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REVIEW by Christian Lindtner
- first published in
the Quarterly SUHRULLEKHA
May 2003

Ulrich Luz/ Axel Michaels: Jesus und Buddha. Leben und Lehre im Vergleich. PP 226. München 2002: Verlag C.H.Beck. ISBN 3406 47602 3. Pb. Price: E 12,90.

The book is a sort of dialogue between a historian of religion (Michaels) and a New Testament scholar (Luz, known for his learned commentary on Matthew etc.). Their purpose is not apologetic, but rather “phenomenological”, they merely wish to compare and point out similarities and differences in the life and teaching of Jesus and Buddha. This, again, means that the book is primarily neither historical nor philological. The texts are taken more or less at their face value. And this makes a big difference.

The possibility of any historical relationship between Jesus and Buddha is rejected, not, unfortunately, by serious arguments of any sort , but merely by quoting Richard Garbe from 1914: “Die Ähnlichkeiten zwischen buddhistischen und neutestamentlichen Erzählungen haben einen Tummelplatz des Dilettantismus geschaffen, auf dem seit langer Zeit ein fröhliches Leben herrscht”. (“The similarities between Buddhist and New Testament stories have created a playground for dilettantism, on which a joyful life has unfolded itself for long.”)

This is partly true, but it is also partly wrong, and very much so. Both authors seem blind to the fact that much serious work has been done recently in the comparative field (see e.g. my review article of Derrett´s The Bible and the Buddhists, BSR 18/, pp. 229-242.) As if nothing had happened in the field of “Comparative Gospel Studies” since Garbe published his Indien und das Christentum in 1914!
The two authors are, of course, not the first to compare Jesus and Buddha. One of the many important titles missing in their bibliography is the beautifully produced book by J. Duncan M. Derrett, Two Masters. The Buddha and Jesus, published by Pilkington Press in 1995. Derrett concludes his comparative survey, intended especially for teachers of religious education and comparative religion, that, if mythology and conventional verbiage are stripped away, “the Two Masters are found teaching much the same”.

Any serious comparison between the life and teaching of Buddha and Jesus must start out by carefully comparing the original Greek and the Sanskrit. Philologia must be the ancilla comparationis! The authors neglect to do so, and the result is that their “phenomenological” approach is tantamount to a naive and superficial approach. The plain rejection of a philologically based comparison of parallels is nothing,frankly speaking, but phenomenological ignorance and arrogance.

Very naive is also the assumption that Jesus - and the same goes for the Buddha, for that matter - was a “historical person”. There is not one proof - not one - that Jesus was more historical than, say, Heracles or Apollo. The authors of the four canonical gospels are anonymous. Where is the proof that they provide serious and historically reliable testimony? There is none! That Matthew, Mark and Luke tell more or less the same story about Jesus proves nothing about their historical credibility. Why should they not have made it all up? Verbal similarities etc. prove beyond any doubt that they did not work independently. After all, does Paul not write: “ But if through my falsehood God´s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?” (Romans 3:7). In order words: It is quite OK to lie about holy matters as long as the result is “a good story”. Theologians have always had problems with this crucial passage in Paul. It is typical Mahâyâna “skill in means” (upâya-kausalyam).

When we compare the Greek text of the gospels with the corresponding Sanskrit text, it soon becomes clear that the Greek is a translation assimilated to familiar Jewish notions and expectations. The number of examples in support of my contention is great and it grows every day. Where a mere “phenomenological approach” sees differences, a less superficial approach sees little or no difference. In this brief review I shall confine myself to seven sets of such examples, corresponding to each of the seven angles from which the comparison between Jesus and Buddha is tackled by the two authors. All these examples have escaped the naive and superficial approach of our learned German colleagues.

I. The two founders. Jesus is called Son of God and Son of David etc. In both cases the original Sanskrit is deva-putra, “Son of Deva”, where deva becomes “god” or “David”. In Sanskrit the bodhi-sattva lives in a world of deva-putras, from which he descends. There are many deva-putras, which is also the case in Mt 5:9.

In Luke we find puns on bodhi-sattva, viz. Greek to paidi-on, “young boy”. The bodhi becomes paidi, and the to on translates San. sattva. Such puns, anything but serious, are typical of Buddhist scriptures, and they prove the Buddhist source. Now and then Jesus is identified with John the Baptist. Apparently a strange identification! But not so when we see that ho bap-ti-tęs is supposed to contain a pun on bo-dhi-sat-tvas. Here the bo-dhi becomes bap-ti, and the ho and tęs “translates” sattvas. The Greek abstract suffix - tęs, with ho, replaces the san. -tva(s).

Puns on tathâgata(s) are frequent, e.g. the synonym and homonym kathęgętęs, Mt 23:10; or the katheudete in Lk 22:46; or the tęs diathękęs, Mt 26:28. The direct source is MPS 42:10. The New Testament, in other words, is simply Tathâgatasya kâyam. I first pointed this out at the Hesbjerg Seminar on New Testament Revisionism in 2001 (see http://hometown.aol.com/eaglerevisionist).
The Greek ho Khristos is an excellent rendering of San. ksatriyas. The genitive is ksatriyasya, which in Mt 1:1 becomes ´Ięsou Khristou. Excellent!

II. Jesus preaches the Kingdom of God, hę basileia tou theou.

So did the Buddha. There are several Sanskrit originals, one of which is deva-parisad. Here the deva- (= devasya or devânâm) correctly becomes tou theou, and the parisat becomes basileia. The learned Luz claims (p. 47) that basileia translates the Hebrew-Aramaic malkut - and thereby reveals his historical naivite. The truth is that basileia translates parisat and is assimilated to malkut, familiar to the Jews. The plural devânâm becomes ouranôn, in the Kingdom of the Heavens .It has always puzzled theologians why Mark and Luke prefer the phrase hę basileia tou theou as opposed to Matthew, who prefers hę basileia tôn ouranôn (see e.g. Paul Feine, Theologie des neuen Testaments, Berlin 1953, p. 69, with numerous references). The Sanskrit gives the simple answer: two different versions of deva-parisat (devasya or devânâm). The PaRiSaT becomes BaSiLeia Tou (p-r-s-t = b-s-l-t).

The odd ta tou theou in Mt 15:23, translates San. deva-tâ. The -tâ becomes Greek ta, and the deva- is taken as devasya = tou theou.

III. Ethics, love etc. The Buddha did not teach love to the same extent that Jesus did so, it is often claimed. One thereby overlooks the fact that Buddhists are expected to preach the Dharma sattvasattvahitâya etc.

Then we have the obscure word of Jesus about saying raka and môre, Mt 5:22 (quoted p. 81). One has to consult the source, the section on Pârâjika in the Prâtimoksa, to understand their sense: Behind the Greek eipę môre we find Sanskrit mrsâ-vâda etc. (see e.g. W. Pachow, A Comparative Study of the Prâtimoksa, Delhi 2000, pp. 71-75). The samgha is assimilated to the obscure synedrion, and the bhiksu of the original invariably becomes an adelphos. These are fine examples of what the Chinese called “ concept-matching” (ko-i). The stange Greek expression to de perisson, Mt 5:37, is a direct translation of the Sanskrit tata uttaram (to-de imitates ta-ta). It makes sense in the original (e.g. Georg von Simson (ed.), Prâtimoksasűtra der Sarvâstivâdins, Göttingen 2000, p. 184), but nok in Matthew. In Mt 5:40 the khitôna translates Sanskrit kathina; in 5:41, the one and the two “miles” reflect the tri-yojana of the Sanskrit original (von Simson, pp. 341 and 347 for the ref.), etc.

Interestingly, the Buddhists themselves had no claer idea of the historical background of kathina = khitôna, Latin tunica.

IV. Suffering, crucifixion. The disciples of Jesus are asked to take their “cross”, Greek stavron - which is absurd. Imagine all his disciples running around as “crucifers”, or clad in crosses! The Buddha expects his disciples to put on vastrâni - which makes sense. So VaSTRaNi translates STaVRoN (v-s-t-r-n = s-t-v-r-n).

The crucifixion of Jesus is totally dependent on Buddhist sources. In the Műlasarvâstivâdavinaya (ed. Gnoli, Roma 1977, pp. 21-26 ) one can read how the innocent Gautama was crucified on a sűla, and the details about the sculls, etc. are also there. Most of the remaining details about the two robbers, the supernatural phenomena etc. are to be found at the end of the Mahâparinirvânasűtra and the Saddharmapundarîkasűtra. One merely has to compare the Sanskrit and the Greek carefully. A phenomenological comparison based on mere translations is bound to lead to a scientific parinirvâna. There is hardly anything in the gospels that cannot be traced back to these Buddhist sources.

V. Christology. Here the title “Son of Man” is absolutely crucial. The double nature of Jesus - or Jesus and Christ - is as Buddhist as can be. A Tathâgata appears to be mortal, but is in fact immortal. This is the fundamental doctrine of the MPS,SDP etc. - and the fundamental doctrine of the NT.

The secrets of the term “Son of Man” I shall reveal on a later occasion. As a rule, the title that Jesus uses to refer to himself, simply translates the San. Tathâgata, that the Buddha employs in the same manner, i.e. in the third person singular. According to the confused account of the gospels, Jesus was a devaputra born of a parthenos, of wind (ek pneumatos); he was the son of anthrôpos; as a babe he was in a phatne, manger, etc. According to our Buddhist sources, a bodhisattva (to paidi-on)comes from and even travels in a lotus, Sanskrit padma, padmini, pundarîka (playfully as if from pundar- plus i-ka). So a bodhisattva is the son of a pundar-. It is now easy to see that being born from (i.e. the son of) a parthenos is the same as being the son of anthrôpos, for p-r-th-n-s = n-th-r-p-s. The “from” is ek, and means that he is a son. And so it is clear that to be a son of man is the same as being born of a virgin, which again is the same as being born from (ek) or in a pundarîka- (p-n-d-r-k-s, as an adj.). To be born from pneumatos hagiou again leads us back to the lotus. The baby in the phat-ne is the bodhisattva in the pad-me etc. When Jesus travels “in wind”, pneumati (from padmini), the bodhisattva originally travelled through the air in a lotus.

So, not being aware of the Lotus, one cannot understand how Jesus was born.
The gospels surely confirm the lotus origin of the son of man!
The Greek ho huios tou anthrôpou is also an imitation/translation of the seven syllables of the term Saddharmapundarîka, i.e. the Tathâgata as a lotus of the true dharma etc.

VI. Prayer and meditation. This includes the Paternoster, the main sources of which are to be found in the Catusparisatsűtra, and the Mahâparinirvânasűtra. For instance, the mę...eis peirasmon, Mt 6:13, is a direct translation of the a-sam-pramosâya, MPS 10:10, where it makes perfect sense. The a- correctly becomes mę, and the sam-pramosâya correctly becomes eis peirasmon (s-m-p-r-m-s = s-p-r-s-m-n).

VII. The Church. The word ekklęsia only occurs twice in the Gospels. The opinio communis of theologians is (with a few exceptions) that the crucial passage, Mt 16:18, cannot possibly be an authentic word of Jesus.

But the rejection of this passage merely shows the subjectivity of theologians. It is as “authentic” - i.e. Buddhist - as any other passage. A philologist familiar with the Sanskrit text of the SDP can easily point out the original passage (SDP, ed. Kern, p. 69) . The Lord reveals his secret to Sâri-putra(s), and this means that he has now again, for the second time, put in motion this (idam) supreme wheel (cakram) of the Dharma. Likewise, Jesus reveals his secret to Petros (p-t-r-s = p-t-r-s), and thereby he will build his ekklęsian (accusative). So, behind the six syllables of mou tęn ekklęsian of Mt 16:18 we find the six syllables of idam dharma-cakram. Note the odd mou, which is explained by the desire to represent the idam of the original.

Sâri-putras, to be sure, is called Jina-putra, which explains the mysterious Bar-Jôna in Mt 16:17. Bar, “son”, translates putras, and Jôna is a homonym of Jina. The Sankrit âyuSMâN, of course. becomes SiMôN (s-m-n = s-m-n). It is, at the same time, a homonym and a synonym. These examples - they could easily be multiplied almost ad infinitum - show how absurd and superficial it is to compare Jesus and Buddha, their life , their teachings, their disciples etc. etc. - without first comparing the original Sanskrit and Greek. (In the beginning was the word, if I may be forgiven for saying so!)

The authors have, arrogantly, failed to do so. No wonder therefore, that the result is rather similar to a gandharvanagara, so to speak. Or, with Nâgârjuna, one may compare their dialogue with one taking place between a teacher, who, by way of magic, creates a magical form, and this magical form forms again another magical form...

And so, a less superficial book would prefer the title: Buddha als Jesus, or “Jesus” oder Buddha - preferably adding a ?. Most of the apparent differences, turn out, in the eyes of a philologist, to be merely “phenomenological”.

Most readers will probably - as experience shows - have problems with accepting all these puns. But such puns were extremely common not only in the Indian sources but also in the ancient Jewish scriptures, OT etc. The New Testament gospels were “translated” into Greek from the Sanskrit exactly as one would have expected. First one, therefore, has to compare the translation against the original, and only then can one compare how and why the translation differs from the original.

These are just a few examples among many. More will be found in my book Hemligheten om Kristus, and in my paper “Gematria in the Gospels” soon to appear in Acta Orientalia.

Dr. Christian Lindtner, April 2003.