Page images
[ocr errors]

legends true ? but, To what date shall their appearance in the Buddhist Soutras be assigned ?

Before attempting an answer to this question, let us endeavor to answer another, What arc the reasons that justify us in believing that the Evangelists did not copy their story from the Buddhists ?

1. In the first place the two stories are not enough alike to justify belief that one was copied from the other. The parallel between them is more imaginary than real. It is a parallel of method, and not of incident. Their features are as unlike as possible. One story is intrinsically absurd ; the other is in no sense absurd ; and the only thing that can be said about it is that it involves the impossible. It is absurd to say that a new-born child stood erect at birth, jumped over seven feet, and pronounced its own character and destiny ; that at the age of ten he threw an elephant a long distance ; that at sixteen he strung a bow that it took a thousand men to string; that at a single step he reached a distance of 4,800,000 miles; and that he did many other things quite as ridiculous. Dismiss the question of possibility from these legends, and still their intrinsic absurdity remains. The works attributed to Gautama are nearly all absurd, and of a positively useless character. But it cannot be charged that the circumstances attending the birth of Christ, and the works attributed to him, arc intrinsically absurd, ridiculous, or useless. The works of Christ are chiefly works of mercy and benevolence.

How, then, does it happen that, if the Evangelists made up their story from the legends of Gautama, they did not weare into them scarcely a feature of those legends !

Obviously the Evangelists were telling the simple truth ! On the other hand, if the method of Gautama's story was taken from the Evangelists, the Hindu mind, so imaginative and so given to fable, would naturally clothe the skeleton with everything pleasing to Oriental taste, and with all the splendid trickery of Oriental art. In other words, the story would be told precisely as it is, and the plain and coldly told story of Christ would be transformed into a harlequin masquerade.

2. But the Evangelists, in making up their account of the life of Jesus, were in effect, and in fact, reciting an old story. They simply produced a reduction from their national prophets ; for the chief features of their story of Christ were contained in the books of the Jewish prophets, composed centuries before our era. The conception of a virgin; the birth of a wonderful child who should be called Emanuel ; the presentation of gifts: his troubled life ; certain incidents in his life; his crucifixion and resurrection, were all set forth in books whose dates range from 350 to 700 B. C. There was no necessity, therefore, for the biographers of Jesus to go to the Buddhists for the chief features of their story of his life.

3. Is it not the more probable that the Buddhists made up their story of Buddha from the outline of the prophetical Messiah furnished by the Jewish prophets? We have seen that between their story and that of the Evangelists there is but a skeleton of parallel, and a skeleton to begin with, was all they required. To clothe it, afterwards, was a small affair for the imaginative and skilfull priesthood of the Buddha. We do not insist that this is precisely what happened ; but we do insist that it is much more probable than that the Evangelists were prompted by the legends of Gautama. In the first instance theft was possible, and comparatively easy ; but in the last instance there was really no need of theft, for the story had already been told : and the material for a biography of Jesus was close at hand.

That the monks and priests of India were acquainted with the Jewish Scriptures there need be no doubt. The subjugation of the Jews by the Persians and the Assyrians, was one means of their contact with foreign nations. “ Dispersed afterwards over the whole East, they proceeded in numerous caravans to Persia, India, Tibet, and even China. As early as the seventh century B. C., the books and prophecies of that people were disseminated among all the inhabitants of Asia.”13 Another means of contact with foreign nations, was through the agency of commerce. Five centuries before the

13 Christianity in China, etc. By M. L'Abbé Huc.


birth of Gautampa, the Jews maintained an, active commerce with India. The list of foreign products mentioned as imported by Solomon, are described partly in terms foreign to the present Hebrew, and only existing on the western coast of India. Moreover, the things themselves are of Indian origin, and can, to-day, ve only found in India and in the islands of Sumatra and Ceylon. Literature has always fol

14 lowed in the wake of cominerce, and the literature of a people so wonderful as the Jews, ruled over by such magnificent monarchs as David and Solomon, would certainly be sought after, and curiously perused by the scholars of other lands. The probability, therefore, that the skeleton of the story of Gautama has a Jewish origin, amounts to almost a certainty.

But setting aside, as purely conjectural, the probability that the Buddhists derived their story of Gautanja from Jews or Christians, the important question still remains, To what date shall the Soutras, which contain the legends of Gautama, be assigned ? This, after all, is the pivotal question in this investigation. We shall do our best to answer it.

1. In the first place, Max Müller, the best possible authority on Hindu literature, says : - Few Sanskrit MSS. in India are older than 1000 years before Christ.”:15

2. For nearly five hundred years after the entrance of Gautama into Nirvana that is to say, up to about the beginning of our era — the story of Gautama and of the Bud

- . dhist scriptures, was orally transmitted and preserved. 16

3. About A. D. 400-430, Buddhaghosha, of Magadha, went to Ceylon and translated into Pali the Buddhist script-ures and their commentaries. How the Buddhist scriptures came in Ceylon we learn from the following story ; to wit: Mahinda, son of Xing Asoka, learned the whole of the Buddhist Canon in three years, and was dispatciied to Ceylon, in order to establish there the religion of Buddha. The magnitude of Mahinda's undertaking will be understood when we know that the text and commentary of the Ruddhist Canon contain 14 Land of Sacred Mystery, Gage. 16 Origin and Growth of Religion. p. 148.

16 Spence Hardy's Legends. p. 192. VOL XVIII



He says:

29,368,000 letters !17 The estimate that Max Müller puts on Buddhaghosha's translation is not a high oue. “. No doubt if it could be proved that Buddhaghosha's works were literal translations, this would considerably enhance their value. But the whole account of these translations rests on tradition ; and if we consider the precaution taken, according to tradition, by the LXX translators of the Old Testament, and then observe the discrepancies between the chronology of the Septuagint and that of the Hebrew text, we shall be better able to appreciate the risk of trusting to oriental translations ; even to those that pretend to be literal ! Granted that Mahinda translated the original Pali commen taries into Singahalese, there was nothing to restrain him from inserting anything he thought likely to be useful to his new converts ! Granted that Buddhaghosha translated these transdations back into Pali, why should he not have incorporated any facts that were then (400 A. D.) believed, and had been handed down by tradition from generation to generation?.. The prestige.of such a witness as Buddhaghosha soon dwindles away, and his statements as to kings and councils, 800 years before his time, are in truth worth no more than the stories told of Arthur by Geoffrey of Monmouth, or the account we read in Livy of the early history of Rome ! In other words, little dependence can be placed on Buddhist chronology.

4. Monier Williams tells us that the Northern Canon of the Buddhists “ has probably become corrupted and amplified 'in some of its details, though the names of the works are, in all likelihood, the same."19 The Lalita Vistara, and the Lotus of the Good Law (Suddhamra Pundarika) are from the North. Tliese are the legendary lives of Buddha, answering to the story in the Light of Asia." These Soutras have been translated into Chinese. Mr. Beal, translator of a life of Buddha from the Chinese, admits that there is much uncertainty in Buddhist. chronology before the 5th century of

[ocr errors]

our era.20


17 Sponoo Hardy's Legends. p. 66. Chips, eto. Vol. II. pp. 194-6.

19 :udian Wisdom.

5. Agreeing with Mr. Beal, a great authority on Hindu architecture, Mr. Ferguson, affirms that “the earliest of the (Buddhist) scriptures were not reduced to writing, in their present form, before the 5th century after Christ." Wuttke says that “the Pali works of Southern India date from the 5th century after Christ. The latter compositions indicate the influence of foreign admixtures, and in one of them the parable of the Prodigal Son is said to have been distinctly reproduced.''21

6. M. Shæbel, speaking of the legendary lile of Buddha, declares that “ the texts which relate these legends, which may be recognized by a certain Christian air, are posterior to our era ; and what proves it is, that they belong to the great veicle, Mahâyânia, whose authority was established by that great assembly that the king Ciladitya convoked in his capital, Kanyakоubdja, on the western shore of the Ganges, southeast of Delphi.”

7. Emil Schlagintweit asserts : “We have positive proof that arbitrary alterations and additions have been purposely made, especially with reference to the historical details given in the earlier compilations. Such changes soon became numerous, and assumed an importance not properly belonging


to them.”23

8. Finally : In strict harmony with the foregoing witnesses, and with much positiveness, testifies Dr. Earnest I. Eitel, of Hong Kong. Dr. Eitel stands in the front rank of Orientalists, and is worthy of the highest regard.

Here is what he says: “Unfortunately for the sceptic, who would delight in proving Christ to have been the ape of Buddha, it can be proved that almost every tint of this Christian coloring which Buddhist tradition gives to the life of Buddha, is of comparatively modern origin. There is not a single Buddhistic manuscript in existence which could vie, in antiquity and undoubted authenticity, with the oldest codices of the gospels, Besides, the most ancient Buddhistic classics contain scarcely * Romantic Life of Buddha.

11 Le Buddhg et le Buddhism. Christ and Other Masters.

23 Buddhism in Tibet. p. 20.

« PreviousContinue »