Discordant Concord XXI
If the influence
of Vaishnavism outside India has not been noticeable, the predominant reason may be just
ignorance. This may be attributed in turn to the absence of any tradition of studying the
history and evolution of the Eastern religions, with particular reference to their links
with other ancient civilizations. The Christian impact on India, after some initial
hesitations, became muscular (according to a phrase used by one of the missionaries in
defense of the propagation of the faith) rather than understanding; and any research into
the historical origins of the world religions was discouraged. This tradition has been
changed. Only in last few decades, when. historical .and anthropological research has
ceased to be guided by bias in favour of the established churches of Christendom.
Naturally, it has been possible in this changed atmosphere, with
the ecumenical spirit inspiring the search, to find a surprising number of instances of
contacts or parallel developments in thought. In appraising the mass of evidence, which
has thus been collected, one has to be careful to weed out pseudo from genuine research.
Chauvinistic claims, based on purely etymological variations, which might have been
derived or twisted to suit particular purposes, will have to be sifted and rejected.
Accidental similarities cannot be treated as instances of one religion borrowing from
another. With these qualifications, however, it can be said that contacts between the east
and the west were not less numerous in the past and were, perhaps, even greater than they
are at present.
From Pythagoras, who believed in the
transmigration of souls, apparently because of his contacts with religious teachers from
the east. Pindar, who believed in metempsychosis, Plato, who could not have been ignorant
of Karma, through Klaxons, the Indian sage, who accompanied Alexander, Apollonius of
Tyana, who came to Taxila to study under the Brahmins, Clement of Alexandria, the early
Christian teachers of the second century A.D., who refers to Buddhists and Brahmins in his
work and Plotimus, who went to Persia to meet the Brahmins, the Contacts between India and
Greek thinkers seem to have been continuous.
Parallels have also been found between the Biblical account of
the creation of man by God in his own image and the creation of woman out of man(Genesis I
:27) and the statements in the Hindu scriptures in the Hindu scriptures that God became
man and created woman (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad(1:3 and 1:4) and Brahma as God divided
himself into svayambhu Manu(man) and Satarupi(Woman)(the Bhagavata purana). There is a
further parallel between the temptation of Adam and Eve, Who ate of the apple(Genesis III)
and the references to two birds "beautiful of wing, inseparable friends, dwelling
together in the same tree (the universe) of whom one(the individual being) eats the fruit
of action, while the other (universal being) looks on and Svetesvatara Upanishad(4:6). The
Indian scriptures, far from being in conflict with Western thought, seem very often to
contain the same or parallel ideas as in Biblical literature. The ascent of man in the
Books of Enoch is said to match a similar account in the Kausitaki Upanishad and even the
concepts of the kingdom of God and the son of man have been discovered in the Rig Veda.
There are those, who go much further and claim Jesus himself for India.
Incredible accounts of his travels and studies in India, before and after the brief period
of his ministry in Israel and crucifixion have been presented in two books: the Russian
traveller Nicholas Notovich's 'Unknown life of Christ', published in 1895, and the German
scholar Faber-Kaiser's more recent book entitled Jesus died in Kashmir'. The first book,
based on certain scrolls in the lamassery at Hemis in Ladakh near the Tibetan border,
claims that Jesus stayed with the Brahmins and studied the Indian religions, during the
period of about sixteen years in his life, of which there are no The second book supports
Ahmadiya sect in Islam that Jesus did not die on the Cross, but came to India and died
near Rozabal not far from Srinagar in Kashmir.
The orthodox churches of Christendom do not accept these
fancifully reconstructed accounts of the life of Christ; and they may be right. The
evidence is flimsy and the authentic tradition of several centuries to the contrary cannot
be ignored. But one need not reject in the more recent theory, following the discovery of
the Dead Sea scrolls between 1947 and 1956 that the Essenes, the upright men who lived in
this area, were probably influenced by the Buddhists and themselves influenced by the
early Jewish-Christian community in Israel.
Hilgenfeld, who tried to identify the Essenes, before the recent
discoveries near the Dead Sea, thought in fact they were Buddhists
either an Indian community or were influenced by the Indian, they could transmit some of
this influence to Christianity. In particular, the word of God or the Indian 'Vak' into
the Logos, could have been their major contribution to the Christian religion.
The similarities between the legends and mythologies of Buddhism
and early Christianity are too many and too striking for these possibilities to be ruled
out. The royal birth of the Buddha and of Jesus through one of the royal tribes of Judah,
the prophecies about their births, the feeding of many and the miracles of walking over
the waters, and the parallels between Devadatta and judas, who were opposed to or betrayed
entirely to accident. as a further and outstanding illustration of these early contacts
with Buddhism, the young Buddha, Josaphat, is also venerated as one of the minor saints of
the catholic church, along with his companion Barlaam. Josaphat by himself is venerated
also in the Greek and Georgian churches.
If Christianity thus owes something to Buddhism it may owe as
much or even more to Mithraism, with its central figure Mithra being closely allied to the
sun. Renan says with considerable justification that if Christianity had failed, the whole
of Europe could have become Mithraist, as this was the most popular of the so called Pagan
religions in the Roman empire.
As it is,
Christianity has drawn liberally on Mithraism which it has replaced. It has borrowed the
date of Christmas from the birthday of Mithra. The concepts of Mithra and Christ as
mediators between God and man, the belief in the presence of Mithra for blessing all
events in everyday life, like the presence of Christ during mass and the ideas of baptism
and redemption are instances of similarities in there religions. There is even a precedent
for Christ's last supper in Mithra's feast with Sol Helios(The Sun) before his own ascent
One can add quite substantially to his list of parallels between
the eastern religions and Christianity. But it is not necessary to do so, as no one, not
even those who are controlling the churches and orthodox establishments, may now be
inclined to advance or sustain the claim that the higher religions grew and developed
independently, without any contacts as between themselves.
In this setting, in an
environment, which is much less hostile, it will now be possible to look for the hidden
though not direct influence of Vaishnavism on Christianity. We shall be devoting the next
two installments, therefore to the discovery of the concordant rather than the discordant
elements, in the light of recent research.
"A wise man should learn good behaviour, good words and good acts from every side, as
a gleaner collects grains of corn from the field abandoned by the reapers. Virtue is
preserved by truthfulness: learning by application: beauty by cleansing the body: high
behaviour is not good fortune , cannot command respect. A king or a man who envies
another's wealth, beauty, might, high lineage, happiness, good behaviour is essential to
man. Intoxication of wealth is much more to be censured than wine: for a man intoxicated
with prosperity can never be brought to his senses unless and until he meets with a
fall." - Vidura Needhi.