Page images

deliverance of mankind from sin and its consequences. The Dévas, or divinities, selected Suddhódana, King of Kapilavastu, to be his father. His mother was a virgin. He miraculously entered her womb, and was born from her side, without the intervention of a human father. As an infant he was presented at the temple of Maheshwara, when all the figures of the gods rose up and did him obeisance. As an adult, he passed his first years in his father's Palace, leading a life of enjoyment. Then the vanity of a worldly existence was impressed upon him by his observing four sights, that of a worn-out man, a leper, a corpse, and a religious mendicant with a joyous countenance. On this he gave up his royal position, and for six years practised austerities, and lived as an ascetic. “ Though he was rich,” for the sake of others “he became poor, that they, through his poverty, might be rich.” He followed, in fact, the Essenism of his day, as Jesus is represented to have done. In the Sanchi Topes near Bhilsa, he is depicted “giving away his whole possessions, his children, and his wife, so that there might be no remnant of selfishness left in his nature, and thus he might be fitted to undertake the salvation of men.” Then he was assailed with temptations by the demon Mára, but he resisted them, and the tempter withdrew defeated. The corresponding temptation of Jesus by the Devil, at the outset of his ministry, will of course occur to every one. His spiritual victory being thus established, he entered upon his mission (Prof. Wilson in Jour. of As. Soc., XVI., 242-248; Wilson, Essays on Rel. of the Hindús, II., 335-340 ; Beal, Catena of Buddhist scriptures, 5, 127-134).

Buddhism made rapid advances, even during the life-time of its founder; and about the middle of the third century B.C., when it had become a state religion, in the reign of king Asoka, it began to spread all over India. It so flourished till the fifth century of the Christian era, when the Bráhmans succeeded in obtaining the ascendency and extirpated it from India; but it has retained its hold to the present day in Ceylon, Burmah, and the Eastern Archipelago, and from the Caucasus to Japan, including Asiatic Tartary, Tibet, Nepal, and China. It is supposed still to number 340,000,000 of adherents, being in excess by about 5,000,000 of the estimated number of Christians (Schlagintweit, Buddhism in

Tibet, 9-14 ; Hardwick, Christ and other Masters, I., 58). By a faith thus attractive, and thus successfully propagated, it is not to be supposed that Alexandria, an emporium of commerce, and on the highway between the nations of the east and the west, should have failed to become influenced. We find, accordingly, in just the time of the activity of the Buddhist missionaries, namely, in the two centuries immediately preceding the Christian era, a sect in the neighbourhood of Alexandria, who, in all essential respects, represented the Buddhists; and they occurred also in Palestine. I refer, of course, to the Therapeuts and Essenes. These sectaries maintained their connection with Judaism, but, like the Buddhists, gave up the world, and its enjoyments, to cultivate the aspirations of the soul. They devoted themselves to the good of their fellow creatures, and were active propagandists; they abstained from eating flesh, practised ablutions for spiritual purification, and purified themselves, especially for their meals, or when they happened to come in contact with those of another or a lower denomination than themselves features all betraying the oriental origin of their system. They furthermore had an unnamed “law-giver," and “ sacred scriptures,” the character of which has not been divulged. There seems nothing to attribute to them, in view of all the specialities that distinguished them, but that they may have recognized Buddha as their founder, and possessed his “holy scriptures,” of which circumstances, being still in Jewish connection, they made a mystery.

But we are not left to inference in this matter of the access of Buddhism to the Christian field. There is direct evidence that the legend of Buddha found its way to Alexandria in the earliest times that can be alleged for Christianity. In the controversies that arose between the first Christians and the Manichæans, the doctrines of the latter were traced to one Scythianus. The name associates him with that Scythic nationality to which Buddha also apparently belonged. This Scythianus is said to have been a man of literary habits, a merchant trading with India, married to an Egyptian slave girl, domiciled in Alexandria, versed in the philosophies and learning of India and Egypt, and a contemporary of the apostles. In this manner he is said to have constructed those

peculiar views expressed in Manichoeism, and it is alleged that, in order to test his doctrine, he went to Jerusalem and disputed with the apostles. Shortly after this he died, when his slave and disciple Terebinthus is said to have possessed himself of his effects and papers, armed with which he went to Babylon, and there gave himself out to be Buddha, and born of a virgin. Mr Priaulx gives the account as obtained from Archelaus' disputation held in A.D. 275-9, the Catacheses of Cyril of Jerusalem of A.D. 361, and the work on heresies of Epiphanius of A.D. 375 (Jour. of As. Soc., XX. 269, 270). Professor Wilson notices that Clement of Alexandria, accounted to have been of the second century, and Porphyry, who was of the third, exhibit a knowledge of the Buddhists and their ways; also that Jerome, who lived at the end of the fourth century or the beginning of the fifth, knew of the birth of Buddha from the side of a virgin ; as also did Hieronymus, according to Mr Priaulx, who was of A.D. 420, and had the fact as a tradition of the Gymnosophists, whom Major Cunningham considers to have been Buddhists (Jour. of As. Soc., XIII. 113; XVI. 231; XX. 271; Wilson, Essays on Rel. of Hindús, II. 315). Mr Beal notices a remarkable instance of the manner in which the legend of Buddha obtained currency among the Westerns. “In the middle ages,” he states, “there was a favourite legend known throughout Europe, and generally accepted as genuine, under the name of Barlaam and Josaphat. This history is at present widely circulated in the modern edition of The Lives of the Saints, by Simeon the Translator. But on examination we find that the life of Josaphat, who has somehow crept into the Roman Martyrology, was but a copy of the well-known history of Sakya Buddha, and was appropriated doubtlessly by the early Christian hagiographers, as being in itself a very touching and natural account of the struggle of a sensitive conscience with the temptations of a wicked and ensnaring world” (Catena, 5).

On the whole, if we are satisfied, as we must be, of the identity, in many respects, of the doctrinal aims of Buddha and those of the Christians, and of the correspondence of Buddha with Jesus in the grand outlines of character and work, as well as in several important personal particulars and associated incidents, we need be under no difficulty in assuring

ourselves that the early Christians, in scheming out their new faith, had ample opportunities of building it up with the tempting materials afforded them by the corresponding movement, instituted, in a prior age, by the great Indian reformer. Their contact with Therapeuts and Essenes, those essential Buddhists, from out of whom their founder, according to the details given of him, must have taken his path, will alone account for much of these similitudes; and the sphere of Alexandria, with its intercourse with the East, and aptitude for cultivation of Eastern philosophies, explains the rest. Proofs existing of the knowledge of Buddhistic history among renowned Christian writers of very early periods, it may readily be concluded that there was such knowledge, in the same circle, from the first.

The traffic maintained between India and Alexandria, the interest taken in Alexandria in the mystical doctrines flowing in from the East, and the operations of Buddhist missionaries actively propagating their beliefs in this field, amply suffice to account for the appearance in the Christian creed, newly developing in Alexandria, of those Eastern religious elements which so largely pervade and influence it. The presence of the Buddhist missionaries and their literature, of which such decided traces are found in association with Alexandria and the early Christians, of itself explains the introduction to the knowledge of the Christians of whatever was current in mythical form in Hinduism. The Buddhists, wbile discarding the ritual of the Bráhmans, acknowledged the various divinities of the Hindú pantheon, and in the Lalita Vistara occur the names of several of the famous heroes of the Mahábhárata (Prof. Wilson in Journal of As. Soc., XVI. 243, 248), while Mr Weber's attempt to trace the other great Brahmanical epic, the Rámáyana, to a Buddhist Saga, * indicates that they were equally familiar with the tale of Ráma. The analogies themselves between the religious notions of the Hindus and the Christians, are in many respects so striking, as to make it apparent that the one body have copied their representations from the other. Christian advocates admit the circumstance, but endeavour to comfort themselves with the idea that the earlier race bave been the imitators and not the instructors of

* “The Legends of the Old Testament,” 69-73.

their primitive brethren. It is a device with a transparent motive, and easily capable of exposure.

Sir William Jones, who was the first, in modern times, to open out the religious lore of the East to the nations of the West, suggested this solution of the difficulty before him, and others have only been too ready to adopt the explanation. Unwilling that the “adamantine pillars” of his faith should be “moved” by the Christian elements being found traceable to a Hindú origin, he had no other resource than to reverse the position by assuming that the copying, the occurrence of which was unmistakably evident, had been on the part of the Hindús from the Christians (Asiatic Researches, I., 272). But he had a better knowledge of the races he was studying, which should have preserved bim from so unwarrantable a conclusion. When the question was one of the derivation of science, and not religion, he was able to acquit the ancient Asiatics of being beholden to more modern peoples. The “ Bráhmans,” he observes, “who were always too proud to borrow science from the Greeks, Arabs, Moguls, or any nation of Mlechch'has, as they call those who are ignorant of the Vedas, and have not studied the language of the gods, have often repeated to me the fragment of an old verse, which they use proverbially, na nicho yávanátparah, or no base creature can be lower than a Yávan; by which name they formerly meant an Ionian, or Greek, and now mean a Mogul, or generally a Musselman. When I mentioned to pundits, at several times and in several places, the opinion of Montucla” (that the Indian zodiacs had been obtained from the Greeks and Arabs), “they could not prevail on themselves to oppose it by serious arguments, but some laughed heartily, others, with a sarcastic smile, said it was a pleasant imagination, and all seemed to think it a notion bordering on phrenzy” (As. Res., II., 302, 303). What would have been the feeling had Sir William's inquiry related to the possibility that this god-descended people had, in comparatively modern days, illustrated and embellished their sacred writings from those of the outcast, despised, and foreign race of Christians ? Every one conversant with the inhabitants of India should know that such an adaptation is an impossibility. However readily, in primitive times, the Aryan invaders may have taken

« PreviousContinue »