Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 7

We are now prepared to assume that the pantheistic groundwork of the poem on the one hand, and its borrowed Christian conceptions and Christian nomenclature on the other, will explain its principal alleged parallels with the New Testament. With his great familiarity with our Bible, and his rare ability in adjusting shades of thought and expression, Mr. Chatterji has presented no less than two hundred and fourteen passages which he matches with texts from the Bible. Many of these are so adroitly worded that one not familiar with the peculiarities of Hindu philosophy might be stumbled by the comparisons.

Mr. R.C. Bose tells us that this poem has wrought much evil among the foreign population of India; and in this country there are thousands of even cultivated people with whom this new translation will have great influence. Men with unsettled minds who have turned away with contempt from the crudities of spiritualism, who are disgusted with the rough assailments of Ingersoll, and who find only homesickness and desolation on the bleak and wintry moor of agnostic science, may yet be attracted by a book which is so elevated and often sublime in its philosophy, and so chaste in its ethical precepts, and which, like Christianity, has bridged the awful chasm between unapproachable deity and our human conditions and wants by giving to the world a God-man.

If the original author and the various expositors of the Bhagavad Gita have not borrowed from the Christian revelation, they have rendered an undesigned tribute to the great Christian doctrine of a divine and human mediator: they have given striking evidence of a felt want in all humanity of a _God with men_. If it was a deeply conscious want of the human heart which led the heathen of distant India to grope their way from the cheerless service of remorseless deities to one who could be touched with a feeling of their infirmities, and could walk these earthly paths as a counsellor by their side, how striking is the analogy to essential Christian truth!

Let us examine some of the alleged parallels. They may be divided into three classes:

1. Those which are merely fanciful. Nine-tenths of the whole number are of this class. They are such as would never occur to a Hindu on hearing the gospel truth. Only one who had examined the two records in the keen search for parallels, and whose wish had been the father of his thought, would have seen any resemblance. I shall not occupy much time with these.

2. Those resemblances which are only accidental. It may be an accident of similar circumstances or similar causes; it may be a chance resemblance in the words employed, while there is no resemblance in the thoughts expressed.

3. Those coincidences which spring from natural causes. For an example of these, the closing chapter of the Apocalypse speaks of Christ as "the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End." It is a natural expression to indicate his supreme power and glory as Creator and final Judge of all things. In a similar manner Krishna is made to say, "I am Beginning, Middle, End, Eternal Time, the Birth and the Death of all. I am the symbol A among the characters. I have created all things out of one portion of myself." There are two meanings in Krishna's words. He is in all things pantheistically, and he is the first and best of all things. In the tenth chapter he names with great particularity sixty-six classes of things in which he is always the first: the first of elephants, horses, trees, kings, heroes, etc. "Among letters I am the vowel A." "Among seasons I am spring." "Of the deceitful I am the dice."

The late Dr. Mullens calls attention to the fact that the Orphic Hymns declare "Zeus to be the first and Zeus the last. Zeus is the head and Zeus the centre." In these three similar forms of description one common principle of supremacy rules. The difference is that in the Christian revelation and in the Orphic Hymns there is dignity, while in Krishna's discourse there is frivolous and vulgar particularity. Let us notice a few examples of the alleged parallels more particularly.

In Chapter IX. Krishna says: "Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou offerest in sacrifice, etc., commit that to me."

This is compared with 1 Corinthians x. 31: "Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." Also to Colossians x. 17: "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus."

Even if there were no pantheistic differential at the foundation of these utterances, it would not be at all strange if exhortations to an all-embracing devotion should thus in each case be made to cover all the daily acts of life. But aside from this there is a wide difference in the fundamental ideas which these passages express. Paul's thought is that of loving devotion to an infinite Friend and Saviour; it is such an offering of loyalty and love as one conscious being can make to another and a higher. But Krishna identifies the giver with the receiver, and Arjuna is taught to regard the gift itself as an act of God. The phrase "commit that to me" is equivalent to "ascribe that to me." In the context we read: "Of those men, who thinking of me in identity (with themselves), worship me, for them always resting in me, I bear the burden of acquisition and preservation of possessions. Even those the devotees of other gods, who worship in faith, they worship me in ignorance." In other words, the worshipper is to make no difference between himself and the Infinite. He is to refer all his daily acts to the Infinite as the real actor, his own personal ego being ignored. This is not Paul's idea; it is the very reverse of it. It could give comfort only to the evil-doer who desired to shift his personal responsibility.

Let us consider another alleged resemblance. In the fifth chapter Krishna declares that whoever knows him "attains rest." This is presented as a parallel to the words in Christ's prayer: "This is life eternal that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."

In both passages the knowledge of God is made the chief blessing to be sought, but in the one case knowledge means only a recognition of the Infinite Ego as existing in one's personal ego: it is a mere acceptance of that philosophic theory of life. Thus one of the Upanishads declares that "whoever sees all things in God, and God in all things, sees the truth aright;" his philosophy is correct. On the other hand, what Christ meant was not the recognition of a pantheistic theory, but a real heart-knowledge of the Father's character, a loving experience of his divine mercy, his fatherly love, his ineffable glory. The one was cold philosophy, the other was experience, fellowship, gratitude, filial love.

What pantheism taught was that God cannot be known practically--that He is without limitations or conditions that we can distinguish Him from our finiteness only by divesting our conception of Him of all that we are wont to predicate of ourselves. He is subject to no such limitations as good or evil. In Chapter IX., Krishna says: "As air existing in space goes everywhere and is unlimited, so are all things in me.... I am the Vedic rite, I am the sacrifice, I am food, I am sacred formula, I am immortality, I am also death; also the latent cause and the manifest effect." To know the God of the Bhagavad Gita is to know that he cannot be known. "God is infinite in attributes," says Mr. Chatterji, "and yet devoid of attributes. This is the God whom the Bhagavad Gita proclaims."

By a similar contradiction the more the devout worshipper knows of God the less he knows, because the process of knowledge is a process of "effacement;" the closer the gradual union becomes the fainter is the self-personality, till at length it fades away entirely, and is merged and lost as a drop in the illimitable sea. This is the so-called "rest"

which Krishna promises as the reward of knowing him. It is rest in the sense of extinction; it is death; while that which Christ promises is eternal Life with unending and rapturous activity, with ever-growing powers of fellowship and of love.

Take another alleged parallel. Chapter VI. commends the man who has reached such a measure of indifference that "his heart is _even_ in regard to friends and to foes, to the righteous and to evil-doers;" and this is held up as a parallel to the Sermon on the Mount, which commends love to enemies that we may be children of the heavenly Father who sendeth rain upon the just and upon the unjust. In the one case the apathy of the ascetic, the extinction of susceptibility, the ignoring of moral distinctions, the crippling and deadening of our noblest powers; in the other the use of these powers in all ways of beneficence toward those who injure us, even as God, though his heart is by no means "even"

as between the righteous and the wicked, stills shows kindness to both.

Now, in view of the great plausibility of the parallels which are thus presented to the public--parallels whose subtle fallacy the mass of readers are almost sure to overlook--one can hardly exaggerate the importance of thoroughly sifting the philosophy that underlies them, and especially on the part of those who are, or are to become, the defenders of the truth.[79]

But turning from particular parallels to a broader comparison, there is a general use of expressions in the New Testament in regard to which every Christian teacher should aim at clear views and careful discriminations; for example, when we are said to be "temples of the Holy Ghost," or when Christ is said to be "formed in us the hope of glory," or it is "no longer we that live, but Christ that liveth in us."

It cannot be denied that defenders of the Bhagavad Gita, and of the whole Indo-pantheistic philosophy, might make out a somewhat plausible case along these lines. I recall an instance in which an honored pastor had made such extravagant use of these New Testament expressions that some of his co-presbyters raised the question of a trial for pantheism.

But it is one thing to employ strong terms of devotional feeling, as is often done, especially in prayer, and quite another to frame theories and philosophies, and present them as accurate statements of truth. The New Testament nowhere speaks of the indwelling Spirit in such a sense as implies an obliteration or absorption of the conscious individual ego, while "effacement" instead of fellowship is a favorite expression in the Bhagavad Gita. Paul in his most ecstatic language never gives any hint of extinction, but, on the contrary, he magnifies the conception of a separate, conscious, ever-growing personality, living and rejoicing in Divine fellowship for evermore.

In the New Testament the expressions of our union with Christ are often reversed: instead of speaking of Christ as abiding in the hearts and lives of his people, they are sometimes said to abide in Him, and that not in the sense of absorption. Paul speaks of the "saints in Christ,"

of his own "bonds in Christ," of being "baptized in Christ," of becoming "a new creature in Christ," of true Christians as being one body in Christ, of their lives being "hid with Christ in God." Believers are spoken of as being "buried with Christ," "dead with Christ." Every form of expression is used to represent fellowship, intimacy, spiritual union with Him, but always in a rational and practical sense, and with full implication of our distinct and separate personality. The essential hope of the Gospel is that those who believe in Christ shall never die, that even their mortal bodies shall be raised in his image, and that they shall be like Him and shall abide in his presence. On the other hand, "The essence of this pantheistic system," says Mr. Chatterji, "is the denial of real existence to the individual spirit, and the insistance upon its true identity with God" (Chapter IV.).

It only remains to be said that, whatever may be the similarities of expression between this Bible of pantheism and that of Christianity, however they may agree in the utterance of worthy ethical maxims, that which most broadly differentiates the Christian faith from Hindu philosophy is the salient presentation of great fundamental truths which are found in the Word of God alone.

1. The doctrine that God in Christ is "made sin" for the redemption of sinful man--that He is "the end of the law for righteousness" for them that believe; this is indeed Divine help: this is salvation. Divinity does not here become the mere charioteer of human effort, for the purpose of coaching it in the duties of caste and prompting it to fight out its destiny by its own valor. Christ is our expiation, takes our place, for our sakes becomes poor that we through his poverty may become rich. What a boon to all fakirs and merit-makers of the world if they could feel that that law of righteousness which they are striving to work out by mortifications and self-tortures had been achieved for them by the Son of God, and that salvation is a free gift! This is something that can be apprehended alike by the philosopher and by the unlettered masses of men.

2. Another great truth found in our Scriptures is that the pathway by which the human soul returns to God is not the way of knowledge in the sense of philosophy, but the way of intelligent confidence and loving trust. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made." Man by wisdom has never known God. This has been the vain effort of Hindu speculation for ages. The author of the Nyaya philosophy assumed that all evil springs from misapprehension, and that the remedy is to be found in correct methods of investigation, guided by skilfully arranged syllogisms. This has been in all ages the chief characteristic of speculative Hinduism. And the Bhagavad Gita furnishes one of its very best illustrations. Of its eighteen chapters, fifteen are devoted to "Eight Knowledge." And by knowledge is meant abstract speculation. It is a reaching after oneness with the deity by introspection and metaphysical analysis.

"Even if thou wert the greatest evil-doer among all the unrighteous,"

says Krishna, "thou shalt cross over all sins even by the ark of knowledge." "Oh, Arjuna, as blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, so the fire of knowledge turns all action into ashes." But in the first place a knowledge of the infinite within us is unattainable, and in the second place it could not avail us even if attainable. It is not practical knowledge; it is not a belief unto righteousness. Faith is not an act of the brain merely, but of the whole moral nature. The wisdom of self must be laid aside, self-righteousness cast into the dust, the pride and rebellion of the will surrendered, and the whole man become as a little child. This is the way of knowledge that can be made experimental; this is the knowledge that is unto eternal life.

3. Another great differential of the New Testament is found in its true doctrine of divine co-operation with the human will. Our personality is not destroyed that the absolute may take its place, but the two act together. "For men of renunciation," says the Bhagavad Gita, "whose hearts are at rest from desire and anger, and knowing the only self, there is on both sides of death effacement (of the individual) in the supreme spirit." In such a person, therefore, even on this side of death, there is a cessation of the individual in the supreme. Over against this the Gospel presents the doctrine of co-operative grace, which instead of crippling our human energies arouses them to their highest and best exertion. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The divine acts with and through the human, but does not destroy it. It imparts the greatest encouragement, the truest inspiration.

4. We notice but one more out of many points of contrast between the doctrines of the Hindu and the Christian Bibles, viz., the difference between ascetic inaction and the life of Christian activity as means of religious growth. I am aware that in the earlier chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna urges Arjuna to valiant activity on the battle-field, but that is for a special purpose, viz., the establishment of caste distinctions. It is wholly foreign to Hindu philosophy; it is even contradictory. The author of the poem, who seems to be aware of the inconsistency of arousing Arjuna to the mighty activities of the battle-field, and at the same time indoctrinating him in the spirit of a dead and nerveless asceticism, struggles hard with the awkward task of bridging the illogical chasm with three chapters of mystification.

But we take the different chapters as they stand, and in their obvious meaning. "The man of meditation is superior to the man of action," says Chapter I., 46, "therefore, Arjuna, become a man of meditation." How the man of meditation is to proceed is told in Chapter VI., 10-14. "Let him who has attained to meditation always strive to reduce his heart to rest in the Supreme, dwelling in a secret place alone, with body and mind under control, devoid of expectation as well as of acceptance. Having placed in a clean spot one's seat, firm, not very high nor very low, formed of the skins of animals, placed upon cloth and cusa grass upon that, sitting on that seat, strive for meditation, for the purification of the heart, making the mind one-pointed, and reducing to rest the action of the thinking principle as well as that of the senses and organs. Holding the body, neck, and head straight and unmoved, perfectly determined, and not working in any direction, but as if beholding the end of his own nose, with his heart in supreme peace, devoid of fear, with thought controlled and heart in me as the supreme goal, he remains."

How different from all this is that prayer of Christ, "I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil." Or those various words spoken to his disciples: "Let your light so shine before men that others seeing your good works shall glorify your Father which is in heaven." "Work while the day lasts, for the night cometh in which no man can work."

Who can imagine Paul spending all those years of opportunity in sitting on a leopard skin, watching the end of his nose instead of turning the world upside down! In that true sense in which Christ lived within him, He filled every avenue of his being with the aggressive spirit of God's own love for dying men. The same spirit which brought Christ from heaven to earth sent Paul out over the earth. He was not even content to work on old foundations, but regarding himself as under sentence of death he longed to make the most of his votive life, to bear the torch of the truth into all realms of darkness. He was none the less a philosopher because he preferred the simple logic of God's love, nor did he hesitate to confront the philosophy of Athens or the threatenings of Roman tyrants. He was ready for chains and imprisonment, for perils of tempests or shipwreck, or robbers, or infuriate mobs, or death itself.

No Hindu fakir was ever more conscious of the struggle with inward corruption than he, and at times he could cry out, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" but he did not seek relief in idleness and inanity, but in what Dr. Chalmers called "the expulsive power of new affections," in new measures of Christlike devotion to the cause of truth and humanity. In a word, Christ and his kingdom displaced the power of evil. He could do all things through Christ who strengthened him.

Nor was the peace which he felt and which he commended to others the peace of mere negative placidity and indifference. It was loving confidence and trust. "Be careful for nothing"--we hear him saying to his friends at Philippi--"be careful for nothing; but in all things by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make known your requests unto God: and the peace of God, which passeth understanding, shall keep your minds and hearts through Christ Jesus." And yet to show how this consists with devout activity, he commends, in immediate connection with it, the cultivation of every active virtue known to men. Thus, "_Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things._"


[Footnote 74: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1889.]

[Footnote 75: The author seems to overlook the fact that the chief excellence of an evangel to lost men is that it appeals to the masses.]

[Footnote 76: Address published in the _Japan Mail_, 1890.]

[Footnote 77: There is scarcely another passage in all Hindu literature which is so full of half-truths as this, or which turns the sublime powers of the human soul to so unworthy a purpose.]

[Footnote 78: In an enumeration of Hindu gods made in Buddha's time Krishna does not appear.]

[Footnote 79: Never before has there been so much danger as now that the lines of truth will be washed out by the flood-tides of sentimental and semi Christian substitutes and makeshifts. As with commodities, so with religion, dilution and adulteration are the order of the day and a little Christianity is made to flavor a thousand shams.]



New interest has recently been awakened in old controversies concerning the relations of Christianity and Buddhism. The so-called Theosophists and Esoteric Buddhists are reviving exploded arguments against Christianity as means of supporting their crude theories. The charge of German sceptics, that Christianity borrowed largely from Buddhism, is made once more the special stock in trade of these new and fanatical organizations. To this end books, tracts, and leaflets are scattered broadcast, and especially in the United States and Great Britain.

Professor Max Muller says, in a recent article published in _Longman's New Review_: "Who has not suffered lately from Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism? Journals are full of it, novels overflow with it, and one is flooded with private and confidential letters to ask what it all really means. Many people, no doubt, are much distressed in their minds when they are told that Christianity is but a second edition of Buddhism. 'Is it really true?' they ask. 'Why did you not tell us all this before?

Surely, you must have known it, and were only afraid to tell it.' Then follow other questions: 'Does Buddhism really count more believers than any other religion?' 'Is Buddhism really older than Christianity, and does it really contain many things which are found in the Bible?'" And the learned professor proceeds to show that there is no evidence that Christianity has borrowed from Buddhism. In this country these same ideas are perhaps more widely circulated than in England. They are subsidizing the powerful agency of the secular press, particularly the Sunday newspapers, and thousands of the people are confronting these puzzling questions. There is occasion, therefore, for a careful and candid review of Buddhism by all leaders of thought and defenders of truth.

In the brief time allotted me, I can only call attention to a few salient points of a general character. In the outset, a distinction should be drawn between Buddhist history and Buddhist legend, for just at this point the danger of misrepresentation lies. It is true that the Buddha lived before the time of Christ, and therefore anything of the nature of real biography must be of an earlier date than the teachings of Jesus; but whether the _legends_ antedate His life and doctrines is quite another question. The Buddhist apologists all assume that they do, and it is upon the legends that most of the alleged parallelisms in the two records are based. How, then, shall we draw the line between history and legend? The concensus of the best scholarship accepts those traditions in which the northern and southern Buddhist records agree, which the Council of Patna, B.C. 242, adopted as canonical, and which are in themselves credible and consistent with the teachings of Gautama himself. According to this standard of authority Gautama was born about the sixth century B.C., as the son and heir of a rajah of the Sakya tribe of Aryans, living about eighty miles north by northwest of Benares. His mother, the principal wife of Kajah Suddhodana, had lived many years without offspring, and she died not long after the birth of this her only son, Siddartha. In his youth he was married and surrounded by all the allurements and pleasures of an Oriental court. He, too, appears to have remained without an heir till he was twenty-nine years of age, when, upon the birth of a son, certain morbid tendencies came to a climax, and he left his palace secretly and sought true comfort in a life of asceticism. For six years he tried diligently the resources of Hindu self-mortification, but becoming exhausted by his austerities, almost unto death, he abandoned that mode of life, having apparently become atheistic. He renounced the idea of merit-making as a means of spiritual attainment, and he was sorely tempted, no doubt, to return to his former life of ease. But he withstood the temptation and resolved to forego earthly pleasure, and teach mankind what he conceived to be the way of life, through self-control. He had tried pleasure; next he had tried extreme asceticism; he now struck out what he called "The Middle Path," as between self-indulgence on the one hand, and extreme bodily mortification as a thing of merit on the other. This middle ground still demanded abstinence as favorable to the highest mental and moral conditions, but it was not carried to such extremes as to weaken the body or the mind, or impair the fullest operation of every faculty.[80]

There can be no doubt that Gautama's relinquishment of Hinduism marked a great and most trying crisis. It involved the loss of all confidence in him on the part of his disciples, for when he began again to take necessary food they all forsook him as a failure. It was while sitting under the shade of an Indian fig-tree (Boddhi-tree) that this struggle occurred and his victory was gained. There his future course was resolved upon; there was the real birth-place of Buddhism as a system.

He thenceforth began to preach the law, or what he regarded as the way of self-emancipation, and therefore the way of life. He first sought his five followers, who had abandoned him, and succeeded in winning them back. He gathered at length a company of about sixty disciples, whom he trained and sent forth as teachers of his new doctrines. Yet, still influenced by the old Hindu notions of the religious life, he formed his disciples into an order of mendicants, and in due time he established an order of nuns.

It was when Gautama rose up from his meditation and his high resolve under the Bo-tree, that he began his career as "The Enlightened." He was now a Buddha, and claimed to have attained Nirvana. All that has been written of his having left his palace with the purpose of becoming a saviour of mankind, is the sheer assumption of the later legends and their apologists. Buddhism was an after-thought, only reached after six years of bootless asceticism. There is no evidence that when Siddartha left his palace he had any thought of benefiting anybody but himself. He entered upon the life of the recluse with the same motives and aims that have influenced thousands of other monks and anchorets of all lands and ages--some of them princes like himself. Nevertheless, for the noble decision which was finally reached we give him high credit. It seems to have been one of the noblest victories ever gained by man over lower impulses and desires. The passions of youth were not yet dead within him; worldly ambition may be supposed to have been still in force; but he chose the part of a missionary to his fellow-men, and there is no evidence that he ever swerved from his purpose. He had won a great victory over himself, and that fact constituted a secret of great power.

Gautama was about thirty-five years of age when he became a Buddha, and for forty-five years after that he lived to preach his doctrines and to establish the monastic institution which has survived to our time. He died a natural death from indigestion at the age of eighty--greatly venerated by his disciples, and the centre of what had already become a wide-spread system in a large district of India.

The legends of Buddhism are a very different thing from the brief sketch which I have given, and which is based upon the earlier Buddhist literature. These sprang up after Gautama's death, and their growth extended through many centuries--many centuries even of the Christian era. The legends divide the life of the Buddha into three periods: 1.

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