Buddha vs Jesus

On a recent visit to a forum, a Buddhist participant brought out a list of parallels between Buddha and Jesus. This list is apparently one of those sorts that takes on a life of its own and gets passed around the Internet uncritically; a search reveals over a dozen sites now using it.

I asked the Buddhist for documentation from primary Buddhist documents/scriptures and he declined, oddly enough saying he did not have the needed access or familiarity with primary Buddhist documents! So I tracked a few of them down; others involve finding sources nowhere near me, and will have to lay flat for the time being.

If the list seems out of order to those who have seen it, it is because I am collecting claims by author/title and rearranging the list for convenience.

The work referenced is Ernest deBunsen's The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians, and thanks to a reader in North Carolina, we now have copies of the relevant pages. de Bunsen (1819-1903) seems to have been one of those eclectic writers; his other books include The keys of Saint Peter, or, The house of Rechab connected with the history of symbolism and idolatry; The hidden wisdom of Christ and the key of knowledge, or, History of the Apocrypha; and Islam, or true Christianity : including a chapter on Mahomed's place in the church.

His book we want was published in 1880 and is only available in 15 libraries according to OCLC. One might question how the original composer of this list got access to so many obscure sources at one time.

A fellow researcher passed on some info on deBunsen that I am informed derives from Marcus Borg's Jesus and Buddha:

One of the first of the spiritual explorers, a Dutch writer named Ernest de Bunsen, equated the Asian concept of an "angel messiah"- -a messiah from another world--with Jesus. In his fanciful 1880 book The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians, he told of Jews returning from the Babylonian Exile, transporting in their caravans not only rare spices from the East but also a revolutionary concept. According to de Bunsen, the angel myth was adopted by the Essenes, a Jewish sect living in the desert during the first century, who applied it to Jesus. But Jesus, de Bunsen claimed, refuted the Essenes and tried to hide the fact that he was the messiah. Difficult to believe in any era, de Bunsen's theory was completely discredited with the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which most scholars attribute to the Essenes. To date, the remains of about 800 scrolls have been discovered; not one mentions Jesus or an "angel messiah." But here you see the 'Angel from another world' is really One and the Same person because the 'Masters name' is never revealed.

And now that we have those pages, what of the claims? Well:

So this was our first close look at a source used for this list -- and the score for accuracy is dismal.

Lillie was also a bit of a loony from the looks of some of his titles: Buddhism in Christendom: or, Jesus, the Essene; Modern mystics and modern magic; containing a full biography of the Rev. William Stainton Moses, together with sketches of Swedenborg, Boehme, Madame Guyon, the Illuminati, the kabbalists, the theosophists, the French spiritists, the Society of Psychical Research, etc. (this was an age of long titles), and Râma and Homer; an argument that in the Indian epics Homer found the theme of his two great poems, which would make at one classical scholar we know have fits. You may also like his Croquet: its history, rules, and secrets if it wasn't another Arthur Lillie who wrote it.

We may note to start that the "walking on water" parallel is rather broad. The purpose of the miracles is decidedly different. Moreover, let's recall that for Jesus the OT already said of God, "Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea." (Job 9:8) Jesus had the "idea" long before Buddha lived.

A reader has also added: Edwin Yamauchi, a distinguished professor of ancient history at Miami University in Ohio claims that the first biography of the Buddha was written in the first century. Kenneth Ch'en claims that the Pali (1st-cent BC) contains stories of the Buddha. However, no miracles stories appear until the Sanskrit nearly 200 years later. Graham Twelftree, a historical Jesus scholar who has specialized in the miracles of Jesus (Jesus: The Miracle Worker) claims that there are no clear reports of miracle workers like Jesus within 200 years of his life, before or after. Thus, the "walking on water" story was probably borrowed by a certain sect of Buddhism such as the Chinese Dhammapada after Jesus.

However, thanks to a reader at BYU, we now have a copy of these pages and here is our report:

This one is actually a "ringer" already because Jesus did not "wander" to a fig tree, but went to it purposefully, and did not do so at the end of a fast. But we now have this page from Schoeps' book courtesy of a reader at BYU -- and it says nothing about this at all. P. 167 is mostly a sermon of Buddha on a "middle path" of avoiding the extremes of violent asceticism and worldly activity. No fig tree, no fast.

We've noted in other contexts that this isn't much of a parallel -- the big "three oh" was a standard age of transition among the ancients. But we'll see if modern copies of EA are still reporting this. After the great Pope Leo X encyclopedia citation scandal, I'm sure not accepting cites like these at face value. Unfortunately, I have no way of checking to see if a 1963 encyclo is anywhere near me, so I'll do as I did with Leo and ask select readers to see if there is one near them.

Conway seems to have been a prolific author; among his works were a biography of Thomas Paine. This one is also "hard to get" so if anyone can get it for me and copy page 173, please let me know.

The author "Muller" and the title "Science" is one we we'll have to leave to the side, because it could be any one of several books: Max Muller's Lectures on the science of religion, with a paper on Buddhist nihilism, and a translation of the Dhammapada or "Path of virtue"; Herbert Muller's Science & criticism; the humanistic tradition in contemporary thought; or Max's Contributions to the science of mythology, or Science of Thought -- the fact that such an incomplete citation is offered is perhaps significant. Note, however, that there is really no parallel at all in cites 2 and 4 of this cluster, and cite 5 is merely a parallel of a universal moral teaching of humility; similar sentiments are found in contemporary Jewish and Roman literature [Keener, Matthew commentary, 207]. These kinds of parallels simply are not significant.

"Beal"? This might be Samuel Beal, who wrote a book called Buddhism in China in 1884 but also co-authored over a dozen other books related to Buddhism. Yet we don't even get a title for this cite! This is yet another citation so vague it can't be pursued.

Hardy's book was written in 1866 and can be found at less than 75 libraries. So yes -- if anyone can find it, let me know.

We don't even have to get this one, because even if correct it is misdirected. John 9:2 is often twisted to refer to reincarnation, but it actually refers to Jewish beliefs that an infant could sin in the womb. There is no parallel here even if the cite is accurate.

We need not even touch the first two of these, because the process of gaining disciples and sending them out to spread the message is a universal -- it's found in the lives of moral teachers all over the world and all through time and as such is a meaningless and generalized parallel.

The last one is a case of collapsed generalization. From here, a reputable source online about Buddhism, we get this story, which shows that the parallel to Judas is superficial and only accomplished by generalizing and collapsing down terms:

Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha who entered the Order and gained supernormal powers of the mundane plane (puthujjana-iddhi). Later, however, he began to harbour thoughts of jealousy and ill will toward his kinsman, the Buddha, and his two chief disciples, Sâriputta and Mahâ Moggallâna, with the ambition of becoming the leader of the Sangha, the Order of Monks.
Devadatta wormed himself into the heart of Ajâtasattu, the young prince, the son of King Bimbisâra. One day when the Blessed One was addressing a gathering at the Veluvana Monastery, where the king, too, was present, Devadatta approached the Buddha, saluted him, and said: "Venerable sir, you are now enfeebled with age. May the Master lead a life of solitude free from worry and care. I will direct the Order."
The Buddha rejected this overture and Devadatta departed irritated and disconcerted, nursing hatred and malice toward the Blessed One. Then, with the malicious purpose of causing mischief, he went to Prince Ajâtasattu, kindled in him the deadly embers of ambition, and said:
"Young man, you had better kill your father and assume kingship lest you die without becoming the ruler. I shall kill the Blessed One and become the Buddha."
So when Ajâtasattu murdered his father and ascended the throne Devadatta suborned ruffians to murder the Buddha, but failing in that endeavour, he himself hurled down a rock as the Buddha was climbing up Gijjhakûta Hill in Râjagaha. The rock tumbled down, broke in two, and a splinter slightly wounded the Buddha. Later Devadatta made an intoxicated elephant charge at the Buddha; but the animal prostrated himself at the Master's feet, overpowered by his loving-kindness. Devadatta now proceeded to cause a schism in the Sangha, but this discord did not last long. Having failed in all his intrigues, Devadatta retired, a disappointed and broken man. Soon afterwards he fell ill, and on his sick-bed, repenting his follies, he desired to see the Buddha. But that was not to be; for he died on the litter while being carried to the Blessed One. Before his death, however, he uttered repentance and sought refuge in the Buddha

Like Hardy's book above, this was written in the mid-1800s; it is found in less than 100 libraries. So yes -- another wait until someone out there volunteers. (Though we would note in passing that forsaking of possessions is a moral universal!)

Same note as above on the other encyclo. If anyone has a 1974 Britannica nearby, please advise. A reader with a 1973 edition has recently advised us:

I don't know how much they changed from 1973 to 1974, but Buddhism is covered in volume 4, not 2. Buddha himself is covered in volume 10, under Gautama Buddha. The entry itself takes up a whole half page, including the bibliography. I found no mention of Buddha asking three times for anything in either entry. What it did say, though, was that Buddhist scriptures were not written down until different sects had emerged, and each sect wrote their own set. The earliest extant Indian language version wasn't recorded until six centuries after Buddha.

It should be fairly noted that 1973 was the 14th ed. of the EB (1929-1973) while 1974 started the 15th ed., but I consider it unlikely that there were substantive changes. The burden is still on the critic.

This book is found in only ONE library in the entire US. How did the original listmaker get hold of this and so many other obscure titles at once?

Update 2011: A reader got hold of this title and has this repor of what is on page 341:

"A.D. 65. This reign is rendered memorable by the authorised introduction of Buddhism, or the religion of Fuh, into China. The creed was not unknown there at an earlier period; in the reign of Che-hwang-te [Qin Shi Huang](B.C. 217), a Buddhist missionary priest, called by the Chinese historians Shih-le-fang [Shih-Li-Fang], came from "the west" (Sefang) into Shan-se, accompanied by eighteen other priests, with their sacred books, in order to propagate the faith of Buddha; that emperor, disliking foreigners and exotic customs, imprisoned the missionaries, but (according to the Buddhist authorities) one of the genii, named King-kang, opened the door of the prison and liberated them. Again, in the reign of Woo-te, an image of Fuh is said to have been brought, from which the Fuh-seang, or Fuh idols of the present day, are modelled; and in that of Gae-te, one King-heen performed a journey to the kingdom of Yu-teen (Khoten), whence he brought some Buddhist writings. Hence it would appear that the extensive diffusion of Buddhism in China was the fruit of the zealous efforts made by its early teachers. The sect gradually increased in numbers, especially in the frontier provinces, but it was reserved for Ming-te to recognize it, and to plant a third religion in China."

No source appears to be cited, however. I did some digging and did find an article in the Journal of Religion from 1923 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1195125), which mentions that "an early chronicle records a mission in 217 B.C. when Li Fang and seventeen others arrived at Hsi-An." However, again, no specific source is cited, and it does not mention the "genii" freeing them.

A more recent (mid-20th century) book named "The Buddhist Conquest of China" refers to the story (though it says a "Golden Man" freed them rather than a genii), and says the source of the story is a 597 AD work named "Li-tai san-pao chi" (some places either remove the hyphens or replace them with spaces). Unfortunately, said work does not seem to have an English translation that I can easily find, and furthermore the way I read "The Buddhist Conquest of China" was through Google Books, whose preview function does not seem to completely include the bibliography. If you want to look at the section yourself, you can at http://books.google.com/books?id=GYsKhU7UW-cC&lpg=PP1&ots=bxz_y3CMFH&dq=%22the%20buddhist%20conquest%20of%20china%22&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false on pages 19-20. I have looked through JStor briefly by searching for "Li-tan san-pao chi", though, and the articles I found do seem to confirm that the story in question originates from the Li-tai san-pao chi. If I get any more information on the subject or any of the other sources cited on the "buddhist parallels" list, I will tell you.

This one is a vague generalization - miracle working is a paradigm in many religious faiths for founders and disciples alike - but we'll look at anyway. Our contact at BYU sent us copies of this page, which only generally says that, "Innumerable are the miracles ascribed to Buddhist saints" -- no dates or names are given; these "disciples" could have been years and miles from the original Buddha.

In fact Child seems to be talking about Buddhists who live in her own day, as she speaks of them in the present tense. The only specific miracles Child notes are that those who consecrate an image to Buddha are promised no eternal torment, earthly slavery, or earthly deformity. Child does not mention or compare to Jesus.