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Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 9

Kuenen, who has little bias in favor of Christianity, and who has made a very thorough examination of Seydel's parallels, has completely refuted these five.[95] And speaking of the whole question he says: "I think we may safely affirm that we must abstain from assigning to Buddhism the smallest direct influence on the origin of Christianity." He also says of similar theories of de Bunsen: "A single instance is enough to teach us that inventive fancy plays the chief part in them."[96]

Rhys Davids, whom Subhadra's "Buddhist Catechism" approves as the chief exponent of Buddhism, says on the same subject: "I can find no evidence of any actual or direct communication of these ideas common to Buddhism and Christianity from the East to the West." Oldenberg denies their early date, and Beal denies them an Indian origin of any date.

_Contrasts between Buddhism and Christianity._

Rhys Davids has pointed out the fact that, while Buddhism in some points is more nearly allied to Christianity than any other system, yet in others it is the farthest possible from it in its spirit and its tendency. If we strike out those ethical principles which, to a large extent, are the common heritage of mankind, revealed in the understanding and the conscience, we shall find in what remains an almost total contrariety to the Christian faith. To give a few examples only.

1. Christ taught the existence and glory of God as Supreme, the Creator and Father, the righteous Judge. His supreme mission to reconcile all men to God was the key-note of all His ministry. By His teaching the hearts of men are lifted up above all earthly conceptions to the worship of infinite purity, and to the comforting assurance of more than a father's care and love. Buddhism, on the contrary, knows nothing of God, offers no heavenly incentive, no divine help. Leading scholars are agreed that, whatever it may be now, the original orthodox Buddhism was essentially atheistic. It despised the idea of divine help, and taught men to rely upon themselves. While, therefore, Buddhism never rose above the level of earthly resources, and contemplated only lower orders of being, Christianity begins with God as supreme, to be worshipped and loved with all the heart, mind, and strength, while our neighbors are to be loved as ourselves.

2. Christ represented Himself as having pre-existed from the foundation of the world, as having been equal with God in the glory of heaven, all of which He resigned that He might enter upon the humiliation of our earthly state, and raise us up to eternal life. He distinctly claimed oneness and equality with the Father. Buddha claimed no such antecedent glory; he spoke of himself as a man merely; the whole aim of his teaching was to show in himself what every man might accomplish. Later legends ascribe to him a sort of pre-existence, in which five hundred and thirty successive lives were passed, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a god, many times as an animal. But even these claims were not made by Buddha himself--except so far as was implied by the common doctrine of transmigration.

Furthermore, in relation to the alleged pre-existences, according to strict Buddhist doctrine it was not really he who had gone before, it was only a Kharma or character that had exchanged hands many times before it could be taken up by the real and conscious Buddha born upon the earth. Still further, even after the beginning of his earthly life he lived for many years in what, according to his own teaching, was heinous sin, all of which is fatal to the theory of pre-existent holiness.

3. Christ is a real Saviour; His atonement claimed to be a complete ransom from the penalty of sin, and by His teaching and example, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, He overcomes the power of sin itself, transforming the soul into His own image. Buddha, on the other hand, did not claim to achieve salvation for any except himself, though Mr. Arnold and others constantly use such terms as "help" and "salvation." Nothing of the kind is claimed by the early Buddhist doctrines; they plainly declare that purity and impurity belong to one's self, and that no one can purify another.

4. Christ emphatically declared Himself a helper, even in this life: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He promised also to send his Spirit as a comforter, as a supporter of his disciples' faith, as a guide and teacher, at all times caring for their need; in whatever exigency his grace would be sufficient for them. On the contrary, Buddha taught his followers that no power in heaven or earth could help them; the victory must be their own. "How can we hope to amend a life," says Bishop Carpenter, "which is radically bad, by the aid of a system which teaches that man's highest aim should be to escape from life? All that has been said against the ascetic and non-worldly attitude of Christianity might be urged with additional force against Buddhism. It is full of the strong, sweet, pathetic compassion which looks upon life with eyes full of tears, but only to turn them away from it again, as from an unsolved and insoluble riddle." And he substantiates his position by quoting Reville and Oldenberg. Reville reaches this similar conclusion: "Buddhism, born on the domain of polytheism, has fought against it, not by rising above nature in subordinating it to a single sovereign spirit, but by reproving nature in principle, and condemning life itself as an evil and a misfortune. Buddhism does not measure itself against this or that abuse, does not further the development or reformation of society, either directly or indirectly, for the very simple reason that it turns away from the world on principle."

Oldenberg, one of the most thorough of Pali scholars, says: "For the lower order of the people, for those born to toil in manual labor, hardened by the struggle for existence, the announcement of the connection of misery with all forms of existence was not made, nor was the dialectic of the law of the painful concatenation of causes and effects calculated to satisfy 'the poor in spirit.' 'To the wise belongeth this law,' it is said, 'not to the foolish.' Very unlike the work of that Man who 'suffered little children to come unto Him, for of such is the kingdom of God.' For children, and those who are like children, the arms of Buddha are not opened."

5. Christ and his disciples set before men the highest motives of life.

The great end of man was to love God supremely, and one's neighbor as himself. Every true disciple was to consider himself an almoner and dispenser of the divine goodness to his race. It was this that inspired the sublime devotion of Paul and of thousands since his time. It is the secret principle of all the noblest deeds of men. Gautama had no such high and unselfish aim. He found no inspiring motive above the level of humanity. His system concentrates all thought and effort on one's own life--virtually on the attainment of utter indifference to all things else. The early zeal of Gautama and his followers in preaching to their fellow-men was inconsistent with the plain doctrines taught at a later day. If in any case there were those who, like Paul, burned with desire to save their fellow-men, all we can say is, they were better than their creed. Such was the spirit of the Gospel, rather than the idle and useless torpor of the Buddhist order. "Here, according to Buddhists,"

says Spence Hardy, "is a mere code of proprieties, an occasional opiate, a plan for being free from discomfort, a system for personal profit."

Buddhism certainly taught the repression of human activity and influence. Instead of saying, "Let your light so shine before men that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father who is in heaven,"

or "Work while the day lasts," it said, "If thou keepest thyself silent as a broken gong, thou hast attained Nirvana." "To wander about like the rhinoceros alone," was enjoined as the pathway of true wisdom.

6. Christ taught that life, though attended with fearful alternatives, is a glorious birthright, with boundless possibilities and promise of good to ourselves and others. Buddhism makes life an evil which it is the supreme end of man to conquer and cut off from the disaster of re-birth. Christianity opens a path of usefulness, holiness, and happiness in this life, and a career of triumph and glory in the endless ages to come. Both Buddhism and Hinduism are worse than other pessimistic systems in their fearful law of entailment through countless transmigrations, each of which must be a struggle.

7. Christ, according to the New Testament, "ever liveth to make intercession for us," and the Holy Spirit represents Him constantly as an ever-living power in the world, to regenerate, save, and bless. But Buddha is dead, and his very existence is a thing of the past. Only traditions and the influence of his example can help men in the struggle of life. Said Buddha to his disciples: "As a flame blown by violence goes out and cannot be reckoned, even so a Buddha delivered from name and body disappears and cannot be reckoned as existing." Again, he said to his Order, "Mendicants, that which binds the Teacher (himself) is cut off, but his body still remains. While this body shall remain he will be seen by gods and men, but after the termination of life, upon the dissolution of the body, neither gods nor men shall see him."

8. Christ taught the sacredness of the human body. "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?" said His great Apostle. But Buddhism says: "As men deposit filth upon a dungheap and depart regretting nothing, wanting nothing, so will I depart leaving this body filled with vile vapors." Christ and His disciples taught the triumphant resurrection of the body in spiritual form and purity after His own image. The Buddhist forsakes utterly and forever the deserted, cast-off mortality, while still he looks only for another habitation equally mortal and corruptible, and possibly that of a lower animal.

Thus, through all these lines of contrast, and many others that might be named, there appear light and life and blessedness on the one hand, and gloom and desolation on the other.

The gloomy nature of Buddhism is well expressed in Hardy's "Legends and Theories of Buddhism" as follows: "The system of Buddhism is humiliating, cheerless, man-marring, soul-crushing. It tells me that I am not a reality, that I have no soul. It tells me that there is no unalloyed happiness, no plenitude of enjoyment, no perfect unbroken peace in the possession of any being whatever, from the highest to the lowest, in any world. It tells me that I may live myriads of millions of ages, and that not in any of those ages, nor in any portion of any age, can I be free from apprehension as to the future, until I attain to a state of unconsciousness; and that in order to arrive at this consummation I must turn away from all that is pleasant, or lovely, or instructive, or elevating, or sublime. It tells me by voices ever repeated, like the ceaseless sound of the sea-wave on the shore, that I shall be subject to sorrow, impermanence, and unreality so long as I exist, and yet that I cannot cease to exist, nor for countless ages to come, as I can only attain nirvana in the time of a Supreme Buddha. In my distress I ask for the sympathy of an all-wise and all-powerful friend. But I am mocked instead by the semblance of relief, and am told to look to Buddha, who has ceased to exist; to the Dharma that never was in existence, and to the Sangha, the members of which are real existences, but like myself are partakers of sorrow and sin."

How shall we measure the contrast between all this and the ecstacies of Christian hope, which in various forms are expressed in the Epistles of Paul; the expected crown of righteousness, the eternal weight of glory; heirship with Christ in an endless inheritance; the house not made with hands; the General Assembly of the first born? Even in the midst of earthly sorrows and persecutions he could say, "Nay, in all things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 80: It is by no means certain that Buddha's followers, in carrying out his system, have not lapsed into the old notions of merit-making asceticism to greater or less extent, and have become virtually very much like the torpid and useless fakirs of the old Hinduism.]

[Footnote 81: The _Jataka_ legends of Ceylon, dating in their present form about 500 A.D., greatly enlarge the proportions of this Northern legend, making the elephant over seven thousand miles high, and widening out the surrounding army to one hundred and sixty four miles.]

[Footnote 82: Of the _Romantic Legend_ found in Nepaul, Beall's translation is probably the best.]

[Footnote 83: See Appendix of _Origin and Growth of Religion as illustrated in Buddhism_.]

[Footnote 84: See _Buddhism_, pp. 110-115.]

[Footnote 85: _Buddhism_, p. 114.]

[Footnote 86: Pp. 265-285.]

[Footnote 87: It is the boast of the author of _Esoteric Buddhism_, that strange mixture of Western spiritualism with Oriental mysticism, that his system despises the tame "goody, goody" spirit of Christianity, and deals with the endless growth of mind.]

[Footnote 88: _Light of Asia_.]

[Footnote 89: Mr. Sinnett, in his _Esoteric Buddhism_, expressed the idea that it was high time that the crudities of spiritualism should be corrected by the more philosophic occultism of the East.]

[Footnote 90: The points of contact between Buddhism and certain forms of Western thought have been ably treated by Professor S.H. Kellogg, in the _Light of Asia and Light of the World_.]

[Footnote 91: A recent tract has appeared, entitled _Theosophy the Religion of Jesus_.]

[Footnote 92: Cited by Professor Kellogg.]

[Footnote 93: Professor T.W. Rhys Davids, in his introduction to _Buddhism_, enumerates the following sources of knowledge concerning the early Buddhism:

1. The _Lalita Vistara_, a Sanscrit work of the Northern Buddhists "full of extravagant fictions" concerning the early portion of Gautama's life.

Davids compares it to Milton's _Paradise Regained_, as a source of history, and claims that although parts of it were translated into Chinese in the first century of our era, there is no proof of its existence in its present form earlier than the sixth century A.D.

2. Two Thibetan versions, based chiefly on the _Lalita Vistara_.

3. The _Romantic Legend_, from the Sanscrit of the Northern Buddhists, translated into Chinese in the sixth century A.D.; English version by Beal published in 1875. This also is an extravagant poem. This and the _Lalita Vistara_ embrace most of the alleged parallels to the Life of Christ.

4. The original Pali text of the _Commentary on the Jatakas_, written in Ceylon probably about the fifth century of our era. Davids considers its account down to the time of Gautama's return to Kapilavastu, "the best authority we have." It contains word for word almost the whole of the life of Gautama given by Turnour, from a commentary on the _Buddhavansa_, "which is the account of the Buddhas contained in the second Pitaka."

5. An account taken by Spence Hardy from Cingalese books of a comparatively modern date.

6. An English translation by Bigandet of a Burmese account, which was itself a translation of unknown date made from a Pali version.

7. An account of the death of Gautama, given in Pali and said to be the oldest of all the sources. It is full of wonders created by the fancy of the unknown author, but differs widely from the fancy sketches of the _Lalita Vistara_ of the North.

8. A translation by Mr. Alabaster of a Siamese account. It does not claim to be exact.]

[Footnote 94: T.W. Rhys Davids illustrates the worthlessness of poetic narrations as grounds of argument by quoting from Milton's _Paradise Regained_ this mere fancy sketch of the accompaniments of Christ's temptation:

"And either tropic now 'Gan thunder and both ends of heaven; the clouds From many a horrid rift abortive poured Fierce rain with lightning mixed, water with fire In ruin reconciled; nor slept the winds Within their stony caves, but rush'd abroad From the four hinges of the world, and fell On the vex'd wilderness; whose tallest pines Tho' rooted deep as high and sturdiest oaks, Bowed their stiff necks, loaden with stormy blasts Or torn up sheer. Ill wast Thou shrouded then, O patient Son of God, yet stood'st alone Unshaken! nor yet staid the terror there; Infernal ghosts and hellish furies round Environed Thee; some howl'd, some yell'd, some shriek'd, Some bent at Thee their fiery darts, while Thou Sat'st unappall'd in calm and sinless peace."

Book iv.]

[Footnote 95: See _National Religion and Universal Religion_, p. 362.]

[Footnote 96: _Hibbert Lectures_, 1882.]

LECTURE VI.

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