You are here

Appendix 15.

Appendix 15.
Similarities Between Christianity and Buddhism.

Dr. Seydel in his ‘Das Evangelium von Jesu in seinen Verhältnissen zu Buddha-sage and Buddha-lehre’ (1882) tells us that Abubekr recognised Mohammed as sent by God because he sat under a tree and because no one could sit under that tree after Jesus. This he maintains proves that Jesus also sat under a tree and that this was a sign of his Messiahship. But the tree thus mentioned in a Mohammedan legend is not a fig-tree but as we are told distinctly a Sizyphus tree. Nor is it said that Mohammed was recognised as sent by God because he sat under a tree under which no one could sit after Jesus had sat under it. The words are simply: ‘The prophet sat under the shadow of a tree where he and Abubekr had before been sitting together. Abubekr then went to a hermit and asked him for the true religion. The hermit asked: “Who is the man under the shadow of the tree?” He answered: “Mohammed the son of Abd Allah.” The hermit said: “By Allah this is a prophet; no one but Mohammed the messenger of God sits after Jesus under that tree.”’ Nothing is said that the hermit recognised Mohammed because he sat under a tree. Sitting under a tree never was a sign of prophethood with the Mohammedans. It simply means he recognised him while sitting in the shadow of a tree as the prophet who should come after Jesus.

When I say that some of the similarities between Christianity and Buddhism have not yet been accounted for I do not mean such outward similarities as that a star stood over the palace in which Buddha was born or that his conception was supposed to be miraculous or that his advent was expected or that he was tempted by Mâra before he began the preaching of his doctrine.
With regard to the star we know that no auspicious event could happen in India without an auspicious star. At the birth of former Buddhas also certain constellations were inevitable1.
As to the advent of a Buddha being expected or foretold it seems doubtful whether this was an historical fact in India. The hope for the coming of a deliverer or a Messiah was an historical fact among the Jews but it cannot be proved to have existed in India before the rise of historical Buddhism. We find it indeed as part of the Buddhist system in the canonical books of the Buddhists but an independent trace of it before the birth of Buddha has not yet been discovered.
Nor can we be surprised that Buddha should be represented as having been tempted by an evil spirit called Mâra for such temptations form again an inevitable element in the lives of saints and founders of religions.
Far more perplexing are such coincidences as that for instance at the birth of Buddha the wise people should have been in doubt whether be would found a great kingdom on earth or become the preacher of a new doctrine just as the Jews were in doubt whether the Messiah would found a great earthly kingdom or the true kingdom of God. For here we seem to deal with historical facts. Buddha was of princely birth and his adopting the humble life of a preacher and teacher was always considered by the Brâhmans as an unpardonable breach of caste2.
Again the visit of the old sage Asita his desire to see the royal babe his clear prophecy of his coming greatness and his lament that he himself was born out of time (akshana) to profit by his teaching—all these together are startling.
I must confess that I was startled also when I read for the first time that at the incarnation of Buddha ‘a great light appeared the blind received their sight the deaf heard a noise the dumb spake one with another the crooked became straight the lame walked’ &c. But on more careful consideration I soon found that this phrase as it occurs in Buddhism and Christianity had its independent antecedents in the tradition both of Judæa and of India.
Of course Oriental fancy if once roused is not satisfied with such simple miracles. The author of the Nidâna-kathâ3 goes on: ‘All prisoners were freed from their bonds and chains. In each hell the fire was extinguished. The hungry ghosts received food and drink. The wild animals ceased to be afraid. The illness of all who were sick was allayed. All men began to speak kindly. Horses neighed and elephants trumpeted gently. All musical instruments gave forth each its note though none played upon them. Bracelets and other ornaments jingled of themselves. All the heavens became clear. A cool soft breeze wafted pleasantly for all. Rain fell out of due season. Water welling up from the very earth overflowed. The birds forsook their flight on high. The rivers stayed their waters’ flow. The waters of the mighty ocean became fresh. Everywhere the earth was covered with lotuses of every colour. All flowers blossomed on land and in water. The trunks and branches and twigs of trees were covered with bloom appropriate to each. On earth tree-lotuses sprang up by sevens together breaking even through the rocks; and hanging-lotuses descended from the skies. The ten thousand world-systems revolved and rushed as close together as a bunch of gathered flowers; and became as it were a woven wreath of worlds as sweet-smelling and resplendent as a mass of garlands or as a sacred altar decked with flowers.’
Such is the rush of Eastern fancy if the sluices are once opened. The fundamental idea however is simple enough. When a new teacher arises and a new life begins men hope that all evils will be cured all injuries will be redressed. The first evils that suggest themselves are naturally blindness deafness and lameness. It was hoped therefore that these and many other evils would cease when Buddha appeared and a new order of things began.
But here is the difference between Buddhism and Christianity. There is no trace of Messianic prophecies in India. The expectation of a Buddha has never been traced in pre-Buddhistic writings. All we can say is that the idiomatic phrase of ‘the blind will see and the lame will walk’ existed in the ancient language of India and was adopted by the Buddhists like many others.
Thus we read Rv. II. 15 7:
Práti sronáh sthât ví anák akashta
sómasya tấ máde Índrah kakàra.
‘The lame stood the blind saw Indra did this in the joy of Soma.’
This may really refer to parâvríg or the sun as in II. 13 12 but in IV. 30 19 the same expression occurs without reference to any special hero. In VIII. 79 2 the same miracle is ascribed to Soma himself:
Abhí ûrnoti yát nagnám bhishákti vísvam yát turám
prá îm andháh khyat níh sronáh bhût.
‘Soma covers what is naked he heals all that is weak the blind saw the lame came forth.’
See also in X. 25 11. In I. 112 8 the Asvins are said to have helped the blind and lame Parâvrig to see and to walk.
If the ancient Vedic gods could do this it was but natural that the same miracle in almost the same words should be ascribed to Buddha.
It was very different with the Jews. The Jews had for centuries expected a Messiah a deliverer from all the evils which they endured in their captivity and political servitude. Thus Isaiah prophesied (xxix. 18): ‘And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.’ And again (xxxv. 5): ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out and streams in the desert’ &c.
When therefore John wishes to convince himself whether the Christ has really appeared he is informed that ‘the blind receive their sight and the lame walk the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’ (Matt. xi. 5; Luke vii. 22). And the people at large also when they were beyond measure astonished at the works done by Jesus exclaimed: ‘He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak’ (Mark vii. 37).
We thus see that though the coincidence is startling at first sight there is nothing in it that would require the admission of an historical borrowing either on the Christian or on the Buddhist side.
One more coincidence deserves to be pointed out. Kumârila when attacking Buddha's doctrine says: ‘And this very transgression of Buddha and his followers is represented as if it did him honour. For he is praised because he said: “Let all the sins that have been committed in this world fall on me that the world may be delivered4.”’
I have not found this saying of Buddha anywhere in the Buddhist Canon itself but its genuineness can hardly be doubted considering by whom it is mentioned.

From the book: