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Buddhism and Christianity

(From Wikipedia)

                       There is speculation concerning a possible connection between both the Buddha and the Christ, and between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism originated in India about 500 years before the Apostolic Age and the origins of Christianity. Scholars have explored connections between Buddhism and Christianity. Some have compared the earlier infancy account of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke to that of the Buddha in the later Lalitavistara Sutra (aMahāyāna/Sarvāstivāda biography dating to the 3rd century CE.[1]). During the life of Jesus Christ[2] and the period in which texts like the Gospel of Thomas were composed, Buddhist missionaries lived in Alexandria, Egypt.[3] The Buddhist Jack McQuire believes that in the 4th century, Christian monasticism developed in Egypt, and it emerged with a corresponding structure comparable to the Buddhist monasticism of its time and place.[2]

                          In the 13th century, international travelers, such as Giovanni de Piano Carpini and William of Ruysbroeck, sent back reports of Buddhism as a religion whose scriptures, doctrine, saints, monastic life, meditation practices, and rituals were comparable to those of Christianity and of Nestorian Christian communities in close proximity to traditionally Buddhist communities.[4] When European Christians made more direct contact with Buddhism in the early 16th century many Catholic missionaries (e.g. Francis Xavier) sent home idyllic accounts of Buddhism.[4] At the same time, however, Portuguese colonizers of Sri Lanka confiscated Buddhist properties across the country, with the full cooperation of the Christian missionaries.[4] This repression of Buddhism in Sri Lanka continued during the rule of subsequently the Dutch and the English. Portuguese historian Diego de Conto reminded the Vatican that their Christian tradition of Saint Josaephat was actually the Buddha.[5]

                                With the arrival of Sanskrit studies in European universities in the late 18th century, and the subsequent availability of Buddhist texts, a discussion began of a proper encounter with Buddhism.[4] The esteem for its teachings and practices grew, and at the end of the 19th century the first Westerners (e.g. Sir Edwin Arnold andHenry Olcott) converted to Buddhism, and in the beginning of the 20th century the first westerners (e.g. Ananda Metteyya and Nyanatiloka) entered the Buddhist monastic life.[4]

Buddhist culture and pre-Christian Greece

Further information: History of Buddhism and Greco-Buddhism

                                       By the time of Jesus, the teachings of the Buddha had already spread through much of India and penetrated into Sri Lanka, Central Asia and China.[12] They display certain similarities to Christian moral precepts of more than five centuries later; the sanctity of life, compassion for others,rejection of violence, confession and emphasis on charity and the practice of virtue. 

                              Will Durant, noting that the Emperor Ashoka sent missionaries, not only to elsewhere in India and to Sri Lanka, but to Syria, Egypt and Greece, speculated in the 1930s that they may have helped prepare the ground for Christian teaching.[13]

Expansion of Buddhist culture westward

                              Meanwhile, the Buddha's teachings had spread north-west, into Parthian territory. Buddhist stupa remains have been identified as distant as the Silk Road city of Merv.[15] Soviet archeological teams in Giaur Kala, near Merv, have uncovered a Buddhist monastery, complete with huge buddharupa. Parthian nobles such as An Shih Kaoare known to have adopted Buddhism and were among those responsible for its further spread towards China.

Christian Awareness of Buddhism

The Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria states in the 2nd century CE:

                              "Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Sarmanas among the Bactrians  and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians, who foretold the Saviour's birth, and came into the land of Judaea guided by a star. The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sramanas , and others Brahmins ."

—Clement of Alexandria "The Stromata, or Miscellanies" Book I, Chapter XV[21]

Clement writes of the Buddha:

"Among the Indians are those philosophers also who follow the precepts of Boutta, whom they honour as a god on account of his extraordinary sanctity."

— Clement of Alexandria, Stromata(Miscellanies), Book I, Chapter XV

                             Early 3rd-4th century Christian writers such as Hippolytusand Epiphanius write of one Scythianus who visited India around 50 CE, whence he brought the "doctrine of the Two Principles". Scythianus' pupil Terebinthussupposedly presented himself as a "Buddha" ("he called himself Buddas" Cyril of Jerusalem) and became well known in Judaea and was said to have conversed with the apostles and to have brought books back from his trade with India. The same author says his books and knowledge were taken over by Mani, and became the foundation of the Manichean doctrine.[17]

Possible Buddhist influence

                                       In 1883, Max Müller, the pioneering scholar of comparative religion and orientalist, asserted in his India: What it Can Teach Us: "That there are startling coincidences between Buddhism and Christianity cannot be denied, and it must likewise be admitted that Buddhism existed at least 400 years before Christianity. I go even further, and should feel extremely grateful if anybody would point out to me the historical channels through which Buddhism had influenced early Christianity." In 1918, in his History of Religions, Professor E. Washburn Hopkins of Yale goes so far as to say, "Finally, the life, temptation, miracles, parables, and even the disciples of Jesus have been derived directly from Buddhism." [21] 

                            Canon Burnett Hillman Streeter's 1932 Bampton Lectures The Buddha and the Christ have as sub-title An Exploration of the Meaning of the Universe and of the Purpose of Human Life. He argued that the moral teaching of the Buddha has four remarkable resemblances to the Sermon on the Mount."[22]

                             Much more recently, the historian Jerry H. Bentley (1993) notes "the possibility that Buddhism influenced the early development of Christianity" and that scholars "have drawn attention to many parallels concerning the births, lives, doctrines, and deaths of the Buddha and Jesus".[23]

                              In his Buddhism Omnibus Iqbal Singh similarly acknowledges the possibility of early interaction and, thus, influence of Buddhist teachings upon the Christian tradition in its formative period.[24]

                               In 2004 Burkhard Scherer, Reader in Religious Studies at England's Canterbury Christ Church University stated: "...it is very important to draw attention to the fact that there is [massive] Buddhist influence in the Gospels....Since more than a hundred years, Buddhist influence in the Gospels has been known and acknowledged by scholars from both sides." He further drew attention to J Duncan M Derrett's recent book The Bible and the Buddhist (Sardini, Bornato [Italy] 2001), and agreed with Derret, writing "I am convinced that there are many Buddhist narratives in the Gospels."[25]

                               Thomas Tweed, Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that between 1879 and 1907 there were a "number of impassioned discussions about parallels and possible historical influence between Buddhism and Christianity in ... a variety of periodicals". By 1906 interest waned somewhat.