In January 2013, news agencies announced that former American president Bill Clinton is turning to Buddhism in order to "relax," as part of his health regime. Clinton has suffered a number of health issues and has looked to a more vegetarian diet, as well as meditation, to extend his life.
Like some 80% of Americans, Clinton was raised a Christian, specifically a Baptist, the same childhood faith of my mother, whose paternal Puritan ancestors came to America in 1630 with the Winthrop Fleet. However, Clinton has tended to be more secular and open to ideas outside of the normal Christian venues. He might be surprised pleasantly to know that Buddhism is not really an exotic "Eastern" practice but possesses much in common with Christianity.
An important book that demonstrates comparisons between these two world faiths, held by a combined nearly three billion people, is Dr. Michael Lockwood's Buddhism's Relation to Christianity (Tambaram, 2010).
Because of popular writers, many people know about various doctrines, traditions, rituals and wisdom sayings that are similar within both Christianity and Buddhism. These commonly emphasized parallels include a focus on love and peace, as well as doing good for others, charity, tolerance and so on. These shared characteristics extend to the personal qualities of the purported founders of these two religions, Jesus and Buddha.
In addition to these commonly recognized similarities are many others that indicate we are discussing not two historical individuals centuries apart who were similar but, rather, the derived expressions of the same basic spiritual and religious archetype. In other words, the evidence indicates that "Jesus" and "Buddha" are not historical personages but mythical figures founded on the same basic framework.
A smoking gun?
Having been raised a Christian and having studied the roots of Christianity for well over two decades, including the massive body of literature within the field of what is called "Jesus mythicism," I am convinced that the Buddhist connection, evidently spearheaded by monks and others at Alexandria, Egypt, represents a "smoking gun" of tremendous importance in the quest for Christian origins.
The conclusion is reached that a multinational group around the Mediterranean, influenced significantly by Alexandrian scholars and religionists, set out to create not one but several branches of an archetypal religion, drawing upon numerous traditions from around the known world of the time.
In this effort, this more-or-less organized and well-funded group(s) not only created a hybrid mythical Pagan-Jewish godman in the gospel story, but also had a hand in compiling and creating legends and myths about other godmen, such as Buddha and Krishna.
This concerted effort around the Mediterranean and into Persian and India during the centuries surrounding the common era explains much about why there exist so many correspondences between these various gods and godmen.
The underlying meaning of this mythical archetype depicts human psychology and interaction, as we see valued by spiritual seekers. It also represents much important information about our natural world, including the characteristics and movements of celestial bodies such as the sun, moon, planets, stars and constellations. The latter aspect of nature worship is called astral religion, astromythology or astrotheology. (For more information about the solar nature of myths concerning Jesus, Buddha and Krishna, see my book Suns of God and ebook Jesus as the Sun throughout History.)
Ashoka and the Therapeuts
The primary source evidence from over 2,000 years ago and into the common era indicates that, in this endeavor to unify the various religions around the Mediterranean and beyond, Buddhist monks from India were sent out as "medical missionaries" by the emperor Ashoka during the third century BCE.
In inscriptions commemorating this event, Ashoka declares that his missionaries were sent to Syria, Macedonia, Cyrene, Epirus and Egypt. Following their trail, Lockwood presents evidence to demonstrate that much "Christian" doctrine is traceable to Buddhism. He also surmises that the famous "Therapeuts" at Alexandria discussed by the Jewish writer Philo in the early first century AD/CE were in fact the result of this Buddhistic effort from centuries past.
According to early Church father Eusebius during the fourth century, these Therapeuts were the early Christians and their "short allegorical works" constituted the basis of the gospels. I discuss this development in a lengthy chapter in my book Christ in Egypt entitled "The Alexandrian Roots of Christianity."
Ignored by scholars
Dr. Lockwood's opus Buddhism's Relation to Christianity goes far in demonstrating this connection, which, again, explains why there appears to be so much Buddhist doctrine within Christianity, a fact known by many Buddhist scholars for centuries but unfortunately ignored by New Testament scholars and theologians. This oversight too is highlighted by Lockwood in BRC, which in the end will bring greater understanding of these issues.
As Lockwood says:
…Scholars, for over two hundred years, have been pointing out the influence of Buddhism on the origins of Christianity, but Christian theologians have, in the main, been indifferent to a serious study of this relationship. Such a study would require that they acquire a deep historical knowledge of Buddhism and a mastery of the languages of Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese among others.
…Jesus and his disciples are allegorical, non-historical characters mixed together with historical characters (such as Pilate and some Temple priests)… Even the story of the "Outcaste Woman at the Well" is a fictitious meta-narrative, though involving the, perhaps, historical persons of the Buddha and his "beloved" disciple Ananda—if indeed they are historical!...
…Jesus was an allegorical figure modeled on the founder of Buddhism and his fifth century BCE style of preaching: that of the homeless wandering monk….
If the four canonical Gospels are studied from this perspective, evidence may emerge that the evangelists were, indeed, Indian—or persons trained in India or by Indians.
Despite these efforts to compartmentalize the world's great religions, the correspondences between Christianity and Buddhism based on a shared archetype should provide greater inspiration for people like ex-president Bill Clinton and many others around the world.
The recognition of this commonality will also lead to further unification of cultures globally, as they realize the world's shared religious and mythological heritage.
For more information see my review and study guide of Buddhism's Relation to Christianity.
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