya Texts, S.B.E., vol. xvii, p. 240. Mahavagga, viii. 26; cf. Matthew* xxv. 40: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’

5 ‘attanam upamam katva.’ See S.B.E., vol. x, pt. 1, p. 36.

6 Ibid., vol. x,pt. 2,p. 25. 7 Khuddaka Patha,E.T. by Childers, p. 16.

8 Itivuttaka, 32; see also James ii. 14, 24, 26.

9 S.B.E., vol. xx, p. 304; see also Galatians iii. 28; Mark iii. 34 and 35.

10 S.B.E., vol. xvii, p. 105, and vol. xi, p. 30; see Mark ii. 16; Luke vii.

37 ” 9 > viii. 102; Matthew xxi. 31 and 32.



The following sayings of Buddha find their echo in the Gospels:

‘He abused me, he beat me,

Overcame me, robbed me.’

In those who harbour such thoughts Their anger is not calmed.

Not by anger ate angers In this world ever calmed.

By meekness are they calmed. 2


Let one conquer wrath by meekness.

Let one conquer wrong by goodness.

Let one conquer the mean man by a gift And a liar by the truth. 3

Victory breedeth anger,

For in pain the vanquished lieth.

Lieth happy the man of peace Renouncing victory and defeat. 4

Let the wise man do righteousness:

A treasure that others can share not,

Which no thief can steal:

A treasure which passeth not away. 5


Both Buddha and Jesus bid their disciples lay up for themselves a treasure which neither moth nor rust would corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. ‘A man buries a treasure in a deep pit’, Buddha observed, ‘which, lying day after day concealed therein, profits him nothing. . . . But there is a treasure that man or woman may possess, a treasure laid up in the heart, a treasure of charity, piety, temperance, soberness. A treasure secure, impregnable, that cannot pass away. When a man leaves the fleeting riches of this world, this he takes with him after death. A treasure unshared with others, a treasure that no thief can steal.’ 6


1 Majjhima Nikaya, 26; Matthew xi. 19.

2 S.B.E., vol. x, pt. 1, p. 4.

3 Ibid., p. 5 8; see also Majjhima Nikaya , 21.

4 Dhammapada, 201; see also 184, 185, 399.

5 Cf. Matthew vi. 19 and 20.

6 Khuddaka Patha , E.T., Childers, p. 13.


What use to thee is matted hair, O fool?

What use the goat-skin garment?

Within thee there is ravening:

The outside thou makest clean. 1

‘Destroying life, killing, cutting, binding, stealing, speaking lies, fraud and deceptions, worthless reading, intercourse with another’s wife—this is defilement, but not the eating of flesh.’ 2

Just as Buddha condemns the gloomy ascetic practices which prevailed in ancient India, Jesus goes beyond John the Baptist’s emphasis on observances and ascetic rites. Even as Buddha condemns ceremonial religion, emphasiz¬ ing baptism, Jesus insists less on sacraments and more on the opening of oneself in faith . 3 ‘Reverence shown to the righteous is better than sacrifice .’ 4 Buddha says: ‘Monks, even as a blue lotus, a water rose, or a white lotus is born in the water, grows up in the water, and stands lifted above it, by the water undefiled: even so, monks, does the Tathagata grow up in the world, by the world undefined .’ 5 ‘I am not of the world’, says Jesus, according to John . 6

Buddha has his triumphal entry into his native city of Kapilavastu . 7 As he approaches, marvellous rays proceed from him, lighting up the gates and walls, towers and monu¬ ments. The city, like the New Jerusalem illumined by the lamp, is full of light, and all the citizens go forth to meet him. But Buddha remains unmoved. When Buddha is taken to the temple for baptism, he points out that it is unnecessary, as he is superior to the gods, though he con¬ forms to the practice of the world . 8 When a merchant who became his disciple proposed to return to his native town and preach to his people, Buddha said: ‘The people of Suna- paranta are exceedingly violent; if they revile you, what will you do?’ ‘I will make no reply,’ said the disciple. ‘And if they strike you?’ ‘I will not strike in return.’ ‘And if they try to kill you?’ ‘Death’, said the disciple, ‘is no evil in itself.


1 Dhammapada , 394; S.B.E., vol. x, pt. 1, p. 90; see also Matthew vii. 15.

2 S.B.E., vol. x, pt. 2, pp. 40, 41; see Mark vii. 15. For the analogies in the ceremony of baptism see Matthew iii. 14, John iv. 2, and Makanibbana Sutta, S.B.E., vol. xi, p. 109; see also Introduction to S.B.E., vol. xlv.

3 Mark i. 15. 4 Dhammapada, 108.

5 Samyutta Nikaya, xxii. 94. 6 John xvii. 14-16.

7 Cf. Luke ii. 41 f. 8 See Matthew iii. 13.


Many even desire it, to escape from the vanities of this life; but I shall take no steps either to hasten or delay the time of my departure.’ Buddha was satisfied, and the merchant departed. 1 Buddha had his troubles with his dis¬ ciples. Devadatta, Buddha’s cousin, was the Jv das among his followers. He once hired thirty bowmen to kill him. But when these came into his presence they were awed by his majesty and fell down at his feet, like the soldiers in the garden of Gethsemane. 2 When all his attempts failed, the faithless disciple entreated Buddha for his forgiveness. Bud¬ dha frankly forgave him. On the last day before his death, Buddha’s body was again transfigured, 3 and when he died a tremendous earthquake was felt throughout the world. 4

Many of the parables are common. Buddha is a sower of the word. He feeds his five hundred brethren at once with a small cake which has been put into his begging bowl, and a good deal is left over, which is thrown away. 5 In Jataka 190 we read of an eager disciple who finds no boat to take him across and so walks on the water. In the middle the waves rise and he loses his faith and begins to sink. When he reassures himself with faith in the Buddha, he goes safely to the other side. Max Muller remarks that mere walking on the water is not an uncommon story, but walking by faith and sinking for want of it can only be accounted for by some historical contact or transference, ‘and in this case we must remember that the date of the Buddhist parable is chronologically anterior to the date of the Gospel of St. Luke’. 6. Though Buddha performs these miracles, 1 he disapproves of them as proofs of his divinity. ‘It is because I see the danger in miracles of psychical power and of mind reading that I detest, abhor and despise them/ 2 Buddha denounces suicide except on special occasions: ‘Anyone, O Sariputta, who lays down this body and takes another one, I call blameworthy. But not such was the monk Channa. He committed suicide without blame.’ 3 If the physical life is surrendered out of profound inward conviction, that no good can any longer be served by its retention or that it is the higher service to society, it is commended. Buddha’s birth stories 1 and the later Mahayana exalt his great compassion and renunciation. 2 Buddha is the light of the world (literally Eye of the World), lokacaksu. 3 ‘I am a king,’ says Buddha, ‘an incomparable king of dhamma.’ 4


1 Hardy, Manual of Buddhism, p. 259.

2 Ibid., p. 319.

3 Mahaparinihhana Sutta , p. 46.

4 Ibid., p. 62.

5 Jataka 78.

6 Max Muller, Last Essays , 1st series (1901), p. 285.

According to Eusebius the Gospels were published by the Church in the reign of Trajan (a.d. 98-1 x 7). Of course they had existed in some form before this, but this was the date of their authoritative redaction. The Canonical works ot Buddhism were certainly earlier. In the sixties of the first century Buddha was welcomed officially into China and in that decade a Buddhist work, The Sutra of 42 Sections , was compiled in Chinese and a temple built in its honour. This work must have been well known in India at the time of the first Chinese embassy in a.d. 64 and it refers to the 250 rules of Pratimoksa or rules of conventual discipline. A legendary life of Buddha akin to Lalitavistara was also translated, and it shows a highly advanced stage of the Buddhist Canon. During the period of Asoka the bulk of the Canonical works was in existence, for we find from the Bairat rock inscription that he recommends the study of seven different portions of the scripture by monks, nuns, and laymen, five of which are parts of the Suttapitaka and the two others are found in the Vinayapitaka. The Ceylon Chronicles declare that the Canon was finally settled at a council called by Asoka. From the great rail around the tope of Bharahat in Central India, built shortly after the death of As’oka, about 200 b.c., we learn not only the titles of the scriptures but the names of the Buddhists who are described as ‘reciters’ ‘versed in the dialogues’—‘versed in the Baskets’, ‘versed in the five collections’. See Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture (1876), p. 85; Cunningham, The Stupa of Bharhut (1879). The general agreement of the various lives of Buddha in Pali, Singhalese, and Chinese sources on the incidents of his miraculous birth, his renunciation, his temptation, his en¬ lightenment and subsequent labours as a teacher, and the aims of his mission, points to the existence of a widely diffused tradition in the centuries before the Christian era. The Pali Canon was settled in Asoka’s time and reduced to writing in the reign of Vattagamani (88-76 b.c.). Buddhism was in its very nature a missionary religion. In the second century b.c. Buddhist ascetics (samanas) were found in western Persia and in the first century b.c. in Bactria.

Garbe assumes direct borrowing from Buddhism in the matter of Simeon, temptations, and the miracles of walking on the water, and loaves and fishes. We have many parallels between Krsna and Christ. (1) A marvellous light envelops Mary when Christ is born. A similar light envelops Devaki before Krsna is born. (2) There is universal gladness of nature at their birth. (3) Herod inquires of the wise men, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ (Matthew ii. 4); Narada warns Kamsa that Krsna will kill him ( Harivarhs’a, ii. 56). (4) Herod is mocked by the wise men (Matthew, ii. 16) and Kamsa is mocked by the demon that takes the place of Yasoda’s infant (ibid, ii. 59). (5) The massacre of the infants is found in both. (6) Joseph came with Mary to Bethlehem to be taxed: Nanda came with Yasoda to Mathura to pay tribute. (7) The flight into Egypt is similar to that into Braj. The information on the question is so scanty that it is natural that persons approaching the problem with different presuppositions vary a good deal in the conclusions they draw from it.

1 Anguttara Nikdya, iii. 60. For Buddha’s power over water, see Maha- vagga, i. 20. Cf. Mark iv. 39.

2 Dtgha Nikdya , 11. K. In the Divyavadana Buddha commands his dis¬ ciples not to work miracles but to hide their good deeds and show their sins.

3 Samyutta Nikdya , xxxv. 87.


Buddha speaks with an authority on religion and is the lion of his race. 5 He proclaims: ‘I, O Vasettha, know both God and the Kingdom of God and the path that goeth thereto. I know it even as one who hath entered the Kingdom of God ( brahmaloka ) and been born there.’ 6 Again: ‘He who sees not the dhamma (Truth or doctrine) sees not me. . . . He who sees the dhamma sees me.’ 7 ‘Those who have merely faith and love toward me’, says Buddha, ‘are sure of paradise hereafter.’ 8 ‘Those who believe in me are all assured of final salvation.’ 9 But Buddha always puts the practice of the doctrine higher than devotion to himself. While Jesus is angry with the world which will not hear Him, Buddha meets opposition with calm and confidence. He thought of the world as ignorant rather than wicked, as unsatisfactory rather than rebellious. There is therefore no nervous irrita¬ bility or fierce anger about him. His behaviour is a perfect expression of courtesy and good feeling with a spice of irony in it. Three months after his death Buddha is transfigured. He is identified with the self-existent Supreme. Four cen¬ turies after his death he is declared to be a temporary mani¬ festation in an earthly form of the Infinite, accessible at all times to his disciples and promising to make them partakers of his divine nature. By prayer and meditation the pious Buddhist enters into living communion with the heavenly Lord.


1 Jataka 316.

2 ‘In the whole universe there is not a single spot so small as a mustard seed where he has not surrendered his body for the sake of creatures. Sad- dharmapundarika , E.T., S.B.E., vol. xxi, p. 251.

3 Digha Nikaya, 16. Cf. John viii. 12, ix. 5.

4 Majjhima Nikaya , 92; John xviii. 37.

5 Anguttara Nikaya , v. 99 ’ c f- Mark i. 22, and Revelation v. 5 *

6 Digha Nikaya , 13; cf. John vi. 4.6, vii. 29, viii. 4 2 ant ! 55 *

7 Itivuttaka 92; cf. John xiv. 6, 9, 18-21.

8 Majjhima Nikaya , 22; cf. John xi. 26. 9 Anguttara Nikaya , x. 64.


To love one’s enemies, to bless them that curse, to do good to them that hate, to turn the other cheek, to leave the cloak with him who takes the coat, to give all to him who asks, which are the teachings of Jesus, are precepts not only taught but practised in their extreme rigour by the Buddha in his many lives, according to the Jatakas . Buddha revolted against the complexities of the sacrificial religion as Jesus did against Jewish legalism. Both Buddha and Christ, in the spirit of the Upanisads, demand the death or the sacrifice of the immediate natural existence as the condition of the new richer life.

The curious may find matter for reflection in these coincidences in the lives of the two teachers. Professor J. Estlin Carpenter writes: ‘The lives of the teachers do not essentially differ. It was the mission of both to awaken men out of a state of spiritual indifference, to kindle within them a love of righteousness, to comfort the sorrowful, to reprove as well as to redeem the guilty.’ 1 Each of these teachers had his own tradition and grew out of it. This fact leads to certain deep differences beneath the resemblances. Buddha looked upon the Absolute as super-personal spirit, while for Jesus it is a personal God. 2 The theistic emphasis which is very natural in Judaism is lacking in the teaching of Buddha. Apart from the redemptive power of suffering, the special feature of dogmatic Christianity that the world has been saved by the death of Jesus has nothing like it in Buddhism. As for the resemblances, other causes than borrowing may be assigned. If religion is the natural outcome of the human mind, it would be strange if we did not find coincidences. The highest type of self-sacrifice exalted in both may be regarded as common to all lands and ages. The hopes and fears of men, their desires and aspirations, are the same on the banks of the Ganges as on the shores of the Lake of Galilee. If the same examples and modes of illustration are employed, it may be because they are both members of an agricultural society.



1 ‘The Obligations of the New Testament to Buddhism’, Nineteenth Century , i 880, p. 975 ; see also A. J. Edmunds, Buddhist and Christian Gospels (1908). Many of the parallels collected in this book can be explained without any assumption of borrowing.

2 See Indian Philosophy , vol. i, 2nd ed. (1929), pp. 465 ff., 683 ff.


Possibly some of the incidents, stories, and sayings were common tales of a widespread folk-lore. If both taught in parables, it is because it is the easiest form of teaching for simple men. Making allowance for all these, it is not easy to account for the illustration of two careers with the same legends and embellishments. They cannot be traced to natural evolution. They cannot be accounted for as due to accident. It is no comfort to ascribe them to the Devil, who wished to scandalize us by throwing doubts on our conceptions. But those who are trained in European culture find it somewhat irksome, if not distasteful, to admit the debt of Christian religion to non-Christian sources, especially Hindu and Buddhist. ‘In these cases’, Max Muller writes, ‘our natural inclination would be to suppose that the Buddhist stories were borrowed from our Christian sources and not vice versa . But here the conscience of the scholar comes in. Some of these stories are found in the Hlnayana Buddhist Canon and date, therefore, before the Christian era.’ 1 It is not unnatural to suspect that some of the prominent ideas travelled from the older to the younger system. 


1 Last Essays , 1st series (1901), p. 289. In his Christian Origins , E.T. (1906), p. 226, Otto Pfleiderer says: ‘These [Buddhist] parallels to the child¬ hood stories of Luke are too striking to be classed as mere chance; some kind of historical connexion must be postulated.’

Speaking of the apocryphal gospels, such a cautious critic as the late Dr. Winternitz says: ‘We can point to a series of borrowings from Buddhistic literature which are absolutely beyond all doubt’ ( Visvabharati Quarterly ,Feb. 1937, p. 14). ‘A number of Buddhist legends make their appearance in the Apocry¬ phal gospels and are so obviously Indian in character that it can hardly be maintained that they were invented in Palestine or Egypt and spread thence Eastwards’ (Sir Charles Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism , vol. iii (1921), p. 441). Trees bend down before the young Christ and dragons adore Him. At the school He convicts His teacher of ignorance and the latter faints (Gospel of Thomas vi and iv and Lalitavistara , x). When He enters a temple in Egypt the images prostrate themselves before Him, and they do the same before the young Gautama in the temple at Kapilavastu (Pseudo-Matthew xxii-xxiv and Lalitavistara viii). Mary is luminous before the birth of Christ, which hap¬ pens without any pain or impurity (Pseudo-Matthew xiii, Digha Nikdya 14, and Majjhima Nikdya , 123). At the moment of nativity all activity of man¬ kind and nature is suddenly interrupted (Gospel of James xviii and Lalitavis¬ tara ^ vii). The similarity of Roman Catholic services and ceremonial to the Buddhist is difficult to explain. ‘When all allowance is made for similar causes and coincidences, it is hard to believe that a collection of practices such as clerical celibacy, confession, the veneration of relics, the use of the rosary and bells can have originated independently in both religions’ (Sir Charles Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism , vol. iii (1921), p. 443). Many practices common to Indian and Christian worship, such as the tonsure and the altar ritual including incense, flowers, lights, and singing, may have grown independently, but there are some, such as celibacy, relics, and confessions, which are old and established institutions in Buddhism and seem to have no parallels in Jewish, Syrian, or Egyptian antiquity.



As Christianity arose in a period of eclecticism, it is not impossible for it to have adopted the outlook and legends of the older religion, especially as the latter were accessible at a time when intercourse between India and the Roman Empire was quite common. Let us realize that when Christianity was in a formative stage Buddhism was both settled and enterprising. The affiliation of ideas is a useless pursuit. So long as it is not possible for us to establish with certainty the exact manner in which ideas travelled between India and the West, so long as we do not know who the intermediaries, what the opportunities and times were, it will be unwarrantable optimism to maintain the theory of direct borrowing. Our ignorance of what actually happened need not prevent us from noting the resemblances which strikingly make out that Buddha and Jesus are men of the same brotherhood. Our interest is in the logic of religious experience, and both Buddha and Jesus are eminent wit¬ nesses to it. There cannot be any difference of opinion regarding the view of life and the world of thought which seem to be common to Buddhism and Christianity in their early forms. Whether historically connected or not, they are the twin expressions of one great spiritual movement. The verbal parallels and ideal similarities reveal the impressive unity of religious aspiration. Buddha and Jesus are the earlier and later Hindu and Jewish representatives of the same upheaval of the human soul, whose typical expression we have in the Upanisads. Whether the two met in early times and one borrowed from the other is of little moment.

Christianity began humbly among a band of disciples who knew and remembered the earthly life of Jesus, the ministry of a revolutionary prophet who announced the speedy com¬ ing of the Kingdom and demanded repentance. The Gospels give us what the apostles and the others had to tell of the life and doctrine of Jesus, or, more accurately, what had been handed down in Christian families and schools as the original teaching of some of the apostles and their friends. While the memory of man is short, his imagination is prolific. The historical facts were soon covered over by the accretions of imagination. Incidents of Jesus’ life assumed the form of legends, and it is not improbable that in this work the evan¬ gelists were unconsciously influenced by the cult of the Buddha. When Christianity entered the Roman Empire, different streams met, producing many strange eddies of belief and practice.