Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Did Jesus Live In India? III

(1) The belief seems to be that there should be some information about Jesus' first 27 or 28 years and because there isn’t the information that was there must have been 'lost.' The reality is that there probably never was any information about Jesus' early life, undoubtedly because he did nothing during that time but hammer in nails, saw logs and plane planks. The situation is similar with the Buddha. Other than a few details about his birth, the fact that he was from a privileged background and the names of some of the members of his family, we know almost nothing about the Buddha until he renounced the world to become a monk. Nearly everything we do 'know' about those 30 years is legends from a later period. The first, second and third generation of Buddhists were mainly interested in what the Buddha taught, not what he did before he became a monk. Incidentally, we know almost nothing about Shakespeare for the same reason. People only became interested in the man several generations after he died, by which time all the people who knew him were dead. We know nothing about Fred Smith of No 32 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam either - quite simply because he did never did anything of any significance beyond his own family (if he had one). If he had shot the prime minister, invented the can opener or painted a masterpiece someone would have taken some notice of him and recorded some facts about him. There are no 'lost years' of Jesus.
(2) During Notovitch's time it was already known that there was some contact between the Roman Empire and India and it was assumed that most of this was by land. Consequently Notovitch claimed that Jesus went to India by land. Now we know that most direct Roman-Indian contact was by sea. Many of the books about the 'Jesus lived in India' myth have maps showing the supposed route Jesus took to India. Such maps prove nothing. A map showing the Buddhas route up the east coast of Australia may well look 'official' or 'authentic' but it is not evidence that the Buddha made such a trip.
(3) Notovitch claims to have traveled through Ladakh/Tibet in 1885. That the British India Secret Service has no record of him having done so is very strong evidence that he never did. The last decades of the 19th century were the height of the Great Game, the imperialist competition between Britain and Russia. The North-west Frontier Agency, Gilgit/Swat/Kashmir/Ladakh, was perhaps the most sensitive and closely watched border in the world at that time. It was said that a third of the population were spies for the British and the other two thirds spied on the spies. The presence of a Russian 'journalist' (read 'spy') snooping around Ladakh, which was under British suzerainty, would have set off alarm bells in Calcutta and Simla. It is highly unlikely that Notovitch would have been given permission to enter Ladakh and if he was he would have been followed every inch of the way. And yet his name does not appear in any official British documents.
(4) Some later versions of the 'Jesus lived in India' myth say that Jesus studied Buddhism at Hemis Monastery, no doubt a detail originating in a careless reading of Notovitch's claim that he heard about Issa while convalescing at this monastery. The problem with this claim is that Hemis Monastery was only founded 1672, quite a few centuries after Jesus. In 1989 I stayed at Hemis as the guest of a senior monk there and had the good fortune to witness the famous Hemis Festival. I asked my host about the Jesus story. He groaned, rolled his eyes upwards and told me that Westerners often come to the monastery and ask about Jesus and that some of the younger monks string them along for both fun and profit - mainly for profit.
(5) Notovitch claimed that the document about Jesus which was read to him was written in Pali, probably because he knew enough about oriental studies to know that it was the oldest Buddhist language. Had he known just a little more he would have claimed the book was in Sanskrit which was by far a more widely used language. And if it were in Pali it is virtually impossible that a monk in Ladakh or Tibet in the 19th century would have known or even known about this language.
(6) Despite Notovitch's claim that the Issa story was well-known in the Himalayan region, no copy of this text has ever been found, nor are there any quotations from it or even a mention of it in other ancient writings. The famous Blue Annals (Deb-ther sngon-po) for example, chronicles the early history of Buddhism in India and Tibet and refers to hundreds of scriptures and hundreds of teachers but makes no mention of Issa or his biography.
(7) Those who accept the 'Jesus lived in India' myth usually make much of the supposed tomb of Jesus in Kashmir. According to the original 1894 tale, Jesus came to India and then returned to Palestine where he was executed. A later expanded version of the story (myth have a tendency to grow) says that he survived the crucifixion, decided that the Jews weren't worth the effort, and returned to India where he lived happily ever after and finally died. Now I have not been able to find any archaeological account of Jesus' tomb so I'm going to give you my conjectures on it. It is hardly surprising that there should be such a tomb. Muslims have always considered Jesus to be one of the prophets of God, at least at some period there may have been a desire to have or visit some 'relic' of this prophet, and as it the case of pilgrimage in all religions, the law of demand and supply operates. When the devote want a relic or a holy site, one inevitably emerges. The inscription on the supposed tomb mentioning Jesus proves nothing. It is in Arabic script so it must date from after the 14th century when Kashmir became Islamic, although its probably much later and likely rather recent. Further, judging by from the photos of the inscription it looks more like graffiti. The great gate at the entrance of the Taj Mahal in Agra has the names of all the prophets revered in Islam carved on it, including the name of Jesus. This does not prove that Jesus visited the Taj.
(8) The other evidence that Jesus went to India and studied with Buddhist masters is the supposed similarities between some passages in the Buddhist scriptures and the Bible. Perhaps it's just because I'm out-of-step with current trends but I have always considered this to be the weakest of all the 'evidence' that Jesus did go to India and have contact with the Dhamma. If Jesus knew the Dhamma you would expect there to be some reference to Buddhism's most characteristic teachings - the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, etc. Instead, we have a few vaguely similar similes, sayings and parables, most of which are found in other religious traditions too and which could have been borrowed from a common source. On the other hand, when we compare Jesus' parables, similes, theology and sometimes phrases or even whole sentences, they look very like a continuation of the great Jewish sages and teachers who preceded him. Almost everything he said fits well with the Jewish world-view and Jewish spirituality from around the first millennium. His few ideas which do deviate from Jewish tradition (in the John's Gospel 'I am God') have no parallel in Buddhism. And his beloved Kashmir and the Himalayas? Why didn’t he make at least one or two references to them? If Jesus had studied with Buddhist masters the Bible would contain much more wisdom than it does.
Years ago I happened to be in a remote Sri Lankan village and amongst the supplies I had was a few cans of food and one of those can openers with a sharp disk which you put on the rim of the can and turn with the handle. An old Sinhalese govitang who must have never seen such a can opener before, looked at and said, 'Meka carika vage' (Like a car). At first I laughed at this; a can opener doesn't look anything like a car. But then I became intrigued and asked the old man what he meant. He said, in affect, that both have wheels, both have moving parts, both are made of metal and both perform a task. He mentioned how like turning the handle of the can opener and having the wheel go round was to putting a key in the ignition and having the car's wheels move. An interesting way at looking at it! In my opinion, the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity are like the similarities between a can opener and a car.
The picture is of the supposed tomb of Jesus in Kashmir.


Anonymous said...

If Jesus had studied with Buddhist masters the Bible would contain much more wisdom than it does.

My sentiments exactly (I can say that since I was a serious 'practitioner' of Christianity for 12 years). I couldn't help chuckling when I read this line, even if you weren't intending it to be funny.

Really great stuff. Thank you for your hard work and effort.

bobzane said...

Hey, how about Fred Smith in Tibet. Or better yet Joseph Smith in Tibet.

Enjoying your musing everyday.


Paulo said...

Dear bhante,

Thanks for the postings.

But, a manuscript written in pali by a jewish merchant and archieved in a tibetan monastery?

How could anyone believe this?

Well, how far ignorance can go always suprises me.

Holly said...

Dear Bhante:

I worked in a bookstore a few years ago, and an author of one of those "Jesus in India"-type books was a regular customer (Ed Martin, who wrote "King of Travelers"). He was such a kind, gentle, intelligent man, and I have often wondered what would drive such a person to believe something so far-fetched. My opinion is that many people here in America feel that traditional Christianity is lacking, but they still are attached to the idea of Jesus as their wise, all-loving friend. They look upon the religions of the East as closer to ancient truths, and have grasped at any straw they can to merge their ideas of Jesus with Eastern wisdom as they conceive of it. The thought of giving Jesus up is frightening to them, but a true in-depth study of Eastern thought is out of the question, as well. And needless to say, looking into true Buddhist teachings, without a god or messiah to give them the comfort they crave, is unthinkable.

Thanks for your blog--thought-provoking, as usual!


David ( said...

Don't forget the Book of Mormon; Jesus appeared in North America, excuse me, (rofl). And the American Indians are descendants of the 10 "lost" tribes of Israel (I never realized I was lost). But Joseph Smith never thought that anthropology would show that American Indians descended from Asians over the Bering Strait, not from the Atlantic ocean.

Bhante, On another similar note, Sri Lankans claim that the Buddha visited their island several times. Is this true? I don't recall reading that in the Canon. Is that another myth or do you have a reference for me? Thanks.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Holly,
I was going to finish my posts on the 'Jesus lived in India' myth by suggesting why it has become so popular and so accepted. Your few insightful words have made that unnecessary. I agree with you completely. Your comments on Ed Martin's character should also remind us to be gentle with the myths others find meaningful. We shouldn’t be taken in by them but we should allow others to find their own way, in their own time.
Dear David,
The first mention of the Buddha's visit to Sri Lanka is in the Dipavamsa (aprox. 360-460 CE), a good 800 years after the Buddha, although the myth probably formed earlier than that. And the visit itself, both in the Dipavamsa and the later Mahavamsa, is dealt with very briefly, suggesting that it was accepted, but only just, and not be everyone. The geographical horizon of the Pali Tipitaka does not go beyond the Ganges-Yamuna valley, although there are a few brief mentions of locations in the Deccan (south central India). There is no mention of Sri Lanka in the Tipitaka.

Unknown said...

Dear Bhante

While I don't believe any of that stuff about lost scriptures of Jesus in Tibet I do believe that Jesus was teaching things to the Jews that were at least partly inspired by Buddhism. This is because his teachings were so different to the old testament and so much like the Buddha's. Including the mystifying stuff like 'offer the other cheek' etc.

I think it would have been impossible for him to share Buddhist teachings with the Jews of this time in any other way than he did. And even though he did not overtly teach 'Buddhism' he was still crucified.

I interpret Jesus's teachings of 'kingdom of heaven is within you' and the parable of the Samaritan to be in direct contrast to theism.

I believe the Bible makes mention that Jesus from a young age showed an interest in religion. I think anyone curious about religion would have studied other religions and I think Jesus did. No proof of that of course. But that's like much of history anyway. You have to work out the balance of probabilities, each for himself.

I think that Jesus could not have been unaware of Buddhism because this was 500 years after the Buddha with Buddhism at its height and with Buddhist missionaries spreading the Teachings.

If Jesus had been preaching Buddhism then he would have been crucified and only parts of his message would have survived. And that's what I think has happened!


Unknown said...
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David W. Craig said...

Bhante Dhammika

Thank you for your nice debunking of the 'Jesus in India' myth. I had heard of it years ago, and both found it intriguing and very suspicious.

Have you ever studied or written about the so-called "Axial age" --- the roughly simultaneous appearance of Buddhism, prophetic Judaism, the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, etc.? With your knowledge of the Buddhist scriptures and history, it would be a neat topic if you ever need one :).


Unknown said...

Thank you for this article. I am a Christian and have heard this theory a few times. I found it very difficult to believe....when I questioned people about it, no one was able to provide me with sound evidence. Your article sounds very logical and historical....good to see!! I very much dislike these type of 'baseless' theories and when people accept them without checking them has inspired me to investigate it deeper, so that I can be very certain about it. Thank you....Harry

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

bhante dhammika, i read your good questions and answers also enjoying your musings. what do u mean that the monks are stringing westerners for fun? you mean they take advantage of the jesus story for westerners to be "mystified"? hey anyway good information that monks in tibet dont know pali proving notovitch a pretender.

BobGriffin said...

Excellent posts!
I've been studying this topic off and on for the past 20+ years, to the point of studying Pali...
I share your conclusions.
The 'Tomb of Jesus' in Srinagar is more likely connected with a Medieval Muslim novel about a Buddhist prince (Budhasf in the original, Yuz Asaf in some later versions), said in the story (Bilawhar & Budhasf) to be the son of King Junaysar of Shawilabatt.
Yuz Asaf/Budhasf is said in the story to have finally died in Kashmir.
Be Well,
Bob Griffin

Richard Harrold said...

Here's another book for you, but this one is actually more plausible because it doesn't have to send Jesus to India. The book is "The Original Jesus: The Buddhist Sources of Christianity," by Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten. They go about their thesis a bit differently.

Rather than send Jesus to India, they stick with biblical text, which indicates that Mary and Joseph took a very young Jesus into Egypt. They match that with a probability that there was a Theravadan monastery in Alexandria at the time (King Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries throughout Asia, there is archaeological evidence that something may have been established in Alexandria). The young Jesus encounters monks from this monastery.

The authors then compare the Gnostic scriptures, including the Gospel of Thomas, with Theravadan texts of the Buddha's words, examining their similarity.

They then hypothesize on how what Jesus learned and repeated was hijacked for political reasons to get those pesky Romans out of Palestine, turning Jesus into a much-needed martyr.

Another similarity: Christianity established early on a tradition of monasticism, which survived with the Roman Catholic Church, but was abandoned by Protestantism. The only other religious teaching with a monastic tradition is Buddhism, right?

Interesting. Thanks for directing me to your posts. I am putting a link to your blog on mine.

Anders Branderud said...

I found your post and read it! Interesting to read.

The first century person described in the original versions of what is redacted to “Matthew” was called Ribi Yehoshua. He was a Torah-practising Jew. Logic dictates that he never said “I am god”. That contradicts Torah and would have excluded him as a legitimate Torah-teacher.

But what is the purpose of humankind? Of all religions and lifestyles – how to know which one is the correct one? In the blog I quote a proof proving –using logic and science- the existence of a Creator of this universe and His purpose of humankind.

Have a nice day! /Anders

Riaz said...

Some interesting resource about Christ in India:

Discovery Journeys India said...

Fascinating post and very informative.
Thanks for this.

Ladakh Mountain Biking | Varanasi  spiritual  Centre

World Ukulele said...

Hello, I just came across your webpage and thank you for your article debunking the myth that Jesus lived in India. It's a fascinating subject, but devoid of any hard evidence.

I do have one comment about your point #5 above that says, "Notovitch claimed that the document about Jesus which was read to him was written in Pali." In the book Notovich writes that he asked one of the monks about this, and he says the original scrolls brought from India to Nepal and to Tibet were written in Pali. However, the copy in the convent/monastery is in Tibetan. In the Preface, Notovich also makes reference to his interpreter who "translated for me the Thibetan language" and then he says that he "transferred carefully to my note-book what the lama read to me."